Television and the Civil Rights Movement: An Interview with Aniko Bodroghkozy (Part Three)

Today’s civil rights movements, such as the struggles over the DREAM act, are more likely to play out in digital media than through broadcast media, and once again, the debates seem to want to focus on digital media as technology, rather than as a set of social, cultural, and political practices. What lessons might we take from your work on 1960s television to help us understand the role of new media in contemporary political resistance movements?  

Let’s remember that television news in the early 1960s was the era’s “new media,” as digital media like Twitter and Facebook are today.  Any successful social change movement is going to want to exploit and make use of the newest communication tools of its era.  Today it’s social media.

These forms of media obviously do somewhat different things than “old media” like television – the form of communication and contact is different, appeal to audiences is different.  I hear the term “Twitter Revolution” and it puts my teeth on edge.  Twitter no more caused the Arab Spring or the Occupy movement than television caused the civil rights movement or the anti-Vietnam war movement.  In both cases, social change movements used the communication tools of the day and certainly the tools have an impact on how one can communicate, who one can reach, how quickly we can organize, and all the rest.

What concerns me is the centering on the technology as technology and the utopian discourses that surround it all.  As far as digital media, I think Morozov’s The Net Delusion is a useful corrective to the notion that new social media are inherently liberatory.  Social change movements create the impetus for social change – and that requires the hard work of organizing.  Television coverage and social media tools help, but they don’t substitute for organizing and getting lots of people together in real time and space pressing a change agenda and dialoguing with others and confronting others about it.  Some of this can occur in virtual spaces (I think Facebook and Twitter can be great organizing tools – mostly because they are fast and efficient), but I still would argue that social change activists do have to get into the streets and into public spaces as Occupy did – and as the civil rights movement did. 

One of the most important contributions of your book is your focus on reception, specifically the ways that different groups (not simply black vs. white or north vs. south, but different groups of white southerners, say) used television content to stage debates about what forms of social change were or were not acceptable. Too often, we end up with pretty univocal accounts of how southerners responded to the civil rights movement. What were some of the core points of difference that surface when you look at audience response to these broadcasts?

It’s pretty easy to stereotype white Southerners in the civil rights era: either benighted, evil or buffoonish racists or latter-day Atticus Finches taking on the good fight for victimized blacks.  I was interested in really trying to understand how white Southerners responded to the fundamental challenge to their segregationist world view when national media, network television in particular, throws a nationwide spotlight onto race relations in their locales, in particular Birmingham and Selma.

Working with the very large number of letters to the editor I found in Alabama newspapers, along with editorials and commentary that directly addressed media coverage I wanted to analyze and provide interpretive readings of these responses.  One thing I found was a significant degree of media awareness and savvy among white Southerners – they were far more aware of the workings of the media than were non-Southerners or African American commentary in the black press.

In fact, during the key civil rights years (early-mid 1960s) I was struck by how little discussion of the media I found in the black press.  It was like, since the media wasn’t a “problem” for the black empowerment movement, the medium as medium tended to disappear.  The media was telling the truth, “reflecting” what was really happening in the South, so there wasn’t the felt need to interrogate how the media was operating.  At least, that’s my attempt to hypothesize about the dearth of discourse about media in the black press during this period.

The situation is very different in the Alabama press.  Lots of attention to the role played by national media and particularly the “new media”: television.   And since most of these Southerners didn’t want to believe that what they were seeing on their TVs was true, they had to explain what was going on.  There were a lot of accusations that King and the movement merely wanted “publicity.”  Publicity for what?  Well, King was power mad or wanted to curry influence in Washington.  The movement’s stated reasons for the publicity campaigns couldn’t be grappled with.

These Southerners were, of course, correct that King and the movement staged marches and demonstrations to get media attention: they needed publicity on a national scale.  The movement, on the other hand, could never admit that they were staging “media events.”  White Southerners could see this, but for the most part had to stop right there.  To engage the next question: why do these marchers want this national attention, what are they marching for and against, would lead to scary answers.

If the Southern white worldview is founded, as it was, on the premise that segregation works for everyone and that blacks are just as content with the situation as whites, then to really engage the fundamental question profoundly threatens that worldview.  So many white Southerners had to evade and look for other things to focus on: the “Northern-ness” of network television, for instance.  Or media bias: why the focus on bad race relations in Selma when blacks and whites are killing each other in New York subways?  Why doesn’t the media focus on racism in the North?  Valid questions, but they do help to evade the big issue about Jim Crow and voter disenfranchisement.

Occasionally with some letter writers and editorialists, the media images broke through: especially during the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign, particularly when white volunteers got murdered.  In a number of cases, there were anguished concerns about the “image” of Alabama that the rest of the country is getting: what does this say about Alabama?  Who are we?  How are we going to have to change?  I see these as cracks in the hegemonic segregationist armour and clues to how a previously naturalized worldview starts slowly to disintegrate.

As a historian of reception practices, the one thing I wanted to try to do was avoid taking a condescending attitude to these segregationist discourses and the people who were producing this discourse.  It’s easy to feel superior and know that these folks were on the wrong side of history.  They didn’t know that.  I

n some ways I found Northerners, particularly those who responded to the East Side/West Side episodes that explored race relations topics in Northern locales, as equally blinkered.  Even though these episodes were clearly marked as occurring in New York City and its environs, numerous letter writers would discursively locate the problem back to the South.  The real race problem was there; Southerners were the ones who should be watching these shows to learn about the plight of black people.   “Dumb” white Southerners were the problem, no matter where blacks faced oppression and discrimination.

One of the surprising discoveries you made was that while the networks did cover aspects of the March on Washington “live,” they cut away from what we now see as the key moments in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. What do you think motivated that decision?

All three networks carried significant amounts of live coverage of the March on Washington which occurred, by the way, on a Wednesday.  Nowadays it’s no spectacular feat to get masses of people to Washington for a march, but they always happen on the weekend.  Try to get a quarter of a million people to the national Mall on a weekday!

Along with the live coverage during the day, CBS that evening provided a prime time news programme that both recapped the events of the day and provided background about the March.  For people interested in the March, CBS’s prime time coverage is probably where they first got their sense of what happened.  Now this is the pre-sound bite era.  The news special provided long excerpts for quite a number of the speeches that preceded King’s.

Finally we get to King who provided the final speech of the day.  King’s speech can be divided into two halves: the first part provides some rationale for why people are massed at the Mall and why blacks are not satisfied with the racial status quo or the pace of change.  The second part of the speech is the one we all know: the soaring oratory of “I have a dream” and King’s vision of an America redeemed.  So, when CBS news personnel make their decision of what to excerpt from the speech, what do they go with?

Believe it or not, they cut away just as King launches into “I have a dream.”  When I first saw this news programme at the CBS News Archive, my jaw just about hit the floor when I realized that the most important words of the most important speech of the 20th century ended up on the cutting room floor.  It’s a pretty major journalistic gaffe.  But why?

I suggest that in 1963, reporters and news personnel didn’t know what to do with “I have a dream.”  King isn’t speaking politically any more; he isn’t given a list of grievances.  He is preaching.  Drew Hansen in his book about the speech really helped me to understand what the journalistic decision-making must have been.  King was no longer a political leader, he was now a visionary prophet, akin to Isaiah in the Bible.  This wasn’t a King that journalists were familiar with – outside of black churches, no one had really heard King speaking like this.

Aniko Bodroghkozy  is Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Prof. Bodroghkozy received her PhD in 1994 from the University of Wisconsin/Madison’s Department of Communication Arts where she worked with John Fiske and Lynn Spigel. She received an MFA in Film from Columbia University in New York, and a BA High Honours from the Department of Film Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Prof. Bodroghkozy’s first book, Groove Tube: Sixties Television and the Youth Rebellion was published by Duke University Press in 2001. She has published numerous articles on American cinema and television and the social change movements of the postwar era. Her work has appeared in scholarly journals such as Cinema Journal, Screen, Television and New Media, and the online TV Studies journal Flow. Her current book project, Black Weekend: Television News and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy is a narrative history exploring the four days of network coverage surrounding the death of JFK.  She is also editing the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to the History of American Broadcasting.

Television and the Civil Rights Movement: An Interview with Aniko Bodroghkozy (Part Two)

You suggest that the news media made “common cause” with the civil rights movement in bringing some of their concerns to the American public. What motivated the national news media to embrace this story? What were the limits of their commitment to the cause?  

It was a limited common cause. Around issues such as integration of schools and public spaces, along with voting rights, the media was largely supportive.  But Presidents Kennedy and Johnson also embraced those goals.  The news media, television in particular, tended to be very positively inclined to JFK and was as well to LBJ in the early period of his administration when he appeared to be trying to carry out the Kennedy agenda, particularly the Civil Rights Act that passes in 1964.  The legislative goals of the movement were “legitimated” by the fact that there was significant support among both Democratic and Republican officials outside the South. These were somewhat less partisan times, certainly in media coverage.  Television news deferred quite a bit to the president.

But one thing surprised me as I examined TV news coverage.  Reporters tended to become far more critical of civil rights activists and civil rights campaigns when things turned violent.  In reading transcripts of NBC coverage of the sit-in movement, I was surprised to discover that the reporter refused to identify who was being violent.  The reporter kept using the passive voice so it wasn’t clear that white segregationists were the ones pummeling sit-in demonstrators.

At other times, however, when the violence was so clearly marked between victim and aggressor, there was less criticism of the civil rights activists.  When voting rights marchers in Selma were brutally gassed and beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in full view of a battery of cameras, there was no attempt to suggest that the marchers were participating in creating the mayhem.  However, in another news story from Selma that I viewed, the CBS reporter was somewhat critical of very youthful demonstrators who, unlike their elders, did not present docile bodies, but ranged around the streets and back alleys during their march.  In general, there appeared to be more anxiety about the activities and potential threat of black youths (who were, of course, fundamentally important to the success of civil rights campaigns, particularly those of direct action and civil disobedience).

It’s a weird paradox: TV news was drawn to the civil rights story to some extent because it provided dramatic visuals of violence and a powerful good versus evil narrative, but reporters tended to criticize the violence that drew them to the story in the first place.

You write in the book about “a moment [in the 1960s] of non-stereotypical, respectable middle-class blacks” on fictional television. What factors gave rise to this moment and which led to its decline? How do these fictional black characters relate to the idealized civil rights subject that you suggest was constructed through the evening news?

It seems that every era of media representation of African Americans is attempting to respond differently to the era that precedes it.  I open the book with a consideration of The Beulah Show and Amos ‘n’ Andy, the early 1950s shows featuring blacks in starring roles.  We tend to consider them to be stereotyped and degrading images of blacks.  At the time, however, the thinking about these representations was somewhat more complicated.  Beulah, the black housekeeper to a white family, was seen by some (including some in the black press) as equal to her employers, middle-class in deportment, not using dialect, and in general a good role model.  In developing Amos ‘n’ Andy for television, CBS very deliberately elevated them and the Kingfish to middle class status presumably to make them appear less disrespectable and buffoonish.  Nevertheless, both shows, and especially Amos ‘n’ Andy, were subject to high profile protest by the NAACP, and were off the air by 1953.

Prime time becomes a very “white-washed” world from then on till the early-mid 1960s.  Network programming philosophy was: appeal to the most, offend the least.  Black performers tended to cause controversy – witness the case of Nat King Cole and his 1957 variety show which couldn’t secure a sponsor.  The “integrating” of prime time entertainment programming is, of course, a direct result of the civil rights movement.  It was becoming more of a problem to not show at least occasional black performers or black characters.

Herman Gray came up with the concept “civil rights subject” when he was writing about how television tended to remember civil rights.  The civil rights subject in his original formulation is the latter-day beneficiary of the movement: an exemplary figure signified by hard work, individualism, middle-class status.  The Huxtable family of The Cosby Show is the quintessential example of this concept.  What I argue in my book is that this “civil rights subject” is also evident in television representations (both in news coverage and in prime time entertainment) during the civil rights era.  The most notable early example in prime time drama is Bill Cosby again!  In 1965 he’s paired with a white partner in the Cold War espionage series, I Spy.  Cosby’s character can’t just be a spy, though: he’s a Rhodes scholar who speaks eleven languages and is clearly superior to everyone around him (except that his white buddy gets all the girls).  I Spy gives us a colour-blind, post-integrationist world where our two heroes can range around the world to Cold War hot spots (typically in Asian countries that look “exotic”) and represent a black-and-white America that doesn’t have anything to do with racism.

Bill Cosby’s character is the opposite of a victim, but another form of early 1960s programming did focus on blacks-as-victims – the “social problem” dramas that appeared in direct response to both the idealism of the Kennedy New Frontier and also industry anxiety about tougher regulation by the new FCC chairman, Newton Minow who castigated television as “a vast wasteland.”  One show I look at, East Side/West Side, focuses on the crusades of an idealistic white social worker in New York City.  One very high profile episode examines the plight of a young Harlem couple dealing with the lack of jobs for black men and horrendous ghetto housing conditions (their baby dies after begin bitten by a rat).  Even though the couple is obviously poor and living in degraded conditions, they are presented to us as middle-class seeming, dignified, hard-working, eminently respectable – although James Earl Jones, as the husband, portrays a barely contained rage against his oppression.  The characters, nevertheless, are presented to white viewers as ones deserving of help – the only thing standing in the way of their achieving middle-class status and integration into the white world is employment discrimination and slum housing.  So there’s that similar appeal that we see in news and photojournalism coverage: helpless but worthy blacks, enlightened, caring whites as potential rescuers.

But shows like East Side/West Side were a bit grim for prime time Nielsen families.  The quintessential civil rights subject after Bill Cosby in I Spy was Diahann Carroll in Julia, which came on air in 1968 and was the first TV series to star an African American since the days of Amos ‘n’ Andy and Beulah.  Julia was colour-blind integration fully achieved.  She’s a nurse with white co-workers and she lives in a LA apartment building with white neighbours.  Except for mostly humourous instances of “prejudice,” Julia and her adorable young son personify a world of interracial harmony.  The show was controversial because as network television’s first high profile attempt to center a show around African Americans, it ran up against the rapid shifts in the black empowerment movement and what was going on with race in the US at that point.  By 1968 with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts having passed, the attention shifted North and there’s more of a focus on economic oppression and “de facto” segregation and the situation with black inner city “ghettos.”  The movement also shifts into more confrontational directions that are more discomforting to liberal and moderate whites.  Julia was a popular show but arguments swirled around it suggesting that the show was out of touch with what was really going on: the show wasn’t “telling it like it is.”


You see the book as seeking to correct some common misunderstandings about the role of television during the civil rights era. What do you see as the most widespread misinterpretations of this period?


I think it’s similar to the misunderstanding about television and the Vietnam War.  Television did not embrace the cause of the anti-war movement and thereby lead the US population to demand the war’s end.  (See Daniel Hallin’s The “Uncensored War.”)  Similarly television didn’t cause the success of the civil rights movement.  Television was not a mouthpiece for the movement; news coverage did not transmit or reflect the positions, perspectives, and arguments of the movement in some simple, one-directional sort of way.  I see this over and over again in histories of the civil rights era: the nation saw it on television and the nation acted.  This reifies the medium, gives us television as a neutral mirror reflecting what’s in front of the camera.   No attention to television as an institution and industry, or to textual construction, or to reception practices – all the issues that we as media scholars explore.  This is preaching to the choir when I say this to fellow media studies folks, but I’m hoping my book gets read by non-media scholars, too!

Was network television in general sympathetic to the legislative goals of the movement?  Yes.  But as I’ve already noted, so were powerful political players.  Was the movement sympathetic to many of the movement’s strategies, including demonstrations, direct action, civil disobedience?  In general, no.  For instance, in the run-up to the March on Washington, the media (and not just television) was very critical of the prospect of a hundred thousand and more black people converging on the nation’s capital.  The recurring news peg was “violence is inevitable” and “mass marches won’t sway congressional votes anyway.”  When violence didn’t occur on the day of the march, the live coverage became largely celebratory with images mostly focused on dignified, middle-class-looking marchers – ideal “civil rights subjects” – who presented docile, smiling, and unthreatening images.  But newsmen covering the event continued to insist that the quarter of a million marchers wouldn’t sway votes, so what was the point of the march.

So I really want to undercut and question a certain amount of technological utopianism and determinism that I see in civil rights historiography and also in popular memory.  Television coverage was crucial to the movement, of course; the movement did not, however, fundamentally control either the medium or its messages.  The medium and the movement were not one and the same; that fact tends to get lost.

Aniko Bodroghkozy  is Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Prof. Bodroghkozy received her PhD in 1994 from the University of Wisconsin/Madison’s Department of Communication Arts where she worked with John Fiske and Lynn Spigel. She received an MFA in Film from Columbia University in New York, and a BA High Honours from the Department of Film Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

Prof. Bodroghkozy’s first book, Groove Tube: Sixties Television and the Youth Rebellion was published by Duke University Press in 2001. She has published numerous articles on American cinema and television and the social change movements of the postwar era. Her work has appeared in scholarly journals such as Cinema Journal, Screen, Televisionand New Media, and the online TV Studies journal Flow. Her current book project, Black Weekend: Television News and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy is a narrative history exploring the four days of network coverage surrounding the death of JFK.  She is also editing the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to the History of American Broadcasting.



Batman and Beyond: An Interview with Will Brooker (Part Three)

  As you note, there has always been space within the Batman canon for some kinds of alternative interpretations of the character, for “What If?” or Elseworld stories, for alternative histories and authorial differences. Do you see the space for multiplicity within the superhero comics narrowing as Hollywood interests exert greater control over the future of these characters? If so, why?

I don’t, because I think comics are currently and will probably remain a niche interest.

That Morrison’s run on Batman -- an extended, fannish love letter to the character’s seventy-year continuity, including obscure, one-panel references to specific archival stories and reworkings of previously-repressed comic narratives – took place at exactly the time Nolan was helming his own separate and distinctly authored Batman franchise, demonstrates that comic book continuity remains relatively independent from the Hollywood version.

There are overlaps and crossovers – Nolan’s franchise borrowed from specific graphic novels, and Morrison incorporated references to the Nolan Batman into his own story –  but comics run on a parallel track, for a different (and far smaller) audience than movies, and no doubt also far smaller than the video game market.

It is certainly possible to identify a Nolan influence within Batman comics of the last seven years. Lucius Fox is now both regularly written and drawn to evoke Morgan Freeman. Joker is now commonly depicted with knife scars up both cheeks.  A rougher, more cockney Alfred, clearly inspired by Michael Caine, features in one recent graphic novel. Batman regularly appears as a more armoured character, and the Tumbler, his tanklike Batmobile from Nolan’s movies, has frequently appeared on the pages of comics. Characters like Riddler, Penguin and Killer Croc have been re-imagined, within certain titles at least, in a more ‘Nolanised’ style. A new title called simply The Dark Knight was launched in 2010.

However, I would characterise this as ‘influence’ rather than ‘control’. Nolan’s interpretation of Batman and his world has joined the matrix of Batman texts and images, as Adam West’s did in the late 1960s, and facets of the ‘Nolanverse’ will inevitably appear within other Batman stories, just as the comic books became more flat, Pop and cartoonish during the TV show’s successful run. That was a fad, and it faded, and I think the influence of Nolan’s specific Batman will also fade in time, though it will remain part of the broader kaleidoscopic matrix, or mosaic, of what Batman is, and will continue to crop up now and then.

One of the underlying arguments of my book is that meanings occupy places on a spectrum, rather than binary oppositional positions, and that they flow, change places and cross over like energy running around a circuit, rather than like light switches that are either on or off.

So there are constant overlaps and internal contradictions throughout Batman’s history that undermine any sense of clear boundaries and definitions.

The Dark Knight Returns, which is held up as one of the key texts of the ‘purist’, dark, military Batman, and also regarded as ‘faithful’ in tone to Kane’s original, is itself an Elseworlds story and a possible future. The 1970s Batman of O’Neil and Adams is believed to have rebooted the character from the sillier, more playful aesthetic of the 1960s, but it is surprisingly easy to find elements of camp and queerness in those supposedly ‘gritty’ adventures of the ‘Darknight Detective’ and Robin, the Teen Wonder.

And while the New 52 of October 2011 ostensibly reboots Batman into a more contained storyline and space after the complexity and ambiguity of Morrison’s previous run – we are told now that Batman has only been active for five years, which clearly rules much of his history out of continuity – it retains the official line that there are 52 multiple universes, including several in-continuity alternate versions of Batman. So while the New 52 reboot seems to be a move towards control and ‘straightness’, in every sense, at the same time it embraces multiplicity and a sense of possibility.

The dynamic between multiplicity and control in Batman’s universe is not a matter of off/on, then, but push-pull; a constant tension between energies in different directions, rather than a binary which clicks all the way to one extreme, then all the way back to the other

As someone who has written a lot about the meanings of the Joker, especially in relation to Nolan’s film, I wanted to get you to reflect a bit about the Joker/Obama phenomenon. What do these images suggest about the connections you draw between the Joker and folk cultural logics and practices?


I would be tempted to see the Joker/Obama images as an example of the state of contemporary folk culture epitomised by the Joker in modern comics – a distorted, limited, unfunny version of the older folk culture Bakhtin describes, which genuinely belonged to the people and the marketplace, and roamed freely, generously, with healthy mockery of official rituals and structures.

The posters of Obama in the guise of Ledger’s Joker do not strike me as witty or even meaningful. They seem to have no particular conviction behind them; no clear message or purpose.

The first instance of the Jokerised Obama was defended by the Republican students who designed it as simply a pop culture image to get attention, rather than a political statement.

The creator of the most famous Joker/Obama image, Firas Alkhateeb, also claims no political purpose and has said he simply produced it because he was bored. The ‘socialism’ caption was added by someone else, who downloaded Alkhateeb’s image from Flickr. Even with this addition, the poster strikes me as having very little focused meaning. The combination of Ledger’s Joker, Obama’s portrait from the cover of Time and the word ‘socialism’ do not seem to cohere into any resonant message. The racial connotations of the image also seem to be accidental, rather than intended by Alkhateeb, who claims he was simply experimenting with a photoshop technique.

So I would associate this image with the expression of closed-down, contained carnival that Bakhtin tells us evolved from the seventeenth century onwards; a reduced carnival-grotesque, an ‘individual carnival, marked by a vivid sense of isolation... laughter was cut down to cold humour, irony, sarcasm. It ceased to be a joyful and triumphant hilarity. Its positive regenerating power was reduced to a minimum.’

Mockery and foolishness have a useful social purpose, whether we agree with their political aims or not, but to my mind, the Jokerised Obama says nothing positive or helpful, whether for the left or the right; it only offers sneering, empty sarcasm and ugliness. ‘The result,’ as Bakhtin says, ‘is a broken grotesque figure.’

This is very much the Joker of recent, ‘dark’ Batman comics, whose jokes trail off without punchlines, who seems lonely, cold and barren, rather than a joyful, ‘gay devil’, who wants to spread his playful energies across the city.

If it does have a value is, it is perhaps that – like Ledger’s Joker – it destabilises meaning and questions oppositions.

Arguably, the Jokerised Obama image problematises our expectations of political propaganda posters– that they should have a clear intention and carry a coherent message – and works to question and interrogate political oppositions based around personality, celebrity and iconic individuality, through the creator’s stated indifference and lack of any motivation beyond playful experiment. We assume that the combination Joker + Obama must be meant as either celebration or criticism; inherently, though, as far as the creator’s intentions go, it is neither.

The slippery refusal of this image to carry any obvious meaning – its refusal to make sense, its obstinate unwillingness to be readily decoded, despite the fact that it fits the conventional icon + slogan pattern that we are so used to understanding immediately and reading competently in advertising and propaganda – does perhaps have a certain subversive power.

Nolan’s Joker claims to be an agent of chaos, empty of any political agenda or intention, rather than a ‘schemer’, but the fact that his terrorism is clearly carefully planned subverts even this idea of meaningless, motiveless crime. He denies the forces of order the opportunity to classify him as ‘chaotic’; that would be a category in itself.

The Jokerised Obama, by contrast, is assumed to have an agenda and political intention, but in fact, in its original form, was created genuinely without motive, for the sake of appearance alone – an exercise in photoshop that could presumably have been applied to any photograph of any face – rather than parody or propaganda.

As such, the Joker/Obama image, like the other artefacts that swarm and circulate around the film, from news stories to viral marketing to fan-made Bane memes, adds an interesting intertextual echo to the network of meanings that make up The Dark Knight, and the broader Dark Knight trilogy as a whole.

Will Brooker is currently Director of Research in Film and Television at Kingston University, London, and incoming editor of Cinema Journal. His books include Batman Unmasked, Using the Force, Alice's Adventures, The Blade Runner Experience, the BFI Film Classics volumeStar Wars, and Hunting the Dark Knight (I B Tauris, 2012).

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Germany (Round Two) and the Czech Republic

  Delmonhorst and Breman, Germany

Our travels next took us back through Germany -- to the town of Delmonhorst in Lower Saxony. Here, I participated in a conference, organized by Martin Butler and centering around the "precarious alliances" which shape the relations between authors, readers, editors, publishers, translators, critics, archivists, and booksellers, among others, each of whom helps to shape the nature of literary production. This was an intimate event -- roughly 20 academics, mostly European, a few American -- sat around in a seminar room for three days and talked about each other's work. For me, this kind of prolonged engagement was a rare treat, especially when coupled with the fact that the topic -- which centered mostly around print culture -- was a little askew to what I normally look at  and most of the papers, by and large, focused on pre-20th century forms of publication. I gave the opening keynote, using J.K. Rowling's complex relations with Harry Potter fans and readers, as the central focus of my analysis, but giving the group a taste of what publication means in the era of "spreadable media."

The other keynote talks came from James L. West Jr. (Penn State), who has helped to manage the republication of the works of F. Scott Fitzergerald, and shared some of the behind the scenes negotiations which shape  posthumous publications (and along the way, told some great stories about consulting with Baz Luhrman on the forthcoming, now delayed, Great Gatsby movie), Wil Verhoeven (Gronigen) who spoke about "print capitalism" and the establishment of "political modernity" in England, and Claire Squires (Stirling), author of Marketing Literature: The Making of Contemporary Writing in Britain, who described the ways new modes of digital publishing and online book selling were disrupting older printing practices.  Other memorable presentations include a critique of the rhetoric of participation as deployed by some contemporary marketing projects by Martin Butler (Olderberg), a talk on the packaging of best selling genre fiction in Post-socialist Russia by Ulrich Schmid (St. Gallen),  a discussion of the political and cultural debates surrounding the Booker Prize by Anna Augustcik (Oldenburg), and a talk about the construct of the impoverished author in early Modern France by Geoffrey Turnovsky (Seattle). These exchanges, which dealt with print as a medium and as a set of cultural practices, rather than as a fixed canon of great works, were refreshing for me and seemed to open a path forward for future multidisciplinary conversations around similar topics.

Cynthia and I especially enjoyed getting to know Verhoeven and his partner, Amanda Gilroy, who drove down  precisely to meet me. Gilroy recently published a fascinating essay dealing with how she used fan fiction writing activities to get her students to engage more closely with the works of Jane Austin, an essay I know would be of particular interest to many of our readers.

The conference organizers allowed a fair amount of downtown for us to explore the city and its surrounding area. A few blocks from our hotel, there was a beautiful park, where we ran into this brace of ducks.



And in the town proper, we had yet another Spider-man sighting. It would seem that for a U.S.-based superhero, he gets around!



One night, a party of the speakers went into Breman, nearby, for dinner and a stroll around the historic districts of this German city, which was referenced by Ptolemy as early as 150 AD.  Like many German cities, Breman was heavily bombed during the Second World War, but it has made concerted efforts to restore some of the beautiful old buildings.



Praha (Prague), Czech Republic


When I arrived in Praha, I was greeted with posters depicting me as a somewhat paunchy superhero, flying high above the  Žižkov Television Tower,  a local landmark. These posters had been made by Luis Blackaller, a former MIT Media Lab student, who now lives in Los Angeles and occasionally sits in on my classes.

The poster had been commissioned by Jaroslav Švelch, who had spent several years as a visiting scholar through the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, and now teaches on the Charles University Faculty of Social Sciences. Svelch had helped to organize a day-long symposium, Transmedia Generation: On Empowered and Impassioned Audiences in the Age of Media Convergences, in honor of my visit. We were grateful to receive funding from the U.S. Embassy in Pradha to help support this exchange between American and Czech based scholars.

Here is my talk (a variant on the one I had given at the Telefonica conference in Madrid).

Sangita Shresthova, a former CMS Masters Student, who now heads up our Civic Paths research team at USC, flew in for the event. Shresthova is part Nepalese, part Czech, and grew up in Praha, as she notes in the opening segment of her talk  about Bollywood dance and its fan following around the world. I featured Shresthova's book, Is It All in the Hips?: Around the World With Bollywood Dance, earlier this year, on my blog.

Here's  Švelch''s own talk which shared some of his research about fan subbing practices, especially concerning Game of Thrones, in the Czech Republic.  Švelch' has a background in translation studies, even though much of his recent work has dealt with computer games and other aspects of digital culture, so this project allowed him to combine several of his interests.

I was especially intrigued by this presentation by Nico Carpentier (Free University of Brussells), who has been exploring what we can learn about new forms of participatory culture by digging more deeply into the literature around participatory democracy. I was a bit nervous when I saw the title of his talk, "The Dark Side of Online Participation," but I left enormously excited by the work he is doing. Carpentier argues that legitimate claims for advances in opportunities for meaningful participation are drowned out by a rhetoric of participation which as often as not is little more than marketing. He wants to create some conceptual models which allow us to appraise what kinds of participation are on offer, seeing meaningful participation as involving the redistribution of power and the flattening of traditional hierarchies and inequalities. This is precisely the kind of work which should be done right now at the intersection between critical and cultural studies.

I made no secret of my excitement over discovering Carpentier and his work when Sangita, Nico, and I shared a panel together for the symposium's final session, which dealt with the political and educational implications of the research we had presented.

Since I have been back in Los Angeles, Carpentier and I have been working on a dialogic piece which explores more fully the similarities and differences in the ways we are thinking in our current projects about the nature of political participation.

To be honest, the conference was, in some ways, an excuse to have  Švelch and Shresthova show Cynthia and I around Praha. After speaking to so many different groups and meeting so many new people, it was a luxury to be able to hang out and have fun with two old friends.



I would say that we painted the town "red," but somehow that might have a different connotation when talking about a post-socialist country. But, we had a wonderful time wandering the streets and taking tram trips together as they tried to introduce us to as much Czech culture as I could possibly absorb in a few days time.


As I sit here some weeks later and try to put into words my scattered impressions of Praha, I feel like it comes out as something like "Pretty, Shiny, Golly Whiz!", where-as something of the beauty and splendor comes through in Cynthia's photographs.


As Jaroslav, Cynthia, and I were walking along the banks of the Vltava River, we ran straight into two other Comparative Media Studies affiliates --  Zuzana Husárová and Amaranth Borsuk  -- both visiting Eastern Europe to attend a conference about digital poetry and storytelling. Here, you see the Praha Castle towering over the river, while on this sunny afternoon, you can see all kinds of boats out cruising along the river.



This is Jaroslav's photograph of Cynthia and I in front of some of the old buildings which survive from the 1891 Jubilee Exhibition. We were here visiting another late 19th century panorama, in this case depicting the Battle of Lipany (fought in 1434). Our exploration of late 19th popular amusements also took us to visit a Hall of Mirrors, also from 1891, and also very much still alive as an attraction for contemporary tourists.




We were fascinated by the old world charm of Praha, especially the decorated facades of buildings which date back to the Art Nouveau period.



One of our discoveries on this trip was the work of the Czech Art Nouveau graphic artist, Alphonse Mucha, whose paintings, illustrations, advertisements, postcards, and designs captured the spirit of Prague as it entered into the 20th century. I found this video on YouTube which shares some of Mucha's story and work.


But we were also very much taken by the aesthetic of contemporary Praha street art.


We were very much amused to stumble upon this fine establishment, dedicated to preserving the memory of this classic 1970s vintage American cult series and the lifestyle which it embodies. Starksy and Hutch was very much an active fandom when I wrote Textual Poachers, though I don't run across many references to it today. I wanted to share this image in honor of all of you old school fans out there!


Visiting this former Soviet block country brought back a rush of memories for me as a child of Cold War America. Perhaps the most powerful concerned the CBS Children's Film Festival, a staple of my childhood.  (You can learn more about the program on this Kukla.TV fan website. )This program ran every Saturday afternoon, just as the morning cartoon shows started to give up the ghost, and spill over into programming intended for adults. The program was hosted by Kukla, Fran, and Ollie and dedicated to sharing films focusing on the lives of children from around the world. When I looked the program up on the web, I was struck by how many of the stories I remembered most vividly had come from Czechoslovakia, which was known during this period for its production of children's films. Here, for example, are segments from two of the films shown during the Children's Film Festival:

Adventure in Golden Bay   Dobrodružství na Zlaté zátoce (1956)

Captain Korda  Kapitán Korda  (1970)

Many of the other films shown on the series came from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Poland, Eastern Germany, and a range of other Warsaw Pact countries. These memories have left me very curious how it was possible for so many of these films to air on network television during a period of time when political tensions between the United States and Eastern Europe were at such a level of intensity, and also to ponder what impact this early exposure to global diversity might have had on my generation's relationship to the rest of the world. Certainly, there are children's film festivals hosted by museums and cultural institutions around the United States today, but there is no such commitment from commercial broadcasters to insure a more cosmopolitan diet for contemporary youth.

A window display of wooden marionettes suggested the continued process of cross-cultural exchange, as Charlie Chaplin, Harry Potter, and Jack Sparrow hang alongside Old World witches and trolls.



The Czech people have long been among the most accomplished puppet makers and performers in the world, and this fascination with puppetry has often influenced their filmmaking, resulting in a strong tradition of puppet animation. Looking for more information about the puppet shops and theaters we saw in Praha, I stumbled onto this website, which also shared a delightful cartoon produced by students in their summer program.

While I was in Praha, I was interviewed by Pavel Kořínek, who wanted to get my thoughts about the current state of Comics Studies, as an emerging field of research. He was nice enough to give me Český Komiks 2000-2010, a wonderful collection of contemporary Czech comics.  Here's a useful Wikipedia entry that overviews the history of Czech comics. Jaroslav helped to fuel my growing interest in this graphic tradition by taking me to a small museum dedicated to the works of Kaja Saudek, perhaps the most important Czek underground comics artist of the 1960s and 1970s. Saudek was inspired both by the traditions of mainstream American comics, especially superheros but also Walt Disney and Carl Barks. He was also transformed by his encounters with the work of R. Crumb and Richard Corben. Here's what came out when these worlds collided. Saudek's work conveyed something of the spirit of the youth culture which contributed to the Prague Spring movement in 1968.

Jaroslav and Sangita also took me to Terryho ponožky (Terry’s Socks), located by the box office at the Světozor art house cinema just off Wenceslas Square. Terry's Socks was named after Terry Gilliam who famously left a sweaty pair of socks on a Prada movie theater's stage after a public appearance. Terry's Socks is by reputation the best place to shop in Prague for DVDS. I went there in search of what I could find of the Czech New Wave film movement, and brought back some real treasures. As it happens, Americans who want to know more about the explosion of cinematic creativity which hit Praha in the 1960s can now buy a number of classic works in Criterion's Pearls of the Czech New Wave box set, released earlier this summer. See below an especially memorable sequence from Věra Chytilová's 1966 film Daisies, which is included in the anthology.


While I was in Praha, I was contacted about appearing on one of the Czech Republic's late night news program. They featured me for a full half hour, sharing my thoughts about new media literacies, digital activism, and participatory culture. What surprised me was that the interview ran in real time with the reporter Peter Fischer interviewing me in Czech, which was translated off camera into English, which I could hear on my ear phone, and then I spoke in English, which was then translated into Czech for the television viewers.


Here, you see Jaroslav and I sharing a last cool drink together in the Prague train station before Cynthia and I departed on an 8 hour rail journey to Budapest.


Coming Soon: Budapest and Bologna

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Spain

Madrid, Spain My time in Madrid was one of the most intense legs of the trip: I delivered five talks in three days and most of the time in between was spent doing interviews with the local media. As a consequence, I had very limited time to see this great city and my exposure to its culture mostly consisted of quick meals in between talks.

While in Madrid, we stayed in a really luxurious grand hotel, the aptly named Westin Palace, just a few blocks away from the Prado Art Museum, thanks to the generosity of Telefonica, which was sponsoring my big public talk here.

After checking in, we wandered over to the Prado to soak up a little culture. Personally, what drew me here was the chance to see Hieroymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, a work which has fascinated me since I first wrote a paper about it in high school: I still can't figure out how to place Bosch in the context of his times. Where did this guy come from? Almost as astonishing to us were some of the religious paintings -- such as one where milk shoots out of the breast of the Virgin Mary and across the room into the mouth of a praying saint. (We found that there was a consistent fascination with this particular bodily fluid in religious art across Europe.)

Not surprisingly, Spanish artists, such as El Greco, Goya, and Velazquez, were especially well represented in the collection, and it was breathtaking to experience the size and intense colors of some of these works. Perhaps my favorite discovery on this visit was Velazquez's Christ in the House of Mary and Martha.


First, I was intrigued by the way the picture manages to combine three genres -- the still life, the domestic portrait, and the religious painting -- within a single image. Second, I was fascinated by the ways that the picture juxtaposes and contrasts two very different spaces of action -- the foreground in the kitchen, the background in the dining room -- and links them thematically to the core Biblical story of the two sisters, Martha busily preparing the meal, while her sister, Mary, sat at Jesus's feet and listened to his word. I have been spending lots of time thinking, especially about still life paintings, but also other works which include a strong attention to material culture, in relation to my new Comics and Stuff project. I ended up grabbing a picture off the internet and incorporating this work intoa talk I gave in Madrid about this project.

The following morning, Pilar Lacasa picked me up at the hotel and drove me out to the University of Alcala to present "The Samba School Revisited: Play, Performance, and Participation in Education. Lacasa has been a frequent visitor to the Comparative Media Studies program through the years, where she sat in on classes, participated in conferences, and contributed to our research. I've featured her own work on games-based learning and new media literacies through the blog before. It was meaningful for me to finally get a chance to visit her at her host institution and interact with her students. The talk was adapted from this blog post, which I wrote about the ways my own thinking about participatory culture was influenced by Seymour Papert's classic essay about the Samba School as a site of informal learning. The talk started with my own observations about how one of Rio's Samba Schools encouraged multiple forms of participation in the creative process.

Here, you see Pilar sitting next to me on the podium during the talk:

and me interacting with some of her students in the coutryard afterwords.

That evening, I paid my respects to another friend, Nacho Gallego Perez, who asked me to present my Future of Content talk at the Campus of Leganes, organized by Research Group about Television, Cinema, and Culture at Universidad Carlos III. Perez, who does work on grassroots use of digital radio and podcasting in Spain, had given a guest lecture in my New Media and Culture class at USC and participated in a workshop my Civic Paths group organized for MacArthur's Digital Media and Culture conference.  Nacho and Luis Albornoz took me out afterwards to enjoy Tapas.

After a morning of interviews organized by Telefonica, I went out to give a talk about "Comics..and Stuff" at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, hosted by Jose M. Alvarez-Monzoncillo, who is a leading thinker about the cultural industries. I featured Alvarez-Monzoncillo's book, Watching The Internet: The Future of TV? on my blog shortly before I left for the trip.  You can see me here trying to reach up high enough to point out some details on a Richard Outcault comic page.



No sooner did I arrive back at my hotel, then another host, the international media literacy advocate Roberto Aparici, arrived to pick me up. I met Roberto years ago at MIT, when Textual Poachers was first coming out and he was in residence working on an early interactive media project.  Roberto and I sat down in a studio at a local educational television station to record a most enjoyable conversation which explored our shared interests in new media literacies and participatory politics.

And then, I talked about Play and Pedagogy as the final speaker at the Seminario internacional Redes sociales, educacion mediatica y apprendizaje digital, an event which brought together practicing teachers and educational researchers.



My talk was preceded by a presentation on the affordances of social media by Gunther Kress (University of London). Kress's work on "Multimodal Literacy" offers some valuable conceptual tools for thinking about transmedia learning, and so I was honored to have a chance to chat with him, however briefly. Here's a video interview with Kress I found on YouTube.


And, then, after a full day of talks, I arrived back at the Telefonica Foundation's headquarters in time to join a group tour of the old sector of Madrid and a wonderful dinner with my fellow speakers.



Telefonica's Transmedia Living Lab had pulled together some of the top thinkers about transmedia in Europe for a three day event, which tackled its implications for storytelling, learning,  and social change. My other commitments kept me from attending most of the events, but I very much enjoyed getting to chat with my fellow speakers over dinner.

I was especially taken with Lina Strivastava, a transmedia consultant who has been developing a tool kit for transmedia activism, inspired by her experiences developing a campaign around the Born in Brothals documentary, and Bill Boyd, a educational consultant and teacher working in Scotland, who has been doing some serious thinking and writing about new media literacies through his blog. Boyd has shared some interesting thoughts about the Madrid conference. You can find video and slides from the conference here.

My talk, "'Occupying' the Transmedia Landscape: Spreadable Media, Fan Activism, and Participatory Learning”  used the Occupy Wall Street movement as a point of entry into thinking about how activists are embracing grassroots practices which combine remix, transmedia, and spreadability, to get their messages out to the widest possible audience. The talk was partially inspired by this blog post on the discursive and visual tactics of Occupy.



My main professional reason for coming to Barcelona was to participate in a dissertation defense for Manuel Garin, a gifted PhD student in Humanities and Audiovisual Communication at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. I first became aware of Garin's work on The Visual Gag, when he shared with me this remarkable video that juxtaposes a sequence from Buster Keaton's silent film, Seven Chances, and footage from the Super Mario Brothers games, to help construct an argument about the ways that classic stunts and gag structures have traveled across time and across media.


Garin presented some of his preliminary ideas about games and silent cinema through  this blog post and he had spent some time in California doing research through the USC Cinema School for his project. Garin has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history and aesthetics of gags, not the mention to read across a range of European languages, and thus, to make connections between different theoretical traditions which have sought to understand the place of the gag in media history. Across the dissertation, he explores thousands of gags from films, television, comic strips, games,and popular theater, moving fluidly across national traditions and criss-crossing divides between popular culture and avant grade practice.

The process of the dissertation defense was very different from my experiences in American universities. For one thing, the defense is public -- in this case, very public, since it was attended not only by Garin's family and friends, but also by the attendees of a conference his university was hosting that day on the cinematic gesture, and thus, we conducted everything in front of a packed auditorium. For another thing, it is a highly performative. The candidate gives extensive remarks presenting the core ideas from his project -- in this case, complete with power point and video clips. Then, each committee member speaks about the project for 10-15 minutes and finally the candidate gets to offer a formal rebuttal/response to what has been said. There is no chance for back and forth exchange between the parties involved, as I might have expected back in the States. In this case, each person who presented spoke a different language -- Spanish, Catalan, Italian, and English. I was told in advance that there would be no translation, since it was less important that the committee members understand each other than that what they had to say was understood by the candidate, but we were able to take advantage of the translation services organized by the conference.




Afterwards, I was approached by Robert Figueras and Gemma Dunjo, who are responsible for Panzer Chocolate, which is being billed as the first major transmedia project in Spain. I had been told about it multiple times by this point in the trip. This horror story is told across a feature film, a video game, a motion comic, an alternate reality game, mobile interactivity and "an Internet surprise.'  Here is a trailer they have produced which gives some sense of their approach.

My other formal business in Barcelona involved a meeting with Felipe G. Gil, a digital artist, theorist, and activist, based in Seville, who has been promoting the concept of "CopyLove." Inspired by feminist theory and modeled on the idealized concept of maternal love, this approach seeks to imagine what copyright regimes would look like if they were shaped by ideas of reciprocity, caring, nurturing, and sharing, rather than property, mastery, control, and profit.    I had shared on my blog some of Gil's reflections on transmedia and digital literacy, which drew on the remix practices of his young cousin, a few years ago.  Here's a Ted video where Gil explains some of his concepts in Spanish.

Afterwards, we were free to explore the city. Perhaps it was simply that my schedule had been so intense for the past week, perhaps it had to do with the considerable charms of Barcelona, but I felt giddy and liberated, and fell pretty madly in love with this city.  I suspect I am far from unique in saying that my fascination with Barcelona is to a large degree shaped by my engagement with Antoni Gaudi's amazing buildings. Gaudi is perhaps the best known exemplar of what has become known as Catalan Modernism, creating a series of remarkable residences, apartment buildings, churches, and public parks, especially in Barcelona, in the first part of the 20th century. Gaudi took certain tendencies in the Art Nouveau movement and pushed them in other worldly directions. The sensuousness of his structures have to be seen and experienced to be fully understood, but they are such a wonderful play with shape, color, light, and texture, that I found utterly seductive. Here, Cynthia's photographs only give you a taste.



 Gaudi's work is strongly informed by his close study of structure in nature -- Above, for example, you see some of the windows from Casa Batllo, a residence, which are clearly inspired by bones, where-as below, you see some details from the same building's roof, which are organic in their shapes, if not in their colors.



At the same time, there is a strong geometric pull in Gaudi's work, which elaborated on gothic traditions of architecture in order to explore arches in ways that open up radically different kinds of spaces within his buildings.






Every room in a Gaudi building is a surprise -- most of them, breathtaking. Here, you get a sense of how consciously he plays with light, exploring the relationship between interior and exterior spaces, to create a series of thresholds which we pass through as we move from room to room. Here, also, one gets a sense of the subtle and expressive use of color throughout his designs.



We spent more time with Gaudi's residences -- Casa Batllo and La Pedrera -- rather than his public buildings. But here, you see Sagrada Familia, his massive cathedral, which has been under construction for the better part of the past century. Given the centrality of the Cathedral to any visit to Europe, it was fascinating to see how Gaudi brought his idiosyncratic touches to this genre.




We also made our way out to Park Guell, a public space and gardens, which is enriched by Gaudi's sculptural and architectural elements. This park is a very active element in the public and everyday life of Barcelona, so while the residences now have the feel of museums, and are cut off from their original use, here, you can see contemporary Catalans interact in casual and everyday ways with his designed environments.



OK, by now, I have demonstrated why I chose to enter media studies and not architecture. My relationship to this work is largely emotional and intuitive, rather than intellectual, and I lack the basic vocabulary to describe what I saw when I visited these buildings. I should note that from time to time in these photographs, you will see me wearing a white baseball cap. I actually purchased it at one of the Gaudi gift shops. I was looking for something to protect my bald head from the sun and couldn't decide on what to advertise on my pate. The hat features simply the letter, J, as rendered in a font which Gaudi designed.

We were consistently amused by the vividness with which European street signs conveyed the many risks that surround us in the modern world. Sign after sign depicted what could happen to us if we make a single misstep in navigating a world of danger. I came to see them as a kind of conceptual humor, or perhaps the pictorial equivalent of slapstick comedy. I am going to share some in future posts. This sign, spotted in Barcelona, might be suggesting "slippery when wet," or more imaginatively, "please do not jump rope on these stairs," or perhaps, "beware of snakes." In any case, you should try to avoid this poor sucker's fate.


We spent the better part of two days playing tourists in Barcelona, taking advantage of the red hop-on, hop-off buses to sample many different sectors in the city. And as the day started to turn into night, we visited the Aquarium and then walked along the water front.



And, as the night continued, we took a lively midnight walk up La Rambla, where we stopped to watch street gambling, a range of live performances, and simply the back and forth bartering between visitors and merchants. As someone who is a  bit of a night owl by temperament, it was exciting to be some place where there is so much public life still being conducted in the wee hours of the morning. We were exhausted from an intense day of sight-seeing and pretty much limping back to our hotel, but you had a sense that many of these people were just getting started.





Participatory Culture: What Questions Do YOU Have?

Question Mark Graffitidanah boyd,  Mimi Ito, and I have embarked on an interesting project for Polity. Through a series of dialogues, we’re hoping to produce a book that interrogates our different thoughts regarding participatory culture. The goal is to unpack our differences and agreements and identify some of the challenges that we see going forward. We began our dialogue a few weeks ago and had a serious brain jam where we interrogated our own assumptions, values, and stakes in doing the research that we each do and thinking about the project of participatory culture more generally. For the next three weeks, we’re going to individually reflect before coming back to begin another wave of deep dialoguing in the hopes that the output might be something that others (?you?) might be interested in reading.

And here’s where we’re hoping that some of our fans and critics might be willing to provoke us to think more deeply.

  • What questions do you have regarding participatory culture that you would hope that we would address?
  • What criticisms of our work would you like to offer for us to reflect on?
  • What do you think that we fail to address in our work that you wish we would consider?

For those who are less familiar with this concept, my white paper for the MacArthur Foundation described a “participatory culture”  as one:

  1. With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  3. With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
  4. Where members believe that their contributions matter
  5. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).

This often gets understood through the lens of “Web2.0″ or “user-generated content,” but this is broadly about the ways in which a networked society rich with media enables new forms of interaction and engagement. Some of the topics that we are considering covering include “new media literacies,” “participation gap” and the digital divide, the privatization of culture, and networked political engagement. And, needless to say, a lot of our discussion will center on young people’s activities and the kinds of learning and social practices that take place. So what do *you* want us to talk about?

danah kicked off a discussion around the project last week on her blog, so you can go there to see what others are already thinking, or I am very happy to receive your comments and suggestions here, especially as my tech support people just moved this blog to a new platform and we are eager to see how well the new response functions are working.

Mobile Games: Activism, Art and Learning

A new report, The Civic Tripod for Mobile and Games: Activism, Art and Learning, was published a few weeks ago through the International Journal of Media and Learning. It was written by three PhD candidates, Susana Ruiz, Benjamin Stokes, and Jeff Watson, whom I've worked with closely since I came to USC three years ago.  Susana and Jeff are both game designers who are completing their work through the USC Cinema School's iMAP program, while Ben is doing his PhD in Communications through USC's Annenberg School. Watson completed his PhD this past summer. Here is the way they describe what their report tries to accomplish:

The "big picture" for mobile and locative games has been hard to see, and hard to articulate. One cause is that the examples are rarely woven together across disciplines. Second, theory has too often been absent or heavy-handed. Something in-between is needed. This is especially true for more deeply social designs, which are too often reduced to case studies especially in fields like education, the arts, and civic innovation. We argue that this fragmentation of isolated examples is undermining our ability to think big, design holistically, and evaluate broadly.

For this report, we ambitiously seek to curate a set of conceptually important mobile projects, and to connect them with a light weave of theory from three distinct traditions of practice. Specifically, this report outlines the emerging field of mobile and pervasive games along the dimensions of (1) civic learning, (2) performance/art, and (3) social change. Focusing on real projects from the field, we aim to reveal key opportunities and constraints on the mobile frontier for civic games.

We argue that this three-legged "tripod" is increasingly necessary to articulate how mobile game projects are succeeding (and failing). In the past, designs have been analyzed separately by the siloed domains of art, learning, and social action. Each silo remains a useful lens, but combining the lenses is increasingly necessary for mobile media.

Mobile media is different because it ties into the physical space of our neighborhoods, with longstanding relationships and neighborhood dramas. On the streets in front of our homes, most of us already know if there are potholes, and whether socio-economic segregation is getting worse or better. But we may need the vision of art to imagine alternate futures. Art on our streets resists abstraction, and raises immediate questions of civics, prompting us to ask, "what can we do about this?" And taking action points back to learning, since the neighborhood solution is so often to empower ourselves, which necessitates learning who we are, determining what assets and power we have, and learning the skills of collective action to push for change.

Clearly the tripod legs are not just connected -- they overlap. In fact, we argue that games are pushing for further blur between art, activism and learning. Games are a form of media that do less to structure facts, and more to structure and shape the player's experience and identity. Learning is inherent in games, since their engagement depends on providing challenges that are just barely possible. (To use the language of Vygotsky, we might say that games are only fun when they scaffold the experience to keep the player within their zone of proximal development.) When games are tied to physical space, their action ties to learning about our own neighborhoods -- how to move through them, and to change them. The art of such games is often the physical world itself, with better sounds and graphics than any screen! And the digital side of games draws in the civic, if only because it is so easy to link to more information on how to take action, or how to learn more. In other words, the experiential nature of games pulls mobile experiences on civics into being a mix of art and learning.

The report is a wonderful example of multidisciplinary scholarship with each student embodying one of the legs of their "tripod" and developing their ideas in conversation with the others. They have used a nonlinear format to allow readers to trace multiple paths through the diverse case study examples and interviews with media producers (including Mary Flanagan, Katie London, Colleen Macklin, and many others) they have assembled.

Yet, they also are creating multiple points of synthesis where their insights come together and produce  understandings that none of them individually would be able to reach. Outside this innovative framework and presentation, some of these games might be understood through a lens of avant garde art practice, others through the lens of education or activism, but we would be unlikely to see the connections between them. I strongly recommend this report to anyone who wants to better understand the potentials of mobile games for facilitating new forms of civic learning and expressive practice.

Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action

Over the past few blog posts, I have been sharing updates on some of the work being done by my Civic Paths research group at USC -- first, the special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures on fan activism, and second, Arely Zimmerman's white paper exploring the ways undocumented youth and their supporters mobilized through and around new media in support of the DREAM act. But, as I have noted, this work fits within a larger initiative launched by the MacArthur Foundation -- a research hub on Youth and Participatory Politics, headed by Political Science Professor Joe Kahne from Mills College, and involving a multidisciplinary mix of researchers who are combining a range of different approaches, both qualitative and quantitative, to better understand how young people are using new media as a resource for political participation. A few weeks ago, Kahn and another Political Scientist, University of Chicago's Cathy Cohen, released an important report representing the first phases of this research -- Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action. Here's a rich and provocative interview with its primary authors, thanks to MacArthur's Digital Media and Learning team.

The white paper does two things which are really important for people seeking to better understand the interplay of new media and citizen participation -- first, it offers a new conceptual framing for thinking about what our research network is calling "participatory politics" and second, it shares the findings of the team's first large scale survey which seeks to capture the current state of youth, new media, and civic participation, recorded just after the Midterm Elections and prior to the current presidential campaign season.

Here's a key passage of the report which seeks to explain our core concept and what we think it will add to the existing understandings of the political lives of American youth:

The Youth and Participatory Politics study defines participatory politics as interactive, peer-based acts through which individuals and groups seek to exert both voice and influence on issues of public concern. Importantly, these acts are not guided by deference to elites or formal institutions. Examples of participatory political acts include starting a new political group online, writing and disseminating a blog post about a political issue, forwarding a funny political video to one's social network, or participating in a poetry slam.

Participatory political acts can:

␣ reach large audiences and mobilize net- works, often online, on behalf of a cause;

␣ help shape agendas through dialogue with, and provide feedback to, political leaders (on- and offline); and

␣ enable participants to exert greater agency through the circulation or forwarding of political information (e.g., links) as well as through the production of original content, such as a blog or letter to the editor.

Four factors make participatory politics especially important to those thinking about the future of American politics.

1. Participatory politics allow individuals to operate with greater independence in the political realm, circumventing traditional gatekeepers of information and influence, such as newspaper editors, political parties, and interest groups.

2. Participatory politics often facilitate a renegotiation of political power and control with the traditional political entities that are now searching for ways to engage participants. Witness how newspapers and cable television stations now try to facilitate a controlled engagement with their audience through the use of social media.

3. Participatory politics as practiced online provide for greater creativity and voice, as participants produce original content using video, images, and text.

4. Participatory politics afford individuals the capability to reach a sizable audience and mobilize others through their social networks in an easy and inexpensive


This definition emerges from three years of intense discussions amongst the participating researchers, as well as consultations with leading scholars and activists, all of whom are thinking deeply about media change and its political consequences. It think it is safe to say that this reconceptualization would not have emerged anywhere except in the radically multidisciplinary space which Kahne and the MacArthur Foundation have helped to establish. We bring ideas from our own disciplines into conversation with those from profoundly different frames of reference, and in the process, we have begun to map a space which is inadequately covered by any given field.

In the case of media and cultural studies, the report comes as we are seeing sharper distinctions being drawn between different forms of cultural and political participation, where-as on the Political Science side, it emerges from ongoing discussions about the shifting nature of politics as a human activity, especially the shift of focus towards nongovernmental forms of political action.

The report shifts the focus from "Twitter Revolutions," which place the emphasis on new forms of networked technologies, and onto specific sets of political and cultural practices, which deploy those tools in relation to older media technologies, to help redefine the dynamics of political debate and mobilization.

A second key point to make has to do with the relationship between participatory politics and more established and institutionalized forms of politics, a question to which Kahne and Cohen addressed in the interview that accompanies the report's release:

Participatory politics can allow for greater creativity and voice, but voice may not necessarily lead to influence. What sort of shift must occur in order for these practices to become influential?

Kahne: We have thought about this a lot, and it's something we as a field need to learn more about. There is no doubt that practices that amplify the voice of young people are a significant thing, especially given the marginal status that so many young people have in relation to mainstream institutions. Those institutions are places where young people generally don't have significant voice. Participatory politics can give them that voice. At the same time, it's key to realize that if youth are circulating ideas among their networks without understanding how to move from voice to influence, they may well not achieve the goals they value. In our work with youth organizations, digital platforms, and youth themselves, we have to find ways to help youth connect to institutions act strategically to have influence and to put pressure on the places - whether corporate or governmental - to prompt the change youth want to see occur.

Cohen: Participatory politics is never meant to displace a focus on institutional politics. We might think of it as a supplemental domain where young people can take part in a dialogue about the issues that matter, think about strategies of mobilization, and do some of that mobilizing collectively online. That said, we have to always recognize that there is important power that exists largely offline. The Occupy movement is a classic example of both participatory politics and offline institutional politics coming together to not only amplify voice but also provide influence and power -- even temporarily -- for a group of primarily young people around class and equality issues.

This new framework for thinking about "Participatory Politics" helps us to make sense of some of the significant findings of the national survey. I can hit on only a few key insights here (read the report for more):

Large proportions of young people across racial and ethnic groups have access to the Internet and use online social media regularly to stay connected to their family and friends and pursue interests and hobbies.

Contrary to the traditional notion of a technological digital divide, the YPP study finds young people across racial and ethnic groups are connected online. Overwhelmingly, white (96 percent), black (94 percent), Latino (96 percent) and Asian-American (98 percent) youth report having access to a computer that connects to the Internet. A majority or near majority of white (51 percent), black (57 percent), Latino (49 percent), and Asian American (52 percent) youth report sending messages, sharing status updates and links, or chatting online daily.

Youth are very involved in friendship-driven and interest-driven activities online.

78 percent send messages, share status updates, or chat online on a weekly basis.

58 percent share links or forward information through social networks at least once a week....

I was delighted to see this last question, dealing with the practices around what I call Spreadable Media, included in the survey, since events like Kony 2012 have established that acts of circulation can be an important part of how young people are participating in political debates.

Over-all, 64 percent engage in at least one interest-driven activity in a given week, and 32 percent engage in three or more interest driven activities a week.

Participatory Politics are an important dimension of politics.

41 percent of young people have engaged in at least one act of participatory politics, while 44 percent participate in other acts of politics.

Specifically, 43 percent of white, 41 percent of black, 38 percent of Latino and 36 percent of Asian-American youth participated in at least one act of participatory politics during the prior 12 months.

Participatory politics are an addition to an individual's engagement rather than an alternative to other political activities:

Youth who engaged in at least one act of participatory politics were almost twice as likely

to report voting in 2010 as those who did not.

A large proportion--37 percent of all young people--engages in both participatory

and institutional politics.

Among young people who engage in participatory policies, 90 percent of them either vote or engage in institutional politics.

Participatory politics are equitably distributed across different racial and ethnic groups:

The difference in voting in 2008 between the group with the highest rate of turnout according to the U.S. Census Bureau--black youth (52%)-- and the group with the lowest rate of turnout-- Latino youth (27%)--is 25 percentage points.

These findings challenge many key stereotypes which shape dominant discourses around youth, new media, and political participation, suggesting that:

  • participatory politics and culture are not simply activities involving white suburban middle class youth but they are widespread across all ethnic groups, and indeed, the group most likely to engage with the broadest range of such practices are African-Americans
  • new media politics does not come at the expense of more traditional forms of political participation but rather is more likely to amplify patterns of voter-participation
  • participatory culture and politics seems to be an important equalizer of opportunities for engagement in the political process.

One other conclusion seems important for readers who are invested in media literacy: According to the survey, 84 percent of youth indicate that, given their reliance on online sources for news and information, "would benefit from learning more about how to tell if news and information you find online is trustworthy." So, contrary to the stereotype that young people are indifferent to the credibility of the information they access online, many of them are seeking support from adult educators to help them acquire skills at more meaningfully parsing what should be trusted.

Educators and policy makers alike will benefit from looking more deeply at the rich data and insights found in this report. I am sure to be drawing more on this report through upcoming blog posts around these topics.

For those who want to learn more about the report, I've embedded here the video of a recent chat session featuring Kahne, Cohen, and others, talking about the report with Howard Rheingold through the MacArthur Foundation's Connected Learning Seminar series.

Joe Kahne is the John and Martha Davidson Professor of Education at Mills College. His research focuses on ways school practices and new media influence youth civic and political development.

Cathy Cohen is the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. She is the founder of the Black Youth Project and author of The Boundaries of Blackness and Democracy Remixed. Her research focuses on political engagement by marginal communities.

Documenting DREAMS: New Media, Undocumented Youth and the Immigrant Rights Movement

Civic Paths is a team of graduate students, faculty, post-docs, and staff researchers within the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, who are seeking to better understand the role of new media tools and practices in shaping the political socialization and mobilization of American youth. The faculty leads on the research team are myself and my Journalism colleague, Kierstin Thorson while Sangita Shreshtova is the Research Director. The team is linked to a larger research hub on Youth and Participatory Politics, headed by Mills College Political Science Professor Joe Kahne and funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Our team's contribution consists of developing a series of ethnographic case studies of innovative networks which have proven effective at encouraging youth to become political activists. Next time, I will be sharing some quantitative research recently released by Kahne, Cathy Cohen, and other members of the YPP network.

Civic Paths recently released the first of the white papers which over the next two years will start to emerge from our research: this one written by our Post-Doc Arely M. Zimmerman and dealing with the groups of undocumented youth who have been trying to rally behind the DREAM Act. The report was released the same week that President Barack Obama announced a major shift in the country's immigration policy that reflected in many ways the success of these DREAM activists in reframing the public's perception of the experience of being undocumented and in calling out the fact that the Obama administration had deported more people in its first three years in office than George W. Bush had in his two terms as president.

Zimmerman's white paper takes us behind the scenes, identifying the tactics which had led to this political victory and sharing the stories shared with her by the participants in her study.

Zimmerman's research was the focus of an earlier blog post, describing a program we hosted at USC where young immigrant rights activists talked about their use of new media to mobilize supporters.

You can find the full report on the DREAM Activists online at the Youth and Participatory Politics homepage. But, to give you a taste of the report, I wanted to share two excerpts here today. The first comes from the introduction to Zimmerman's report:

On October 12, 2011, five undocumented youth wearing graduation caps staged a sit-in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in downtown Los Angeles to urge the Obama administration to stop deporting undocumented youths. The sit-in launched the national E.N.D. (Education Not Deportation) Our Pain campaign, comprised of a network of immigrant youth organizations and allies demanding an immediate moratorium on deporting youth eligible for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This proposed legislation would grant conditional legal status to those brought to the United States under age 16 if they attend college or join the military.

The action took place on a busy Wednesday morning when most Angelenos were at work and most students were in school. Fearing a low turnout, Dream Team Los Angeles, a local youth-led community group, and their allies used social media to send links of a live broadcast of the action from a free video-streaming site. While 300 people attended, over 4,000 users watched online as the youth entered ICE headquarters and demanded a hearing with officials. The attendees and online audience looked on as handcuffs were placed on the youth. Immediately after the arrests, users were able to make donations and petition for the arrestees' release through another website.

The E.N.D. campaign's direct action is an example of a strategy to amplify youth voices in the immigrant rights movement by combining traditional community organizing

with new media strategies. One of the arrestees and leader of one of the DREAM advocacy groups in Los Angeles acknowledges that a mixed media strategy is key for reaching diverse participants:

You have to be able to use Facebook and Twitter, but you have to be intentional about it, and strategic. At the same time, you have to also utilize traditional media outlets because our 'tios' and 'tias' are not using social networking. They are still watching Univision and the nightly news. So you have to engage in both.

DREAM Activism is an exemplar case of youth capitalizing on new media affordances to recruit, mobilize, and sustain broad-based youth political participation. While initial organizing in 2001 focused on states with high immigrant populations such as California, Illinois, and New York, undocumented youth and student organizations are now active at the national level with chapters in 25 states. The California Dream Network, a network of undocumented youth organizations, boasts chapters on over 30 college campuses. Student and youth organizers credit both their rapid growth and public outreach to the power of new media. Prerna Lal, co-founder of, a media-centered youth organization, states in an online video, "New media has indeed taken a small group of undocumented students to new heights and fueled a movement that was stagnant."

Immigrant youth's participation in the DREAM movement provides an opportunity to examine the intersection of new media and grassroots youth-led social movements in the context of a politically disenfranchised and legally vulnerable community. Drawing from field research, event observations, media content analysis, and 25 semi-structured interviews with DREAM activists residing in California, Illinois, Georgia, and Texas, this report examines the role of new media in mobilizing undocumented youth's participation in the movement.

Only three of the youth I interviewed were U.S. citizens. While Mexico was the primary country of origin, some of the youth came from Colombia, Nigeria, El Salvador, Poland, and Chile. All but three of the youth were enrolled in an institution of higher learning or had completed their bachelor's degree at the time of the interviewee. The semi-structured interviews allowed me to reconstruct the history of Dream Activism and account for existing organizational networks through youth's narration of events, stories of participation, and the re-telling of their experiences as members of Dream activist organizations. On an individual level, the interview protocol was directed at capturing youth's stories of involvement, the contextual factors and supports that sustained their civic participation, and their use of new media platforms and practices. Additionally, I probed how their participation in the Dream movement had shaped their experiences of inequality and identity, feelings of membership and belonging, and conceptions of citizenship.

As the effects of new media on political participation continue to be sharply

debated, this case study suggests that youth's online and political participation are

mutually reinforcing. Despite the barriers they face because of their legal and socio-

economic status, undocumented youth activists in this study are highly engaged online as bloggers, documentarians, artists, or social media activists. The positive correlation

between levels of civic engagement and online participation is due to several factors.

Online communities have served as spaces to develop associational bonds, forge social

networks, and amass forms of social capital that are particularly useful given the legal

and political vulnerability of face to face activism. Online communities have also

increased youth's sense of political efficacy by offering spaces for collective identification and shared memory. The sophisticated use of new media by undocumented youth has enabled youth to negotiate, resist, and respond to their political and socio- economic marginalization. Through new media, undocumented youth have uplifted the voices, experiences, and stories of an often-ignored segment of the immigrant population in the United States. Simultaneously, these activists have brought attention to the youth voice within the social justice community more broadly....

The second selection from the white paper comes from the conclusion and focuses more directly on the personal trajectories of the DREAM activists that Zimmerman interviewed for the project. She deals honestly with the challenges these undocumented youth confront, both in preserving personal dignity in their everyday interactions and in finding ways to access the digital media which is so vital to their efforts. This passage gives us a snap shot of how people are living with and working around the digital divide and the participation gap and the ways these inequalities of access are tied to larger social, political, and economic inequalities. Their stories help us to understand how current immigration policies are squandering the potential of a generation of young Americans who seek to make a contribution with their lives but who are often blocked from doing so as a consequence of the political stalemate which surrounds efforts to change the process for acquiring citizenship:

During the research on this MAPP case study, I met many individuals who defied the presumption of civically and politically disengaged youth. Like Jose, who used Facebook to confront the social isolation he felt by posting photos of his drawings online, these youth have used new media tools to overcome rather than succumb to barriers to their political participation. Sammy, an aspiring filmmaker, did not have the means to buy a camera with HD capabilities, but produced a short documentary on the plights of undocumented students. El Random Hero was an avid blogger and yet did not have a computer at home. He accessed the internet through public libraries. The stories of these youth provide a glimpse into the positive impact that new media can have on the ability of youth to become civically and politically engaged.

Through this research, I also met disaffected undocumented youth who were less engaged both in their schools, communities, and empowering forms of digital social networks. Though these youth had access to new media, they had not used this access to empower themselves and engage politically. Anna, a high school student, felt that

Facebook was a detriment at times even, pulling her into a web of high school "drama" causing her to deactivate her account. Anna was graduating high school that summer and hadn't any idea of what she would do next. Would she be destined to work in a low- skilled job for minimum wage?

These varied DREAMer youth experiences show the range of outcomes that are possible. For those individuals that experienced positive outcomes in their civic, political and digital lives, it seems to be a result of access to new media combined with a range of other contextual supports. One important contextual support is institutional, namely the college campus. Most of the youth in this study who were politically engaged are also college graduates or on the way to obtaining a degree. Of course, there are exceptions. El Random Hero, for instance, has not been able to afford to attend community college. But for the most part, DREAMers seem to become more involved once they're enrolled in an educational institution. Students like Agustin, who had been exposed early on to Chicano or Ethnic studies, had a framework to understand their struggles in relation to historical patterns, increasing their sense of belonging and group pride. Several youth in this study started their activism by joining a college campus group. Others found each other online. Some later become active in community-based organizations or national coalitions, but they generally began when a peer or a mentor introduced them to a student support group for undocumented students. This happened both online and face-to-face.

While much research needs to be done in this regard, this study suggests that new

media do provide extended opportunities for political advocacy and social engagement

for undocumented youth. DREAMers find each other online. They strengthen their sense

of community through collective storytelling. They mobilize for action using social media. They use their online media savvy in combination with more traditional social movement tactics. The youth use new media to make the DREAM movement personal, networked and visible. What remains a question is whether the degree of empowerment and the sustainability of youth's political participation in this movement relates directly to institutional supports and contextual capital. If so, how can we strengthen these to create powerful avenues for broader youth participation in politics and the public sphere?

While community groups like Dream Team Coalition of Los Angeles or the United We Dream national network are youth-driven, these groups have also successfully drawn on resources and support from more traditional allies in the advocacy and nonprofit sectors. These contextual supports may enhance DREAMer youth's new media affordances towards more sustained political action. For example, in the Los Angeles area, community-based organizations such as the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and UCLA's Labor Center have been at the forefront of undocumented youth organizing. These centers provide both formal and informal supports such as mentorship, scholarship, organizing and leadership development, along with access to the broader social justice community. In 2011, the Labor Center sponsored an event called "Dream Summer", which provided 60 undocumented youth with paid internships and a trip to Washington DC. Such programs help sustain youth's political activism and involvement by providing a means of both emotional and financial support and motivation.

In California, especially in cities like Los Angeles, the immigrant rights community has well-established organizations with a long trajectory of facing an uphill battle to organize and sustain their political involvement. While new media and online social networks are a way to counter social and political isolation, DREAMer youth may benefit by seeking out the support of institutions that can help sustain their activism. Kendra and Jenny, for instance, found it hard to plug into the social justice community in their hometowns in Texas and Illinois, respectively. Because immigrant rights are often framed as a Latino issue, most organizations cater to Spanish speaking, newly arrived immigrants. Kendra and Jenny were not Latin American and were not Spanish speakers. The lack of ethnic ties made it more difficult for them to participate in local organizing activities, so they turned to the Internet. Kendra was more successful than Jenny at connecting to a social network of undocumented students, but she also was pulled further into the immigrant rights struggle when she visited Washington, D.C. for a collective action. Joining others in a solidarity march on Capitol Hill was a catalyst in her political activism.

Clearly, there is still more research that needs to be done in understanding why some undocumented youth become politically and socially empowered, while others, to put it in their words, remain "in the shadows." Further analysis of this research will begin to answer these questions as well. Still, it is already clear that new media placed in the hands of DREAMer youth, inspired by a collective vision and supported by the community, has created a powerful movement for social change.

Civic Paths is very proud of the timely and ground-breaking work which Zimmerman has done on this case study, and we hope you will take the time to check out her full report.

Future Civic Paths white papers will deal with the network of fan activists around the Harry Potter Alliance, the Nerdfighters, and Imagine Better; the activities and institutions supporting the Students for Liberty movement; and the politicization of Moslem-American youth in the wake of 9/11.

Up, Up and Away!: The Power and Potential of Fan Activism

As I continue to catch up on events which occurred while I was out of the country, I want to direct my readers to the special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures on "fan activism" which I co-edited with Sangita Shreshtova and the members of our Civic Paths research team. The initial call for papers appeared on this blog several years ago and thanks to your help, we were able to pull together an exceptional range of articles, representing many different forms of fan activism from around the world. The issue is now online and has already started to generate a fair amount of attention, but I wanted to make sure my regular blog readers had a chance to see what we produced. As you will see, many of my talks across Europe drew on this material, and our team is continuing to do work around this topic with the goal of producing a book length study of new forms of cultural activism in the not-too-distant future. Below, I share the introduction to the special issue I wrote with Shreshtova. It should give you some sense of the range of materials we have assembled here. You are strongly encouraged to go to the online journal itself to read any or all of the essays described here.

Up, Up and Away! The Power and Potential of Fan Activism

by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shreshtova

[Fandom] is built on psychological mechanisms that are relevant to political involvement: these are concerned with the realm of fantasy and imagination on the one hand, and with emotional processes on the other...The remaining question then becomes whether and how politics can borrow from the elements of popular culture that produce these intense audience investments, so that citizenship becomes entertaining.

--Liesbeth van Zoonen, Entertaining the Citizen

Scratch an activist and you're apt to find a fan. It's no mystery why: fandom provides a space to explore fabricated worlds that operate according to different norms, laws, and structures than those we experience in our "real" lives. Fandom also necessitates relationships with others: fellow fans with whom to share interests, develop networks and institutions, and create a common culture. This ability to imagine alternatives and build community, not coincidentally, is a basic prerequisite for political activism.

--Steven Duncombe, "Imagining No-Place"

In 2011, American political leaders and activists were surprisingly concerned with an 80-plus-year-old popular culture icon: Superman. When presidential candidate Rick Perry was asked by a 9-year-old child during a campaign stop which superhero he would want to be, the tough-talking Texan chose the man from Krypton, because "Superman came to save the United States!" (Well 2011). At almost that same moment, conservative commentators were up in arms because in an alternative universe DC comics story, Superman denounced his American citizenship to embrace a more global perspective: "I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy. 'Truth, Justice, and the American way!'--It's not enough any more." Right-wing rage was expressed by one reader: "This is absolutely sickening. We are now down to destroying all American Icons. How are we going to survive as a Nation?" (Appelo 2011). Such responses suggest a widespread recognition that popular mythologies may provide the frames through which the public makes sense of its national identity.

Meanwhile, immigrant rights activists were questioning when Superman ever became an American citizen or whether he even possessed a green card, given that he entered the country without permission and, we must presume, without documentation, a refugee from a society in turmoil who has sought to hide his origins and identity from outside scrutiny ever since.

Hari Kondabolu, a South Asian comedian, recorded a video entitled "Superman as Immigrant Rights Activist," distributed through Colorlines , asking why no one ever tried to deport Superman for "stealing jobs" and suggesting that other immigrants might wear glasses, like Clark Kent does, to mask their identities. Photographer Dulce Pinzon produced a powerful set of images depicting a range of (mostly Marvel) superheroes performing the jobs often done by undocumented workers. As Thomas Andrae (1987; see also Engle 1987) has noted, at the time of his origins in the late Depression era, Superman adopted an explicitly political stance ("the champion of the oppressed") rather than the more vaguely civic orientation of subsequent decades. As Matt Yockey demonstrates in regard to Wonder Woman in this issue, superheroes have long functioned as mythological figures or rhetorical devices for debates around identity politics. Even DC Comics has described Superman as "the ultimate immigrant" (Perry 2011).

Arely Zimmerman (forthcoming), a postdoc with the Media Activism and Participatory Politics Project (part of USC's Civic Paths Project), interviewed 25 undocumented youth activists involved in the campaign to pass the Dream Act. She was struck by how often superheroes cropped up in her exchanges. One respondent described the experience of discovering other undocumented youth online as like "finding other X-Men." Another compared their campaign, which involved youth from many different backgrounds, to the Justice League. A third suggested that posting a video on YouTube in which he proclaimed himself "proud" and "undocumented" had parallels to the parallels to the experience of Spider-Man, who had removed his mask on national television during Marvel's Civil Wars story line. A graphic created for an online recruitment campaign used the image of Wolverine to suggest what kind of hero youth volunteers might aspire to become.

On the one hand, we might read these various deployments of the superheroes as illustrating the trends Liesbet van Zoonen (2005) describes: groups promoting social change are tapping the affective and imaginative properties of popular culture to inspire a more intense connection with their supporters. In this issue, Jonathan Gray shows similar appropriations of images from Star Wars and a range of other popular media franchises during labor rights protests in Madison, Wisconsin. Gray argues that such images (which have also been widely associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement) proliferate because popular culture, especially blockbuster franchises, constitutes a common reference point (shared between fans and more casual consumers) within an otherwise diverse and fragmented coalition of protestors and observers. Gray stresses the morale and community-building work performed through the remixing of popular culture for those gathered in an icy Wisconsin winter to express their support for collective bargaining. Zimmerman (forthcoming) also suggests that the Dream activists' use of pop culture references might be understood as part of a larger strategy to signal their assimilation into American culture. Given how much contemporary speech of all kinds is full of snarky pop culture references, it is not surprising that such references are also reshaping our political rhetoric, especially as campaigns seek to speak to young people who have famously felt excluded from traditional campaigns and have often been turned off by inside-the-beltway language. Buffy the Vampire Slayer goes to Washington!

Yet as the epigraph from Duncombe (this issue) suggests, such popular culture references also reflect the lived experiences of activists who also are fans, whether understood in the casual sense of someone who feels a strong emotional connection to a particular narrative or in the more active sense of someone who has participated in a fan community or engaged in transformative practices. Civil rights leaders in the 1960s deployed biblical allusions because part of what they shared were meaningful experiences within black church congregations. Zimmerman's Dream activists referenced superheroes because reading and discussing comics was part of their everyday lives as young people, because these references helped them think through their struggles, because they offer such vivid embodiments of heroic conflicts and deep commitments. Unlike Perry, who had only a faint recollection of Superman's mythology and acknowledged that he was no longer actively reading comics, these allusions to superhero comics were apt rather than opportunistic, grounded in a deep appreciation of who these characters are and how their stories have evolved over time. That is, they show the kinds of mastery we associate with fans. Here, we see what Duncombe describes as the fan within the activist.

However, we can push the idea of fan activism one step farther: by now, the capacity of fan communities to quickly mobilize in reaction to a casting decision or a threat of cancellation has been well established, going back to the now-legendary letter-writing campaign in the 1960s that kept Star Trek on the air. Fan groups have also had a long history of lending their support to the favorite causes of popular performers and producers, or more generally working in support of charity. Some slash fans, for example, have been motivated to march in gay rights parades, raise money for AIDS research and awareness, or, more recently, work in support of marriage equality. Fans have rallied to challenge attempts to regulate the Internet, restrict their deployment of intellectual property, or censor their content. For example, in this issue, Alex Leavitt and Andrea Horbinski trace the responses of Japanese otaku, involved in the creation of dôjinshi (underground comics), to metropolitan Tokyo ordinance Bill 156, which they perceived as an attempt to curtain their artistic freedom.

More recent efforts (such as Racebending, the Harry Potter Alliance, Imagine Better, the Nerdfighters) deploy these same strategies and tactics to support campaigns for social justice and human rights, inspiring their supporters to move from engagement within participatory culture to involvement in political life. Fan activism of the kinds we've known about for years models many effective approaches for using social media to create awareness and mobilize supporters--tactics now being adopted by even traditional charities and activist organizations as they adapt to a networked society.

All of this suggests the urgent need for scholars to explore more fully the many different potential relationships between fandom and political life, since fan studies as a research paradigm has something vital to contribute to larger considerations of the relationship between participatory culture and civic engagement. Fan studies has long depicted fandom as a site of ideological and cultural resistance to the heteronormative and patriarchal values often shaping mass media. Such work is and remains highly valuable as we seek to understand the place of fandom in contemporary culture, but our focus here pushes beyond abstract notions of cultural resistance to focus on specific ways that fan culture has affected debates around law and public policy. Many fans have resisted efforts to bring politics into fandom, seeing their fan activities as a release from the pressures of everyday life, or preferring the term charity rather than the more overtly political term activism to describe their pro-social efforts.

Our goal is not to instrumentalize fandom, not to turn what many of us do for fun into something more serious; fandom remains valuable on its own terms as a set of cultural practices, social relationships, and affective investments, but insofar as a growing number of fans are exploring how they might translate their capacities for analysis, networking, mobilization, and communication into campaigns for social change, we support expanding the field of fan studies to deal with this new mode of civic engagement.

Political participation and fan activism

This issue's two editors are part of the Civic Paths Project research group, housed in the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California. This group has partnered with the Spencer and MacArthur foundations to try to document new forms of political participation that are affecting the lives of young people. Our work is part of a larger research network that is trying to develop a model for understanding what is being called participatory politics. Through our internal discussions, we had begun to identify the concept of fan activism as central to addressing larger questions about what might motivate young people, who are often described as apathetic, to join civic and political organizations. We had located a core body of scholarship, such as the work of van Zoonen (2005), which examined how the playful, affective, and fantasy aspects of fandom were starting to inform political discourse, or the work of Earl and Kimport (2009), which discussed fan online campaigns as part of a larger exploration of what networked politics might look like, or the work of Daniel Dayan (2005), which debated the similarities and differences between audiences and publics. We had already identified some powerful examples of how fan-based groups had helped support civic learning and had developed resources and practices that could quickly mobilize supporters behind emergencies, charities, or human rights campaigns.

We knew that there must be many more examples out there. Still, after we released the call for papers, we were blown away by the range of submissions we received from all over the world, describing other examples of fan activism in practice, debating why calls for fan participation sometimes yield spectacular results and other times fall flat, contesting the borders of fan activism, speculating about its contributions to the public sphere, and making important distinctions between top-down celebrity-run models and bottom-up participatory ones. As you will see, this issue is overflowing with cutting-edge work that takes fans seriously as political agents and that draws on a range of different theories of citizenship and democracy to explain what happens when fans act as citizens. Examples here encompass a wide variety of fandoms--Harry Potter, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Colbert Report, comic books, pop music, and Bollywood.

Essays in this issue

The Civic Paths team is well represented here, with a cluster of three essays offering multiple and complimentary frames for discussing fan activism, and two other contributors (Ritesh Mehta and Alex Leavitt) are active group members. Taking a deep dive into the existing literature around cultural and political participation, Melissa M. Brough and Sangita Shresthova provide an overview of core debates surrounding fan activism, including the diverse forms that participation may take, the tension between resistance and participation as competing models, the value of affect and content worlds, and the criteria by which we might measure such campaigns' success and sustainability. They argue that the study of fan activists may make a significant contribution to cross-disciplinary debates about citizenship and political engagement.

Henry Jenkins maps the history of fan-based activism, providing a context for understanding the Harry Potter Alliance, perhaps the most highly visible of the new generation of fan activist groups. Jenkins defines fan activism as "forms of civic engagement and political participation that emerge from within fan culture itself, often in response to the shared interests of fans, often conducted through the infrastructure of existing fan practices and relationships, and often framed through metaphors drawn from popular and participatory culture" (¶1.8). By exploring the concept of "cultural acupuncture," a phrase coined by HPA's founder, Andrew Slack, Jenkins explores how fannish borrowings from J. K. Rowling's fictions inspire and inform the group's diverse interventions (from an initial focus on human rights and genocide in Darfur to more recent campaigns pushing Warner Bros. to tie their chocolate contracts to fair trade principles).

Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, Christine Weitbrecht, and Chris Tokuhama share some of the results of Civic Path's extensive fieldwork, interviewing young participants from the Harry Potter Alliance and Invisible Children, the latter a San Diego-based human rights organization that deploys various forms of participatory culture to motivate high school and college students to become more aware of how Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony has kidnapped and conscripted child soldiers. Tracing the trajectories by which these young people become more deeply involved in these efforts, the authors suggest the importance of shared media experiences, rich content worlds, and a desire to help in changing how young people see themselves as political agents. From an initial focus on fan activism, the Civic Paths project has expanded the scope of its research to consider the participatory culture practices associated with Dream Act activism, the efforts of college-aged libertarians, the work of the Nerd Fighters and Imagine Better, and the political and cultural activities of Muslim American youth, each offering models for understanding the cultural and political factors affecting the lives of contemporary American young people.

Ashley Hinck extends this special issue's consideration of the Harry Potter Alliance, drawing on core concepts from the literature of social movements and the public sphere. Focusing primarily on their campaign around Darfur, she argues that the HPA taps into the world of Hogwarts to construct what Hinck calls a "public engagement keystone," defined here as a "touchpoint, worldview, or philosophy that makes other people, actions, and institutions intelligible" (¶4.6). The fact that Harry Potter is so widely read, known, and loved not only by hard-core fans but by many who are not part of fandom makes it a useful resource for bridging the two, helping to revitalize public discourse around human rights concerns in Africa. Lili Wilkinson also explores the value of content worlds from popular culture in facilitating new kinds of political interactions, in this case through an application of Foucault's notion of heterotopia to understanding the links between John Green's young adult novel Paper Towns and his involvement in the Nerdfighters, an informal network of young people who use social media and video blogging to "reduce world suck." Though coming from different theoretical backgrounds, Kligler-Vilenchik et al., Hinck, and Wilkinson all converge around the importance of reimaging the world through shared fantasies.

Another central strand running through the discussion has to do with the differences between efforts of celebrities (authors such as John Green, pop stars such as Hong Kong's Ho Denise Wan See, cult television actors such as Gillian Anderson, filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, television show runners such as Joss Whedon, and comedians such as Stephen Colbert) to mobilize their fans around their pet causes and more grassroots efforts by fans to draw resources from popular culture to help fuel their own efforts at social change. A group like Nerdfighters straddles the line between the two--they are partially a response to the ongoing cultural productions of the brothers John and Hank Green (as Wilkinson suggests) but also a much more open-ended, participatory space, where anyone who wants to claim the nerdfighter identity can produce media and rally support behind his or her own ideas about what might constitute a better society. Lucy Bennett offers a critical review of the literature surrounding celebrity-based activism, exploring how such causes often take off because of the sense of intimacy the stars create with their following. Bethan Jones challenges a tradition of research that has tended to pathologize the parasocial relations between media fans and celebrities by describing the ways that X-Files cast member Gillian Anderson was able to inspire her fans to raise money for various charities. Tanya R. Cochran examines the efforts of Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse) to use his blog to increase awareness about sexual violence against women. Cochran sees Whedon's promotion of feminism as consistent with the focus on strong female characters across his television series, reinforcing the themes that draw fans to his properties in the first place.

The idea that the personality of celebrities, as much as the themes of popular fictions, may shape what issues fan activists embrace (and in this case, which issues generate little or no response) is further explored in Tom Phillips's exploration of the failed attempt by Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma) at stimulating fans to write letters to Southwest Airlines when the filmmaker was removed from his flight because he was viewed as "too fat to fly." Although the incident sparked online conversations around "corporate practice, body image, and consumer rights" (¶0.1), Smith's fans were not able to cohere around a strategy for exerting pressure on the airline. Cheuk Yi Lin explores why a sexually ambiguous pop star in Hong Kong has offered fans new language and images to represent their own erotic identities, but her queer fans have not coalesced into institutional politics around the rights of sexual minorities. Any urge toward more overtly political responses are dampened both by the cultural traditions of Hong Kong and by the institutional structures surrounding the fandom.

Although the first wave of research has stressed the potentials for fan activism, such practices are still relatively rare, with most forms of fandom stopping at the level of creative expression and not translating into collective action. For this reason, studies such as those by Phillips and Lin, which help us to understand the constraints on fan activism, may prove as useful in the long term as those studies which document successful models for translating fan investments into social change. Further challenging a utopian view of fan activism, Sun Jung explores antifandom around the K-Pop star Tablo, showing how some fan discourse may incorporate intense nationalism and even racism, even as other groups actively and productively challenge these discourses.

Contributing to van Zoonen's notion of the entertained citizen, several articles engage the direct connection between the political sphere (as traditionally defined) and participatory cultures. Andreas Jungherr investigates the German federal elections in 2009, arguing that citizen use of new media platforms and practices challenges the candidates' top-down communication practices. Contrasting design and deployment of such strategies across the German political spectrum, Jungherr finds that the participatory possibilities of emerging political practices vary depending on ideology. Jungherr concludes that the more liberal German Social Democrats (SPD) were more successful in designing an online environment that supported grassroots participation than the German conservative party (CDU). In the United States, The Colbert Report, a satirical late-night television program featuring Stephen Colbert, a character who is a parody of conservative media personalities, further blurs the lines between politics and entertainment. Marcus Schulzke shows how the program encouraged audiences to remix content and otherwise manipulate the words and images of political figures in ways that foster critical media literacies. By now, the idea that young Americans are as apt to learn about the political system through such news-comedy programs as from traditional journalism has become commonplace, while the program producers have sought to link creative expression and political participation to what it means to be a fan of their shows.

The simultaneously transnational and local dimensions of fan activism are another strand that runs through this issue. With examples of fan activism that include South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, Australia, and India, the essays in this issue expand the transnational dimensions of fan activism. These examples highlight some of the similarities between various instances and discussions of fan activism (including the role of communities and content worlds, catalyzing moments, and challenges to sustained mobilization), but we are also acutely sensitive to the local dimensions and specifications of these mobilizations. In sharp contrast to the United States, where we are constantly working to establish participatory culture links to the political sphere, Aswin Punathambekar aptly observes that the connection between participatory culture and politics is "not news to anyone in India." Punathambekar goes even further, observing that the struggle in India is to, in fact, demonstrate the "ordinariness of participatory culture." Complementing this observation, and using a public protest inspired by the a Bollywood film to demonstrate his argument, Ritesh Mehta proposes "flash activism" as a crucial element of India's civil society.

Kony 2012

The power and challenges of activism through fanlike engagement with content worlds came into sharp focus with Invisible Children's Kony 2012 campaign, an effort to increase public awareness of the human rights violations and genocide conducted by a Ugandan warlord. At the time of writing, the 30-minute Kony 2012 film released at 12 PM on March 5, 2012, has topped 76 million views on YouTube to become one of the most viewed and fastest-spreading videos in YouTube history. In The Daily Show's coverage of Kony 2012 on March 12, 2012, host Jon Stewart sets up the popularity of the film by saying, "This guy Kony is probably dropping some sick beats." The show cuts to an excerpt from Kony 2012 in which Jason Russell's voice describes the war crimes committed by the LRA set to images of what we gather are victims of those atrocities. We now cut back to a shocked Jon Stewart who goes on to exclaim, "So a thirty-minute video on child soldiers has gone viral--how popular can this thing be? I am sure it's not teenage girl sings song about day of the week hot." The show cuts to mainstream news media coverage of Kony 2012 focused on its extraordinary reach.

Given this almost overwhelming visibility, the film--and with it Invisible Children as an organization--was the subject of sharp debate. In the following days, IC's financials, their activities in Uganda, and their support of military action to "bring Joseph Kony to justice" were examined, debated, and critiqued ad nauseam in news media, through discussion forums, and on IC's own public Facebook page. The importance of these issues notwithstanding, these debates have by and large failed to recognize why the IC has been so incredibly spreadable (to borrow Henry Jenkins's term). Yes, the film is very well edited, and yes, its message, "make Kony famous," is compelling. But as Henry Jenkins (2012) points out, the success of the Kony 2012 YouTube campaign owes much to the fanlike support IC has built around its films over its past eight years of existence. In asking their supporters to reach out to a range of celebrities and policy makers who have a high level of visibility through social media, the organization also tapped into the desire of fans to see their favorites take a stand on issues that matter to them. With Kony 2012, IC activated this supporter base, which then willingly, strategically, and enthusiastically tweeted, posted, and then reposted the film to set its phenomenal spread in motion. They supported it with such fervor that they surpassed IC's goal of getting 500,000 views by the end of 2012 within a few hours.

IC and its supporters were caught off guard by the barrage of criticism levied at Kony 2012. Some, such as Ethan Zuckerman (2012), have suggested that the rapid spread of the video was a consequence of its simplification of complex political issues, wondering how online networks might be deployed to further complicate and nuance the frames that it proposes. As Civic Paths researcher Lana Swartz (2012) suggests, IC focused more on having their media be spreadable (widely circulated) rather than drillable (open to deeper investigation). For example, before Kony 2012, few IC supporters were encouraged to actively seek out more information about the Lord's Revolutionary Army, the militia that Kony heads. Instead, they were generally content with carefully replicating the accurate but somewhat simplistic narrative they received through IC's media. Fans of many media franchises have sought to drill deeper into their content worlds, trying to encapsulate everything that was known about what happened on the island in Lost or expanding the story line through fan fiction writing projects. In this way, fandom's search for hidden depths in seemingly simple texts offers an alternative model for how a group like IC might achieve the more nuanced framing Zuckerman sought and might give their rank-and-file members greater skills at parsing competing truth claims made about what is happening on the ground in Uganda.

In our call for submissions, we set out to understand how the imaginative practices supported by fandom, at times facilitated by digital media, may inform civic and political mobilization and how we may rethink our understanding of engagement in the civic and political spheres through the lens of fandom. The articles included in this issue not only exceed these objectives, but they also point to the extreme timeliness of this endeavor. From undocumented superheroes to humanitarian assistance in the name of Harry Potter, fandom clearly has a lot to teach us about activism in the age of social media and participatory culture.

5. Acknowledgments

Based at the University of Southern California, the Media Activism and Participatory Politics Project (MAPP) is part of Civic Paths Project. The project gratefully acknowledges support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) and the Spencer Foundation.

We thank the authors in this issue, whose original work makes TWC possible; the peer reviewers, who freely provide their time and expertise; the editorial team members, whose engagement with and solicitation of material is so valuable; and the production team members, who transform rough manuscripts into publishable documents.

The following people worked on TWC No. 10 in an editorial capacity: Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova (guest editors); Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Anne Kustritz, Patricia Nelson, and Suzanne Scott (Symposium); and Louisa Stein (Review).

The following people worked on TWC No. 10 in a production capacity: Rrain Prior (production editor); Beth Friedman, Shoshanna Green, and Mara Greengrass (copyeditors); Wendy Carr, Kristen Murphy, and sunusn (layout); and Kallista Angeloff, Amanda Georgeanne Michaels, Carmen Montopoli, and Vickie West (proofreaders).

TWC thanks the journal project's Organization for Transformative Works board liaison, Francesca Coppa. OTW provides financial support and server space to TWC but is not involved in any way in the content of the journal, which is editorially independent.

TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 10: Katherine Chen, Bertha Chin, Matthew Costello, Ashley Hinck, Ian Hunter, Alex Jenkins, Jeffrey Jones, Rachael Joo, Deborah Kaplan, Flourish Klink, Michael Koulikov, Bingchun Meng, Christopher Moreman, Nele Noppe, Amy Shuman, Fred Turner, Emily Wills, and Ethan Zuckerman.


1. These quotes are excerpted from interviews carried out by Arely Zimmerman for the Media, Activism, and Participatory Politics Project between December 2010 and July 2011. Institutional review board approval was secured for this research.

Works cited

Andrae, Thomas. 1987. "From Menace to Messiah: The History and Historicity of Superman," in American Media and Mass Culture: Left Perspectives, edited by Donald Lazare. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Appelo, Tom. 2011. "Superman Renounces US Citizenship, as Warners, DC Comics Bids for Global Audiences." Hollywood Reporter, April 28.

Dayan, Daniel. 2005. "Mothers, Midwives and Abortionists: Genealogy, Obstetrics, Audiences and Publics." In Audiences and Publics: When Cultural Engagement Matters for the Public Sphere, edited by Sonia Livingstone, 43-76. London: Intellect.

Earl, Jennifer, and Katrina Kimport. 2009. "Movement Societies and Digital Protest: Fan Activism and Other Nonpolitical Protest Online." Sociological Theory 27:220-43. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2009.01346.x.

Engle, Gary. 1987. "What Makes Superman So Darned American?" In Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend, edited by Dennis Dooley and Gary Engle. Cleveland, OH: Octavia.

Jenkins, Henry. 2012. "Contextualizing #Kony2012: Invisible Children, Spreadable Media, and Transmedia Activism." Confessions of an Aca-Fan, March 12.

Perry, Alexander. 2011. "The Immigrant Superman." Arte Y Vida Chicago, September 1.

Swartz, Lana. 2012. "Invisible Children: Transmedia, Storytelling, Mobilization." Working Paper, March 11.

van Zoonen, Liesbet. 2005. Entertaining the Citizen: When Politics and Popular Culture Converge. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield.

Well, Dan. 2011. "Candidates' Favorite Super Hero: Superman Chosen by Four," Newsmax, December 29.

Zimmerman, Arely. Forthcoming. DREAM Case Project Report. Media Activism and Participatory Politics Project, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Zuckerman, Ethan. 2012. "Unpacking Kony 2012." My Heart's in Accra, March 8.