In Digital Fandom, Booth explores the concept of the database, but unlike Manovich or Azuma, he doesn’t see it as quite so random or far-removed from narrative structure. He refers to it, in fact, as narrative database and credits to it a great reliance on fans and their work. He uses the example of fan-created wikis that explore popular cult shows, such as Heroes and Lost. One might argue that these examples work against his point in no small way, since their orderedness and structure give them the feel more of fan texts than of a database (which wouldn’t necessarily have any kind of order, as explained by Manovich: “As a cultural form, the database represents the world as a list of items, and it refuses to order this list” .)
Further, it would probably be fairly easy to argue that Booth isn’t describing a database at all but is instead describing a narrative structure that is supported by a database. As Azuma identifies, there are many layers to a database, each with their own elements and each supporting those above. Booth doesn’t perhaps dig all the way down to the lowest level, doesn’t take the elevator all the way to the basement, so to speak. He instead stays where a user-created database is still essentially a communal narrative experience.
One way he avoids theorizing this bottom, random layer, is by stating that the interaction of story and discourse, or the actual story and the way it’s presented, can now be formed into “a mashed up third form” rewritten by audiences that creates “a new, interactive discourse”; the wiki is “the storehouse of a narrative database” (96-97). He styles the narrative database as the site of this new type of audience interaction, one formed not only by a narrator or story but by the members of the audience themselves. But I think here, we must ask — how is this actually a form of database and not merely one method of audience participation in highly participatory digital media? His argument seems to be entirely founded on a conception of narrative that takes over the database and rewrites it as potentiality of narrative, eventually getting rid of the notion of the database as personal, random, un-orderable. He does this by continually forcing a conception of narrative onto it, even when it’s necessary to twist and turn the definitions of both concepts.
This argument is (to me) unconvincing, as I find that Manovich and Azuma are more persuasive with the idea that a true database does not have to give us a narrative. We can use it to other ends. What Booth is creating is something else entirely, a way to use these same terms as a way to fit one possible way of experiencing the items in a database. Ultimately, it would seem he’s using the term “database” in a much more pedestrian way, as a word for a storehouse of information that supports or becomes part of the narrative rather than a place that’s opposed to narrative as Manovich or Azuma would have it be. He writes, for instance, that “fans indicated a rereading of the Heroes narrative that makes each of these issues important for the cult serial narrative as a whole—as a database” (98). Here, the database is a place (a wiki) that holds information that is already in some sort of order and holds some sort of narrative weight — a far cry from Manovich’s “enemy of narrative.”
Booth, Paul. Digital Fandom: New Media Studies. Peter Lang Publishing, 2010.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. MIT Press, 2002.