The Regulation of the Chinese Blogosphere

This is another in a series of blog posts produced by the PhD students in my Public Intellectuals seminar being taught through USC's Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.


The Regulation of the Chinese Blogosphere

by Yang Chen

On September 9, the highest court and prosecution office claims that non-factual posts on social media that have been viewed more than 5,000 times, or forwarded more than 500 times, could be regarded as serious defamation and result in up to three years in prison.

This new law reflects the tense relationship between the government and the emerging and yet proliferating online public sphere. As one of the 500 million registered users on Weibo (the most popular tweet-like microblog in China), I feel a hint of nervousness. Normally my posts would be read around 500 times - which is far less than the 5000 quota – but Weibo is an open space where anyone can view and comment on any posts. Thus I have to be much more cautious about what I post in order to keep myself out of trouble.

I hope you won’t ridicule my timidity. Everybody has to be cautious, because the first account user who got arrested for violating this new law was an ordinary 16-year-old schoolboy, whose posts questioned the police’s negative act in a case and a conflict of interest in the court (Further information, go to China detains teenager over web post amid social media crackdown). But other than this poor boy from Junior School, there are a group of people who are much more nervous towards this law – the Big Vs.

Who are the Big Vs? Big Vs are the opinion leaders who actively engage in the discussion of political, economic, and social issues online. These prominent figures are followed by more than a hundred thousand netizens on Weibo. Unlike other grassroots users’ hidden identities, these users are verified by the website with their real names and occupations, and there is a gold “V” mark beside their account names that stands for “verified.”


Because these Big Vs are followed by a considerate number of Weibo accounts, their posts or reposts can reach a much larger audience than that of grassroots user accounts. As a matter of fact, though verified accounts only represent 0.1% of the Weibo accounts, almost half of the hot posts (posts being commented more than 1,000 times) were written by them. Thus instead of a We-media platform, Weibo is more like a "speaker's corner" for the Big Vs; their posts easily get reposted and commented more than ten thousand times. Although everyone has the same rights of free speech on Weibo, some people like the Big Vs speak much louder than the others.

Of course, with real identities and huge popularity online, they are also much easier target for this new law. Let’s take a brief look of what happened to some of the big Vs recently.


Most Big Vs are Chinese venture capitalists and investors; they would put their properties at risk if they go against the government. Thus not surprisingly, there has been an inclination that the Big Vs chose to cooperate with the government.


After an account is verified and branded with a “V,” the website fits the account into categories such as education, entertainment, business, and media. The verified account enters the “House of Fame” under that certain category, and be recommended to general accounts which are relevant to that category. This move leads to closer connections among the people under the particular category and would simultaneously distance people in the other categories.

Earlier this year, the website has asked all users to fill in their education backgrounds and the newcomers to register with their phone number. This move would also allow the website to identity users’ background information and recommend them to people who have similar backgrounds. As a result, highly educated individuals are communicating with other highly educated individuals; individuals with lower education, with lower educated individuals.

Due to this classification, a user who follows a verified Weibo account will recommend the verified account to members within their groups, so people end up following the same verified accounts. This system creates information barriers. For instance, the likelihood that a high-educated member will recommend a verified account with lots of helpful and accurate information to a lower educated member who is in another group is slim. The lower educated member may never be given the chance to increase his or her access to information, although both are using the same networking service.

Users are also separated by geographical location. Individuals from northern regions are speaking to individuals also from northern regions; individuals from southern regions, to individuals from southern regions. Each user is matched into groups based on the user’s characteristics and is subject to an environment where the user can only meet other users similar to the user. From this process, these groups are drifting further and further apart from one another.

Not surprisingly, I have found out that users from outside the country also are segregated from domestic users as well. When I first come to US, I have registered a Weibo account using my U.S. mobile phone number. I found out my posts have been deleted very often secretly without any explanation from the website. It is even more ridiculous that on my personal page, everything looks fine, but on my followers’ page, these posts secretly disappeared. If my friend had not told me, I would never have known.

A screenshot from My follower’s page

The Screen Shot from My Page

As I have shown, the post in the red circle was shown on my personal page, but deleted in my follower’s page. I found the similarity of my “deleted” posts: all of them having the common word “activity,” since I were spreading the information about USC’s upcoming events – some of these events are not even related to China or Chinese regime. Because some of these posts were deleted the second after I posted them, I guessed that a strong automatic filter system was applied to my account - maybe because my U.S. mobile put me into a more sensitive position. I was right! After I changed my mobile number into a Chinese domestic number, I never encountered another deletion. The segregation is really simple, yet effective; there’s no doubt that the censor system creates more information barriers.

The big Vs constitute the verified accounts that each followed by millions of people, that make them serve as the “links” among different groups. Controlling these links means further isolating the different groups and getting a tight grip on the information flow on Weibo.

The purpose of the policy maker is to develop a regulated and peaceful internet public sphere. However, we should bear in mind that the word “peace” doesn’t equal  “quietness” or “weakening voices.” There are obviously problems to be solved, voices to be heard. If tears were burried deep in one’s heart, it doesn’t mean the wound is not there anymore. I will end this blog with an old saying in China, “防民之口,甚于防川:” it means if you trap water in a stream, there would be a disastrous flood; if you shut up voices from the public, a worse disaster would be waiting ahead.The old saying is from thousands of years ago, but the words transcend time and still apply today; the Chinese regime should still take lessons from the wit of our ancestors.

Made by Hand, Designed by Apple

This is yet another in a series of blog posts authored by the students in my PhD seminar on Public Intellectuals, being taught this term in USC's Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. Made by Hand, Designed by Apple

by Andrew James Myers


Apple’s recent release of two new iPhone models — the iPhone 5s and 5c — was heralded with a pair of videos celebrating the aesthetics of each of the devices’ design and physical materials. The first, a 30-second spot entitled Plastic Perfected played at the 5c’s unveiling and aired on national TV, shows abstract swirls of liquid colors against a white background, gradually molding itself into the form of the iPhone 5c’s plastic shell. Other components, like the camera and the small screws, emerge spontaneously from within the molten plastic, until the idea of the iPhone is fully materialized, having literally created itself.



The other video, a companion piece also shown at the company’s iPhone presentation, depicts a mass of molten gold against a black background, swirling elegantly and weightlessly to sculpt itself into the iPhone 5s. Hovering components gradually descend into place, and the phone spins to present its finished form.



Over this past year, in my research of Apple’s marketing, I have watched hundreds of Apple’s ads and promotional videos extending back to the 1980s. For me, these most recent iPhone promotional videos were a surprising addition to this research, as they embody the purest and most potent distillation yet of a longstanding trend in Apple’s marketing. Apple’s marketing texts have long been preoccupied with constructing a certain aesthetic myth for the creation of Apple products. This mythical origin story at its essence taps into notions of vision, creativity, and genius while obscuring the devices’ real-world material origins as the product of concrete human labor.


Apple frequently releases “behind-the-scenes” promotional trailers for each of its major product launches. In Apple’s (widely-accepted) view of product creation, the valuable labor occurs in the realms of engineering, design, executive leadership, and software engineering. This is reflected in two significant patterns in the visual rhetoric of its behind-the-scenes videos: exclusive focus on automated robotic assembly processes, and animated visualizations of components spontaneously self-assembling against blank backgrounds. In the narrative framing constructed by these three rhetorical patterns, human labor at assembly factories like Foxconn is completely erased, written out of Apple’s corporate self-identity.



For example, consider the above making-of video for the iPhone 5c. The first visual pattern, exclusively showing automated labor rather than human labor, is always accompanied by a verbal discussion of manufacturing innovation. As we watch Macs and iPads being built, we almost never see a pair of human hands; in fact, I have been completely unable to find a single instance where worker hands — much less a full body or face — are shown in an Apple video made after 2008. Hands as a visual symbol and touching as a ritual are instead reserved for the consumer (“The fanatical care for how the iPhone 5c feels in your hand”), with frequent close-ups of disembodied hands touching, gripping, manipulating the product’s glossy material glory.


Second, Apple’s particular imagination of creation is manifest through its animated visualizations of how components fit together inherently and effortlessly. In one major type of these animations, components float in layers in the air, slowly and gracefully layering themselves into a snug assemblage. The molten-plastic and molten-metal ads discussed at the beginning of this post are merely the most recent (and visually extravagant) iteration of this aesthetic. Designing how components will fit together into ever-shrinking cases is essential to Apple’s hardware aesthetic obsession over making products as thin and small as possible. The designers’ work of putting the jigsaw puzzle together conceptually is seen as the real feat; actually putting it together, on the other hand, is trivial.


The visual rhetoric embedded in Apple’s videos clashes intensely with how Apple’s production process has recently been covered by journalists. Beginning in 2006 and climaxing in early 2012, the popular media has actively worked to raise awareness of the labor conditions of the individuals who work in the overseas factories producing Apple’s popular iPods, iPhones, iPads, and Macs (along with, secondarily, the electronics of almost every other major brand). This sensational story gained wide exposure by juxtaposing the brand mystique of Apple — perhaps the most meticulously and successfully branded company in the world — with a dystopian behind-the-scenes narrative completely at odds with Apple’s image. In response to this narrative in the Media, Apple has responded with a number of public relations initiatives, including a few  laudable measures that have genuinely improved supplier transparency and labor conditions. Yet, as labor violations in Apple’s supply chain continue to surface, and as Apple’s publicity materials continue to gloss over the human labor involved in product assembly, it is clear that much more needs to be done to address these issues.


A few weeks following two high-profile reports in the New York Times and NPR in early 2012, Apple responded to the negative publicity with a press release announcing that it would for the first time bring in a third-party organization, the Fair Labor Association, to independently audit its suppliers.[1] Apple also exclusively invited ABC news to visit the audit, yielding a 17-minute story broadcast on ABC’s television newsmagazine Nightline.


The Nightline piece offered the first journalistic footage from inside Foxconn’s assembly facility, and the pictures produced were astonishing. Reporter Bill Weir expresses surprise at the magnitude of manual labor he sees, repeatedly suggesting that simply seeing the factory process at work will cause viewers to “think different” about their Apple products. “I was expecting more automated assembly, more robots, but the sleek machines that dazzle and inspire... are mostly made by hand. After hand. After hand.” On Apple’s historical secrecy about its product manufacturing, Weir offers one interpretation. “If the world sees this line,” comments Weir over footage of a long, crowded assembly line, “it might change the way they think about this line.” Cut to a shot of a huge crowd of American consumers lined up to get inside a New York City Apple Store at a product launch.


What the Nightline piece lacks in the kinds of sensational details of other reports on Foxconn, it makes up for with the sheer visual impact of the startling images. We see exhausted workers collapsed asleep at their stations during meal breaks, the infamous suicide nets, the cramped 8-to-a-room dorms, and the apprehensive demeanor in the faces of prospective employees lining up outside the gates. The report even stages a moment in which the reporters visit a town and show an iPad to poor parents of Foxconn workers, none of whom have ever seen one.


After ABC’s first exclusive look inside Foxconn, other reporters were granted access to the factory, leading to a significant rise in video footage being broadcast and circulated online. More and more people were being exposed to the reality that iPads and iPhones are made by hand, by real humans struggling in almost dystopian conditions.


As I have researched and grappled with these issues, I have collected every relevant video I could find onto to my hard drive, which has over time become quite an exhaustive archive of Apple’s promotional material. At the same time, as I attempt to write about my research, I am frustrated at my incapability of fully conveying so many of the visual qualities of the videos I was analyzing in written form. My initial interest in the topic had sprung from an intangible, emotionally-entangled reaction I had to the aesthetic contrasts between Apple’s promotional videos and journalists’ Foxconn coverage — and I wondered whether it would be possible to make more impactful points through a visual essay rather than a written paper.


At first, I had in mind little more than a rather conventional expository documentary — nothing more than an illustrated lecture. But after taking Michael Renov’s fantastic seminar on documentary, I decided to try something a little more avant-garde. Inspired by documentary essayists such as Emile de Antonio, Jay Rosenblatt, Alan Berliner, Hollis Frampton, and Elida Shogt, I was interested in testing out these filmmakers’ innovative editing techniques for constructing original arguments by re-appropriating archival footage. I realized it might make a difficult and enlightening challenge to create a compilation documentary purely with archival footage — without voiceover, interviews, or text. I finished a 12-minute first cut of video essay this summer, and the result is below.

In contrast to the affordances of the written essay, one strength of the video medium that surfaced during editing was an ability to engage more directly with the kinetic and haptic experience of the body. In her essay “Political Mimesis,” Jane Gaines describes revolutionary documentary’s ability to work on the bodies of spectators, to move viewers to action. “I am thinking of scenes of rioting, images of bodies clashing, of bodies moving as a mass,” writes Gaines, suggesting that “images of sensual struggle” are a key element of a number of political documentaries. Gaines argues that certain depictions of on-screen bodies can produce in the audience similar bodily sensations or emotions, which inspired me to focus in my video essay on the concrete bodily attributes of sweatshop labor.


Gaines’s article brought me to formulate the central recurring visual motif of the film: a montage of close-up hand movements. I wanted to illustrate the corporeal vocabulary through which American consumers define their interaction with technology (moving and clicking the mouse, gesturing on a trackpad, tapping and swiping on a tablet), and offer in contrast the bodily relationship factory line-workers have to those same devices: repetitive, slight, monotonous movements.


As mentioned previously, the human bodies of workers — even their hands — are conspicuously absent from the footage Apple uses in their promotional videos about the making of their products. I tried to draw attention to this gaping corporeal absence with an extended montage segment of these fully-automated factory processes played simultaneously over an audio track explicitly addressing the harsh conditions for the factory workers we’re not seeing. I hoped that by explicitly cultivating a sense of mimetic identification throughout the rest of the film, the sequences of hands-free assembly would stand out as somewhat ghastly and unnerving.


Whether this film is successful in communicating its analysis is for others to decide; for me, I both enjoyed the novel experience of making it and feel like the video editing process forced me to think about the material I was working with in new ways. Focusing on making an argument through juxtaposition pushed me to look new contrasts and valences between bits of material I had not noticed before, to consider formal elements like timing and word choice with a new level of scrutiny, and to see my potential output as a researcher and advocate as perhaps not limited strictly to writing books and articles.

Andrew James Myers is a Ph.D. student in Critical Studies at the University of Southern California, and holds an M.A. in Cinema and Media Studies from UCLA. He is post-processing editor for the Media History Digital Library, and assisted in the creation of Lantern, an online search tool for archival media history. A former co-editor-in-chief of Mediascape, his research interests include media industries and production culture, archival film and television history, new media, and documentary.



[1] Apple Computer, Inc., "Press Release: Fair Labor Association Begins Inspections of Foxconn," (2012),

What Do We Expect from Environmental Risk Communicators?

This is another in a series of blog posts from the PhD students taking my class on Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice at USC's Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.  

What do we expect from environmental risk communicators?

by Xin Wang

A recent poll conducted by New York Times showed that although many Americans are dedicated in principle to the generic “environmentalist” agenda,  we -- as individuals -- stop short of enacting real changes in our habits and in our daily lives, changes that would help undo some of the ecological devastation we claim to be concerned about. For example, the alarm of global warming or climate change has been sounded repeatedly, but the society collectively and individually still generally turn a deaf ear partly because they assume the potential risks of sea level’s rising and glacial melting as chronic, diffuse in time and space, natural, and not dreadful in their impact. Continued exposure to more alarming facts does not lead to enhanced alertness but rather to fading interest or ecofatigue, which means we pay “lip service” to many environmental concepts engaging in the behaviors necessary to turn concepts into action, or we just become increasingly apathetic. In short, we are a society of armchair environmentalists.

The burgeoning civic discourses about environmental issues must confront this apathy. Our perspectives on environmental issues are influenced by official discourses such as public hearings and mass-mediated government accounts: we learn about environmental problems by reading reports of scientific studies in national and local newspaper; by watching the Discovery Channel and listening to NPR’s Living on Earth; by attending public hearings or events. By nature, however, these official environmental discourses tend toward a monologic framework that obscures the diversity and suppresses, rather than elicits, the dialogic potential of any utterance.

So here is our question: what kind of environmental risk communicators do we really need?

One challenge to effective environmental risk communication is that the narrative of environmental apocalypse still dominates as a standard rhetorical technique in communicating environmental problems to the public. Apocalyptic prophets continue, however, to blow the whistle on existing and developing environmental problems. Films such as The Core (2003) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) suggest that our biggest threat is the earth itself. While scholars agree that such apocalyptic narratives can initiate public discourse about and intervention in impending ecological disaster, the overuse of fear discourse is highly controversial considering its euphemism, vagueness, and hyperbole, which often lead to procrastination and inaction. Those who are frightened, angry, and powerless will resist the information that the risk is modest; those who are optimistic and overconfident will resist the information that their risk is substantial.

Another challenge facing environmental communication results from difficulties in producing knowledge to support improved decision making. Undoubtedly, the society requires knowledge in engineering and natural sciences, yet this is apparently insufficient for producing a transition to more sustainable communities. To wit, in the traditional technocratic model where there is little or even no interaction between scientific experts and the public, scientists decide what to study and make information available to society by placing it on a “loading dock”, then waiting for society to pick up and use it. This process has largely failed to meet societal needs.

Environmental concern is a broad concept that refers to a wide range of phenomena – from awareness of environmental problems to support for environmental protection – that reflect attitudes, related cognitions, and behavioral intentions toward the environment. In this sense, public opinions and media coverage play a significant role in evicting questions, causing changes, resolving problems, making improvements, and reacting to decisions about the environment taken by local and national authorities.

On the other hand, under the social constructionist model which focuses on the flow of technical information and acknowledges the shared values, beliefs, and emotions between experts in science and the public, an interactive exchange of information takes place: it is an improved integration of invested parties, initiatives that stress co-learning and focus on negotiations and power sharing.

Trust or confidence in the risk communicator is another important factor to be taken into account where potential personal harm is concerned: if the communicator is viewed as having a compromised mandate or a lack of competence, credence in information provided tends to be weakened accordingly. Or if the particular risk has been mismanaged or neglected in the past, skepticism and distrust may greet attempts to communicate risks. Apparently, it is more difficult to create or earn trust than to destroy it. If people do not trust an organization, negative information associated with that organization reinforces their distrust, whereas positive information is discounted (Cvetkovich et al. 2002).

When the control of risk is not at the personal level, trust becomes a major and perhaps the most important variable in public acceptance of the risk management approach. The single biggest contributor to increasing trust and credibility is the organization’s ability to care or show empathy.

On the one hand, when experts refuse to provide information, a hungry public will fill the void, often with rumor, supposition, and less-than-scientific theories. Silence from experts and decision makers breeds fear and suspicion among those at risk and makes later risk communication much more difficult. On the other hand, information alone, no matter how carefully packaged and presented, will not communicate risk affectively if trust and credibility are not established first.

It is time to advocate a new environmental risk discourse as well as to develop a practical wisdom grounded in situated practice on the part of communicators. Risks and problems are socially constructed. While grave threats may  exist in the environment, the perception of such danger, rather than the reality itself, is what moves us to take actions.

Culture, social networks, and communication practices are nuanced, specific, locally based, and often highly resilient. Our objective of effective and productive environmental communication should be in democratizing the way control affects how people define risk and how they approach information about risk, and in “formulating the meaningfulness of conversational interaction to participants in terms they find resonant, important to them, and thereby opening portals into their communal standards for such action” (Carbaugh, 2005, p. Xiii).

Xin Wang, Ph.D.student at Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. M.A. in Mass Communication and B.A. in Russian language at Peking University, China. She has eight years of working experience in professional journalism, media marketing and management at the People's Daily, a co-founder of a weekly newspaper China Energy News. Her current research interests concentrate on risk and environmental communication, nation branding, public diplomacy, and civic engagement.

A Whale Of A Tale!: Ricardo Pitts-Wiley Brings Mixed Magic to LA

Last February, I announced here the release of Reading in a Participatory Culture, a print book, and Flows of Reading, a d-book extension, both focused around work my teams (first at MIT and then at USC) have done exploring how we might help educators and students learn about literary works through actively remixing them. Our central case study has been the work of playwright-actor-educator Ricardo Pitts-Wiley from the Mixed Magic Theater, who was successful at getting incarcerated youth to read and engage with Herman Melville's Moby-Dick by having them re-imagine and re-write it for the 21st century. You can read more about this project here. And you can check out the Flows of Reading d-book for free here. 
If you live in Los Angeles, you have a chance to learn more about Pitts-Wiley and his work first hand. I've been able to bring Ricardo for a residency at USC this fall, which will start with a public event at the Los Angeles Public Library on September 26. Ricardo is going to be recruiting a mixed race cast of high school and college aged actors from across the Los Angeles area and producing a staged reading of his play, Moby-Dick: Then and Now, which will be performed as part of a USC Visions and Voices event on Oct. 11th. You can get full details of both events below. I hope to see some of you there. We are already hearing from all kinds of artists here in Southern California who have sought creative inspiration from Melville's novel and used it as a springboard for their own work. But you don't have to love the great white whale to benefit from our approach to teaching traditional literary works in a digital culture, and we encourage teachers and educators of all kinds to explore how they might apply our model to thinking about many other cultural texts.
For those who live on the East Coast, our team will also be speaking and doing workshops at the National Writing Project's national conference in Boston on Nov. 21.
Thursday, September 26, 2013 7:15 PM
Mark Taper Auditorium-Central Library
Thu, Sep 26, 7:15 PM [ALOUD]
Remixing Moby Dick: Media Studies Meets the Great White Whale 
Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley, and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley

Over a multi-year collaboration, playwright and director Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Melville scholar Wyn Kelley, and media expert Henry Jenkins have developed a new approach for teaching Moby-Dick in the age of YouTube and hip-hop. They will explore how "learning through remixing" can speak to contemporary youth, why Melville might be understood as the master mash-up artist of the 19th century, and what might have happened if Captain Ahab had been a 21st century gang leader.

* Part of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Public Library’s month-long citywide initiative "What Ever Happened to Moby Dick?"


Henry Jenkins is Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He has written and edited more than fifteen books on media and popular culture, including Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. His other published works reflect the wide range of his research interests, touching on democracy and new media, the “wow factor” of popular culture, science-fiction fan communities, and the early history of film comedy. His most recent book, Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick for the Literature Classroom was written with Wyn Kelley, Katie Clinton, Jenna McWilliams, Erin Reilly, and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley.

Wyn Kelley teaches in the Literature Section at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is author of Melville's City: Literary and Urban Form in Nineteenth-Century New York and of Herman Melville: An Introduction. She also co-author Reading in a Participatory Culture: Re-Mixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom with Henry Jenkins and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley. She is former Associate Editor of the Melville Society journal Leviathan, and editor of the Blackwell Companion to Herman Melville. A founding member of the Melville Society Cultural Project, she has collaborated with the New Bedford Whaling Museum on lecture series, conferences, exhibits, and a scholarly archive. She serves as Associate Director ofMEL (Melville Electronic Library), an NEH-supported interactive digital archive for reading, editing, and visualizing Melville’s texts.

Ricardo Pitts-Wiley is the co-founder of the Mixed Magic Theatre, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to presenting a diversity of cultural and ethnic images and ideas on the stage. While serving as Mixed Magic Theatre’s director, Pitts-Wiley gained national and international acclaim for his page-to-stage adaptation of Moby Dick, titled Moby Dick: Then and Now. This production, which was presented at the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC, is the centerpiece of a national teachers study guide and is featured in the book, Reading in A Participatory Culture. In addition to his work as an adapter of classic literature Pitts-Wiley is also the composer of over 150 songs and the author of 12 plays with music including:Waiting for Bessie SmithCelebrations: An African Odyssey, andThe Spirit Warrior’s Dream.

"Decreasing World Suck": Fan Communities, Mechanisms of Translation, and Participatory Politics

Hi, guys. I have been taking some much needed down time this summer, putting the blog on hiatus, focusing on other writing projects, and putting in motion plans for new content in the fall. As a result, I am only posting when I have some major news to share. Today, I am releasing a report from the Media, Activism, and Participatory Politics research group in the USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. We are part of the larger Youth and Participatory Politics Network, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, and led by Joseph Kahne (Mills College). Our team is doing interviews with young activists, as well as field observations and media audits, to better understand the practices that have enabled successful networks and organizations to draw youth into greater political and civic participation. Our previous reports have included case studies of the DREAMer movement and Students for Liberty; a report on civic learning within the Harry Potter Alliance and Invisible Children; and a special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures focused on the concept of fan activism.

This week, we are releasing "'Decreasing World Suck': Fan Communities, Mechanisms of Translation, and Participatory Politics," which shares insights about the Harry Potter Alliance, Imagine Better, and the Nerdfighters. The report is written by Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, an Annenberg PhD Candidate, who is doing her dissertation research on this topic.

We've written here about the Harry Potter Alliance before, so let me share a little of what she has to say about the Nerdfighters:

The Nerdfighters are an informal group, revolving around the YouTube channel of the “VlogBrothers,” two brothers in their thirties. John Green is a best-selling young adult author and Hank Green is a musician and entrepreneur, though both now engage in a wide variety of online projects. Inspired by video artist Ze Frank, the Green brothers launched the “Brotherhood 2.0” project in 2007, in which they pledged to cease all text-based communication for a year and keep in touch through publicly accessible vlogs (video blogs). In their vlogs, the brothers adopt the “talking head” format, facing the camera and chatting with the audience (and each other). Over time, they developed an elaborate repertoire of made-up jargon and inside jokes, which encouraged others to join their exchange. In 2007, YouTube featured Hank’s song “Accio Deathly Hallows” (calling for the release of the seventh Harry Potter book) on its front page, greatly increasing their visibility. The main focus for this case study is the community of Nerdfighters—the predominantly young followers of the VlogBrothers.

The name “Nerdfighter” emerged from one of the Greens’ vlogs; John encountered an arcade game called “Aero Fighters” and mistook its name for “Nerdfighters.”. The brothers’ followers adopted the term to describe themselves, and the VlogBrothers address many of their vlogs to Nerdfighters or “Nerdfighteria.” The Greens define a Nerdfighter as “a person who, instead of being made of bones, skin and tissue, is made entirely of awesome.” Over time, the Nerdfighter community reached significant proportions—the average Vlogbrother video has over 250,000 views.  The “barriers of entry” to Nerdfighteria are kept low. As the VlogBrothers quip: “Am I too young / old / fat / skinny / weird / cool / nerdy / handsome / tall / dead to be a Nerdfighter? No!! If you want to be a Nerdfighter, you are a Nerdfighter.”

Based on their sense of agency and their real-world engagement, Nerdfighters go beyond being a mere “audience” to the VlogBrothers, and can instead be conceptualized as a “public.”

The pronounced goal of Nerdfighters is to “decrease world suck.” When interviewed, John Green explained that, to him, this goal is:

Very much at the center of Nerdfighteria and I don’t think that there really is a community without that commitment to decreasing world suck or, as Hank likes to say, “increasing world awesome”. I don’t think there’s a community without its values.

As the VlogBrothers enigmatically define it, “World Suck is kind of exactly what World Suck sounds like. It’s hard to quantify exactly, but, you know, it’s like, the amount of suck in the world.” This broad definition leaves much space for individual Nerdfighters to interpret what “World Suck” (and decreasing it) means to them. Examples cited in interviews have ranged from personal acts, such as being a good person or cheering up a friend, to collective acts that fit within existing definitions of civic engagement. For example, Nerdfighters are very active on, a non-profit organization enabling individuals to make small loans to people without access to traditional banking features communities of lenders, and Nerdfighters are the largest community on the website with 34,773 members, topping “atheists, agnostics and skeptics” (23,795 members) as well as Kiva Christians (10,652 members). For several months, Nerdfighters ranked highly in the amount loaned, with a total of $1,771,025 disbursed. The Nerdfighters also support Project for Awesome (P4A), an annual event in which members are encouraged to create videos about their favorite charity and non-profit organization and simultaneously post those on YouTube. The first year the project was launched, its goal was to take over YouTube’s front page with videos of charities and non-profits for one day. In the 2012 P4A, Nerdfighters uploaded hundreds of videos and donated impressive amounts of money to the “Foundation to Decrease World Suck” (a non-profit created by the VlogBrothers). Nerdfighters could then vote on which charities should receive the donation. Finally, Nerdfighters decrease World Suck by collaborating with the Harry Potter Alliance.


In particular, Kligler-Vilenchik is interested in what she describes as "mechanisms of translation" where-by these groups tap into the passions and social ties that bring these networks of fans together and providing means by which they can be connected to debates around social change and public policy. In the course of the report, Kligler-Vilenchik explores the strategies by which these groups deploy elements of their content worlds as analogies for thinking about political issues; the ways they encourage their supporters to actively produce and circulate media content, sometimes in the service of their larger campaigns; and the ways that they provide a social environment that encourages people to reflect on politics and which provide varying degrees of support for diverse perspectives. These kinds of fan groups are only one model of the ways that participatory culture might build the scaffolding needed to help young people enter into their new roles as politically-engaged citizens, and we are eager to see other case studies identify a range of other mechanisms that fulfill these bridging functions.

You can read the full report below.

Hotspot3 -- Civic Kickstarters

The Civic Paths Research Group, based at USC's Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, periodically issues "Hot-Spots," clusters of short blog posts on related topics, which bring together as many of the members of our team as possible. I have shared previous Civic Paths Hot Spots around the "Dark Side of DIY"and "Election Season Revisited". Today, I am able to share the third in this series -- this time focused around the civic implications of Kickstarter, a platform and process which has occupied a great deal of our attention this semester. The introduction is written by two of our PhD students, Andrew Schrock and Samantha Close. We hope that it will inspire further discussion among researchers. If it does, share what you are thinking with us. If you want to learn more about Civic Paths, you can do so here.


If you’ve ever wished for a trebuchet that could fire erasers at the cubicles across the aisle--or wished you had the capital to mass produce the one you made in your garage, crowdfunding wants to talk to you. The basic idea behind crowdsourcing, as coined by Jeff Howe in a 2006 article for WIRED, is that a large task can be accomplished by parceling it out among a "network of people in the form of an open call." Crowdfunding modifies this idea by making the “large task” the production budget of a project. People who answer the call for participation in crowdfunding, called backers, contribute small to large amounts of money so the crowd can collectively raise the needed sum. Yet, “crowds” are, ironically, probably the wrong way to think about what’s happening with crowdfunding in general and its most visible offspring,  Rather, Daren Brabham, in his definitive book Crowdsourcing, links crowdfunding success to online communities, calling them "fertile sources of innovation and genius."

To understand how all of this works, we need to meet Kickstarter. hosts projects and campaigns by independent creators, organizing project pitches and facilitating payments. They also lay down rules for what kinds of things can be pitched. Backing typically takes place over a month, overt charities are not allowed, and projects must have a finite endpoint: producing an iSomething accessory, printing a comic book, or turning an abandoned house in New Orleans into a ball pit. Many types of goals and endeavors are therefore collapsed together as projects. Project backers are kept appraised of a project's progress, consulted for key decisions, and get an exclusive channel to communicate with project creators through the Kickstarter site. Project creators become more committed to a project that they know has generated interest. This process is closer to co-creation, where  fans and producers come together with interest and enthusiasm around a shared culture.

Although a Kickstarter campaign invitation is open to anyone browsing the web, it takes a relatively small number of people to make a project successful: all funds donated (minus Kickstarter's 5% fee) go to the project creator rather than being funneled through a foundation, production company, PayPal, or other edifice of red tape.  Kickstarter’s “crowd,” then, is more often an activation of a community or subculture than a random assortment of people on the virtual street. Once we re-frame Kickstarter as invoking community interests rather than those of a faceless crowd, we can start to more clearly think through how crowdfunding works. argues strongly that they are not a store and designs their policies and site to avoid the appearance of being an online storefront. These are obviously muddy waters, particularly as one of Kickstarter’s most notable additions to the traditional investment funding model is a system of “backer rewards.”  These rewards vary tremendously from material to immaterial to symbolic to somewhere in-between, and are set up by project creators to thank backers who contribute different tiers of money.  Rewards can become an unexpected burden for project creators, who deliver them later than expected over 75% the time. The best rewards are intrinsically linked to the project at hand, rather than being unrelated additions that create unnecessary work rather than deepening the excitement among backers and commitment by creators.

Veronica Mars Kickstarter

The one particularly dedicated fan who found $10,000 to donate to Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars Movie campaign, for example, will get a small speaking role in the film.  The more modest $10 donation level (selected by a less modest 8,423 people) receive a smaller reward (a digital copy of the film’s shooting script), but one that is still tied to the making of the movie.  The Veronica Mars campaign raised the most money of any project, ever, on Kickstarter and ignited both controversy and a lot of useful debate about the crowdfunding model. Today’s hotspot* features Civic Paths members diving into the fray and continuing the crowdfunding conversation.

One theme across posts is to follow the money:  Where is it coming from?  Where is it going?  How does it get there?  Why does it go?  Kickstarter projects complicate a simple dichotomy of commercial goals vs. creative endeavors, which were previously compartmentalized and personalized by such terms as “fans” and “producers.” According to Samantha Close, Kickstarter lays bare tensions that were always there in the entertainment industry but hidden by layers of production and distribution. Liana Gamber Thompson unpacks the implications of the new Donald Trump-branded site, Fund Anything. In true Trump style, it’s an extreme caricature of crowdfunding where anything goes, from medical procedures to a party for kids displaced by Hurricane Sandy. Its emergence provokes difficult questions about what gets funded and why in the larger crowdfunding world. Despite the prominence of project hosting sites like Kickstarter, all crowdfunding also requires the backing of a payment system.  As Lana Swartz reveals, these systems can have politics of their own, resulting in funds being frozen, reducing trust in crowdfunding platforms, and frustrating all participants.

Spreadability, discussion, and debate that bridges communities is another theme of interest. Unlike Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds, where the number of jellybeans in a bowl can be most accurately estimated by taking an average across a large number of observers, there isn't necessarily a best solution to find in crowdfunding. Rather, projects spark conversations and debates that take place elsewhere, often necessarily as Kickstarter has a fairly strict moderation policy on the site’s discussion sections that, for example, frowns on negative comments. Kevin Driscoll connects projects focusing on saving media with the politics of preservation, noting how debates about stuff are also difficult conversations about what should be archived, how, and by whom. Mike Ananny questions how crowdfunding is being incorporated into news.  It troubles existing dynamics of journalism that evolved to promote the spread of meaningful information at the same time as some have taken the cue to openly and explicitly focus on underserved communities. Benjamin Stokes makes the point that feelings of community affiliation are imagined as well as geographically-proximate.  Thus, online projects can also directly impact offline civic well-being. However, both Stokes and Ananny point out that there remain significant participation gaps on Kickstarter that affect how networks of privilege are connected to isolated communities, exacerbating the politics of financial support. Andrew Schrock provides examples of success stories in the spread of Hacker and Maker Spaces (HMSs) that act as centers for informal learning and creativity in geographically-situated communities. These democratically-run collective organizations buck the stereotype of HMSs being confined to western male geeks more interested in picking locks than helping others.

Kickstarter’s popularity has brought with it significant controversies and legitimate questions of who gets to contribute, how, to what, and who really benefits in the end. We hope that with careful consideration crowdfunding can be viewed as and truly become a way to connect backers and creators more closely over tables (made of robotically sculpted Zen sand or not) that are meaningful to all parties involved. Crowdfunded projects can drive awareness and, even in their imperfection, spark conversations about what needs doing across various communities. These emergent debates are vital for us to have in this moment of economic transition and cultural shift.

Enjoy, and we welcome your comments.

--Andrew Schrock and Samantha Close

[1] Why All Kickstarters are Civic Kickstarters, by Samantha Close

[2] Donald Trump and Dollar Bills: Crowdfunding for the Masses, by Liana Gamber Thompson

[3] Getting the Funds from the Crowd: The Politics of Payment Infrastructure, by Lana Swartz

[4] Crowdfunding an Archive: What’s Worth Saving and Who’s Gonna Pay for It?, by Kevin Driscoll

[5] Crowd-Funded Journalism and Dynamics of Visibility, by Mike Ananny

[6] Crowdfunding as Neighborhood Storytelling, by Benjamin Stokes

[7] Kickstarting a Hackerspace, by Andrew Schrock


* HOTSPOT PHILOSOPHY: These collections of mini-blog posts — “hot spots” — are organized around themes that cut across the diverse interests of participants in our research group. They’re about the things we love to talk about. And, like our in-person conversations, they play with ideas at the intersection of participatory culture, civic engagement, and new media. Our rules for the hotspot are these: No one gets to spend a million hours wordsmithing — these are idea starters, not finishers — and posts shouldn’t be a whole lot longer than five hundred words.  Check out our first hotspot intro to read more about the thought process behind these mini-blog posts.

Videos for Transmedia Hollywood 4: Spreading Change

On behalf of the conference organizers, I am proud to be able to share with you today the videos of our April 12 Transmedia Hollywood 4 conference. As many regular readers know, this event is run jointly by myself, representing USC's Cinema School, and Denise Mann, representing our counterparts at UCLA and it is funded by a grant from the Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Foundation. This year's focus was on models of social change, and we were excited to see a conversation emerge across the four panels, starting with panel 1's focus on the community outreach efforts of major brands and studios, panel 2's focus on smaller scale transmedia projects and entertainment education, panel 3's attention to grassroots activist efforts, and panel 4's consideration of young entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Each of the panels is interesting in its own right, but those who attended the event agreed that there was something magical about how the parts came together as a whole this year. I want to specially think David McKenna who worked around the clock to get these videos up and out to the world in record time. Enjoy. Panel 1 Revolutionary Advertising: Cultivating Cultural Movements In the web 2.0 era, as more and more millennials acquire the tools of participatory culture and new media literacy, some of this cohort are redirecting their one-time leisure-based activities into acts of community-based, grassroots social activism. Recognizing the power of the crowd to create a tipping point in brand affiliation, big media marketers, Silicon Valley start-ups, and members of the Madison Avenue advertising community, are jumping on board these crowdsourcing activities to support their respective industries. In other words, many of the social goals of grassroots revolutionaries are being realigned to serve the commercial goals of brand marketers. In the best-case scenarios, the interests of the community and the interests of the market economy align in some mercurial fashion to serve both constituencies. However, in the worst case scenario, the community-based activism fueling social movements is being redirected to support potato chips, tennis shoes, or sugary-soda drinks. Brand marketers are intrigued with the power and sway of social media, inaugurating any number of trailblazing forms of interactive advertising and branded entertainment to replace stodgy, lifeless, 30 second ads. These cutting edge madmen are learning how to reinvent entertainment for the participatory generation by marrying brands to pre-existing social movements to create often impressive, well-funded brand movements like Nike Livestrong, or Pepsi Refresh. Are big media marketers subsuming the radical intent of certain community-based organizations who are challenging the status quo by redirecting them into unintentional alliance with big business or are they infusing these cash-strapped organizations with much needed funds and marketing outreach? Today’s panel of experts will debate these and other issues associated with the future of participatory play as a form of social activism.Todd CunninghamFormerly, Senior Vice-President of Strategic Insights and Research at MTV Networks.

Denise Mann (Moderator)

Co-Director, Transmedia, Hollywood / Associate Professor, Head of Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

Rob Schuham CEO, Action Marketing

Michael Serazio Author, Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerrilla Marketing

Alden E. Stoner VP, Social Action Film Campaigns, Participant Media

Rachel Tipograph Director, Global Digital and Social Media at Gap Inc.

Transmedia, Hollywood 4: Spreading Change. Panel 1 - Revolutionary Advertising: Creating Cultural Movements from UCLA Film & TV on Vimeo.

Panel 2 Transmedia For a Change

Hollywood’s version of transmedia has been preoccupied with inspiring fan engagement, often linked to the promotional strategies for the release of big budget media. But, as transmedia has spread to parts of the world which have been dominated by public service media, there has been an increased amount of experimentation in ways that transmedia tactics can be deployed to encourage civic engagement and social awareness. These transmedia projects can be understood as part of a larger move to shift from understanding public media as serving publics towards a more active mission in gathering and mobilizing publics. These projects may also be understood as an extension of the entertainment education paradigm into the transmedia realm, where the goal shifts from informing to public towards getting people participating in efforts to make change in their own communities. In some cases, these producers are creating transmedia as part of larger documentary projects, but in others, transmedia is making links between fictional content and its real world implications.

Panelists Henry Jenkins (Moderator) Co-Director, Transmedia, Hollywood / Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts, USC Annenberg School for Communication

Katerina Cizek Filmmaker-in-Residence, National Film Board, Canada

Katie Elmore Mota Producer, CEO of PRAJNA Productions

Sam Haren Creative Director, Sandpit

Mahyad Tousi Founder, BoomGen Studios

Transmedia, Hollywood 4: Spreading Change. Panel 2 - Transmedia for a Change from UCLA Film & TV on Vimeo.

Panel 3: Through Any Media Necessary: Activism in a DIY Culture A recent survey released by the MacArthur Foundation found that a growing number of young people are embracing practices the researchers identified as “participatory politics”: “interactive, peer-based acts through which individuals and groups seek to exert both voice and influence on issues of public concern.” These forms of politics emerge from an increasingly DIY media culture, linked in important ways to the practices of Makers, Hackers, Remix Artists and Fan Activists. This panel will bring together some key “change agents,” people who are helping to shape the production and flow of political media, or who are seeking to better understand the nature of political participation in an era of networked publics. Increasingly, these new forms of activism are both transmedia (in that they construct messages through any and all available media) and spreadable (in that they encourage participation on the level of circulation even if they do not always invite the public to help create media content).


Megan M. Boler Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Social Justice Education OISE/University of Toronto

Marya Bangee Community Organizing Residency (COR) Fellow, OneLA, Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)

Erick Huerta Immigrant’s rights activist

Jonathan MacIntosh Pop Culture Hacker and Transformative Storyteller

Sangita Shreshtova (Moderator) Research Director of Media Activism & Participatory Politics (MAPP) project, USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism

Elisabeth Soep Research Director and Senior Producer at Youth Radio-Youth Media International

Transmedia, Hollywood 4: Spreading Change. Panel 3 - By Any Media Necessary: Activism in a DIY Culture from UCLA Film & TV on Vimeo.

Panel 4 The e-Entrepreneur as the New Philanthropist Nonprofit organizations are increasingly thinking like entrepreneurial start-ups and vice-versa, as young people are starting organizations which embrace the notion of the “consumer-citizen,” modeling ways that social-change efforts can be embedded within the everyday lifestyles of their supporters. While the boomers treated the cultural movements of the late sixties as a cause, today’s e-citizens are treating their social activism as a brand. They are selling social responsibility as if it were a commodity or product, using the same strategies that traditional business men and women used to sell products.

Sarah Banet-Weiser Professor, USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and Department of American Studies and Ethnicity

Sean D. Carasso Founder, Falling Whistles

Yael Cohen Founder/CEO, Fuck Cancer

Ann Pendleton-Jullian (Moderator) Professor, Knowlton School of Architecture, The Ohio State University, and Distinguished Visting Professor, Georgetown University

Milana Rabkin Digital Media Agent

Transmedia, Hollywood 4: Spreading Change. Panel 4, The e-Entrepreneur as the New Philanthropist from UCLA Film & TV on Vimeo.

Seeing Red: How and Why "Red Equals Equality" Spread

This past week's debate in the Supreme Court over marriage equality inspired users of social networking sites to engage in a kind of symbolic politics -- swapping out their profile pictures for some variant on the theme, Red Equals Equality. Some of these could be as basic as turning their own pictures pink or using a red equals sign, but this "meme" became attached to a wide array of pop culture icons, such as Charlie Brown, Yoda, the Super Mario Brothers, the Bronies, George Takai, and of course, Burt and Ernie. In return, this phenomenon quickly developed a familiar backlash -- the dismissal that such activity can have any meaningful political effect at all.


Over at the blog for MIT's Center for Civic Media, this issue inspired a really provocative discussion between Molly Sauter, Matt Stempeck,and others, which took up some key concepts from Ethan Zuckerman's much acclaimed opening remarks at the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Conference:

Matt: Going pink may actually be tied to a theory of change, in that it changes norms and clearly establishes which side you are on in a cultural debate. Many of these oft-criticized ‘voice’ efforts are directed not at those with the power to change things directly, but at those who follow us on social networks and thereby know us. No one taking these actions is expecting a direct response from the Supreme Court.

Yet this action, taken by many, can matter. We know that support for gay marriage is linked with how likely it is we know someone who is openly gay. And we know that people care deeply about societal norms. Ever-increasing support for gay equality, generated at the interpersonal level, is only strengthened by a mass outpouring of support on social networks. People may be smarter than slackademic critiques allow.

Matt & Nathan: In the case of gay equality, the focus of change is also social itself. By going pink, people are standing up as allies and creating the perception of a safe space within their own friendship communities online-- spaces where gay people may face stigmas and bullying. That's another reason going pink may be meaningful: it was, for many people, a more difficult social decision than going green. Going green may have produced some indirect changes, in terms of raising awareness, or signaling a broader US audience for news from Iran than was previously assumed, or establishing affinity for the Iranian people at greater levels than we previously broadcast to our friends. But going pink was still, in many individuals' social networks, an act requiring some degree of bravery, because it's a more controversial topic, closer to home, and likely to alienate at least one social contact.

For those who missed Ethan's talk, check out the embed below.

One of the more thoughtful responses I read to the Red Equals Equality campaign came from Elisabeth Shabi -- an undergraduate student at Georgia's Reinhardt College. Shabi is a student of my old friend, Pam Wilson, who has been teaching Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture. Wilson shared the post via Facebook, appropriately enough, and I was impressed enough by what she had to say that I asked her if I could repost her comments here. At a time when more and more young people are getting their news, not from traditional journalism, but from items passed them by their friends on social media, this is a beautiful account of how "seeing red" might inspire young people to seek out additional information about issues. Thanks Pam and Elisabeth!



Spreadable Media...At It's Best

by Elisabeth Shabi, Reinhardt College

Fifty years ago, 20 years ago even, our grandparents and parents woke up and read the paper or turned on the television for a morning news show to get a glimpse on the current state of social affairs. Mygeneration wakes up and checks Facebook. And as social media and spreadable media would have it, Facebook has become a decent glimpse of the most updated happenings in the social/political sphere.


This morning as my newsfeed loaded, I began to see red. Profile pictures, cover photos, likes, links, posts, etc. all gone red for marriage equality. I never once turned on the news or read a paper, but I knew exactly why this day was so important by reading the dozens of posts on my newsfeed. Today, March 26, 2013, Proposition 8 went to the Supreme Court for debate.

As of about 10:30pm, 21 of the first 100 posts on my Facebook feed had to do with the marriage equality events of the day. I counted profile picture changes, likes, links and blatant status references to the marriage equality debate.

For statistics purposes, it should be noted:

  • One post of the 21 was a joke post merely playing off the concept of the changed profile photos.
  • One post of the 21 was irrelevant but showed a comment from another person (not my “friend”) that had changed his/her profile pictured to the red equal sign.
  • If a person changed their profile picture and then later posted material irrelevant to the debate, this was not counted as part of my 21 posts.
  • In addition to this support on my newsfeed, 10 out of my 262 friends had the red equal sign as their profile picture and 16 out of 50 posts on the instant newsfeed pertained to the marriage equality debate.

This article by The Shorthorn paper of University of Texas Arlington campus gives a summary on the technicalities of today’s debate and also discusses the social media campaign created to support marriage equality.

Human Rights Campaign, a group that supports equality for gay, lesbian and transgender rights began a recent Facebook and Twitter campaign. The campaign’s page changed the colors of their traditional blue and yellow equal sign logo and began telling people to wear red to gain supporters online as the Supreme Court begins hearings for the next two days about gay marriage rights.”



An interesting side conversation of the above mentioned article brings up the topic of newsfeed content. One student interviewed for the article mentioned that he didn’t know what the red/pink equal sign being used for profile pictures meant until he researched it. I also saw a post appear on my personal newsfeed with a legitimate inquiry as to the meaning of the equal sign – and that was a 11 o’clock the night of the first day of debates.

This immediately made me think about how people personalize their Facebook newsfeed. I asked myself how I knew what the equal sign meant. My answer? The first post I read this morning – and one of the first I saw with the equal sign – was a news article posted by a friend discussing the Supreme Court’s upcoming challenge. Several posts later, a blog link appeared from my favorite magazine discussing a local author’s view on the topic. Granted several of the profile picture changes did not provide an explanation, but several others were accompanied by a supportive or explanatory status. These posts, coupled with several news articles, images, memes, and pages that were posted and shared just on my morning newsfeed gave me no doubt as to the day’s significance.

What does this mean for these people who had no idea of the campaign’s significance? Of the day’s historical events? Of course it could simply be that they are less frequent users of Facebook; however, I am more inclined to question the contents of their newsfeed. If one chooses not to be associated with people who are more inclined to share and post on these important social and political topics, or if you – for whatever reason – don’t tend to “like” the Facebook pages of agencies or news providers that will generally post or comment on these events, then your newsfeed may just contain friend-to-friend activity.

I hesitate to critique this “state of newsfeed” because after all the platform is social media and at its most basic Facebook is intended for “friend” and social interaction. For people such as myself however, since I am completely and disturbingly aware of my lack of daily news intake, I make it a point to diversify my Facebook newsfeed to the point where I can get at least a glimpse of important social and political events – especially when they are as popular as the marriage equality debate.


Returning to Henry Jenkins’s concept of Spreadable Media, it is worthy to note that we live in a culture where one of our main platforms of communication – the Internet – is a willing and receptive host for the spread of news and information. Social media, including Facebook, Twitter, etc. make it easy to share, link and connect content. Within 24 hours of a significant event, memes are created and news reports are published.

What effect does this spreadability have on campaigns, movements, and social change? For this current issue, it seems to have quite a weighty affect. The exposure alone is significant for the campaign and its supporters as relevant and influential content is reworked, manipulated, shared, linked and absorbed by social media audiences and co-creators. This goes beyond the platform of social media, in fact, as news sites and shows begin mentioning it simply for the wave created on the internet.

This MSNBC article as well as this article from the Wall Street Journal give details of the campaign’s effect on Twitter and Facebook. The WSJ article notes that “Two posts on the organization’s main Facebook page encouraging people to change their avatar were shared over 70,000 times.” Even President Obama tweeted his stance on marriage equality:



Another wonderful aspect of our spreadable media culture is the ease of access to direct information. The Human Rights Campaign blog provides an accessible link to the PDF transcript of the Court’s proceedings as well as a link for access to audio recordings. People have taken direct quotes from the Judges and created images, memes, etc. with the information. This article on is a perfect example as it provides the following image as well as the actual audio clip of the exchange.



Not only is this content appealing to the eager eye and news absorber, but it provides truth and promotes an atmosphere of digital democracy. The internet is simply swarming with coverage. calls the emergence of the symbolic red and pink equal sign the “Birth of the Marriage Equality Meme.”  Articles such as this one from show signs from the protestors and supports outside the Supreme Court.

The internet is alive with the exchange of news articles, photographs, blogs, images, etc. that hold opinions, commentary, facts, beliefs, updates, reports – everything you could ever desire. One thing is for sure: we have not seen the last of the now-famous, “viral,” and highly spreadable marriage equality meme.

Is this not spreadable media at its finest?

Artist's Rights and Internet Freedom: A Public Conversation Between T Bone Burnett and Henry Jenkins

Late last year, I was lucky enough to be able to engage the great musician T Bone Burnett in a series of conversations concerning the proper balance between Copyright and Fair Use. The first of these events was held at the Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT and also featured Jonathan Taplin, the Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, and was featured on this blog a while back. Today, I am able to share with you the video of a follow-up event, held in Los Angeles, at the Hammer Museum. Here's how the event was billed:


Award-winning producer T-Bone Burnett and communications scholar Henry Jenkins illuminate the debate over intellectual property rights versus Internet freedom. Burnett is a 12-time Grammy-winning composer and producer and a vocal advocate of artists’ rights. Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at USC and an advocate of Fair Use and Internet freedom. His recent book is Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

Hammer Forum is moderated by Ian Masters, journalist, author, screenwriter, documentary filmmaker, and host of the radio programs Background Briefing, Sundays at 11AM, and The Daily Briefing, Monday through Thursday at 5PM, on KPFK 90.7 FM.

The video speaks for itself. Enjoy.

HOT.SPOT 2: Introduction: Election Season Revisited

A while back, I shared the first of a series of "Hot.Spot" blog posts created by my students and colleagues within the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism's Civic Paths research group. The team's back with another round, this one timed to respond to the Presidential Election and inauguration. I am happy to crosspost their efforts with you. I now hand this over to Liana Gamber Thompson, our post-doc and MC Extraordinare. Hotspot Philosophy

These collections of mini-blog posts -- "hot spots" -- are organized around themes that cut across the diverse interests of participants in our research group. They’re about the things we love to talk about. And, like our in-person conversations, they play with ideas at the intersection of participatory culture, civic engagement, and new media. Our rules for the hotspot are these: No one gets to spend a million hours wordsmithing — these are idea starters, not finishers — and posts shouldn’t be a whole lot longer than five hundred words.

Election Season Revisited (Inauguration Edition!)

Live-Tweeting Laffs During the 2012 Debates On the Separation of Cable and State Obama's Back Problems Where Voting Fits In for the “Self-Expressive Citizen” #firsttimevoters Nobody 2012 Crowns and Badges

I spent the bulk of Monday tuning in to President Obama’s inauguration and the coverage around it. I admit, no matter who is being sworn in, I’m a sucker for the pageantry, the tradition, and the ceremony of the inauguration. I love seeing the National Mall brimming with enthusiastic, if freezing, faces and studying the interactions of the political rivals, celebrities, and past presidents assembled on the stage. On that day, the campaign season that got President Obama here seemed but a distant memory, the blood, sweat and tears of staffers and volunteers receding into footnotes as the President took his oath over not one, but two historic bibles.

But as President Obama gets back to work, Michelle Obama ships her ruby red inaugural gown off to the National Archives, and the blogosphere descends into a tedious debate over Beyonce’s lip-syncing, the excitement of the inauguration fades. The significance of President Obama’s achievement, however, does not. That’s why, for our second Civic Paths hotspot*, we’ve decided to return our focus to election season and to the range of people and stories that made it such an interesting one.

Kevin [1] and Sam [2] consider the relationship between politics and entertainment during election season, while Raffi [3] dissects some of President Obama’s more perplexing campaign slogans. Neta [4] seeks to understand how the traditional civic act of voting is tied to more self-expressive acts of engagement. Kjerstin [5] also looks at voters, documenting the infectious joy behind many of the tweets of #firsttimevoters, while I [6] examine a group of young non-voters and some of their favorite memes. Lastly, Ben [7] brings us back to where we started—the inauguration—with his account of the symbols and spectacle surrounding it.

We hope these posts will bring some of the more compelling stories from election season back into relief. We also hope this hotspot inspires others to bring their own stories into the conversation because so much has yet to be explored from the 2012 Presidential election and the sometimes wild and woolly days that preceded it.

-- Liana Gamber Thompson

*For more on the hotspot philosophy, see our first hotspot on DIY culture.

[1] -- Kevin Driscoll, Live-Tweeting Laffs During the 2012 Debates [2] -- Sam Close, On the Separation of Cable and State [3] -- Raffi Sarkissian, Obama's Back Problems [4] -- Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, Where Voting Fits In for the “Self-Expressive Citizen” [5] -- Kjerstin Thorson, #firsttimevoters [6] -- Liana Gamber Thompson, Nobody 2012 [7] -- Ben Stokes, Crowns and Badges

What's All the Fuss About Connected Learning?

Last week, the MacArthur Foundation released a significant new report, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, which should warrant the close attention of my regular readers, especially those of you who are strongly invested in thinking about the nature of education within a networked era. The report comes more than six years after the launch of the Digital Media and Learning initiative and represents an important re-assessment of what's working and what's not as institutions at all levels have responded to the changes which are impacting our information environment. The authors of the report include some of the most important American and British thinkers about youth, new media, and education:

Mizuko Ito...Kris Gutiérrez...Sonia Livingstone... Bill Penuel...Jean Rhodes...Katie Salen..Juliet Schor...Julian Sefton-Green....S. Craig Watkins 

The report is sobering in its acknowledgment of some of the real challenges confronting us, especially in its focus on the growing inequalities in terms of access not simply to the technological infrastructure but to the skills and opportunities required to meaningfully participate in the new media environment:

Despite its power to advance learning, many parents, educators, and policymakers perceive new media as a distraction from academic learning, civic engagement,and future opportunity. Digital media also threaten to exacerbate growing inequities in education. Progressive digital media users ... are a privileged minority. There is also a growing gap between the progressive use of digital media outside of the classroom, and the no-frills offerings of most public schools that educate our most vulnerable populations. This gap contributes to widespread alienation from educa- tional institutions, particularly among non-dominant youth. Without a proactive educational reform agenda that begins with questions of equity, leverages both in-school and out-of-school learning, and embraces the opportunities new media offer for learning, we risk a growth in educational alienation by our most vulnerable populations....

This report is skeptical and hard-nosed, challenging some of the optimism which has fueled previous work in the Digital Media and Literacy tradition, raising concerns about what is happening to those who are being excluded from meaningful participation. The authors raise alarms about how all young people are impacted by an educational process which gives them few chances to pursue their own passions and interests within a regime of standardized testing and a fragmented media environment where children have much greater access to highly commercial sites than to those which speak to them as citizens and learners.

The report raises these issues while also recognizing the very real educational opportunities DML scholars have identified when we look at those communities which have proven rewarding for a growing number of young participants, communities which have a shared ethical commitment to encouraging and scaffolding their participation. The authors believe something valuable is taking place in many corners of the web (and in the context of young people's everyday engagements with media.):

Young people can have diverse pathways into connected learning. Schools, homes, afterschool clubs, religious institutions, and community centers and the parents, teachers, friends, mentors and coaches that young people find at these diverse locales, all potentially have a role to play in guiding young people to connected learning. Connected learning takes root when young people find peers who share interests, when academic institutions recognize and make interest-driven learning relevant to school, and when community institutions provide resources and safe spaces for more peer- driven forms of learning.

Examples of learning environments that are currently integrating the spheres of peers, interests, and academic pursuits include athletics programs that are tied to in-school recognition, certain arts and civic learning programs, and interest-driven academic programs such as math, chess, or robotics competitions. These connected learning environments ideally embody values of equity, social belonging, and participation. Further, connected learning environments are generally characterized by a sense of shared purpose, a focus on production, and openly networked infrastructures.

The report is skeptical, not cynical. It asks hard questions precisely so we can empower meaningful change. The authors do not fall prey to the paralysis which consumes so much academic writing, but rather they offer a number of concrete recommendations about what new kinds of educational structures and practices need to emerge. What I admire most about this report is this movement between critique and advocacy, between analysis of existing problems and the willingness to find concrete solutions. I have admired these pragmatic qualities in many of these authors individually in the past. See, for example, my previous interviews with Mimi Ito, Craig Watkins, and Sonia Livingstone, about their research.  

The report includes rich case studies, demonstrating the kinds of experiences some youth have enjoyed through joining the Harry Potter Alliance, enrolling in New York City's Quest to Learn School, or participating in the after school offerings of the Chicago Public Library's YouMedia Center. Such projects illustrate what happens when everything comes together. Here, for example, is a bit from a sidebar written by Sangita Shresthova and Neta  Kliger-Vilenchik, two researchers from my Civic Paths team at USC's Annenberg School, dealing with the learning culture which has grown up around the Harry Potter Alliance:

Although fun and social in nature, involvement in HPA pushes young people to connect their recre- ational interests to social and political issues that they might not otherwise be familiar with. Because HPA turns its attention to many issues, ranging from net neutrality to fair trade and voter registra- tion, this forces participants to study up in a range of new areas. Almost every campaign is accompa- nied by a period of learning about the new issue and making sense of it. Chapter leaders will often educate the group on a new issue. Participants also talk about how involvement in HPA helped them see the political messages within Harry Potter. One chapter has gone as far as opening a 6-week study group on “Harry Potter as a tool for social change,” discussing links between the narratives and real-world issues. In other words, HPA is a site of hybridization and translation between political and fantasy-centered frames of reference.

Coincidentally, Andrew Slack, HPA's Founder and Leader, also released a new TED talks video last week, which is a wonderful illustration of the HPA approach at work.

Here, Slack is very much in his element, speaking to a room of youth, giving himself over to his inner fan boy, and at the same time, encouraging critical media literacies and informed engagement with social issues. You also get a sense here of how Slack and others in his organization are moving beyond a focus on Harry Potter fandom and seeking to demonstrate how we might learn from a range of popular media and literary texts.

Such educational opportunities are exciting -- they have sustained my own enthusiasm over the better part of a decade now -- but they are not in and of themselves enough, not as long as many young people lack the kind of adult mentorship which might help them to identify meaningful online experiences or make connections between what they are learning in these communities and the demands of more formalized education.

The heart of the report seeks to identify design principles which might address these concerns:

Our hypothesis is that in order to develop these cross-cutting repertoires of practice, young people need concrete and sustained social networks, relationships, institutional linkages, shared activities and communication infrastructures that connect their social, academic, and interest-driven learning. It is not enough for young people to have knowledge “in their head” and expect that they can apply it appropriately and effectively in varied settings on their own. They need caring adults, supportive peers, shared cultural references, and authentic ways of contributing to shared practices in order to mobilize their skills and knowledge. In contrast to the voluminous literature and research on cognitive and individual models of transfer, there has been very little work that looks more ecologically at the relational, infrastructural, and institutional settings that undergird effective translation and transfer between formal instruction and varied practices.

I can't begin to do justice to this report. You need to read it yourself, and then, we need to launch some serious conversations about its implications for our own practices.


HOT.SPOT: The Dark Side(s) of DIY

From time to time, I have written here about the work of the Civic Paths research team in the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California. I helped to start this research group when I arrived in Los Angeles three and a half years ago; it has been the seedbed for our Media Activism and Participatory Politics project which has generated a series of case studies of innovative activist groups (and will be the basis of an upcoming book). But, the group has become something more than that -- a space where students and faculty gather to discuss the participatory turn in contemporary culture and politics. Such discussions thrive on our internal discussion list, and we've been experimenting with various ways to get these ideas out to the world both formally through op ed pieces and informally through blogging. The team recently launched a new project -- HOT.SPOT to encourage as many of the members as possible to write short blog posts around a related theme -- think of it as a mini-anthology. Lead by my journalism colleague Kjerstin Thorson and our post-doc Liana Thompson, the first of our "HOT.SPOT" blogs deals with the "Dark Side(s) of DIY."  Our work has been so focused on the values and practices of participatory politics, it seems inevitable that reservations and concerns would rise to the surface. If only Nixon could go to China, perhaps our group has an obligation to also call out the abuses, misuses, and failures of DIY culture and politics.

So, let me pass the microphone over to Kjerstin Thorson who will set up this special issue, and you can follow the links out to the individual posts.


Hotspot Philosophy

Welcome to the first of what we hope will be a series of Civic Paths “hotspots.” These collections of mini-blog posts are organized around themes that cut across the diverse interests of participants in our research group. They’re about the things we love to talk about. And, like our in-person conversations, they play with ideas at the intersection of participatory culture, civic engagement, and new media. Our rules for the hotspot are these: No one gets to spend a million hours wordsmithing -- these are idea starters, not finishers -- and posts shouldn’t be a whole lot longer than five hundred words.

Kicking it off: The Dark Side(s) of DIY

Don’t get me wrong: I love DIY. I muddled through the acquisition of basic sewing skills (thanks, Internet) to make a much-loved, crooked crib skirt for my daughter. My now-husband and I navigated the complexities of his immigration to the U.S. without hiring a lawyer, relying entirely on a discussion board about fiancée visas. Last year, we even put a fountain in our backyard (it was crooked, too).

In fact, I venture to say we all love DIY—and are genuinely excited about the role of new media technologies for amplifying the possibilities to make stuff, share stuff, spread stuff and generally participate in public life in a million different ways. But we also believe that DIY (or at least the mythology of DIY) has some dark sides.

Liana [1] and Sam [2] remind us that just because you do it yourself doesn’t mean that what you make will find an audience, or even that what you make will be any good. Kevin [3] considers the often-fraught relationship some DIY practitioners have to potentially dubious funding streams, and Lana [4] points out that the business of DIY can often be the selling of awful. Andrew [5] looks at what happens when crowdfunding goes awry and DIY communities try to mete out justice online. Rhea [6] also examines online communities taking matters into their own hands, highlighting the misunderstandings and mishaps that get created in the process.

Neta [7] and I [8] share an interest in the ways that beliefs about DIY political knowledge—everyone should be a fact checker! Figure out everything for yourself!—may shut down possibilities for political engagement. Mike [9] takes on the contradictions behind the idea of DIY news, and Raffi [10] wonders whether the race to make and spread the pithiest, funniest political nuggets is taking away from other forms of online political talk.

With these posts, we hope to collectively shed light on some of the difficulties that arise from an otherwise celebrated mode of creation and engagement. And while we all love DIY and its range of possibilities for civic life, we think pulling back the curtain to show when it goes wrong is an important step in figuring out how DIY can take us even further in the future.

-- Kjerstin Thorson (Assistant Professor of Journalism)

[1] On Finding an Audience, or Why I'm Not a Rock Star, by Liana Gamber Thompson

[2] Producing Poop, by Sam Close

[3] Makerspaces and the Long, Weird History of DIY Hobbyists & Military Funding, by Kevin Driscoll

[4] Blogging and Boycotting in the "Schadenfreude Economy", by Lana Swartz

[5] Gatekeepers of DIY?, by Andrew Schrock

[6] The Role of Japanese & English-language Online Communities in the Mitsuhiro Ichiki Incident, by Rhea Vichot

[7] DIY Citizenship & Kony 2012 Memes, by Neta Kligler-Vilenchik

[8] Figure It Out for Yourself, by Kjerstin Thorson

[9] Why “DIY News” Could Be a Contradiction in Terms, by Mike Ananny

[10] Memed, Tumbled, & Tweeted, by Raffi Sarkissian

Futures of Entertainment 6 Videos (Part One)

Over the next few installments, we are going to be sharing videos of the panels from this year's Futures of Entertainment conference, now in its sixth year, and developing a really strong community of followers who come back again and again to participate in our ongoing conversations. For those who do not know, FoE is a conference designed to spark critical conversations between people in the creative industries, academics, and the general public, over issues of media change. The Futures of Entertainment consortium works hard to identify cutting edge topics and to bring together some of the smartest, most thoughtful people who are dealing with those issues. It is characterized by extended conversation among the panelists in a format designed to minimize "spin," "pitch" and "pontification," and in a context where everything they say will be questioned and challenged through, Twitter, and (this year) Etherpad conversations. As someone noted this year, one of the biggest contributions of the conference has been close interrogation of the language the industry uses to describe its relationship with its publics/audiences, and this year was no exception, with recurring concepts such as "curation" getting the full FoE treatment. And we came as close as we've ever come to a Twitter riot breaking out around the "Rethinking Copyright," session on which I participated.

The conference, traditionally, opens on Thursday with a Communications Forum event. This year, the focus was on New Media in West Africa, part of our ongoing exploration of the global dimensions of entertainment. There was much discussion of what we could learn from Nollywood (even hints of the coming era of Zollywood) and a spontaneous live performance by Derrick “DNA” Ashong.

New Media in West Africa Despite many infrastructural and economic hurdles, entertainment media industries are burgeoning in West Africa. Today, the Nigerian cinema market–”Nollywood”–is the second largest in the world in terms of the annual volume of films distributed, behind only the Indian film industry. And an era of digital distribution has empowered content created in Lagos, or Accra, to spread across geographic and cultural boundaries. New commercial models for distribution as well as international diasporic networks have driven the circulation of this material. But so has rampant piracy and the unofficial online circulation of this content. What innovations are emerging from West Africa? How has Nigerian cinema in particular influenced local television and film markets in other countries across West Africa, and across the continent? What does the increasing visibility of West African popular culture mean for this region–especially as content crosses various cultural contexts, within and outside the region? And what challenges does West Africa face in continuing to develop its entertainment industries?

Panelists: Fadzi Makanda, Business Development Manager, iROKO Partners Derrick “DNA” Ashong, leader, Soulflége Colin Maclay, Managing Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University Moderator: Ralph Simon, head of the Mobilium Advisory Group and a founder of the mobile entertainment industry

Opening Remarks from FoE Fellows Laurie Baird and Ana Domb

Listening and Empathy: Making Companies More Human Media properties have long measured audiences with Nielsen ratings, circulation numbers, website traffic and a range of other methods that transform the people who engage with content into that aggregate mass: the audience. Meanwhile, marketing logic has long been governed by survey research, focus groups, and audience segmentation. And, today, executives are being urged to do all they can to make sense of the “big data” at their fingertips. However, all these methods of understanding audiences–while they can be helpful–too often distance companies from the actual human beings they are trying to understand. How do organizations make the best use of the myriad ways they now have to listen to, understand, and serve their audiences–beyond frameworks that aim to “monitor, “surveil,” and “quantify” those audiences as statistics rather than people? What new understandings are unearthed when companies listen to their audiences, and the culture around them, beyond just what people are saying about the organization itself? What advantages do companies find in embracing ethnographic research, in thinking about an organization’s content and communications from the audience’s perspective, and in thinking of “social media” not just as a new way to market content but a new and particularly useful channel for communicating, collaborating and conducting business?

Panelists: Lara Lee, Chief Innovation and Operating Officer, Continuum Grant McCracken, author, Culturematic, Chief Culture Officer Carol Sanford, author, The Responsible Business Emily Yellin, author, Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us Moderator: Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy, Peppercomm

The Ethics and Politics of Curation in a Spreadable Media World–A One-on-One Conversation with Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova and Undercurrent’s Joshua Green We live in an environment where the power of circulation is no longer solely–arguably, even primarily–in the hands of media companies. However, if that means we all now play a role as curator and circulator of content, what responsibilities does that bring with it? How is curation becoming an important aspect of the online profile of professional curators? And, for all of us who participate in social networking sites or who forward content to family and friends via email, what are our obligations to both the creators of that content and to the audiences with whom we share it? If we possess the great power to spread content, what are the great responsibilities that come along with it?

The Futures of Public Media Public media creators and distributors often face a wide variety of strains on resources which impact their ability to innovate how they tell their stories. Yet, in an era where existing corporate logics often restrain how many media companies and brands can interact with their audiences–or how audiences can participate in the circulation of media content–public media-makers are, at least in theory, freed from many of the constraints their commercial counterparts face. How have the various innovations in producing and circulating content that have been discussed at Futures of Entertainment impacting public media-makers? How do the freedoms and constraints of public media shape creators’ work in unique ways? How have innovations happening in independent media, civic media, and the commercial sector impacting those creators? And what can we all learn from their innovation and experiences?

Panelists: Rekha Murthy, Director of Projects and Partnerships, Public Radio Exchange, Annika Nyberg Frankenhaeuser, Media Director, European Broadcasting Union, Andrew Golis, Director of Digital Media and Senior Editor, FRONTLINE Nolan Bowie, Senior Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Moderator: Jessica Clark, media strategist, Association of Independents in Radio

From Participatory Culture to Political Participation Around the world, activists, educators, and nonprofit organizations are discovering new power through their capacity to appropriate, remix, and recirculate elements of popular culture. In some cases, these groups are forging formal partnerships with media producers. In other cases, they are deploying what some have called “cultural acupuncture,” making unauthorized extensions which tap into the public’s interest in entertainment properties to direct their attention to other social problems. Some of these transmedia campaigns — Occupy, for example — are criticized for not having a unified message, yet it is their capacity to take many forms and to connect together diverse communities which have made these efforts so effective at provoking conversation and inspiring participation. And, as content spreads across cultural borders, these activists and producers are confronting new kinds of critiques —such as the heated debates surrounding the rapid spread of the KONY 2012 video. Are new means of creating and circulating content empowering citizens, creating new forms of engagement, or do they trivialize the political process, resulting in so-called “slactivism”? What are these producers and circulators learning from media companies and marketers, and vice versa? What new kinds of organizations and networks are deploying this tactics to gain the attention of young consumer-citizens? And, for all of us, what do we need to consider as we receive, engage with, and consider sharing content created by these individuals and groups? Panelists: Sasha Costanza-Chock, Assistant Professor of Civic Media, MIT Dorian Electra, performing artist (“I'm in Love with Friedrich Hayek”; “Roll with the Flow”) Lauren Bird, Creative Media Coordinator, Harry Potter Alliance Bassam Tariq, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days Moderator: Sangita Shresthova, Research Director of CivicPaths, University of Southern California

Closing Remarks from FoE Fellows Maurício Mota and Louisa Stein

And for your added entertainment pleasure, check out Dorian Electra's new music video, "FA$T CA$H: Easy Credit & The Economic Crash" which premiered at this year's conference.

Rethinking the Industrial Mindset: An Interview with No Straight Lines' Alan Moore (Part Three)

You describe mobile communications as both a disruptive and transformative technology. Why? What do you see as the long term impact of the growth of mobile communications in our lives?

I describe mobile as our remote control for life. If we think that the fixed internet has been a disruptive force, mobile devices of which there are more on this planet now than people will have an impact of a higher order of magnitude. From east side LA to the Masai in Africa and onwards to the rain forests of Peru, we are all connected up to and across each other, enabling flows of data / information that can be described in the same way as when Eleanor Roosevelt first saw Iguassu Falls where the Amazon meets Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil and exclaim “poor Niagara”.

Mobile is transformative we see this in Africa, a continent that is vast that could never benefit from the fixed internet in the same way the US or Europe has for example. By the constraint of design mobile communications has become the platform by which Africa is dealing with banking, education, healthcare, and trade. MPesa a mobile banking system allows people to pay for goods and services, to have salaries paid, and is used as a payment system for people working via their mobile devices (translations / fact checking) so that they have the potential to increase their income from $2 per day by making $2 for every hour worked. Four years after introducing mobile banking and mobile payment into Kenya, 25% of the total Kenyan economy is transmitted through mobile phones and 70% of the population uses MPesa. There are 74 mobile phones for every 100 Kenyans, well above the African average of 65. And nearly 99% of internet subscriptions in Kenya are on mobile phones. And, Kenya’s biggest bank, Equity Bank is opening an innovation centre in Nairobi focusing on mobile technology.

M-Farm is a service that gives farmers access to market prices for the cost of a text message and allows them to group together to buy and sell products. Something similar is happening in India. is providing African children with mobile enabled kindles giving them the first time the opportunity to access information, books, knowledge and learning at a price they can afford.

The crisis management platform Ushahidi could never have worked without mobile technology and its unique characteristics; the ability to harness time critical information using GPS and time stamped location data. Ushahidi is now used in many ways to help gather data - mapping information into a cartography around human crisis issues from natural disasters (Japan and Haiti) to the harassment of women in Egypt by predatory men, to citizen journalism and civic engagement.

In Japan data from vehicles' windscreen wipers and embedded GPS receivers track the movement of weather systems through towns and cities with a precision never before possible. It’s the evolution of what we would call a smart city.

The rainforest tribe the Achuar are using mobile GPS devices to map their land using that data by transferring it onto mining maps augmenting them so that companies buying land from the Peruvian government for mineral extraction can now see for the first time that their activities have a devastating effect on people that wish to live a way of life that has been continuous for many thousands of years.

Museums can become platforms and start to provide services that create additional assets and additional revenue streams. Their audience is global from day one.

These are but a few glimpses of the transformative power of mobile, Africa upgrading itself in part through mobile connectivity to itself and the rest of the world. It can now plug into the world economy.

So mobile is the Iguassu rather than the Niagra – an enabler of all aspects of our lives – an empowering us, providing us with greater autonomy, freedom, efficiency and effectiveness. Even more beautiful with the arrival of smart phone technology that enables us to interface with the world around us with ever decreasing interference in new and exciting ways, contributing to the step change in humanities progress.

You write about the relationship between “data” and “democracy.” I would want to draw a distinction between “data” which can be collected and aggregated without the knowledge of participants (as is increasingly the case in Web 2.0 services) and “discourse” which emerges from the active and conscious deliberation of communities who are working towards a shared goal. Are these two models equally democratic?

Democracy as data the black gold of the 21st Century

I made this observation in 2004, and like all resources of great value, conflict is never far behind.

And I completely agree with your observation and distinction. Data is integral to what comes next, thinking from a perspective of openness and aesthetics of design in that only ugly thoughts bring to bear ugly realities. It may not at first seem a clear connection between data, individual sovereignty and democracy. However once we understand that at high level the commercial world seeks to influence and in some cases coerce political institutions then we have to see them as linked. Or indeed that political ideology seeks to direct the course of political outcomes as is the case in Pennsylvania at the moment and elsewhere where Republicans seeks to make it much harder for various sections of the African-American community to vote in the hope they weaken Obama’s chances of re-election.

In Britain there are attempts by the Government of the day to legislate so that they can access and extract comprehensive, fine-grained covert surveillance of entire populations. All our digital activity: voice, text, Google searches, a level of surveillance that is unprecedented and as John Naughton describes as pernicious.

The recent phone hacking debacle in the UK in which it was found The News of the World hacked into the voice mail of thousands of people including murdered school girl Milly Dowler to sell tabloid newspapers demonstrating a rubicon has been crossed.

Data whichever way you look at it is about power and everyone is at it.

These examples are not democratic, they are harvesting data for personal or state gain. Which is why so many organizations work so hard to fight for the democratic rights of individual sovereignty around the world. It is a battle we must all be part of as 1984 just might be here already.

The opportunity of the open society

Whereas if we see shared data as a life enhancing resource that amplifies cooperative capability built upon mutuality rather than extraction of information for individual gain – then there are reasons to be optimistic.

The Ordnance Survey, the owner of all the topographical data of the UK, has opened up its data-base under a creative commons license to enable other to build upon the work of others, Ushahidi, the crisis management platform, could not work without data. Open source platforms allow diversity to flourish a default setting of nature, and they are extremely resilient and adaptive.

Like all things it is about asking the right question – is what we create for the collective good – where mutualism and trusted networks of relationships can flourish? The increase in the use of Creative Commons and open innovation demonstrates this can work in commercial and non-commercial contexts – there must rules of engagement but these rules are built upon what I describe as the economics of sharing.

We could go one further with the idea of the open commons region. What data could be released into the public domain to aid local communities be better communities to become, as the Shareable Magazine in San Francisco describes as, ‘shareable cities’. Where a multitude of neighbourhood resources can be shared; car rides, urban farming, skills, culture, civic innovation. Like an initiative called Brickstarter, this open approach enables citizens to submit ideas which then get registered on a website. Then based on ideas submitted to the platform, the service then connects visitors, and invites them into project groups. Project groups have their own project page with more information, upcoming events, feedback, etc. Projects can also form connections to existing city resources and community organizations. In July 2011 the City of New York invited volunteer-led community groups to apply for a Change by Us NYC grant to fund ongoing projects.

These initiatives are citizen led, grassroots, networked and flat in hierarchy. As C. Otto Scharmer, author of Theory U describes, “as an evolved geometry that devolves power from hierarchies to evolving trusted networks of relationships”. The aesthetics of such design processes lead to exemplary outcomes.

You introduced me to Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman and Sennett’s arguments play a key role in this book in defining what you see as the ideal form of labor for the future. What do you see as the core insights we might take from Sennett’s book, which deals with much earlier moments in the history of work, to think about how people might relate to their “jobs” in a networked culture?

Insights to Craftsmanship

Richard Sennett in The Craftsman reminds us of a number of things to reflect upon. First the craftsman represents the special human condition of being ‘engaged’.

Secondly, Hephaestus was the Greek god presiding over the craftsman, the bringer of peace and the maker of civilization. ‘More than a technician, the civilizing craftsman has used his tools for a collective good’, he writes. And it was through the spirit of the Enlightenment that the craftsman brought forward a huge surge of social and creative innovation that made the lot of ordinary humans better. So the craftsman questions why he makes things; he must evaluate the energy, effort and time that will consume him in his craft and the final act of creation – is he doing good, is he solving a real problem and offering up something better, is he using all his skills as a civilizing force? These questions must weigh constantly in his mind.

The craftsman is always in beta

His mind must be open to new ideas, techniques, tools and processes; to close his mind to the new, or new ways of doing things, is the greatest risk he will take. The ability to bring two unlikes together in close adjacency and recognise a pattern or a new possibility is the true act of creation; Lennon and McCartney or the fusion of medical knowledge and computing are but two real life examples of what I mean. The craftsman must combine technique and expression so that he is also able to act intuitively.

This can only happen when he possesses deep or what is called implicit knowledge. Rather than acting only upon empirical information, the craftsman’s ultimate act is one of unique expression which can only be delivered through the mastery of these skills.

The engaged craftsman is a committed craftsman, ergo the engaged organization is a committed organization and will work far more effectively.

Does this description describe work for the majority in the early 21st Century? I was asked by a senior leader of a large organization, when I was running a Transformation LAB, whether craftsmanship as a culture could truly be inculcated into a large organization – my answer was yes but it does require a change of culture. The ability to create a dynamic where space is created for a constant process of creating, critiquing, collaborating and communicating.

We are all designed to be risk averse, yet there are ways to mitigate risk, and that is through pattern recognition. Where people see no connection, no pattern, no new pathways, only chaos, the craftsman see patterns, which he can then deconstruct into steps that will lead him successfully to achieving his goal. ‘What do you see?’ and ‘What do I see?’ are questions we need to ask as we seek. For example, if I use Creative Commons legal frameworks in the design and manufacture of cars, what might that mean to accelerate innovation? If I use a highly motivated community open source software connected up to Google APIs and mobile GPS technology, what might that mean? If I use revenue sharing, how will that make my business more attractive yet more disruptive at the same time? Pattern recognition comes from insight – it doesn’t come from an inflexible linear process.

This is also a form of systems thinking – the craftsman thinks about the whole system.

The craftsman also knows how to deliver quality without it necessarily costing the earth.

This then leads on to the idea of whether creativity is a resource or a competence. Organizations from a linear world are designed to function at 100% efficiency, which largely means there is no way in which they can also be creative organizations, as this requires room for reflection, deliberation, conversation, trying stuff out; that’s the practical stuff, but also industrial organisations ideologically fear creativity – anything deemed ‘creative’ is outsourced – but for the craftsman, and the crafted organization, creativity, to be creative, to think and act creatively is something that is a fundamental part of what makes them who they are.

This is the pathway I argue to how we make work more meaningful and life-enhancing which is also a part of our new Human Operating System.

Many are arguing that our current notions of intellectual property emerged and reflected a world where a limited number of people had access to the capacities of cultural production and circulation, and they are reaching a crisis point as we expand the number of participants in the communication systems. How central is copy-right reform to the emergence of the kind of alternative social and culture structures you propose? What would a better model look like?

This is an extremely important question, as law is the hidden framework that underpins and shapes all our lives – in so many ways. The framing by large media conglomerates that all file sharing, and modding of content is ‘piracy on the high seas’, demonstrates an unwillingness by those that believe only they have the right to manufacture culture to adapt to the shape of a more participatory world.

Copy-right reform is central to creating a more diverse and rich cultural and economic landscape. A better model is created out of a commons approach that provides different types of permissions for usage as expressed through the creative commons licenses.

I also think that this parallel universe to law should be taught at law and business schools so our next generation leaders and practitioners of law can learn to assess the granular benefits of an economy built upon sharing and open frameworks as separate to an ideology of strict one-way controls.

Lets face it if copy-right had existed when Dvorak was writing some of his great works based on folk tunes, folk myths and folk culture we would not have that work, nor the great work of many others. They built upon the work of others.

It is of course a difficult area to negotiate; if I had invested $160m in making a movie I might feel very unhappy if I saw no return on that investment based upon piracy. However one could build a model where elements of the movie could be made available for modding, reinterpretation and for sharing and this engaged fan fiction approach could be of great value to creators of expensive content – through marketing, development of innovative ideas and even new content.

And of course we see and extraordinary surge in innovation through the open source movement – the ability to innovate at a much lower cost at greater speed.

So this redistribution of wealth and value, wealth of knowledge, the value of creating better, the ability to build multiple services shows that openness encourages diversity the default setting for life to flourish. As Weber writes in the Success of Open Source the conventional wisdom that innovation is driven by the promise of individual and corporate wealth, ensuring the free distribution of code among computer programmers can empower a more effective process for building intellectual products. But it does challenges the dominant logic of an industrial society.

For myself I published No Straight Lines in an open access epub format which is globally accessible to anyone with a browser and I ask people to tweet to pay, which I think is fair compensation for seven years hard work – but the work also exists in paperback and kindle formats and we ask payment for these. Some people are happy to pay, some people are happy to pay with a tweet, some people are happy to make a donation.

The point is I seek more than short-term monetary value by giving permission for my story to flow and to be part of a global consciousness which would not have been possible otherwise. To emphasize I have used combinations of legal frameworks as an author I am seeking various values and not all are financial. Standing on the shoulders of giants

If we look back to the 60’s it was the Grateful Dead that perfected the idea of sharing as an economic and cultural means to spread their music, hence more people came to the concerts, more people bought the T-shirts and a tribe of Deadheads were born.

So this new model is adaptive, flexible in allowing value to be created in a variety of ways. The economy and aesthetics of sharing creates cultural value, intellectual value and a richer and more diverse pool from which our wider humanity can profit from in a multiplicity of ways. It is a model created from the ethos of mutualism rather than cultural and economic monoculture and strangulation.

You end the book with a series of core principles, one of which is adaptiveness. Why do you see this trait as central to your “nonlinear” culture? What roles can education play in preparing future citizens to be more “adaptive” to a changing environment?

I see this as a core principle because if Humanity is demanding an upgrade from all our industrial institutions which are now proven to be inappropriate for our time – seeking to unleash the full creative potential of every human being and in so doing enhances their wellbeing and that of the wider society – from healthcare to education to the workplace, allowing humanity to surge forward united by a common purpose. We have to ask what do organizations look like in a human-centric world – and how do traditional organizations innovate to upgrade themselves to be able to belong to the extraordinary story of human evolution that now points towards a more participatory, cooperative, and regenerative model of our society?

So learning to be adaptive is central to the story. From an education perspective – we need to prepare our citizens and our organizations to be able to upgrade themselves constantly. Many of the skills I learnt as a typographer whilst at college were obsolete within three years of leaving. And so for me it is an important and key lesson – that we need to teach people to be curious about the world they live in, to want to play in it, and that life long learning – the requirement to be in constant beta (a skill the craftsman possesses) is a necessary condition of thriving in a non-linear world. Adaptiveness is upgrading personal capability, organizational capability, our economies and by default the means by which we do business.

More specifically the ability to individually and collectively: create, critique, collaborate and communicate are the necessary conditions to learning to be adaptive. Your work for the MacArthur Foundation also inspired me to think about adaptiveness as a core principle. You cite the need for play, to appropriate, to simulate – by which you express the need to be able to be a good builder of patterns that can bring new insight – and I would also suggest a new language to describe new and novel ways to create, to ‘scan one's environment and shift focus as needed to salient details’. There is an emphasis on collective intelligence which for me connects to participatory leadership – which ascribes to the view that a best possible future lies in the minds of the many. Teaching our children the power of participatory leadership would bring great value to our general society and therefore great rewards to individuals.

I worry these skills are not being taught, and I worry that there is a growing disconnect between the world we are creating and how education prepares the next cohort to inhabit that world meaningfully. We have to teach our children to be creative actors, and creators in our non-linear world – not to be passive consumers. As Proust observed “the real voyage of discovery is not to seek new landscapes but to look upon the world with fresh eyes”, and in that way we too can learn to adapt well to a changing world.


Alan  Moore sits on the “board of inspiration” at the Dutch Think Tank Freedom Lab. He acts as “Head of Vision” for the Grow Venture Community, is a board director of the crisis management NGO Ushahidi and is as a special advisor to a number of innovative companies and organizations including publishing, mobile, the theatre and finance.

Derrais Carter and Nicholas Yanes Talk About "Iconic Obama" (Part Two)

Today, we continue our exploration of "Iconic Obama" and the current president's unique relationship to popular culture. Inspired by this interview, I thought I would share a few more recent representations of Obama and the political process which have recently crossed my desk.The first represents an effective pastiche of a number from the successful Broadway musical, Les Miserables, to convey the participant's perceptions of the stakes in the current election. (It was shared with me by Virginia Nightingale from New South Wales). The second, just released today by the Obama campaign, features Girls creator Lena Dunham and is specifically targeted at getting young women to vote (ideally for their candidate).

And the third is a really witty critique of the "town hall" debate created by Ze Frank, himself an icon of the video blog world.

Now, back to the regularly scheduled interview.


The 2012 campaign has been much more centered around traditional news coverage and political advertising than on references in popular culture or imaginative use of new media platforms. What factors do you think have contributed to this much more conservative approach to selling Obama during this election cycle?


            Yanes:  I think one reason why this news cycle is centered around traditional news coverage is that both President Obama and Gov. Romney have executive records.  In 2008, both presidential-nominees Obama and McCain were Senators with legislative records, but no real political leadership roles for media outlets to form a narrative about their leadership qualities.

For the 2012 Election, however, President Obama has over three years in the White House and presidential-nominee Romney not only has governing in his background, he also has his time with Bain Capital.  To me, this means that news outlets have actual leadership histories on both men that they can draw from to craft narratives about the current state of politics.

More importantly, I think a main reason why this campaign has been so anchored to traditional news coverage is that neither candidate is particularly interesting.  The excitement surrounding President Obama because of his “newness” has largely faded.  And when compared to the headline grabbing individuals that ran for the Republican presidential nomination, Romney not only seems like the one with the best chance of winning, he came off as rather unexciting.  In other words, neither Obama nor Romney in 2012 made for the compelling pop culture fodder that was generated in the 2008 election.


As your contributors note, Obama proved to be a particularly popular figure in contemporary comic books. Why do you think Obama was so persistently incorporated into comics and what impact, if any, did these comics play in helping to define our understanding of Obama?


Yanes:  I observed this about Obama when he was a presidential nominee.  When I asked comic book creator, Larry Hama, about this, he stated “It’s probably about who the majority of current comics creators are.  Rich old conservative white males don’t generally want to make comic books.  I’m not any of those things, except old—but I guess I still think of myself in my head as a kid....At the time of his election, Obama was generating the kind of excitement I had only ever witnessed before in regards to JFK.” (The Iconic Obama, 128 - 129)

Additionally, I also felt that he had three other characteristics that made it easy to insert him into a comic book. One, he was in shape.  Comic books typically feature heroic men with a low body fat percentage, and President Obama easily fits into narratives filled with action heroes.

Two, Obama is also a geek.  It was known that he collected Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comic books as a child, and given his love technology, he’d probably have been an avid gamer if he was raised in the 90s.  So it makes sense that fellow geeks (or nerds depending on which term you prefer) who create comic books, would think its cool to include him in their narratives.

Third, given that longtime comic book fans still feel as though they have been largely marginalized by what they consider to be “the mainstream” (i.e., anyone who doesn’t read comic books), having a popular political figure who was a fan of comic books was simply too good of an opportunity to make money for comic book publishers to pass up.  So while President Obama himself may have enjoyed reading some of these comics, and many comic book fans did enjoy seeing a candidate they supported in their favorite medium, the reality that publishers made a lot of money by simply including Obama in their books as a marketing stunt can’t be forgotten.  (Robert G Weiner and Shelley E. Barba Obama specifically engage in an aspect of this topic in their essay “Spider-Man: A Meta-Data Media Analysis of an Unlikely Pairing” which is also in this book collection.)


It might be interesting to think about two highly iconic representations of Obama: on the one hand, the Shepard Fairey Hope poster, and on the other, the Joker/Obama iconography associated with the Tea Party. What do these two examples tell us about the opportunities and risks that arise when a candidate or their agenda gets translated into popular iconography?


Yanes: The one thing I find interesting about the Joker-Obama image is that it wasn’t created out of malice.  The origin narrative that I have always known about this image was that college student named, Firas Alkhateeb, created this image to try out a technique he learned in a class and...out of boredom.  Alkhateeb then posted this image onto Flickr which was then downloaded and had the word “Socialism” added to it.  From then, its popularity skyrocketed in conservative circles.  (The National did an excellent article on the subject that can be found here.)

Overall, these images still highlight the power pictures can have when communicating political messages.  Both Fairey’s and Alkhateeb’s pictures are fairly simplistic.  They both contain about four colors and feature one word at the bottom.  And it’s because of their simplicity that they are so effective.

Reductionist imagery allows creators to communicate a message that is so effective because in the end, it is the audience that projects their meaning onto the image.  The Joker/Obama & the Fairey “Hope” image allows those who support or are against Obama to project their convoluted and simplistic definitions of “Socialism” and “Hope” onto the candidate.


The involvement of pop culture figures, such or for that matter, the "Obama Girl" were closely linked to Obama's success in motivating young voters to participate in the political process for the first time. What links do you and your contributors draw between the two?


            Yanes: I think one reason why pop culture figures drew the attention of young voters to Obama is because they understood how young people interact with new media.  In my opinion, the main difference in behavior between those who rely on traditional media and those who rely on new media is that new media is constantly being thrown at consumers and is always available to be observed.

For example, if the “Obama Girl” video were to have been played on MTV at first, it would have never generated the attention it received.  That would have required people to sit still long enough to watch MTV and then waiting for the video to show.  Instead, people were able to see their friends post the video on their facebook page, and after seeing more and more friends discuss the video, they were then able to click on a link and watch the video for themselves.  Regardless of what time it was or where they were at, new media allowed these pro-Obama ads to be available to consumers.  This availability is something standard television networks can’t replicate yet.

Additionally, I believe “Obama Girl” and Will.I.Am’s efforts also came off as divorced from explicitly trying to generate money for a private company.  Though “ObamaGirl” clearly generated money for YouTube, and several other companies and people profited from taking advantage of Obama’s popularity, buying these products or watching these videos never seemed like a regular economic transaction.  Instead, buying these products felt like one was trying to build a political movement.  And I should note that I feel that this is true regardless of if someone was buying pro or anti-Obama material.


How might a focus on the study of popular iconography help us to understand the differences in the ways that the dominant media have framed Obama and Romney as candidates in this current election cycle? Why, for example, did the Clint Eastwood strategy fail, while Obama still seems to gain some aura from his ties to hip hop performers?

Carter: Popular iconography is excellent for unpacking the narratives that govern society and inform our political alignments. For this reason, it is hard to say if the Eastwood strategy failed. His Hollywood western, gun-brandishing, type of masculinity (see the background during his speech entrance) clearly represents America through the rose-colored lens of anti-intellectual and oddly nativist nostalgia. His exchange with a fictional Obama also imagines the POTUS as an angry black man. During his interrogation of the invisible Obama, Eastwood implies that Obama wants his to “Shut Up.” Eastwood also remarks “I can’t tell [Romney] to do that. He can’t do that to himself. You’re crazy.” His intimation that Obama wants Romney to “go f**k himself” is highly uncharacteristic of Obama or any president in recent memory for that matter. Eastwood, though is not invested in this reality. Instead relies on dated xenophobic tropes and a good-old-boy rhetoric to align the masses. If we are to say that Eastwood “failed” it is for these reasons. His so-called verbal joust with the POTUS says more about the a sense of entitlement associated with the Republican Party than it does about American social and political progress.

Whereas Eastwood fits within a narrative rooted in the grand old past, when racial and gender exclusion was the order of the day. Obama, conversely, relies on the narratives of progress and prosperity that characterize the youthful zest of his first campaign. One of our contributors, Travis Gosa, notes this in his essay “The Audacity of Dope: Rap Music, Race, and the Obama Presidency.” In many ways, Obama’s campaign plays on the idea that youth, technology, and post-racial narratives are the driving forces of contemporary American progress.This is part why we like to see Jay-Z and Beyonce host a fundraiser for Obama. They are two of the most talented performers of this generation (Jay-Z is linked to the past two generations). Additionally, their business savvy has made them international superstars. That they also make time to be politically involved with the Obama campaign suggests that Obama is worth their time and ours. These narratives  associated with Obama promise a better tomorrow and encourage political engagement facility this change. The reality, though, is that there are no guarantees.


As the closing contributions suggest, the American president exerts an influence on a global scale. How has Obama's image been taken up outside of the American media sphere?


Yanes:  We were lucky to include three excellent pieces on Obama’s global popularity - Yuya Kiuchi’s essay “Obama for Obama: Barack Obama in Japanese Popular Culture,” Zafer Parlak’s and Tanfer Emin Tunc’s essay “Obama-Mania in Turkey: Popular Culture and the Forty-Fourth President of the United States in a Secular Muslim Nation,” and an interview with French journalist Sébastian Compagnon on France’s news media coverage of the 2008 election.

One of the things I learned from working on with these individuals was just how much other countries are invested in US policies and popular entertainment.  American media like movies, television shows, and music is often hugely popular in other countries.  So given the impact Obama had on US popular culture, it is unsurprising to me that popular entertainment of other nations’ media would become fixated on the multitude of interpretations that could be drawn from the President’s popularity.  What did surprise me were the number of examples I came across in which people used Obama’s election as a means to comment on what they saw as political problems in their own countries.

Though a significant portion of President Obama’s popularity was simply because he was not President George W. Bush, he represented, for lack of a better word, a ‘new-ness’ to American politics.  How much of this ‘new-ness’ was based on Obama’s actual policies and how much of it was based on what people across the globe projected on to him is unknown, but what is significant is that Obama did come off as a global citizen.

An essay for the collection that I co-wrote with Etse Sikanku (who is from Dzita, a village in the Volta region of Ghana), “The Modern E Pluribus Unum Man: How Obama Constructed His American Identity from His Global Background,” discusses how Obama’s international experiences growing up shaped him.  I bring this up because one significant reason why I believe people from across the globe wanted Obama to become the US President was because he came off as more than just an American who was only concerned about the American people, but as a person that could emotionally and intellectually understand how interconnected the world is in the 21st century.


For those interested in buying a copy of The Iconic Obama, they can purchase it from Amazon here or directly from the publisher here.


Derrais Carter is an American Studies doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa. His dissertation examines representations of the New Negro in Washington, D.C. His research interests include gender studies, performance studies, and black popular culture.


Nicholas Yanes is currently an American Studies PhD candidate (ABD) and Dean’s Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Iowa.  His professional and academic interests are Early US History, Contemporary Popular Culture, and the Industries of Popular Entertainment - specifically, comic books, movies & video games.  He freelance writes for, and the Casual Gaming Association’s gaming magazine, Casual Connect, and its industry resource, GameSauce.  He is the co-editor of and contributed to his first book project, The Iconic Obama.  His dissertation will analyze the corporate evolution of EC Comics & MAD Magazine, and he is set to defend it in March 2013.


If this interview has sparked your interest in the relationship between politics and popular culture, let me direct your attention to this panel at the upcoming Futures of Entertainment conference.


4:15 p.m.-6:15 p.m.: From Participatory Culture to Political Participation

Around the world, activists, educators, and nonprofit organizations are discovering new power through their capacity to appropriate, remix, and recirculate elements of popular culture. In some cases, these groups are forging formal partnerships with media producers. In other cases, they are deploying what some have called “cultural acupuncture,” making unauthorized extensions which tap into the public’s interest in entertainment properties to direct their attention  to other social problems. Some of these transmedia campaigns — Occupy, for example — are criticized for not having a unified message, yet it is their capacity to take many forms and to connect together diverse communities which have made these efforts so effective at provoking conversation and inspiring participation. And, as content spreads across cultural borders, these activists and producers are confronting new kinds of critiques —such as the heated debates surrounding the rapid spread of the KONY 2012 video. Are new means of creating and circulating content empowering citizens, creating new forms of engagement, or do they trivialize the political process, resulting in so-called “slactivism”? What are these producers and circulators learning from media companies and marketers, and vice versa? What new kinds of organizations and networks are deploying this tactics to gain the attention of young consumer-citizens? And, for all of us, what do we need to consider as we receive, engage with, and consider sharing content created by these individuals and groups?


Sasha Costanza-Chock, Assistant Professor of Civic Media, MIT

Dorian Electra, performing artist (“I’m in Love with Friedrich Hayek”; “Roll with the Flow”)

Lauren Bird, Creative Media Coordinator, Harry Potter Alliance

Aman Ali, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days

Bassam Tariq, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days

Moderator: Sangita Shresthova, Research Director of CivicPaths, University of Southern California

For more information, visit the Futures of Entertainment website.

Derrais Carter and Nicholas Yanes Talk About "Iconic Obama"

The U.S. Presidential Election is now less than two weeks away and counting. All of the major media events that pundits pay attention to -- from the conventions through the debates -- have already taken place. Ad buys have reached record numbers, thanks to the contributions of a few wealthy Americans. The producers of memes are working overtime to try to keep up with "Mansplaining Ryan," "Binders of Women," "Bayonets and Horses," and "Romneysia" related Tumblr sites. And the race is still so close that few feel safe predicting the outcomes, with the oh so precise polling data spreading "all over the map." So what's left to say? I recently was sent a new book, The Iconic Obama, 2007-2009, which invites us to consider our first impressions of this remarkable candidate, as he made his way from First Time Senator through to becoming the first black president of the United States. From the start, he was closely linked to developments in popular culture and someone whose campaign was aggressively testing the waters in terms of the innovative use of new and emerging technologies. It's sometimes hard to recall how exciting that Obama campaign has been compared to the largely negative, largely joyless, and largely top-down model which the Obama campaign has adopted this time around. The book explores both how Obama drew on popular culture and new media to frame his campaign and the ways that popular media responded to the energy which surrounded Obama in 2008, especially as it relates to constructions of race in contemporary America.

So, I contacted the two editors of Iconic Obama -- Derrais Carter and Nicholas Yanes -- to reflect a bit on how the Obama legend was created and how it is being deployed/managed/shelved throughout the current campaign. Along the way, I am sharing some emblematic examples of Obama-related media, which may help inform our discussion. For example, we might compare the "snarky" tone of this 2012 campaign ad attacking Romney with the even more sarcastic advertisement which the McCain campaign released in 2008 attacking Obama:

Or perhaps we might discuss what's being said about Obama and his constituencies through these two GOP spots, the first released in 2010, the second part of the current campaign:


Your book is called "The Iconic Obama." How are you defining Iconic? Aren't all presidents iconic? It's hard to be more iconic than having your face carved on the side of a mountain or printed on a postage stamp. What makes Obama a particularly or distinctively iconic figure in our culture?


Derrais Carter: Yes. Presidents are iconic in that they represent the United States of America. This is evidence in monuments, postage stamps, libraries, etc. What captured us the most about Obama was the proliferation of representations stretching across mediums and communities throughout the globe.

For me, race was a contributing factor in defining Obama’s iconic status. Foregoing a rehearsal of debates about dominant representations of black people in American media, I will say that we should take seriously what it means to attach and/or detach race from our readings of the American presidency. In the context of the U.S. popular culture, we have seen this in the New Yorker cartoon of Barack and Michelle Obama adorned in “terrorist” garb. Similarly, the infamous “beer summit” following the arrest of Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates challenges the way that we think about race and the American presidency by situating us between discourses of race and political leadership.


Nicholas Yanes: While many presidents may have been popular enough to be voted into office, I wouldn’t state that every US president galvanized the public’s imagination in a manner that Obama has.  After all, not every president appears on Mount Rushmore or on US currency.  Yes, Obama and recent presidents did have electronic mass media to broadcast their faces and campaign logos across the country, something that presidents like Taylor, Fillmore, and Pierce didn’t have access to, but there seems to be timelessness quality already forming around Obama’s legacy.  While several of his policies build upon many of Bush’s policies, there is a desire by both his opponents and supporters to frame President Obama as though he has set the United States on a course completely counter to what has been done before.

In addition to being the nation’s first African American President, he also inspired a base in a manner few presidents have done before hand.  While many of his supporters may not be as enthusiastic in the 2012 election as they were in 2008, there is still a large swath of the population that not only supports his policies, but support a presidency that they passionately project on to him.

In many ways, one of the key things that defines Obama as uniquely “Iconic” is not just that he is fairly popular, but that he has created a brand about himself that allows people to see what they want in his work.  It’s a stroke of genius that allowed him to build the campaign juggernaut in 2008 that got him into the White House.


As some of your contributors note, there has been a long history of portrayals in both comedy and drama of what the first black president might look like. How have these popular representations helped to frame our understanding of Obama? To what degree has he had to struggle with popular representations of blackness?


Yanes:  I think the primary representation of blackness that Obama has had to struggle with is not that of portrayals of black presidents, but that of “The Angry Black Man.”  Still present in much of popular media, I’ve always felt that one reason why Obama’s opposition was so dedicated to ridiculing him, even going so far as for one person to call him a liar while he was giving a State of the Union Address, was because many knew that Obama showing anger in public would come back to haunt him.  With movies, television shows and other media frequently depicting black men as unreasonably and physically threatening, and this stereotype clearly cemented into popular imagination, I feel that Obama has been kept from passionately defending his record for fear that he would be seen as “too aggressive.”

In regards to the specific nature of your question, I’d like to turn to Dr. Justin S. Vaughn’s contribution to this collection, “Character-in Chief: Barack Obama and His Pop Culture Predecessors.”  In this essay, Vaughn writes, “Upon consideration of the actual substance of the few portrayals of black presidents in American film and television history, it becomes quite evident that the journalistic trope about how the David Palmers and Tom Becks of Hollywood paved the way for America’s first African American president are not only poorly supported; they are flawed and false.”  Vaughn goes on to conclude by writing “Indeed, a far more plausible statement to make is that Barack Obama became the nation’s forty-fourth president not because of Dennis Haysbert’s portrayal of his fictional predecessor, not to mention those by Chris Rock and Deebo (Tommy Lister), but rather in spite of it. Stated otherwise, the 2008 election was less an example of life imitating art than of it defying the expectations of popular entertainment.” (The Iconic Obama, pg. 60)

Overall, while it is understandably desirable to find evidence of popular culture setting the groundwork for President Obama’s election, there is just little evidence to support that fictional black presidents did much to accomplish this goal.


I would argue that the campaign spot which Samuel R. Jackson recently released in support of Obama might represent one of the most compelling spot to emerge so far from the 2012 campaign. How does this spot play with the "post-racial" framing of Obama in the 2008 election? What aspects of popular culture and blackness does Jackson bring to Obama's Iconic status?

Yanes:  One thing that I have felt is missing from most discussions of the “Wake the F&*K Up” ad is that was created by the Jewish Council for Education and Research.  This is the same organization that produced the pro-Obama video, “The Great Schlep” featuring Sarah Silverman for the 2008 election; yet the “Wake the F&*K Up” ad is devoid of any specific references to issues specific to the Jewish-American community, and has no explicit references to any religious issues or imagery.  I bring this up because I believe that any discussion of a popular campaign ad should acknowledge those behind its creation.

As to Samuel L. Jackson and the issue of blackness, it’s important to note that since his role in Pulp Fiction, Jackson has crafted a persona of being a tough, direct, no nonsense man that always has an aura of authority.  While these characteristics are clearly in line with the black male protagonists of blaxploitation films, Jackson has not only made these elements his own, he has made them acceptable to mainstream American audiences.

With that said, “How does this spot play with the ‘post-racial’ framing of Obama in the 2008 election?”  I don’t know.  I feel that the notion of the United States being ‘post-racial’ overlooks clear disparities between peoples of different ethnic backgrounds and is often deployed as a means to argue that issues of race and racial prejudices are no longer relevant.  Though I’m light skinned, I am an Hispanic American and I don’t see evidence that the nation has truly moved past issues surrounding race.

As for the ads relationship to popular culture, it does seem more reminiscent of the popular entertainment materials produced in 2008.  Overall, I feel that one of this ad’s main goals is to inspire not just the support President Obama had in 2008, but the fandom his campaign created.


Carter: The ad sadly reinforces the idea that a post-racial America literally resides in a white suburban household and a quick examination of cultural texts referenced in the ads suggest as much. I find Jackson’s role particularly intriguing.


When Adam Mansbach’s book Go the F**k to Sleep came out last year, it became an instant hit. The book’s reputation picked up when Jackson recorded an humorous audio version of it. Nick is right to link Jackson’s success to the “no nonsense” demeanor, but I find it remarkably odd that during the presidential election, there’s an ad that features a black man “magically” appearing in a suburban white home and scaring three generations to get out and vote. The widespread post-racial lore leftover from the 2008 campaign is certainly the driving force.

Also, I get that the message to “Wake the F*ck Up!” is provocative and funny especially coming from Samuel L. Jackson and a child actor, but this isn’t the first time Jackson has told us to “wake up.” Does anybody remember Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing (1989)? In it, Jackson plays a radio dj who tells us to “wake up” . Though  This gesture is a recurring practice in Lee’s films.We also see in School Daze (1988).

Lee wants his audience to awaken from the racial slumber that has so greatly affected the nation and communities of color in particular. The ad is intended to wake voters up and propel them to the polls. This can’t be done if there’s too much “race talk.” Even after 4 years of critical commentary on race during the Obama administration, there’s still a need to reach back to 2008 galvanize the same supporters with the same strategies. It’s definitely a step back.




Derrais Carter is an American Studies doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa. His dissertation examines representations of the New Negro in Washington, D.C. His research interests include gender studies, performance studies, and black popular culture.


Nicholas Yanes is currently an American Studies PhD candidate (ABD) and Dean’s Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Iowa.  His professional and academic interests are Early US History, Contemporary Popular Culture, and the Industries of Popular Entertainment - specifically, comic books, movies & video games.  He freelance writes for, and the Casual Gaming Association’s gaming magazine, Casual Connect, and its industry resource, GameSauce.  He is the co-editor of and contributed to his first book project, The Iconic Obama.  His dissertation will analyze the corporate evolution of EC Comics & MAD Magazine, and he is set to defend it in March 2013.


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.



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

Many of us may think we know the history of the role which American broadcast television played in fostering public awareness and rallying support behind Martin Luther King and his 1960s era Civil Rights struggle. We can all picture in our heads the black and white fuzzy images of King's powerful remarks in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, for example, and we know that people across the country must have watched those amazing words in their living rooms. Not so fast, argues Aniko Bodroghkozy, the author of a new book, Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement.  Bodroghkozy certainly argues that television played important roles in sparking the consciences of viewers around the country as the networks and the activists made reluctant, tentative, highly compromised "common cause" with each other to transform the civil rights struggles into a prime time spectacle. But, some of what you believe happened -- starting with how the networks covered the March on Washington -- turns out to be a bit more complex than popular memory and imagination might suggest.

I have had the joy of watching Bodroghkozy develop from a young graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying under John Fiske and Lynn Spigel, to the author of an important first book about the ways the student protests of the 1960s engaged with television, through to the publication of this masterful new book, which represents the culmination of more than a decade's work in the archives. Bodroghkozy has already written the definitive accounts of the controversy surrounding The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and the reception of Julia by black and white viewers, both essays often assigned in television history classes around the country. Her work moves back and forth between news and entertainment programming, showing the ways that they were sometimes aligned, sometimes contradictory, in their depictions of the current state of race relations in the 1960s. Her work is surprisingly nuanced in dealing with the diversity of perspectives within the network journalists, within the civil rights movement, and with white southerners, as the country sought to resolve deep rooted conflicts around segregation. She offers rich readings of key programs and broadcasts which are contextualized by contemporary responses from newspapers and letters housed in archives, combining insights from social and political history alongside those she brings to the table as a gifted broadcast historian.

The book's consideration of media and political change is well timed, offering a rich historical counter to current debates about the role of new media in informing recent struggles, from the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement. For me, it especially resonates with the work that my Civic Paths team at USC has been doing on the DREAMers, undocumented youth whose current civil rights struggles are informed by their saavy use of YouTube and various social media platforms. But, as the country's first black president seeks re-election,  Equal Time offers us some great resources for placing into perspective various attempts to mobilize popular memories of the Civil Rights era.

The following interview demonstrates Bodroghkozy's careful, nuanced, yet engaged mind at work, describing some of the ways that Equal Rights helps to revise our understanding of this important era both in the history of American politics and in the evolution of television as a medium.

You can also follow this link for an interview with the author on public radio.

You begin the book with a powerful quote from Martin Luther King: “We are here to say to the white men that we are not going to let them use clubs on us in the dark corners. We’re going to make them do it in the glaring light of television.” To what degree were the tactics King brought to the civil rights movement designed to encourage and shape television attention? What did King and the other civil rights leaders hope to accomplish by getting access to broadcast media?


King’s quote is really noteworthy because he and civil rights leaders of the era so very rarely talked openly about their strategies to elicit television coverage.  To be open about their “media campaign” would have appeared manipulative, anathema for a movement that was attempting to appeal to the moral conscience of the nation.  King and the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, his organization) understood the power of strong visual images and the need to communicate a stark message of moral clarity – and to communicate that message and those images to a national audience that could put pressure on congressmen, senators, and the president to pass federal legislation around civil rights and voting rights.  Accessing a national audience was key.

You have to remember that in the early 1960s, there were few truly national media outlets.  There were the picture magazines, Life and Look, which reached a huge readership, and to a lesser extent the newsmagazines like Time and Newsweek.  None, of course, had the reach of network television, which by the early 1960s had over ninety percent penetration in U.S. households.  This time period is also when the networks finally begin to invest significantly in their news divisions (CBS and NBC inaugurate their half hour nightly news shows in the fall of 1963 and throughout the early/mid 1960s large numbers of prime time news documentaries, special reports, bulletins and the like).  So you’ve got network news becoming a serious journalistic venue reaching unprecedented numbers of citizens.

King and the SCLC in particular appeared to intuitively understand the nature of television news and the need for dramatic pictures.  They knew to schedule marches no later than about 2:00 in the afternoon in order to work with the demands of the TV news room: film had to be flown to New York, printed, edited, and readied for broadcast for the nightly news.  And they knew that the news cameras would stick around only if the marches and demonstrations led to confrontation and even violence.  The movement did need to create situations in which white racists would beat and brutalize civil rights activists.

On the one hand, one could say that the movement was manipulating the media as well as Southern white police officials like Birmingham’s Bull Connor or Selma’s Jim Clark by creating a setting for confrontation (and certainly segregationists argued that these were all publicity stunts).  On the other hand, blacks had been beaten, lynched, and brutalized “in the dark corners” for decades and decades.  Staging this brutality out in public and inviting new forms of national media to witness it was a novel and clearly powerful tactic that both assisted the movement in making its larger arguments about Jim Crow and black disempowerment, but also played to the strengths of television as “new media.”


Was the goal to reach white viewers, black viewers, or some kind of community which included people of multiple races?


The goal clearly was primarily to reach white viewers, particularly outside the South.  Frequently network news stories about civil rights would be “blacked out” on Deep South TV stations.  Steven Classen has written superbly in his book, Watching Jim Crow, about the case of Jackson, Mississippi’s WLBT-TV which systematically censored network news stories about civil rights or race relations and eventually, after long legal struggles by civil rights activists, finally had its broadcast license revoked by the Justice Department in 1969.  King would frequently appeal to “the conscience of the nation.”  He was obviously referring to the mass audiences produced by media like network television and to nationally distributed magazines.

The movement really didn’t need television to appeal to African Americans (either in the South or the North).  There was a very robust black press that was very effectively distributed to black communities.  News weeklies like the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier had national reach with black train porters often working as an informal distribution system to get these newspapers to black communities around the country, and especially into the Deep South.  The movement needed to reach and impact whites outside the South in order to make the case that segregation in Birmingham, Alabama or Albany, Georgia or voter disenfranchisement in Selma, Alabama weren’t regional issues to be solved at the state level, but rather national problems of concern to all Americans to be dealt with in Washington.  And Washington politicians would only care if they were hearing from constituents en masse.

It’s also important to remember this was the Cold War era and to some extent the movement was aware of the global audience. We aren’t really in the satellite era yet (although the Telstar communications satellite goes up in 1962 and live satellite transmission is possible).  The 1963 March on Washington coverage is transmitted live to most European countries.  Nevertheless images are traveling more quickly in this era and there’s lots of concern about how global audiences are making sense of the “leader of the Free World” oppressing its black citizens.


Does television mean something different in the context of this movement than newspapers and print based media?


I think the distinction is more “visual media” versus “print media.”  My book was going to press just as Martin Berger Seeing Through Race came out.  He examines the photojournalism around the civil rights movement and comes to some similar conclusions to mine about network news coverage.  In both cases, the emphasis is on dramatic images of moral clarity: good versus evil, clearly marked.  It calls to mind Peter Brooks’ arguments about “the melodramatic imagination” and the moral occult: in a secular era, we need narratives to give us that clarity that used to be presumably provided by the church in the pre-modern era.

Both television news and photojournalism assumed a white viewer.  The preferred images are of helpless, supplicating or brutalized black bodies that need assistance.  The white viewer is hailed into the position as saviour or rescuer.  The white viewer, whose conscience is being appealed to, is called on to do something, respond in some way to come to the aid of the helpless black victim.  Berger very usefully traces this trope back to abolitionist iconography with the widely circulated image of the kneeling, supplicant slave holding up his chained arms.  In television news coverage, black civil rights activists are almost always mute; only King is authorized to speak.  Preferred images include docile marchers, praying bodies, and, of course, tear-gassed, whipped, beaten bodies.  Print media had a significant role to play as well and Richard Lentz in his (terribly titled!) book Symbols, the News Magazines, and Martin Luther King does a great comparative analysis of Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report in their coverage of King and the movement.

But ultimately I think the power of the civil right movement comes from its visuality and the movement’s intuitive grasp of how to communicate via imagery.  Print media, I think, functioned in an ancillary role providing background, context, and information to the images.



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.

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