In Defense of Moe: An Interview With Patrick W. Galbraith (Part Three)

To what degree is moe a collective as opposed to a personal experience?

That’s a great question! Responding to fictional characters seems like a very personal thing. Insofar as one is describing what he or she responds to as moe, everyone has his or her own definition. However, I would say that it is more collective than we might at first appreciate.

Characters come from somewhere, right? Someone has to first imagine the character, which might be in textual or visual form. So, for example, a storywriter comes up with a character, or an artist sketches a design. Then, if it’s animation, someone voices the character. A voice actress described her job to me as “imaging” (imēji suru) the character and “matching” (macchingu suru) the image of others involved in the project, which is quite telling. I think that this imaging and matching is actually quite common throughout the creative industries of manga, anime and games, as well as figurines, merchandise and so on.

Ian Condry’s book, The Soul of Anime, describes something like this. People are collaboratively creating the character, which both moves and is moved by those interacting with it. It’s a kind of shared imaginary, maybe. We could take this further and consider how people draw on existing characters when imagining a new character. It is not a coincidence that many manga and anime characters look alike, because they are assemblages of affective elements – I’m thinking of Azuma Hiroki, who is interviewed in the book – which both precede and exceed the work in question. What creators respond to, and design others to respond to, that is, “moe characters,” are not really contained in any one form or possessed by any one person.

The response is similarly collective. Writing about otaku, Thomas LaMarre refers to a “collective force of desire,” which could be taken to mean the shared movements around moe characters, which are then “otaku” (movement). What LaMarre refers to as otaku movement resonates with moe, or that which moves, collectively. More simply, it is said that affect is contagious, so the movement of one quickly becomes the movement of many. I’d say that even fan activities that appear to be the most personal, for example writing fanzines about a favorite character or costuming as him or her, are also about sharing the character’s movements.

What is cosplay if not imaging the character and matching that image to those of others? In this way, cosplay resonates with what the voice actress I mentioned earlier says that she does. In a similar way, fanzine authors work with characters and worlds provided by manga and anime, which, as Ian Condry points out, is not so different from what professionals do when creating anime episodes using characters in a world developed by others. It maters that the characters used in fanzines are known to others, because they are then shared objects of affection, making personal imaging of them part of a collective articulation.

The question is does the image match or not, which means that another image must already exist in the minds of those responding to the fanzine. As Condry points out, there is a “dark energy” or “intensely inward-focused energy” of anime, which fuels its spread, because fans wish to share their moe with others and have it recognized. The shared production of moe characters contributes to shared expressions of affection for them.

Along the way, you give us some glimpses into the role which moe plays in shaping the Japanese creative industries. We’ve seen in recent years an emphasis by the national government and others on the concept of “Cool Japan” as a source of “soft power.” How comfortable are these government groups to some of the more intense forms of “moe” culture you describe in the book?

This is something that I’m looking into as part of a new research project in Akihabara, but what I can say now is that some people in the government are very concerned about certain forms of manga, anime and games circulating abroad and coloring perceptions of Japan. They are fine with celebrating Tezuka Osamu as the father of contemporary manga and anime, or the critically acclaimed and almost universally loved films of Miyazaki Hayao, but they are less excited about the prospect of being associated with fanzines centering on sexual parodies of Tezuka or Miyazaki characters or computer games that simulate relationships and even sex with cute girl characters.

I have heard this expressed in many ways, but one of the most memorable was when members of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) organized a symposium in Akihabara in March 2012. A local business owner, who I probably shouldn’t name, asked representatives of METI straight out what their intensions were in using Akihabara to promote Cool Japan. To this middle-aged gentleman, who runs an electronics store with a storied history, Akihabara needed to be cleaned up or tourists flocking to the area would leave not with fond memoires of Cool Japan, but rather stories about “Porno Japan.” Those are his words, not mine! Very provocative stuff, but I think it touches on serious tension.

The dynamic is as follows: The increasing visibility of otaku brings to light things that are generally considered to be niche. Axiomatically: The normalization of otaku proceeds with the discovery of new abnormality. We all know a story or two – or fifty – about “weird Japan,” or that story that makes us stake our heads and say, “Only in Japan!” In fact, the recurring story about the male Japanese otaku who marries his fictional girlfriend, is in a committed relationship with a body pillow, is building a sex robot or doll in the likeness of an anime characters – all of these could be lumped together into sensationalist reporting that contributes to an image of Japan, male otaku and moe as perverse. This one man’s charge to METI that the government is promoting “Porno Japan” reminds us that not all forms of manga, anime and games are considered “cool” in Japan, and not all of them necessarily reflect “Japan,” and certainly not in the ways that some people wish.

Even one does not have a problem with hoards of men and women, young and old, reading One Piece or watching Ghibli films – such an interest is normal, after all – there are always things that will shock and challenge. For better or worse, many of these things are on display in stores in Akihabara. So when the government comes into this neighborhood and starts talking about manga, anime and even otaku as components of a branded national culture, as representative of “Japan,” that is when the subcultural and countercultural elements are going to generate some friction.

It was really interesting for me to see in summer 2014, right around the time when The Moe Manifesto was published, how Akihabara figured into international news reports that Japan was not cracking down on manga, anime and games as “child abuse materials.” CNN, for example, went to a shop in Akihabara specializing in fanzines and filed a video charging that this material is “fueling the darkest desires of criminals.” Hyperbole and questionable claims aside, this report does not just accuse Japan and otaku of being weird or perverted, which can still lead to some laughs, but rather Japan as a empire of child porn and the people in Akihabara, the “Mecca of Otaku” (otaku no seichi), as straight out sex criminals.

What is the evidence for this claim? Drawings. The reporter takes a manga book in his hand and condemns those who draw and are drawn to it as “criminals” harboring the “darkest [of] desires.” This then feeds back into reactionary and conservative discourses in Japan, where there are calls to regulate manga and anime more strictly to avoid “unhealthy” thoughts and desires. One such Diet member, a proper bureaucrat, appeared on an episode of TV Takkuru in September 2014, where he was told that Japan is being treated like an “empire of child porn.” When asked, “Should violence and underage sex in manga and anime be regulated,” his answer was, predictably, “Yes.” The show then sent a reporter to follow a group of otaku around Akihabara. While the tone of this “reporting” is significantly lighter than CNN, it shares the impulse to look at otaku in Akihabara and their relationships with fictional characters and ask whether or not regulation is necessary. This tension within the discourse between “Cool Japan” and “weird Japan,” between “good” and “bad” manga, anime and otaku, will not be resolved anytime soon. Rather, as we approach the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, it seems likely that the debate will heat up around Akihabara, moe and global norms versus community standards.


Patrick W. Galbraith received a Ph.D. in Information Studies from the University of Tokyo, and is currently pursuing a second Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. He is the author of The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider’s Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan (Kodansha International, 2009), Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara(White Rabbit Press, 2010), Otaku Spaces (Chin Music Press, 2012) and The Moe Manifesto: An Insider’s Look at the Worlds of Manga, Anime and Gaming (Tuttle, 2014), and the co-editor of Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture (Palgrave, 2012) and Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan: Historical Perspectives and New Horizons (Bloomsbury, 2015).

In Defense of Moe: An Interview with Patrick W. Galbraith (Part Two)

The youthfulness of the manga and anime characters is something that struck me in the images you included in the book. Is that a cause for concern?

If you take a character like Usagi, she’s a girl, which is a difference from Wonder Woman, but I don’t think that we need to be concerned about it. In his work, which is foundational to manga and anime, Tezuka did not insist on his characters being adults. Tezuka was writing for children, and often had children play major roles in his work. And even though he was writing for children, Tezuka was introducing ideas from film, theater and literature into his manga. So, he didn’t speak down to children as an audience, but rather respected them enough to believe that they do not need to be sheltered from life, from stories about a range of human experiences.

This approach contributed to the formation of manga and anime as forms of entertainment where the age of characters depicted and the age of the target audience does not limit the type of story that can be told. This not only contributes to children getting more deeply involved with stories that challenge them and expose them to new ideas, but also what Matt Hills calls “double-coding,” where the same work can be enjoyed by both children and adults, and which sustains long-term engagement with works that change as audiences mature into new understandings. This is one of the keys to the formation of fan cultures, right?

There is no question that Tezuka’s works piqued the interest of a generation of young people, who then went on to produce their own manga and anime, which took things even further down the path that Tezuka had charted. While there have been rashes of panic about manga and anime in Japan, up to and including deeming Tezuka’s works to be “harmful” to children, there wasn’t really a response to manga in Japan that led to anything like the Comics Code in the United States, which in the 1950s effectively killed forms of comics containing “unwholesome” expressions, which were thought to contribute to juvenile delinquency. There was a movement against “harmful manga” in Japan in the 1990s, but people did not widely support it.

The industry imposed limits on itself, but they were nowhere near as reactionary as the United States in the 1950s. For example, rather than agreeing to not allow certain types of content, publishers marked some manga as “adult” and placed them into “adult” sections of stores. In Japan, in theory, you can draw and publish whatever you want, so long as the material is not obscene and access to it is controlled.

Of course, anime is televised, requires a larger budget and has sponsors, which is more constricting, but consider that Neon Genesis Evangelion – a story about “angels” attacking earth, giant robots engaging them in brutal hand-to-hand combat and the psychological damage caused to the children forced to pilot these robots – aired at 6:30pm on Wednesday nights. We aren’t talking about cable here, but rather basic television that everyone can access, and 6:30pm is a time when general audiences, including children, might be watching. Cowboy Bebop – a story about bounty hunters that encounter terrorism, crime, cults, suicide, murder, human experimentation, drug use and more – was aired at 6:00pm, a timeslot previously occupied by an anime based on a story serialized in a shōjo manga magazine.

As these examples show, there is not as much of a compartmentalization of content in Japan, or a notion that children should not see or be involved in stories about the adult world, or that any exposure to depictions of violence or sexuality will irreparably scar them. The truly “adult” content is labeled and zoned properly. While not “adult” in the sense of pornographic, many of the TV shows associated with the moe boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s were shown late at night, when children would not be watching. This hands-off approach to regulation has contributed to manga and anime becoming some of the most interesting media in the world.

In turn, it makes sense that people growing up with manga and anime never “grow out of it,” because it isn’t something just for kids or somehow below real literature, film or TV. If you grow up surrounded by and relating to the fictional characters of manga and anime, it makes sense that you might be attracted to them. They are part of life, or growing up and everyday routines.

To my eyes, moe can be very meaningful to and good for people. In fact, over the course of researching and compiling this book, many people told me that manga and anime had saved their lives by giving them something to hold onto in difficult times. Take a look at the interviews with Honda Tōru, Maeda Jun and Sōda Mitsuru. Unless the response to fictional characters is harming others living creatures, unless the response is violence, I do not think that we should be at all concerned with moe, beyond curiosity about other human beings, their interests and ways of life.

Worse still would be to say that “moe media,” whatever that means, should be regulated. To ask Japan to more strictly regulate manga and anime, when there is no one harmed in the production of such media and no evidence of a statistical link to crime of any kind, is to say that there need be no demonstrable harm, because your thoughts and feelings in relation to fictional characters are “perverse” and therefore should not be allowed. If moe means a positive response to fictional characters or representations of them, then the reaction against it is a negative response to the response to those fictional characters. “It’s gross, I don’t like it.” So what? What that person responds to as moe may not be your thing, but regulating based on taste is as absurd as it is untenable.

You write in your introduction about a march involving the Revolutionary Moe Alliance in 2007. Why is such an alliance necessary and in what sense, real or playful, can we see moe as a revolutionary force in contemporary culture?

There were many groups like the Revolutionary Moe Alliance marching in Tokyo in the mid-to-late 2000s. Most were inspired by or shared the thesis of Honda Tōru, who argues that there is a system of “love capitalism” (ren’ai shihonshugi) that engenders unreasonable expectations for men.

Depending on the group, they come at the perceived problem from a variety of directions. For example, some argue that the stereotypical middleclass family ideal posits a gainfully employed company man, who supports and is supported by a stay-at-home wife, who will also raise their children. Given the dissolution of fulltime, longterm employment at large companies since the 1990s, the model of (re)productive maturity, the so-called “salaryman,” is increasingly unachievable for men, who appear immature or as failures. The man without “regular” employment, the “irregular” man, is thought to have less of a chance of attracting women. Such men are among those called himote, which means unpopular with the opposite sex. There are certainly other reasons to be in that category, including physical appearance, communication skills, hobbies and so on. The himote is a man who fails in the marketplace of love, and thus protests “love capitalism.” For himote, there is an unbridgeable “love gap” (ren’ai kakusa) between “winners” (kachigumi) and “losers” (makegumi), they are on the wrong side and their numbers are swelling.

In some particularly pedantic and indeed sexist veins, women’s motives for dating and marriage are reduced to economic ones, and one’s lack of appeal to others is blamed on an unfair system, a line of argumentation that makes those indulging in it seem like altogether unappealing human beings. The rhetoric is somewhat familiar from men’s rights movements in the United States, but the barely concealed violence of the American counterpart seems absent from himote in Japan.

Most of their marches are comprised of a small number of men enjoying one another’s company and making a spectacle of themselves. They almost seem to relish being “failures,” but not quite, because they still seem to maintain goals for success, namely getting paid and laid, that are recognizable to hegemonic masculinity. These men want things on their terms, which can come off as somewhat entitled.

A distinct break from this comes in the form of otaku, who also march against expectations of men, but celebrate being dropouts of love capitalism. For these men, and Honda Tōru states it most clearly, a system of commoditized romance that forces people onto expensive dates to fashionable places is not only out of reach for most men, but also entirely unappealing. This love capitalism, or love on the terms of a capitalist imaginary, does not seem “real” to them, but more like a fantasy sold through trendy TV dramas, which combine romance and consumption. Men like Honda Tōru argue that otaku dropped out of love capitalism and instead pursue their interests and hobbies. So, these men are interested in manga and anime instead of going on dates and “getting the girl,” but this is not a failure so much as an alternative, though which they, too, can live happily ever after.

This refusal of love capitalism makes otaku appear to be socially and sexually immature, but in this they have found alternatives ways of living and loving in the world. I was personally quite touched reading Honda Tōru’s response to a young man who, feeling like a failure without friends or romantic prospects, decided to murder seven people on the streets of Akihabara. It was a horrific event, but Honda’s message was one of empathy. Honda Tōru acknowledged that they were both very similar in terms of personal history, but he had something to hold onto that this young man did not: anime. To Honda Tōru’s eyes, this was a young man who felt pressured to become a “regular” man, with all the attendant responsibilities, rights and respect that come with achieving that middleclass ideal, but he could not do so, felt like a failure and lashed out at the world. Honda writes that he wished he could have told this young man to take it easy, hold on a little longer and wait for things to improve. Honda, who struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts as a young man, suggests that anyone who is considering doing violence to themselves or others instead withdraw from society and its pressures for a time. He advocates not seeking revenge for perceived wrongs, or ending life through violence, but rather seeking something to hold onto, for example hobbies and people to share them with, and living life with a different set of values that don’t make you feel like a loser or failure.

This otaku position is a politics of survival for those who have somehow failed or have been made to feel like failures, which is a shared condition. In addition to himote and otaku, the last group that was marching in Akihabara is associated with moe. These are people who actively seek alternatives to expectations of men, which is to say assigned sex/gender roles, in relationships with fictional characters. This can take the form of “marriage” to a fictional character, belonging to a community of shared interest around a character, and so on. Manga, anime and games do not necessarily get us out of hegemonic sex/gender roles, as we have seen from Gamer Gate, but some certainly see that potential. Again, there is Honda Tōru, who argues for a “moe masculinity” that embraces both the masculine and feminine sides of one’s self, which can be nurtured and accessed in interactions with fictional characters outside of the expectations of society.

Moe men can at least imagine sex/gender differently, which then might impact the ways that they understand themselves and interact with others. This is very much the message that Momoi Halko, a female idol, voice actress and producer gave in her interview for the book, where she describes moe as contributing to a space of a “third gender/sex” (daisan no sei). Statements like this one are surprisingly common, and actually have been made even by feminist thinkers such as Ueno Chizuko as early as 1989. It is interesting that many female critics and creators note this of moe, which seems to suggest that they see something different in “moe men,” who actually are not so recognizable as “men” anymore.

This potential for change in sex/gender roles through thought experiments involving fictional characters and in interactions with fictional characters is some of the most exciting revolutionary potential in contemporary Japan, and while it is very much playful and parodic, that does not mean that it is not real.

A word of caution in all of this: Potential for change in sex/gender does not mean that moe is not without its sexism. In all three broad and overlapping groupings – himote, otaku and moe men – there is a shared danger of not only reproducing and reinforcing sex/gender stereotypes – Honda Tōru, a man, is married to a fictional girl character, which sounds all too familiar – but also rejecting women to create a space of autonomous sexuality. To take an easy example, Honda Tōru’s book is titled Moe Man (Moeru otoko), which has “man” right in the title. To the extent that one must reject women to reform one’s self as a man, this is a sexist position.

In response to the success of Densha otoko, a live-action film and TV drama about an otaku who falls in love with a real woman and reforms himself to earn her love, which Honda Tōru has rightly criticized as a didactic message, I remember seeing signs in Akihabara reading, “Real otaku are not aroused by three-dimensional women.” The real or three-dimensional woman has to be rejected by the “real” otaku, who is implicitly male.

Falling into this reactionary stance is certainly a danger, but what really struck me about the march that the Revolutionary Moe Alliance participated in was that it was not only “men.” The march, which was titled Akihabara Liberation Demonstration (Akihabara kaihō demo), took place in Akihabara in June 2007, and there were men, women, women costuming as male characters, men costuming as female characters – all these people together on the street.

Akihabara is an area usually associated with male otaku, which colored perceptions of the moe boom centered on media reports about Akihabara, but what I saw on the street was not exclusively or even necessarily “male.” Rather, the liberation of Akihabara, where affection for fictional characters is shown without shame, was more about flexible, shifting and relational sex/gender roles, which could be disrupted or shifted by interacting with fictional characters and costuming as them, by performing sex/gender differently. That is why the image of the Akihabara march remains so vivid in my mind. It seemed to me that Akihabara and moe were offering a platform for the articulation and expression of sex/gender politics beginning not with autonomy from women, but rather from the “regular” or “normal.” Indeed, the direct impetus for the march was a sort of creeping conservatism in policing otaku performances on the streets of Akihabara, as well as plans to clean up the “public sex culture” – with respect to Michael Warner and Lauren Berlant – there.

In the 2000s, Akihabara was being reimagined as a showcase for what the government was calling “Cool Japan,” which focuses on promoting wholesome manga and anime, which was somewhat at odds with the openly sexual content – erotic simulation games, pornographic fanzines, sexually posed figurines of cute girl characters, maid cafés – on open display in the area. The demonstration to liberate Akihabara seemed, to me at least, to be about keeping the space open and unsanitized so that people could freely explore and share relationships, even sexual ones, which fictional characters.

Patrick W. Galbraith received a Ph.D. in Information Studies from the University of Tokyo, and is currently pursuing a second Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. He is the author of The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider’s Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan (Kodansha International, 2009), Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara(White Rabbit Press, 2010), Otaku Spaces (Chin Music Press, 2012) and The Moe Manifesto: An Insider’s Look at the Worlds of Manga, Anime and Gaming (Tuttle, 2014), and the co-editor of Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture (Palgrave, 2012) and Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan: Historical Perspectives and New Horizons (Bloomsbury, 2015).


In Defense of Moe: An Interview with Patrick W. Galbraith (Part One)

Japan has one of the most vibrant and generative popular culture in the world with Japanese media being one of that country’s major national exports and with the forms of fan culture that emerge in the streets of Tokyo exerting an influence on participatory culture world-wide. There is also not surprisingly a growing number of scholars in Japan who are producing insightful research on these phenomena, only a small selection of which has been translated and made available to readers in the west. We are seeing some important work emerge that seeks to bridge between Japanese and American researchers working on topics such as “media mix”/transmedia or “Otaku”/fandom, including books showcased here in the past by Mimi Ito, Ian Condry, and Marc Steinberg, as well as the recently launched summer workshop program on “media mix” which Sternberg and Condry run along with Otsuka Eiji and other colleagues there.

When I encountered Patrick W. Galbraith’s The Moe Manifesto: An Insider’s Look at the Worlds of Manga, Anime, and Gaming, I immediately recognized its value in providing a similar glimpse into both Japanese popular culture and the scholarship that has grown up around it. Using the concept of Moe (a particular kind of relationship between fans and fictional characters) as his point of entry, Galbraith interviews creative artists, fans, and scholars, offering an accessible but theoretically provocative glimpse into contemporary developments, with a strong focus on notions of spectatorship and fandom. The book is intended for a general reader — heavy on brightly colored illustrations of both commercial and fan art — yet as a consequence, it offers perhaps the most readable and teachable introduction to these themes and concepts. As someone who is certainly not a specialist on Japanese popular media but who maintains active interest in this space, I read it with enormous interest.

And I am very happy to be presenting an extended six-part interview with the book’s editor, Galbraith, who was very generous and patient in explaining some of the underlying ideas that animated this project. Across this exchange, Galbraith offers insights into the gender and sexual politics of contemporary Otaku culture, including detailed accounts of what draws both male and female fans to these works; he speaks in depth about the ways that Moe fans have challenged conventional notions of masculinity and he discusses some of the backlash against these materials and the fan activities being discussed, especially as Japan wants to lay claim to a “cool Japan” framing of its cultural productions, while avoiding alternative labels that might stress the oddity or perversity of some Japanese media. He also shares with us some of the critical debates in Japan, which he feels sheds light on key concerns in western scholarship, including those surrounding subcultural identities and fan labor. Even if you are not especially interested in anime or manga, there’s much here which can help shake up some of the core debates in our field.


A central theme of the book is to push us beyond any surface level understanding of the concept, but we still need a starting point for this discussion, so can you share with me how you would define the concept of moe and what do you see as its relationship to the concept of otaku, which may perhaps be somewhat better known in American culture?


To get us started, moe is the noun form of a verb, moeru, which means “to burst into bud” or “to sprout.” This is the actual definition, but, in contemporary Japan, moe is slang and has little to do with bursting into bud or sprouting. The meaning is closer to a homonymous verb, moeru, which means “to burn.” The story goes that among manga, anime and game fans, sometimes called otaku, in online discussions of fictional characters, people were accidentally typing “to burst into bud” when they meant “to burn,” or when they were saying, “I’m so into this or that character,” “I’m fired up.” In this way, moe became slang for what gets the motor running, tugs at the heartstrings or enflames the passions.

At a very basic level, there are three important things to keep in mind. First, moe is a verb, something that occurs, not something that is. Second, what occurs is a response, which is located in a human being. Third, the response is to fictional characters or representations of them. This last part is crucial, because it indicates what makes the word moe distinct and hints at why it’s worth talking about at all. The term moe comes out of growing awareness in Japan of human affection for and attachment to fictional characters.

Why Japan? Simply because manga and anime are such a huge part of growing up; the quality, quantity and diversity of content is such that one does not have to graduate out of these interests; and some, building on basic exposure to and widely available media and material, take interests further, exploring and expanding the worlds of otaku. Because manga and anime are such a massive part of popular culture in Japan – and there is a notable manga/anime aesthetic in certain types of games and novels, too – there is a general appreciation of the fictional character as an object of affection.

Moe gives a name to this, and the people using it are very much aware of their own affection for fictional characters, which trigger a response in them. Such fans are almost the stereotypical otaku, who loves manga and anime, specifically fictional characters, more than is “normal,” even in Japan. Otaku activities – for example the massive Comic Market, an event that attracts 500,000 people, many of whom come to buy and sell fanzines featuring their favorite manga and anime characters – draw attention. Manga and anime fans can hardly be ignored in Japan, which has led to a cottage industry of writing about otaku, as well as the emergence of otaku critics, theories of otaku (otaku ron) and even a pseudo-academic discipline of otaku-ology (otakugaku).

In this robust body of literature, at least since the turn of the new millennium, moe appears as a concept to be discussed and debated in various ways. What attracted me to the concept of moe was not only the recognition of the human response to fictional characters, but also how this then led to questions about society, the economy and politics. So, for example, some fans advocate “marrying” fictional characters, a sort of performance of affection and gambit for social recognition of a relationship that is very real; others take that as a starting point for social critiques of sex/gender, and propose alternatives ways of being in the world in relation to fictional characters and others. Such statements about moe are as provocative as they are political, and I wanted to try to understand where they were coming from.

I’m a fan of manga and anime myself, and have been getting tattoos of my favorite characters since middle school, so moe didn’t seem like such a strange concept to me, but I had not considered it in any serious way. In Japan, among otaku, I was presented with an opportunity for sustained thinking about human relationships with fictional characters, which, let me be clear, are a very real part of life for many people, and not just in Japan.

However, all too often it seems that people are content to point and laugh at the “moe phenomenon,” which is taken to be one of those “only in Japan” or “weird Japan” things. Closing down the dialogue in this way is a real shame, and I wanted to stage an intervention, frankly. By reading and translating Japanese texts, conducting fieldwork and, most importantly, identifying and introducing Japanese thinkers in English, I thought it possible to begin to bridge the gap between the discourse on moe inside and outside Japan. Focusing on interviews allowed me to present a diverse range of un-synthesized perspectives, while also focusing on the face and voice of a given Japanese thinker, who, thus personalized, is harder to brush off. So, definition! Moe is a positive response to fictional characters or representations of them.


A key element of moe seems to have to do with notions of “cuteness” or “innocence” and yet there is also a widespread perception that moe constitutes a form of perversity. Why do you think moe generates such strong reactions? Are there forms of moe which should be cause for concern? 


A small caveat, first. Moe is a response located in a human being interacting with a fictional character. What a person responds to and in what way differs based on the person, so any general claim that this type of character is “moe” – which is a description of an object, not a human response – often serves to obscure more than it reveals. That said, moe is coming out of discussions of manga and anime characters, as well as game and novel characters drawn in the manga/anime style, so there can appear to be something of a shared aesthetic.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on female characters, because they are the ones that most often get people up in arms about moe. One rarely hears that it’s “perverse” for girls and women to be fans of male characters, or that the designs of those male characters are somehow “perverse.” At the heart of the concern about moe is male fans and female characters, and the relationship between them, so let’s consider the manga/anime style in response to that concern.

The manga/anime style, as popularized by Tezuka Osamu, the “God of Manga,” after WWII, is notable for being “cute.” You see a lot of round shapes and simplified features. In shōjo (for girls) manga, you also see soft lines and large eyes. The styles seen in manga originally intended for children and girls became much more popular in the 1970s and 1980s, when even adult men were consuming these works and developing bishōjo (cute girl) manga and anime in dialogue with female artists.

To give a specific example, Usagi, the main character of Sailor Moon, is a bishōjo character, originally drawn by a female artist for a manga targeting young girls, who became popular with a diverse audience, including adult men, when adapted into anime. Now, compare Sailor Moon to Wonder Woman. The “cute” or manga/anime aesthetic is clear.

What is the significance of this distinction? Historically, it’s seems to be a break with “realism.” After Tezuka’s initial manga revolution in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a style emerged in contradistinction to his work. Called gekiga, these works were something like graphic novels, and focused on a “realistic” style of drawing to capture realistic people and settings and comment on real social issues. Gekiga typically featured more “mature” characters and stories and was intended for a more “mature” audience. These works became extremely popular as part of the counterculture movement in the 1960s, when students and protesters rallied around stories of outcasts and working-class folk rising up against the system. However, after losing steam with the failure of the student movement and the incorporation of artists into the mainstream industry, the gekiga movement died down. After a period of relative obscurity, Tezuka roared back onto the scene, telling mature stories for mature readers, but using his manga/anime style of cute characters.

Further, shōjo manga was undergoing a major renaissance in terms of quality content, which attracted even adult male readers. This is the creative ferment from which the bishōjo emerged in the mid-to-late 1970s and into the 1980s.

Bringing mature content and readers to styles originally intended for children and girls, the result is the manga/anime style we know today. It lasted because both men and women were producing this hybrid style, which appealed to children and adults, men and women. While it may appear strange or, dare I say it, “perverse” to some outside of Japan to express mature themes and stories, which include sex and violence, using cute characters, few in Japan would think of the majority of manga and anime that way. Even pornographic variants, produced by both men and women working in genres for men and women, are not necessarily “perverse.” They are cute, drawn in a familiar style.

We might consider perversity at the level of content, or what characters are depicted as doing to and with one another, but there is such a wide range of content in manga and anime. Perhaps someone thinks it perverse, but for others it’s totally normal. Consider that during the renaissance of shōjo manga in the 1970s, stories of male-male romance, which included sex scenes, where quite popular. As Fujimoto Yukari points out, such “boys’ love” manga, produced primarily by and for women, is by now a taken-for-granted part of the landscape of shōjo manga. The thought of tweens and adolescent girls reading comics about male homosexuality might seem totally perverse in the United States, but it has become a norm in Japan. Indeed, some see in Japanese manga and anime culture an incredible tolerance for diverse content and fantasies, which should be celebrated.

Fiction makes possible and allowable all sorts of diverse characters, interactions and interactions with characters. Indeed, the instance on fiction seems very important to understanding moe. If the gekiga aesthetic was known for realism, then the return to the manga/anime aesthetic implies an embrace of “unrealism,” or the patently fictional, as we can see in the bishōjo character, whose face does not resemble a human one, but takes on its own internal realism within manga/anime. Moe is the recognition and response to the fictional real.

Saitō Tamaki, who is interviewed in the book, goes as far as to talk about an orientation of desire toward fiction. This doesn’t have to go as far as a sexual orientation, though for some it does, but realizing that interactions with fictional characters do not necessarily reflect desired interactions with other human beings is one of the greatest insights of manga/anime culture in Japan. Moe is a word that refers precisely to the response to fictional characters, which is why it is valuable.

Once we begin to say that this fictional character, fictional interaction or interaction with a fictional character is perverse and therefore should not be allowed, we quickly devolve into thought policing, which manga and anime creators, critics and fans actively fight against in Japan. So, for example, I can totally understand why someone might find it perverse that an adult male says Usagi from Sailor Moon is moe. In the story, she begins as a 14-year-old girl, very cute and innocent, though intersecting past and future lives mean that she is also a princess and queen, a wife and mother, and an ass-kicking superhero.

So, if we are calling this perverse, what exactly do we mean? In many cases, I think that we just assume that this adult male somehow harbors sexual desires for middle-school girls, which is a conflation of Usagi as a fictional character with actual girls, a reduction of this fictional character to a simplified category – why is her age more important than her being a transforming superhero? – and a completely unfair snap judgment about ulterior motives for responding to this fictional character, which not only pathologizes a human being, but also sets the justification for criminal treatment, for treating someone as a criminal.

We really have no idea what the qualitative response of this person is to Usagi, and we should not be speculating about it. I could just as easily speculate that he wants to be Usagi, right? We cannot prove what someone is thinking when he or she responds to a fictional character or utters the word moe, and we really ought not be concerned with it. It is enough to know that our theoretical man is responding to Usagi, a fictional character, which hurts no one and brings joy to his life.


Patrick W. Galbraith received a Ph.D. in Information Studies from the University of Tokyo, and is currently pursuing a second Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. He is the author of The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider’s Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan (Kodansha International, 2009), Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara(White Rabbit Press, 2010), Otaku Spaces (Chin Music Press, 2012) and The Moe Manifesto: An Insider’s Look at the Worlds of Manga, Anime and Gaming (Tuttle, 2014), and the co-editor of Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture (Palgrave, 2012) and Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan: Historical Perspectives and New Horizons (Bloomsbury, 2015).









Affective Publics and Social Media: An Interview with Zizi Papacharissi (Part Three)


image by Daydream V.2 by Nonotak Studio


The classic writings about media events focused on events as they took shape through broadcast media. How does this phenomenon of media events look different once we incorporate social media into the process?

Lippmann had famously used the term pseudoenvironment to describe the ability of mass media, and newspapers in particular, to construct environments for events that we are not able to experience directly on our own. Lang and Lang, in their seminal study of the MacArthur day parade, contrasted the chaotic and impersonal experience reported by parade spectators with the personal, immediate and warm experience felt by viewers experiencing the event via their TV sets.

With social media, storytelling becomes even more pluralized, and events become polymorphic – occurring in many shapes or forms, so much so, that we often presume causal links between the many shapes an event will take on. For instance, with #egypt, so much of our attention was consumed by whether this was a Facebook or Twitter revolution, that is whether the event as unfolding via social media led the event taking place on the streets. Besides the fact that this is an absurd claim to make, it takes us down this banal path of deterministic assertions regarding the impact of technologies.

I think the effect that we get when we experience an event in such a polymorphous way is best understood as hyper-empirical. Combined, the stories told about events by different media allow us to not only watch and observe what we cannot directly experience, but also to tune in to the feeling of this experience, and potentially contribute to it by becoming participants in the hyper-empirical realities we are feeling our way into.

You use the provocative phrase, “crowdsourced elites,” to describe the kinds of people who participated in the social media activity around these uprisings. Can you explain what this concept means to you?

It refers to the fact that elites have been determined via the wisdom of the crowd. The so-called problem of determining elites has thus been crowdsourced to networked publics and resolved through public involvement. There is a paradox, or more appropriately, an antithesis embedded in the term on purpose that I am very fond of. The term crowdsourcing suggests a dispersed and distributed process; the term elites suggests a concentration in leadership that emerges out of this pluralized premise. It captures the democratic paradox nicely, I find.

Democracies cannot function without elites; elites are useless without democracies. We see democracies as a way out of elites, yet elect elites to manage representative democracies. Crowdsourcing emerges out of a direct democracy premise, yet produces elites that are representative and thus compromise this premise.

Some have characterized retweets as perhaps the most minimal form of political participation, yet you argue that retweets play essential roles in fostering political movements. Explain.

For underrepresented or for marginalized viewpoints, retweets offer visibility that can be very useful toward helping a movement reach out to diverse publics. Moreover, in the context of escalating political events, retweets afford an intensity to the online pace of a movement.

Affect theory suggests that refrains, among other conversational signifiers, can be employed to convey a sense of movement toward a certain, albeit_not_yet_determined_because_it_is _in_the_making, direction. So you want to think of retweets as a variation of refrains, and in the book, I explained how retweeting in #egypt gave the resulting news stream about the movement a rhythmicality that sustained an always on, ambient online presence for the movement. And during escalating events, retweeting that employed the refrain of revolution or affirmed the revolutionary theme of the movement further amplified intensity and harmonized affective energies in a manner that reflexively and discursively claimed the revolutionary outcome, well before regime reversal had occurred.

Some have criticized social media for fostering circulation for circulation’s sake, an endless act of forwarding on messages, which becomes increasingly divorced from real world political action. What have you discovered here about the difference between voice and influence?

I draw a distinction between different modes of impact or influence, and, as I explained in response to an earlier question, I find that the impact of these activities tends to be symbolic, agency is of a semantic nature, and power, if accessed, is of a liminal, or transient nature. And the thing to keep in mind is that “real world political action,” whatever that may refer to, of course, is frequently not immediately impactful or impactful at all.

But I would like to say something about this idea of “circulation for circulation’s sake,” or “the endless forwarding on of messages,” because there is an effect that sustains, and it is the effect of ongoing movement, of some form constant drive without a particular direction in mind, of the sense that our energies are always on and on alert mode.

There is a word for that, but it does not exist in English – it Greek, we refer to this feeling as a sense of διεγείρεσθαι: a general feeling of movement subjectively experienced, an overall sensation of something that is in the making, an energizing drive that emerges out of sharing with others. It may produce emotions, or rationalizations, or new structures, or not much at all. The emergent energies summoned by affect and affect theory come the closest to this idea.

So, yes, there is something about the context of social media that urges us to share, and in sharing, we get the feeling that something is happening, that we are somehow contributing to a greater evolving narrative. Elsewhere, I have written about this as shareability – an affordance of networked publics, which refers to how the architectural construction, the design aesthetic of many of these platforms not only invite us to share, but become more meaningful the more we share (or at the very least, promise to become more meaningful). Sometimes, unless we are aware of what we are sharing and why, there is a real danger to get caught in a self-sustaining feedback loop that keeps us at standstill, rather than moving us forward.

So, when I talk about digital orality (in response to the next question), and the digital literacy that should come with it, I am referring to the ability to know when to share and when not to, when it is meaningful to express an opinion, and when it might be a better idea to step away and not voice strong opinions about issues we really do not know enough about, and finally, using these media to share, but also to learn to listen more effectively.

Some have worried about the displacement of professional news-gathering and analysis by “citizen journalism,” yet one potential implication of your analysis would be that these two groups play very different functions in fostering political dialogue. Would you agree?

Yes. Reporters have always understood their work as a first draft of history, so we perhaps we can read content generated collaboratively through social media as a first draft of journalism. Certainly the thing to do is to not antagonize readers but to work with them to make the (news) stories better.

But really, journalism is a form of storytelling, and so what we are in the middle of observing is, I think, a reorganization of how we tell stories as a society. Walter Ong (1982) had distinguished between the interpersonal conventions of oral forms of storytelling that dominated the pre-print era and which he described as a primary orality, and a secondary orality, driven by the storytelling conventions of the printed word, mass media and broadcasting practices, and the need for verifiability, since the printed form affords a different kind of permanence, as opposed to the fluidity of the aural and oral variations of storytelling.

The storytelling practices that we encounter on social media blend the drama of interpersonal conversation with the storytelling conventions of mass media in ways that invite us to think that perhaps we are looking at the production of new, digital orality. So the way that we are telling stories about ourselves and our worlds is evolving, and part of the confusion stems from not having the handle of this quite yet, not having the necessary literacy level to take it all in. You see, the listening publics exposed to oral forms of storytelling knew that the story changed and evolved as it was told from one person to the next, and that is how they internalized what they heard, to a certain extent of course, because they were still susceptible to the propaganda of rumors. And the printed word introduced a form of storytelling that made knowledge more broadly accessible but also frequently presented the printed story as dogma, which of course necessitated its own literacies in order to be able to read the text but also see beyond it and into the context within which it was produced and presented.

So in a way, in the digital orality context, we are seeking to reconcile some of the inadequacies of a primary and a secondary orality, into something that maintains the immediacy, the authenticity, and plurality of the subjective but also attains the gravitas of objectivity. Impossible? Nothing is, if you know how to read it.

Zizi Papacharissi is professor and head of the Communication Department at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Her work focuses on the social and political consequences of online media. Her books include A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age (Polity Press, 2010), A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (Routledge, 2010), and Journalism and Citizenship: New Agendas (Taylor & Francis, 2009). She has also authored over 40 journal articles, book chapters or reviews, and serves on the editorial board of eleven journals, including the Journal of Communication, Human Communication Research, and New Media and Society. Zizi is the editor of the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, and the new open access and available for free Sage journal Social Media and Society. Her fourth book, titled Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology and Politics is out in November 2014 by Oxford University Press.

Affective Publics and Social Media: An Interview with Zizi Papacharissi (Part Two)


image by Daydream V.2 by Nonotak Studio


Much writing about new media and politics has focused on whether networked communications have allowed for an increased flow of information or has empowered new forms of mobilization. What do you see as the limits of framing new media in this way?

I do not think that we are inherently limited by these approaches. But here is what happens when we approach research under that lens: we tend to look for certain types of impact that do not exist, and then when we do not find them, we are disappointed, disillusioned, or just pessimistic about the usefulness of online media. For example, when we talk about the increased flow of information or the empowerment offered by new forms of mobilization, the inherent assumption is that there will be a democratizing effect for the societies involved, and that it will follow suit rather promptly. But this cannot happen, because change is gradual. And because technologies offer pathways to change and not immediate transformation of the social, political, cultural, economic habitus.

I am not suggesting that we abandon questions having to do with the increased flow of information or empowering new forms of mobilization altogether. I would not be able to ask the questions I now ask, were it not for the foundation those research directions offered. But I suggest that if we examine how these platforms work under the lens of storytelling, then we are able to study how they support storytelling, understand the different textures of stories they invite, describe the modalities of engagement these stories sustain, and in general, place them within the greater context of what storytelling means, and has meant for evolving societies. Storytelling (of the self, of everyday events, and of societies) enables sensemaking, and that is where the impact of these platforms lies.

And so this way, we do not waste time looking for immediate legislative, economic, political impact to emerge out of the ways in which we put these technologies to use. The impact lies elsewhere. For publics that are convened online around affective commonalities, impact is symbolic, agency is claimed discursively and is of a semantic nature, and power accessed is liminal. And, keep in mind, symbolic impact is important, because it liberates the imagination. As Castoriadis says, “revolution does not mean torrents of blood, the taking of the Winter Palace, and so on. Revolution means a radical transformation of society’s institutions.” And one cannot transform these institutions without first reclaiming and redefining their symbolic underpinnings; what they mean and what they should mean for societies.

Your focus here is on Twitter both as a technological platform and as a set of encrusted social and cultural practices that have grown up around it. How can we think about what Twitter is and how it has influenced contemporary political movements without falling into the trap of technological determinism?

I have come to understand Twitter, and other social media platforms, as structures of feeling; soft structures of feeling. I borrow the term from Raymond Williams, who used the term in the Long Revolution (1961) to describe the potential that lies in the emergent; the power and agency that may derive from the volatility of social experiences in the making. Williams defined structures of feeling as social experiences in solution, and explained that they reflect the culture, the feeling, and the mood of a particular moment in time. And so he pointed to the industrial novel of the 1840s as an example of one structure of feeling that emerged out of the development of industrial capitalism and summed up middle-class consciousness.

But there are countless examples. Music has presented an essential structure of feeling for many movements. Think of songs and the role they played in the civil rights movement, or in the counter-culture movement. Art, in the many forms or shapes it can take can support or reflect distinct or overlapping structures of feeling.

In the same vein, I understand collaborative narratives organized by hashtags on Twitter as structures of feeling. Tags like #yesallwomen, #ferguson represent structures of feeling, that connect (or divide) differentiated classes of people and complex relations of structures around subjective and affectively charged expressions, restraints, impulses, tensions, and tones. Technologies may network us, but it is our stories, emergent in these structures of feeling, that connect us (or disconnect us, for that matter).

As you note, both the Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring movements were “leaderless” yet the news media and the public have responded to them in very different ways. What accounts for the differences?

Our own insecurities, ultimately, and the media frequently reflect those. Depending on those, we view certain movements that are termed leaderless as safe, and others as threatening. My own view is that there is no such thing as a leaderless movement. Leadership can be dispersed, it can be shared, it can be connective (as described by Bennett and Segerberg in Connective Action), or it can be very concentrated. But as anyone who has had experience with being actively involved with movements can attest to, some form of leadership always exists or emerges in movements.

I grew up in a country where there is a movement about everything and protests are our daily pastime – and these have their leaders, however transient or lasting they may be.

 Zizi Papacharissi is professor and head of the Communication Department at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Her work focuses on the social and political consequences of online media. Her books include A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age (Polity Press, 2010), A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (Routledge, 2010), and Journalism and Citizenship: New Agendas (Taylor & Francis, 2009). She has also authored over 40 journal articles, book chapters or reviews, and serves on the editorial board of eleven journals, including the Journal of Communication, Human Communication Research, and New Media and Society. Zizi is the editor of the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, and the new open access and available for free Sage journal Social Media and Society. Her fourth book, titled Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology and Politics is out in November 2014 by Oxford University Press.

Affective Publics and Social Media: An Interview with Zizi Papacharissi (Part One)



“image by Daydream V.2 by Nonotak Studio”  

Have you ever finished writing a book and then discovered a new work which you wish you had read at the very beginning of the process? A work which makes a bold and original contribution to the field and thus shakes up some of the core of your analysis? A book which opens up new paths forward for you and for many other researchers working in this space?

For me, with Convergence Culture, that book was Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, and my response to that work informed several years of my subsequent writing. With Spreadable Media, that book was Nico Carpentier’s Media and Participation, which has in turn shaped the thinking behind my current book project, By Any Media Necessary: Mapping Youth and Participatory Politics. As my co-authors and I were putting the finishing touches on By Any Media Necessary, I was asked to review and blurb Zizi Papacharissi’s new book, Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology, and Politics, which is now officially the book I wish I had read before I wrote this book. I immediately reached out to her both to do an interview for this blog and to come to USC to speak with our research group, which she is scheduled to do later this term.

My blurb for the book conveys some of the reasons for my enthusiasm: “I HEART #affectivepublics! Zizi Papacharissi brings enormous insight and much needed clarity to current debates about the role of social media in political life. Rejecting binaries which ascribe social movements to Twitter or Facebook or that dismiss all forms of online participation as ‘Slacktivism,’ she instead acknowledges the ways that social media has provided opportunities for new forms of expression and affiliation, new ‘structures of feeling’ that can in the right circumstances help to inspire and expand political movements. Her approach mixes theoretical sophistication with empirical rigor as it forces us to rethink what we thought we knew about the Egyptian Revolution and the Occupy movement.”

You will get a taste for this remarkable book in the interview that follows, which touches on key themes, including a serious reconsideration of the nature of “media events” in an age of social media, the relationship between reason and passion in promoting social change, a fresh new way of thinking about the roles social media does or can play in the process of social change, and the tension between elites and the people, publicity and privacy, within democratic societies.

As I’ve watched events unfold since, especially the various examples of hashtag activism that have emerged in response to recent cases of radicalized police violence, I have found her perspectives enormously helpful in making sense of how such efforts do or do not make a difference in American racial politics. As she notes here, change in any form takes time, whether the kinds of street-based protests so powerfully depicted in Selma or the online movements that have dominated the news in recent months. Rather than being impatient or dismissive towards these more recent efforts, we need to understand how these acts of circulation both generate and sustain popular sentiment in ways that makes social change possible. Here’s where the book intersects key strands of my own current writing around participatory politics — we conclude that cultural and social factors, often operating outside the realm of institutional politics, may empower our participation, may give us a sense of solidarity and collectivity, and may thus represent important first steps towards other kinds of political change.


You write early in the book, “We feel for the Egyptian protesters fighting for and then celebrating the downfall of Mubarak first, and then Morsi later. We imagine their feelings of excitement first, and disillusionment later, but we do not always know enough about background, context, or history to have a full appreciation of their circumstances. Still we respond affectively, we invest our emotion to these stories, and we contribute to developing narratives that emerge through our own affectively charged and digitally expressed endorsement, rejection, or views.” So, can you break this passage down for us. What are the consequences of our ability to “feel” but not fully “understand” the political struggles of others? What differences does it make when we become contributors to these narratives rather than simply consumers?


There are events, and there are stories that are told about events. Most events we are not able to experience directly, so we have always relied on the storytelling oralities and technologies of an era to learn about them. What happens when we become contributors to these narratives, or stories, rather than simple consumers, is that we become involved in the developing story about an event; how it is presented, how it is framed, how it is internalized, and how it is potentially historicized. But do we become part of the event if we were not physically present to experience it first hand? That is what I am referring to when I say that we imagine what it feels like, but cannot know.

The obvious question that follows then, is, what does it mean to know? Doesn’t the story told about an event also constitute its own event? I believe it does.  So we may think of different events, each sustained by the mediality each storytelling medium affords. For #egypt, there were the events on the streets, the events as they were told and experienced through Twitter and other social media, and the events as remediated through television and print media, and of course these events overlap, because the realities of the storytelling practices and hierarchies of these platforms converge and further re-energize spreadable storytelling structures, as you have been explaining and writing about for some time now.

The point I want to make with the book is that the mediality of each storytelling structure affords a different texture to each story; a unique way for feeling one’s way into the event and thus becoming involved in it, a part of it. In my previous work I have used the term supersurfaces to describe the lightness, the evanescence of planes of civic engagement sustained by several social media platforms. Some have also described the form of engagement that these media invite as being of a rather thin or light nature, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. I wrote about this in A Private Sphere, and Ethan Zuckerman writes extensively about the civic merit behind thin acts of civic engagement.

And so for #egypt, as I found in my own research and wrote about in Affective Publics, Twitter permitted several diasporic and interconnected publics to chime in and produce, through the storytelling conventions of repetition (retweeting) and reinforcement, a collective chant of a revolution in the making, well before the movement itself had resulted in regime reversal (and some would argue that the movement still has not produced the comprehensive regime reversal they were hoping for). These forms of affective involvement can be key in connecting energies and helping reflexively drive movements forward. But they can also entangle publics in ongoing loops of engaged passivity.


As you note, there has been classically a tendency to separate out affect and reason and to be suspicious of politics that is motivated by emotion. Yet, even in the heart of the “Age of Reason,” it was possible to write about “the pursuit of happiness” as part of the rationale for democratic governance. So, can we ever fully separate out affect and reason when discussing political movements?

Never. But for some reason we really want to separate affect from reason, perhaps because we think they may be easier to control that way.

There is the tendency to want to separate the two, especially in terms of how we speak about emotion and logic in our everyday lives. But, in reading about affect and reason as I was working on this book, I can’t say that any of the great philosophers who have looked at affect and reason intended for this separation to occur. We may focus on each term separately so as to define it properly, but really, so much philosophical work is consumed with explaining how the two modes of affect and reason connect and are meant to work together and inform each other, especially in attaining inner balance – what we may come to interpret as a state of happiness.

Affect and reason : One cannot exist without the other, and one cannot be defined in the absence of the other. So like we frequently do in such cases, we assume there is a binary distinction of some sort between the modes that renders them opposite forces. We make the same mistake in defining public vs. private, placing them on opposite ends of a continuum, and then falsely assume that to have more of one means giving up some of the other, when that is really not the case.

My hope is to reunite the two in terms of how we use social media to tell stories about ourselves and listen to stories that others share, thus developing emotionally informed literacies that help us understand and connect with the world surrounding us.

Zizi Papacharissi  is professor and head of the Communication Department at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Her work focuses on the social and political consequences of online media. Her books include A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age (Polity Press, 2010),  A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (Routledge, 2010),  and Journalism and Citizenship: New Agendas (Taylor & Francis, 2009). She has also authored over 40 journal articles, book chapters or reviews, and serves on the editorial board of eleven journals, including the Journal of Communication, Human Communication Research, and New Media and Society. Zizi is the editor of the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, and the new open access and available for free Sage journal Social Media and Society. Her fourth book, titled Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology and Politics is out in November 2014 by Oxford University Press.

Robert Altman: Back to Kansas City!




I have periodically featured guest posts here by John C. Tibbetts, a faculty member at the University of Kansas, a prolific writer about cinema and other popular media, and a long-time host of television and radio interview programs. Tibbetts has been using these posts to find his own voice as a blogger and to connect insights from his interviews with key creative artists to contemporary cinema. I am happy to announce that Tibbetts is now running his own blog, Adventures in the Arts: Alarms and Excursions. For those who have enjoyed his work here, you are strongly encouraged to check it out.  Today, he is sharing some thoughts about the life and work on one of the late 20th century’s best American directors, Robert Altman.



By John C. Tibbetts


Now that the late, great filmmaker Robert Altman is in the news again with the publication of Altman, by his widow, Kathryn Altman, and the subject of a major retrospective of his films in New York, it’s time to bring him home once again.  Home to Kansas City.  Home to where he got his start as a film and television director.  And the home to which he returned periodically.  I recall an interview I did with him, March 5, 1991, during one of his return trips, when he attended a festival of his films. “I’m here in Kansas City,” he told me at the time, “because I was invited to be honored at this Film Festival.  I got a letter from the Mayor and he said he was going to give me a key to the city.  “They used to lock me up for getting into trouble in this town. At that time, they threw away the key. Now, they’re giving me one!”


Robert Altman was born in l925 into an upper middleclass family on West 68th Street in the tree-lined suburb of Prairie Village.  The Altman name was honored in Kansas City.  His grandfather, Frank Sr., was an entrepreneur who erected several important downtown buildings, including the Altman Building at llth and Walnut in l895 (destroyed in l976) and the New Center Building at l5th and Troost (later the site of the Calvin Company); and his father, B.C., was a prominent life insurance executive.  During young Robert’s school years at Rockhurst High School and Southwest High School, he divided his spare time between the fabled jazz clubs of the l8th and Vine area and moviegoing at the old Brookside Theater.


“I was l4 or l5 years old in the late 1930s, when Kansas City was a wide open town,” Altman recalls. “There must have been at least 50 jazz clubs, all strung out along these streets around 18th and Vine. They all played here, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins. All the bands, all the players would wind up here, play a night here. It was a wild mix and a new style of blues and jazz came out of it. At the time you didn’t think about all the vice that ran rampant everywhere, with the gambling, drugs, the crime. And the gangsters–like the Italian mobster Johnny Lazia–my dad told me you paid them protection money if you didn’t want your business wrecked. The one place you didn’t go for protection was the police force! All I knew was that the jazz and the songs I heard were really hot stuff. Now, these days, I come back and don’t see the same city, but I smell it and I feel it.


“I spent my first 19 years here. It’s where I got all my chips. I was just a kid when I was seeing my first movies at the Brookside Theater.  I was fascinated with them.  The movies I saw there just seemed to happen–nobody made them.  I guess that’s the way I still see movies–I want them to be occurrences, to just seem to be happening. I wasn’t aware that all the time I was being taught and that I was learning.  I was just observing and catching things by osmosis.  Growing up, I lived on West 68th Street and went to Rockhurst for a year, Southwest High School, Wentworth Military Academy, and then the Air Force (where I co-piloted B-24s).


I was just a kid when I went to work for Calvin Films. It was a Kansas City company that made industrial films. It was at l5th and Troost, a 7-story building.  My grandfather built that building. It had its own l6mm lab.  I learned all the tools of the trade there.  I earned $250 a month, and it was mostly OJT.  You can learn anything by just getting your hands dirty. At Calvin I did a lot of films for Gulf Oil and some safety films for Caterpillar Tractor and International Harvester–stuff like “How to Run a Filling Station.”  They were training films.  They weren’t a goal for me, just a process to learn how to do entertainment and dramatic films.  It was a school, that’s what it was.  I worked there for six years, on and off.  Then I went to Los Angeles and wrote some film treatments. I left Calvin three times, but couldn’t get anything happening out there.  So I’d come back and they’d drop me in salary a little bit each time I came back!  A little punishment.  The third time they said it was like the Davis Cup:  They were going to keep me!”


Another, tender memory comes to light. “I remember when I was about four years old, I went to Union Station with my mother to meet my uncle. She bought me a red balloon, full of helium. But it slipped out of my fingers and flew up to the ceiling. I remember I cried and cried. I can still show you the exact spot on the ceiling where it rested, out of reach.”

The 70-year filmmaker tracks with his mind’s eye the flight of an errant balloon. Whether it represents his lost youth or the elusive artist’s dream, it seems entirely likely that it’s still there, waiting for him–but just out of reach.


 John C. Tibbetts is an Associate Professor in the Department of Film & Media Studies at the University ofKansas, where he teaches courses in film history, media studies, and theory and aesthetics. He is an author, educator, broadcaster, as well as an artist and pianist. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in Multi-Disciplinary Studies (Art History, Theater, Photography and Film).

As a broadcaster and journalist and scholar he has hosted his own television show in Kansas City, Missouri; worked as a news reporter/ commentator for CBS Television (KCTV) and National Public Radio; produced classical music programming for KXTR-FM radio; written (and illustrated) ten  books, more than 200 articles, and several short stories.  

His most recent books are Peter Weir: Interviews and Douglas Fairbanks And The American Century.   Other books include  The Gothic Imagination (Palgrave Mcmillan, 2011), Composers in the Movies:  Studies in Musical Biography (2005, Yale University Press), Schumann: A Chorus of Voices (2010, Amadeus Press), and the three-volume American Classic Screen (Scarecrow Press, 2010).

His current radio series are The World of Robert Schumann (currently being broadcast worldwide on the WFMT Radio Network) and Piano Portraits (A 17-episode series of interviews with world–class concert pianists). 

Back to School Special: Transmedia, New Media, and Strategic Communication

Last time, I shared with you the syllabus for my course on Cultural Studies of Communication. Today, I wanted to share the other class I am teaching this term — a class that explores contemporary forms of branding and PR strategies, for the Masters students in our Strategic Communication Program. The class is an interesting one for me to teach because it fuses cultural and communication theory (with a particular focus on transmedia, participatory culture, crowd sourcing and spreadable media, but also work on brand communities, culture jamming, and fan activism) with more applied perspectives coming out of the marketing literature. Our over-all approach is strongly informed by Grant McCracken’s concept of the Chief Culture Officer and especially by Robert Kozinet’s netnography approach. Our goal is to get future PR/branding professionals to incorporate forms of cultural analysis and the bigger picture of media change into how they approach their work. Along the way, they will be reflecting on their own relations to brands, analyzing campaigns that deploy these methods, developing their own hypothetical campaigns which apply these insights, and hearing from a range of professionals who are helping to manage brands or developing insights on media audiences. I co-teach the class with a Strategic Communication faculty member and industry veteran Burghardt Tenderich, who is in the process of writing a book on transmedia branding strategy. We met for the first time last night. Here are a few of the cases we explored in our opening session.

These videos represent examples of how brands attach themselves to an existing entertainment property:

These are a few examples where brands have constructed their own transmedia stories:

Campfire Media’s Deja View Campaign

JOUR 491: Transmedia, New Media and Strategic Public Relations/Communication

4 units
Spring 2015—Tuesday—6:00 – 9:20 pm

Instructor: Henry Jenkins, Burghardt Tenderich


  1. Course Description

We are in the midst of a period of profound and prolonged media change, which is impacting the ways messages are generated and circulated. The communications and marketing industries are now facing pressure to rewrite the rules around branding and strategic communication. At the heart of these changes are four core concepts:


Participatory Culture, as represented by dramatic shifts in the communication capacity of everyday people and grassroots communities, including the capacity to produce media that in some way challenges or revises messages produced by media companies, advertising agencies, and corporate communicators.


Transmedia Branding, as defined through the dispersal of core information and experiences surrounding a brand across multiple media platforms with the goals of intensifying audience engagement.


Spreadable Media, as characterized by the central role that social networks play in shaping how messages travel across the culture and get customized and diversified as they get inserted into a range of ongoing conversations.


Crowdsourcing, as witnessed by the increasing number of organizations cultivating online communities to solve problems, innovate products, and provide input that benefit them, bringing the collective intelligence of a crowd to bear on challenging opportunities.


Overall Learning Objectives and Assessment

The central concern of JOUR 491 is to help students navigate how public opinion and reputation are formed and negotiated at the intersection between top-down corporate communication and more grassroots and networked forms of expression. What does it mean to conceive of brand messages not as a monologue where brands speak to their audiences but rather a dialogue where consumers often speak back to brands? Our goal is to consider a growing body of literature that looks at the nature of consumption and storytelling within a networked culture in order to identify some core principles that might shape public relations practice.


Because of the rapidly changing nature of this media environment, PR professionals need to be able to map the ways brand messages get taken up, reshaped, recontextualized, and redirected by a range of different groups for their own purposes. They need to be able to propose new strategies that engage with rather than seeking to shut down grassroots discussions about their brands. The course further places current theories into action in the PR domain and thus tests their value for informing practice. Emphasis is placed on strategic problem solving skills rather than tactical execution.


While JOUR 491 Transmedia, New Media and Strategic Communication is offered within the public relations studies program, it is open to students from other programs who want to engage with these emerging accounts of branding and communication practice within the new media landscape.


 Description of Assignments


Participation and Class Discussion

In addition to making regular contributions to class discussion, students will be asked to post comments on a designated discussion forum on a weekly basis as they reflect on readings, class discussion and information obtained outside the classroom. These postings will be taken into consideration for subsequent class discussion.


Blackboard Postings

Students should share short reflections or questions on the materials read for each week’s session, which can be used as a springboard for class discussions. We particularly encourage students to identify contemporary examples of the branding examples being discussed. Ideally, these should be posted by 10 a.m. on the day the class is being held.


Autobiographical Reflection Paper

Select a brand which you find personally meaningful and describe how your relationship with this brand has evolved over time. What aspects of the brand appealed to you? When did you first become attracted to this brand? What impact have specific commercials or campaigns had on your relationship to the brand? How do you use this brand to express something of your own identity or to connect with other consumers? Using your own experience as a starting point, and drawing on our readings so far, discuss the issue of whether the meanings of brands originate with consumers as much as they do from the products or the advertising around them. The result should be a five page essay which includes a mix of autobiographical reflection and critical engagement with the course readings.


Mid-Term Deconstructive Individual Project

Students will select from recent history (i.e. the last five years) a transmedia or digital branding campaign. Dissect and analyze your topic by writing a 10–15 page case study in which you follow the guidelines of a strategic planning model, indicating: (1) how the company or organization developed the branding campaign; (2) your own analysis and commentary on each step of their approach, and (3) possible alternatives to that approach. Feel free to hypothesize in those instances where insufficient data are available to you, making certain that your hypotheses make sound intellectual and strategic sense. Be sure to cite your research sources and indicate those areas in which you are hypothesizing. Bear in mind that this is a deconstructive, rather than constructive, exercise. You are analyzing a program that has already taken place, not creating a new one (except to the extent that you offer suggested alternative approaches as part of your analysis). You may not use a case on which you have based a prior assignment.


Netnography Assignment

After the mid-term presentations, students will be assigned to groups for a course project with each group selecting a brand of their choice. The first assignment is to conduct a netnography research study to obtain audience insight based on discussions among members of online communities. Utilizing contemporary internet tools, including a social media monitoring site, students will identify the core audiences for the chosen brand and will seek to identify the ways these communities are making use of the brand as a cultural resource within their ongoing interactions with each other. You should take stock of websites, videos, and other media produced by advocates and critics of the brand as well as comments made about the brand through Twitter and other social media. You should also look at how content from the company or media stories about the company are being shared via social media.


Constructive group project

As groups, students develop a 10-15 page transmedia or digital branding campaign for a real organization (company, non-profit, product, etc.) of your choice, pending instructor approval. Groups will simulate agency or in-house teams tasked with proposing a realistic campaign for a brand, product, candidate or cause. The campaigns should be modeled after the strategic planning model with a particular focus on execution (strategies and tactics). Students are expected to utilize current, professional media and methods for their presentations. Each group will further submit a minimum 1,000-word paper detailing the proposed campaign.

Required Readings and Supplementary Materials

  • Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2013)
  • Daren Brabham, Crowdsourcing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013)
  • Articles posted on the course’s Blackboard page
  • As students of strategic communication, it is essential that you closely follow current events, social attitudes, and lifestyle trends. You need to read general interest and business publications, such as the New York Times, The Economist, Wired Magazine and Mashable.


Course Schedule: A Weekly Breakdown

This outline of the class content and assignments is subject to change as the semester progresses based on student interests and guest speaker availability.


Week 1, January 13: Introduction

  • Self-introductions
  • Review of student and course goals; syllabus
  • Overview
    • Branding
    • Transmedia Storytelling
    • Participatory Culture
    • Spreadable Media
    • Crowdsourcing


Week 2, January 20: Understanding Culture


  • Henry Jenkins (2006), “How Transmedia Storytelling Begat Transmedia Planning,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, December 12
  • Grant McCracken, Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation (New York: Basic, 2009), 5 – 40
  • Malcolm Gladwell, “The Cool Hunt,” in Juliet Schor and Douglas B. Holt (eds.) The Consumer Society: A Reader (New York: The New Press, 2000), 360-374


  • Theoretical underpinnings
  • Why organizations need to care about culture
  • Alternative models for seeking consumer insights (cool hunting, ethnography, crowd-sourcing)
  • Guest Speaker: Todd Cunningham, former head of MTV research.

Readings and Assignments (all due next week)

  • Robert V. Kozinets (1999). “E-Tribalized Marketing?: The Strategic Implications of Virtual Communities of Consumption,” European Management Journal, 17(3), 252-264.
  • Scott Donaton, Madison & Vine: Why the Entertainment and Advertising Industries Must Converge to Survive (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), “Heyer Calling,” 25-38, “Producing an Answer,” 89-94, “BMW’s Powder Keg,” 95-106
  • Frank Rose, The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012), “This Is Your Brand on YouTube,” 221-256


Week 3, January 27: The Changed Media Environment

  • Robert V. Kozinets (1999). “E-Tribalized Marketing?: The Strategic Implications of Virtual Communities of Consumption,” European Management Journal, 17(3), 252-264.
  • Scott Donaton, Madison & Vine: Why the Entertainment and Advertising Industries Must Converge to Survive (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), “Heyer Calling,” 25-38, “Producing an Answer,” 89-94, “BMW’s Powder Keg,” 95-106
  • Frank Rose, The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012), “This Is Your Brand on YouTube,” 221-256
  • Participatory culture vs. the broadcast paradigm
  • Personal media vs. social media
  • Guest Speaker: Erin Reilly, Chief Creative Officer, Annenberg Innovation Lab


Week 4, February 3: Participation


  • Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green (2013), Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, (New York: New York University Press), “What Constitutes Meaningful Participation?”
  • Bud Caddell (2008). “Becoming a Mad Man,” We Are Sterling Cooper
  • Bradley Horowitz (2006). “Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers,” Elatable, Feb. 15
  • James H. McAlexander, John W. Schouten, and Harold F. Koenig (2002), “Building Brand Community,” Journal of Marketing, January, 38-54
  • Susan Fourier and Lara Lee (2009), “Getting Brand Communities Right,” Harvard Business Review, April,


  • Submit autobiographical reflection paper
  • What we participate in and why
  • Sub cultures, fan communities, brand communities: how cultures organize




Week 5, February 10: Participation and Crowdsourcing


  • Daren Brabham, Crowdsourcing (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013)
  • Robert V. Kozinets and Stefano Cerone, “between the Suit and the Selfie: Executives’ Lessons on the Social Micro-Celebrity,” GfK Marketing Intelligence Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2014, pp. 22
  • Jonathan Fuller, “For Us and By Us: The Charm and Power of Community Brands,” GfK Marketing Intelligence Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2014, pp. 40 – 45.


  • Crowdsourcing
  • Participation
  • Darren Brabham, ASCJ Assistant Professor



Week 6, February 17: Transmedia Logics


  • Henry Jenkins (2007), “Transmedia Storytelling 101,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, March 22
  • Henry Jenkins (2011), Transmedia 202: Further Reflections,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, August 1
  • Henry Jenkins (2011), “Seven Myths about Transmedia Storytelling Debunked,” Fast Company, April 8
  • Andrea Phillips (2012), A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill), “Introduction to Transmedia,” 3-40, “Storytelling,” 41-102
  • Ivan Askwith (2007), Television 2.0: Reconceptualizing Television as an Engagement Medium, “Five Logics of Engagement,” 101-116
  • Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green (2013), Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, (New York: New York University Press), “The Value of Media Engagement”
  • Andrea Phillips (2012), A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill), “Structure,” 103-162, “Production,” 163-222
  • Henry Jenkins (2009), “The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, December 12


  • Transmedia design principles
  • Transmedia as branded entertainment
  • Continuity vs. multiplicity
  • World-building as brand-building


Week 7, February 24: Midterm Presentations

  • Mid-term presentations



Week 8, March 3: Retro Branding


  • Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green (2013), Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, (New York: New York University Press), “Reappraising the Residual”
  • Sam Ford, “ Roger’s Lessons for a New Generation,” Fast Company, December 27 2012
  • Stephen Brown, Robert Kozinets, and John F. Sherry, “Teaching Old Brands New Tricks: Retro Branding and The Revival of Brand Meaning,” Journal of Marketing, Vol. 67 (July 2003)
  • IGN (2013), “IGN Reviews: Disney Infinity”
  • Retro branding
  • Guest Speaker: David Voss, Mattel


Week 9, March 10: Netnography


  • Robert Kozinets (2002): “The Field Behind the Screen: Using Netnography for Marketing Research in Online Communities,” Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. XXXIX, Feb., 61-72


  • Netnography as a method for market research
  • Midterm Presentations
  • Assign teams for course project
  • Guest Speakers: TBA, Fusion


Tuesday, March 17: Spring break. No class



Week 10, March 24: Spreadability


  • Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green (2013), Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, (New York: New York University Press), “Why Media Spreads”,“Designing for Spreadability”
  • Johan Berger, Contagious: Why things catch on,
  • James Gleick (2012), “What Defines a Meme?”, May
  • Limor Shiffman (2014), Memes in Digital Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press), “When Memes Go Digital” and “Defining Internet Memes”


  • Media Viruses and Memes
  • Influencers
  • The Spreadability Paradigm
  • Appraisal and value: what we pass on and why
  • Guest Speaker: Sam Ford, Peppercom


Week 11, March 31: Methods for designing spreadable media campaigns


  • Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green (2013), Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, (New York: New York University Press),“What Went Wrong with Web 2.0”
  • Ryan Holiday: Growth Hacking Marketing, New York 2014
  • Ilya Vedrashko (2010), “Five Things ‘Jersey Shore’ Taught My Agency about Social Media.” Advertising Age, July 21


  • Growth Hacking
  • Web tools for creating spreadable campaigns
  • Guest Speaker: Ryan Holiday, author – Growth Hacking Marketing


Week 12, April 7: Augmented Reality



  • Ellie Bothwell (2013), “Does Augmented Reality Work for PR?,” PR Week
  • Layar (2009), “Layar, World’s First Mobile Augmented Reality Browser”
  • Blaise Aguera y Arcas (2010), “Augmented-Reality Maps,” TED 2010
  • Pranav Mistry and Pattie Maes (2009), “SixthSense: A Wearable Gestural Interface,” SIGGRAPH Asia Proceedings
  • Matt Mills (2012), “Image Recognition that Triggers Augmented Reality,” TED Global 2012
  • Eric C. Kansa and Erik Wilde (2011), “Tourism, Peer Production, and Location-Based Service Design,” IEEE International Conference on Services Computing
  • Muki Haklay, Alex Singleton, and Chris Parker (2008), “Web Mapping 2.0: The Neogeography of the GeoWeb,” Geography Compass, 2(6), 2011-2039.
  • Space and place in transmedia branding
  • The possibilities of place-based transmedia branding
  • Challenges to augmented branding
  • Guest Speaker: B.C. Bierman, RE+Public


Week 13, April 14: Activism & Rumors


  • Phillips, Whitney (2009). “‘Why So Socialist?’: Unmasking the Joker,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, Aug. 14
  • Turner, Patricia Ann (1994), I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture (Berkeley; University of California Press), “Introduction” 1-8, “Conspiracy 1,” 57-107
  • Henry Jenkins, “The New Political Commons,” Policy Options, 33, No. 10 , November 2012
  • Henry Jenkins, “Participatory Culture: From Co-Creating Brand Meaning to Changing the World “,GfK Marketing Intelligence Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2014


  • Grassroots efforts to spread messages and determine outcomes
  • The cultural analysis of rumors
  • Guest Speaker: Chris Gebhardt, Pivot/Participant Media


Week 14, April 21: Friction Points

Readings and Assignments

  • Henry Jenkins (2007). “Transforming Fan Culture into User-Generated Content: The Case of FanLib,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, May 22
  • Julie Levin Russo (2009). “User-Penetrated Content: Fan Video in the Age of Convergence,” Cinema Journal 48(4), Summer, pp. 125-130.
  • Suzanne Scott (2009). “Repackaging Fan Culture: The Regifting Economy of Ancillary Content Models,” Transformative Works and Cultures
  • Marius K. Luedicke and Markus Giesler (2007), “Brand Communities and Their Social Antagonists: Insights from the Hummer Case,” in Bernard Cova, Robert Kozinets and Avi Shankar (eds.) Consumer Tribes (New York: Butterworth-Heinemann) 275-295
  • Vince Carducci (2006), “Culture Jamming: A Sociological Perspective,” Journal of Consumer Culture, 6; 116 DOI: 10.1177/1469540506062722


  • When corporate communication and participatory culture clash
  • Culture jamming and Debranding


Readings and Assignments

  • Work on group project presentation and paper


Week 15, April 28: Project Presentation

  • Project presentations: 25 – 30 minute student presentations, with Q&A. Students are expected to utilize current, professional media and methods for their presentations


Week 16, May 7: Finals Week

  • Turn in group project paper

About Your Instructors

Henry Jenkins joined USC from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was Peter de Florez Professor in the Humanities. He directed MIT’s Comparative Media Studies graduate degree program from 1993-2009, setting an innovative research agenda during a time of fundamental change in communication, journalism and entertainment.

As one of the first media scholars to chart the changing role of the audience in an environment of increasingly pervasive digital content, Jenkins has been at the forefront of understanding the effects of participatory media on society, politics and culture. His research gives key insights to the success of social-networking websites, networked computer games, online fan communities and other advocacy organizations, and emerging news media outlets.

Jenkins is recognized as a leading thinker in the effort to redefine the role of journalism in the digital age. Through parallels drawn between the consumption of pop culture and the processing of news information, he and his fellow researchers have identified new methods to encourage citizen engagement. Jenkins launched the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT to further explore these parallels.

Jenkins has also played a central role in demonstrating the importance of new media technologies in educational settings. At MIT, he led a consortium of educators and business leaders promoting the educational benefits of computer games, and oversaw a research group working to help teach 21st century literacy skills to high school students through documentary videos. He also has worked closely with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to shape a media literacy program designed to explore the effects of participatory media on young people, and reveal potential new pathways for education through emerging digital media.

His is the author of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, which is recognized as a hallmark of recent research on the subject of transmedia storytelling. In 2013, he published his most recent book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, together with Sam Ford and Joshua Green.


Burghardt Tenderich is Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. Prior to joining the USC faculty, Burghardt Tenderich was executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at the University of California at Berkeley, where he lectured on technology innovation. He has over 20 years of experience in marketing and communication in the information technology and Internet industries, both in the United States and Europe. Previous positions include General Manager, North America, for technology communications consultancy Bite Communications; Vice President, Public Relations at Siebel Systems; and Senior Vice President and Partner at technology PR agency Applied Communications. He holds a Ph.D. in Economic Geography from the University of Bonn, Germany.


Back to School Special: Cultural Studies of Communication

I thought people might be interested in what I am doing on the teaching front this term, so I figured I would throw up the syllabus for my new PhD Seminar, the Cultural Studies of Communication. This class is intended to introduce our graduate students with the foundational texts of the Cultural Studies tradition. I am joining a rotation around this class with my Annenberg colleagues Sarah Banet-Weiser (who is now Chair of Communication) and Taj Frazier. We each bring somewhat different flavors to the class, reflecting our different trajectories through the field. For me, the class is a homecoming of sorts, returning to readings I first encountered in John Fiske’s seminars at University of Iowa and later, University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the early 1980s. Some of them have been classics that I teach in various contexts, some of them I absorbed into my thinking and moved on, but this is the first time I have had a chance to systematically work through this material since, and I am looking forward to the rediscoveries I, through the students, will make along the way.


COMM 519: Cultural Studies in Communication

Spring 2015

Mondays 2:00-4:50 pm


4 Units


Course Description:


This course is an introduction to the theoretical foundations of and contemporary work in cultural studies, with a particular emphasis on the study of media, popular culture, media audiences and subcultures, consumer culture, and communication. Running across the course is the concept of culture, and a central concern here will be identifying a range of different approaches to cultural analysis, focusing primarily on the key figures in the Birmingham School tradition (especially Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall, but also such contemporaries as Angela McRobbie, Dick Hebdige, E. P. Thompson, and Richard Hoggart), as well as their influences and their disciples.  We will consider cultural studies as an academic movement that has had impact across a range of disciplines, national contexts, and research fields, looking for what these various approaches might have in common, as well as some key debates and controversies within the field. We will be reading a broad array of materials. Realize that this cannot possibly be an exhaustive course, given how much work has been produced under the Cultural Studies banner. You should look at this semester, however, as an introductory overview that will help you to map the field and identify materials you may want to spend more time with in the future.


Course Requirements


Contributions to Class Forum on Blackboard (20 Percent)

Students should share short reflections or questions on the materials read for each week’s session, which can be used as a springboard for class discussions. These should be posted by 10 a.m. on the day the class is being held. (20 percent)


Class Participation Students are expected to come to the class prepared to engage actively in discussion of all of the readings. My approach is very discussion-focused, and students actively help to set the agenda for each of our exchanges. I expect students to be open-minded and generous in responding to their colleagues; our goal is to create a safe space where we can discuss sensitive topics surrounding culture and identity. (10 percent)


Short Paper 1  — Students should write a 5-7 page essay selecting a key figure from the history of Cultural Studies and looking closely at several of their works to assess their core contributions to the field. How do they fit within the larger tradition of cultural studies? What forms of cultural analysis do they employ? Which other theorists do they engage in their work? What do you see as their key contributions? You should be aware that you will be sharing this report with your classmates. (15 points)


Short Paper 2 — Students will write a 5-7 page essay examining a key debate in the cultural studies tradition. You should look critically at 3 or more authors who have addressed this question and discuss points of agreement or disagreement between them. Why has this topic been such an important issue in the field? What is at stake in this debate? How would you position your own work in relation to this conflict?  You will be asked to share this report with your classmates. (15 points)


Note: These two papers can be done in either order, but the first one is due on Feb. 13 and the second is due on March 27.


Final Paper (40 percent)

Students should write a 20-page essay on a topic of their own interests as they reflect on the core themes and concerns that have run through the class. You should apply some of the theoretical and methodological models we have been studying to look more closely at a concrete case study, ideally one that fits within your own larger research interests. Use this assignment as a chance to think more deeply about how your research might fit within cultural studies. Also, students will give a 10-minute final presentation sharing their project with the class. The final paper will be due on the exam date designated for the class. I recommend doing the in-class presentation while the ideas are still taking shape, so you can get feedback from me and your classmates, and build upon it as you do the final drafts of your paper.



  • John Storey (ed.), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (London: Routledge, 2008).
  • Kuan-Hsing Chen and David Morley (eds.) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1996).
  • Henry Jenkins, Tara McPherson, and Jane Shattuc (eds.) Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).


All other readings can be found on Blackboard.


Class Schedule:


Day 1  Monday, January 12th: The Concept of Culture

  • Matthew Arnold, “Culture and Anarchy,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp. 6-11.
  • F.R. Leavis, “Mass Civilization and Minority Culture” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp. 12-20.
  • Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass  Deception,” Dialectic of Englightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), pp.29-43.
  • Raymond Williams, “Culture is Ordinary” in Ben Highmore (ed.), The Everyday Life Reader (London: Routledge, 2011), pp.91-100.
  • Raymond Williams,  “The Analysis of Culture,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp. 32-40.
  •  Raymond Williams, “Dominant, Residual and Emergent,” Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp.121-135.

Day 2 Monday, January 26th: Reading Culture

  • Stuart Hall, “Notes on Deconstructing ‘The Popular’” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp. 508-518.
  • Stuart Hall, “Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies”, Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, pp. 261-274.
  • Stuart Hall,  “Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy and The Cultural Turn,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 10, March 2007, pp. 39-49.
  • Richard Hoggart, “The Full Rich Life & The Newer Mass Art: Sex in Shiny Packets,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp. 26-31.
  • E.P. Thompson, “Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past & Present No. 50 (Feb., 1971), pp. 76-136.
  • Carolyn Steedman, “Culture, Cultural Studies, and the Historians,” in Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler (eds.), Cultural Studies. New York/London: Routledge, pp. 613-622.
  • Charlotte Brunsdon, “A Thief in the Night: Stories of Feminism in the 1970s at CCCS,” Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, pp. 275-285.

Day 3 Monday, February 2nd: Subcultures and Resistance

  • Dick Hebdige, “Subculture: The Meaning of Style,”in Ken Gelder and Sarah Thornton  (eds.) The Subcultures Reader (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 121-129.
  • Paul E. Willis, “Elements of a Culture,” in Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs (London: Saxon House, 1977), pp.11-50.
  • John Clarke, Stuart Hall, Tony Jefferson, & Brian Roberts, “Subcultures, Cultures and Class: A Theoretical Overview,” in Ken Gelder and Sarah Thornton (eds.) The Subcultures Reader (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 100-111.
  • Angela McRobbie,“Settling Accounts with Subcultures: A Feminist Critique,” in Tony Bennett, Graham Martin, Colin Mercer, and Janet Woolacott (eds.), Culture, Ideology and Social Process (London: Batsford, 1980), pp. 111-123.
  • Angela McRobbie, “Second-Hand Dresses and the Role of the Ragmarket,” and “Shut Up and Dance: Youth Culture and Changing Modes of Femininity,” Postmodernism and Popular Culture (London; Routledge, 1994), pp.135-176.
  • Sarah Thornton, “The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital” in Ken Gilder (ed.) The Subculture Reader (London: Routledge, 2005), pp. 184-192.

Day 4 Monday, February 9th: The Origins of Audience Studies

  • Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding,” in Simon During (ed.), The Cultural Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 90-103.
  • Tony Bennett, “Texts. Readers, Reading Formations, The Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association 16(1), Spring 1983, pp. 3-17.
  • John Fiske, “British Cultural Studies and Television,” in Robert C. Allen (ed.), Channels of Discourse Reassembled: Television and Contemporary Criticism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), pp. 284-326.
  • Virginia Nightingale, “The ‘New Phase’ In Audience Research,” Studying Audiences: The Shock of the Real (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 59-93.
  • John Tulloch, “Back to Class and Race: Situation Comedy,” Watching Television Audiences (London: Bloomsbury, 2000), pp. 157-178.
  • David Morley, ”Introduction,” Television, Audiences, and Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 1-42.
  • Jim McGuigan, “Trajectories of Cultural Populism,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp. 606-617.

Day 5 Monday, February 23rd: Roots in Marxism

  • Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “Ruling Class and Ruling Ideas,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 58-59.
  • Karl Marx, “Base and Superstructure,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp.60-61.
  • Antonio Gramsci, “Hegemony, Intellectuals, and the State,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp. 75-80.
  • Stuart Hall, “The Problem of Ideology: Marxism Without Guarantees,” “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, pp. 24-45, 411-441.

Day 6 Monday, March 2nd: Power, Knowledge, and Discourse

  • Michel Foucault, “Panopticism,” Discipline and Punish (London: Vintage, 1995), pp. 195-230.
  • Michel Foucault, “The Repressive Hypothesis,” History of Sexuality, Vol.1: An Introduction (London: Vintage, 1990), pp.15-50.
  • Michel Foucault, “Two Lectures,” Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 (London: Vintage, 1980), pp. 78-108.
  • Michel Foucault,  “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Hetrotopias,” Architecture/Mouvement/ Continuité, October 1984.
  • Michel De Certeau, “‘Making Do’: Uses and Tactics,” “Foucault and Bourdieu,” “Uses of Language,” from The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), pp. 29-42, 45-60, 131-176.
  • John Fiske, “Introduction,” Media Matters: Race and Gender in U.S. Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 1-20.
  • David Halperin, “The Queer Politics of Michel Foucault,” Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 15-125.


Day 7 Monday, March 9th: Cultural Hierarchies

  • Pierre Bourdieu, “Distinction and The Aristocracy of Culture,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp. 398-508.
  • Charlotte Brunsdon, “Questions of Quality,” Screen Tastes: Soap Opera to Satellite Dishes (London: Routledge, 2005), pp. 105-166
  • Eric Michels, “Bad Aboriginal Art,” Bad Aboriginal Art: Tradition, Media, and Technological Horizons (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), pp. 143-164.
  • Lawrence Grossberg, “Another Boring Day in Paradise: Rock and Roll and the Empowerment of Everyday Life,” Popular Music 4, 1984, pp. 225-258.
  • Ien Ang, “Dallas and The Ideology of Mass Culture, in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, pp. 173-182.
  • Ellen Seiter, “Toys’R’Us,” Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture (Rutgers: Rutgers University Press, 1995), pp. 193-226.

Day 8 Monday, March 23rd: Pleasure and Transgression

  • Mikhail Bakhtin, excerpt from Rabelais and His World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009).
  • Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, “Bourgeois Hysteria and the Carnivalesque,” The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1986), pp. 171-190.
  • Meghan Morris, “Banality in Cultural Studies,” Block #14, 1988,
  • Laura Kipnis, “(Male) Desire and (Female) Disgust: Reading Hustler,” in Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler (eds.), Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 373-391.
  • Alison James, “Confections, Concoctions, and Conceptions,” in Henry Jenkins (ed.), The Children’s Culture Reader (New York: New York University Press, 1999), pp. 41-57.


Day 9 Monday, March 30th: Identity and Difference

  • Cornel West, “The New Cultural Politics of Difference” October, Summer 1990, pp. 93- 109.
  • Stuart Hall, “‘What Is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” and “New Ethnicities,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, pp. 442-452, 468-478.
  • Issac Julian and Kobena Mercer, “De Margin and De Center,” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, pp. 452-467.
  • bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 388-394.
  • Erica Rand, “Breeders on a Golf Ball: Normalizing Sex at Ellis Island,” The Ellis Island Snow Globe (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), pp. 41-66.
  • George Lipsitz, “Race, Place, and Power”, “The White Spatial Imaginary,” and “The Black Spatial Imaginary,” How Racism Takes Place (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011), pp. 1-72.


Day 10 Monday, April 6th: Globalization

  • Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Cary Nelson and Lawrence  Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (London: MacMillan, 1988), pp. 271-313.
  • Arjan Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Theory, Culture, and Society 7, 1990, pp. 295-310.
  • Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Profession, 1991, pp. 33-40.
  • George Yudice, “The Expediency of Culture,” The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), pp. 9-39.
  • Homi K. Baba, “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse,” The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 2004), pp. 121-131.


Day 11 Monday, April 13th: The Pleasures and Politics of Popular Culture

NOTE: All of today’s readings come from Henry Jenkins, Tara McPherson, and Jane Shattuc (eds.) Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003):

  • Henry Jenkins, Tara McPherson and Jane Shattuc, “The Culture That Sticks to Your Skin: A Manifesto for a New Cultural Studies,” pp. 3-25.
  • Alexander Doty, “My Beautiful Wickedness’: The Wizard of Oz as Lesbian Fantasy,” 138-158.
  • Geraldine Bloustein, “Ceci N’est Pas Une Jeune Fille”: Videocrams, Representation and ‘Othering’ in the Worlds of Teenage Girls,” pp. 162-186.
  • Robert Drew, “‘Anyone Can Do It’: Forging a Participatory Culture in Karaoke Bars,” 254-269.
  • Sharon Mazer, “Watching Wrestling/Writing Performance,” pp. 270-286.
  • Matthew Tinkom, Joy Van Fuqua, and Amy Villarejo, “On Thrifting,” pp. 459-471.



Day 12 Monday, April 20th: Contemporary Debates in Cultural Studies

  • Nick Couldry and Henry Jenkins (eds.), “Participations: Dialogues on the Participatory Promises of Contemporary Culture and Politics,” International Journal of Communication 8, 2014, Forum pp. 1069-1112; 1129-1151; 1216-1242; 1446-1473.
  • Nicholas Garnham, “Political Economy and Cultural Studies: Reconciliation or Divorce?.” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 618-629.
  • John Hartley, “Creative Industries,” Creative Industries (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005), pp. 1-40.
  • Graham Turner, “Unintended Consequences: Convergence Culture, New Media Studies, and Creative Industries,” What’s Become of Cultural Studies? (London: Sage, 2011), pp. 93-117.
  • Lawrence Grossberg, “The Heart of Cultural Studies,” Cultural Studies in the Future Tense (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), pp. 7-56.

Day 13 Monday, April 27th (LAST DAY OF CLASS)

Student Presentations