Posted by: jstrieder | October 23, 2014

Will Spreadability Go Viral?

In their new book, Spreadable Media, Henry Jenkins and his co-authors assert that they have “Found a Cure for Viral Media!” (16). Specifically, they don’t care for the term “viral” as a description of a piece of media that becomes popular on the Internet. Their alternative is their title: “spreadable” media.

I’m not sure their term is going to happen. Ever since William S. Burroughs declared that “language is a virus from outer space,” “virus” has meant a coded germ as well as a physical one. “Spreadable,” in contrast, has all kinds of possible meanings. Are marketers and content creators really going to start congratulating each other at the water cooler by saying, “Hey, I saw you went spreadable, good job”?

More importantly, the key distinction the authors are trying to make – that “viral” suits only the needs of scared businesspeople, but “spreadable” is the truer metaphor of the people – is only half-true. “Spreadable media” is accurate, but also more business-friendly than “viral media.” Think about it:

Viral = Passively consumed and passed along, outside the conscious control of its audience

Spreadable = Actively consumed and passed along, via conscious choice

“Spreadable Media” is a book for media scholars, communication professionals and people creating and sharing content. (ix) Which pitch better helps this audience get work? The latter. A conscious audience can be communicated with, partnered with, persuaded and massaged. A passive audience can only be manipulated – subliminal seduction is the only seduction possible.


  1. Dear Mr. Strieder,

    I like the differentiation you are making more clear between the “viral” vs. “spreadable” media discussion, according to Jenkins, Ford and Green. Great post and discussion topic. I am going to go out on a limb here so bare with me. I think that it is a bit frivolous to be that hypercritical over a word used to describe media that spreads. Their argument is that the term “viral” is “too encompassing and too limiting, creating false assumptions about how culture operates and distorted understandings of the power relations between producers and audiences” (20). I am going to play devil’s advocate just to make this discussion more interesting. *Mounts soap box*
    [Ahem…] Personally, I think the phrase “spreadable media” sounds like something I would put on a piece of crunchy toast— like spreadable margarine or something. Then you know what I would do? I would take a picture of my margarine-slathered toast and put it on my Instagram feed and hashtag really basic sayings like #yumm, #toast&butter, #toastismyjam— and who knows? Maybe it goes “spreadable” and I add to the growing plethora of shenanigans that clog our social media’s artery feeds. I will “fatten” up all of my followers with my “spreadable” lard-filled post. My hypothetical “spreadable” Instagram picture is now adding to the unhealthy, consumer-oriented audience and their brains will soon be covered in lard and the world will fall! See what I did there?
    Now, to the authors, my “viral” or “spreadable” Insta pic is just another bacterium that “makes a media text sound like a small-pox infected blanket” (16).
    Insensitive biological warfare jokes aside, I am making a point here. I don’t think it matters what word we use to choose to describe essentially the same exact phenomenon. We as humans use metaphors to draw parallels between ideas in a more approachable way so we can better understand and relate to complex ideas. I think people get the “viral” saying because it stresses the rapid growth of something that can infect everything in a matter of hours. Sure, it might have some negative connotations to it but I feel like I can still see positivity in “viral” videos. Like the ice bucket challenge that raised tons of money to put towards research for an otherwise unknown neurodegenerative disease. Wether we use “viral media” or “spreadable media” I don’t really see why the metaphor itself is being questioned and criticized. Last I looked, rashes and diseases can “spread” from one person to the next. “Don’t go to school if you have a fever. You don’t want to spread the flu!” said every parent ever.
    I get it— metaphors set expectations as they quote from Vedrashko on page 22. But I don’t see how “spreadable” is really any different. Maybe we can use the word “marketable” media. Meaning that the content is compelling enough to be “marketed” over many platforms of web consumers. “Here see, kid! You got it all by golly. You’re marketable! You’re not some tomato, you’re gonna be a star!” said 1920s radio personnel. Okay I am getting off my soap box now, but I’m ready to discuss the phenomenon of “virally-spredablish” media. Lets put metaphors to bed already!

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