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

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image by Daydream V.2 by Nonotak Studio

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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image by Daydream V.2 by Nonotak Studio

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“image by Daydream V.2 by Nonotak Studio”  

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Altman: Back to Kansas City!

ALTMAN AND ME WITH PTG

 

 

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

 

ROBERT ALTMAN:  BACK TO KANSAS CITY!

By John C. Tibbetts

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Back to School Special: Cultural Studies of Communication

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

 

COMM 519: Cultural Studies in Communication

Spring 2015

Mondays 2:00-4:50 pm

ASC G38

4 Units

 

Course Description:

 

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

 

Course Requirements

 

Contributions to Class Forum on Blackboard (20 Percent)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Final Paper (40 percent)

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

 

Books:

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

 

All other readings can be found on Blackboard.

 

Class Schedule:

 

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

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

Day 2 Monday, January 26th: Reading Culture

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

Day 3 Monday, February 2nd: Subcultures and Resistance

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

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

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

Day 5 Monday, February 23rd: Roots in Marxism

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

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

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

 

Day 7 Monday, March 9th: Cultural Hierarchies

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

Day 8 Monday, March 23rd: Pleasure and Transgression

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

 

Day 9 Monday, March 30th: Identity and Difference

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

 

Day 10 Monday, April 6th: Globalization

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Student Presentations

Why Star Trek Still Matters: An Interview with Roberta Pearson and Marie Messenger Davies (Part Three)

You raise some important points about the stability of Star Trek as an ongoing franchise over more than 18 years of production. How did this stability and predictability impact the creative process behind the show — for better or for worse?

Star Trek was very atypical in its 18 year run particularly with regard to the fact that many of the same people, like executive producer Rick Berman, stayed with the show throughout those years. As you imply this stability had its upsides and its downsides.

With regard to the first, one of the most significant upsides was that it gave the producers the chance to create one of the most extended and complex fictional universes of all time, on a scale that, with perhaps the exception of Doctor Who, no other television program has achieved. And, as we discuss in chapters five and six, this led to some very ingenious world building, with producers, many of whom had been fans of the original series, harking back not only to TOS and TNG but in the post-TNG shows to all the previous series. This results in a degree of what’s come to be called fan service that can only be achieved within a vast canon. The creative process was stimulated by this and resulted in some very memorable and for fans emotionally satisfying episodes like TNG’s “Relics” which brings back the beloved Scotty.

But as Ron Moore pointed out to us when we interviewed him, the producers also had to be careful not to cater to fans too much and not to give in completely to their own fannish instincts. Had they done so they would have been writing fan fiction and not a television show aimed at millions of viewers.

Indeed, Stephen Moffat has been criticized for too much fan service in the most recent series of Sherlock, so it can negatively impact a show’s reception and perhaps exclude new viewers. We don’t think this happened with Star Trek, but it did become increasingly difficult for new viewers to enter such a complex universe.

Enterprise was meant to reboot the franchise by being less connected to the complicated backstory, but ironically, it became the most self-referential of all the series. The successful Star Trek reboot, the one that did attract new viewers, took place in cinema not on television and without the involvement of anyone who had made the television series. By contrast Doctor Who has successfully rebooted on television both honouring the backstory and managing to draw in new viewers. But maybe that’s because it did so precisely by drawing on new voices like Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. You didn’t ask us about Doctor Who, but one of the reasons that there is always more to say about Star Trek is that as a case study it raises issues that are ongoing in terms of current productions.

Stability also had an upside with regard to the production process, one that we document in the book using interviews with many of the practitioners working on the show. As they constantly told us, the Star Trek production team was a ‘family’ that had worked together so long that they communicated by way of a creative shorthand. This both facilitated the smoothness of the production process and undoubtedly led to some very good episodes.

But that ‘family’ depended on having people at the top who were good managers. Michael Piller, now sadly deceased, joined TNG in its third season, after two seasons of upheaval, turmoil and some pretty bad episodes. He drew together the current writing staff and brought in new voices. But Brannon Braga seemed to be unable to do the same thing for Enterprise, one of the factors that we speculate could have contributed to its failure.

Reflecting in retrospect on the book, we perhaps should have made more of the downside. The producers told us that one of the problems with the failed Enterprise was that they couldn’t find writers who knew how to write Star Trek. But maybe what they meant was that they couldn’t find writers who knew how to write the long-established version of Star Trek that they themselves had helped to form.

Many fans and some academics have critised Berman and his fellow executive producer Brannon Braga for exploiting Star Trek simply for profit and not caring about Roddenberry’s vision. Our interviews did not lead us to this conclusion and we strongly refute this opinion in the book. However, in hindsight, perhaps it was not only Braga’s less than excellent management skills but the failure to incorporate new voices and new ideas that made Enterprise for the most part an inferior retread of the previous series.

You write about “Roddenberry’s Box” and the ways that founding concepts about what constitutes a Star Trek story have both enabled and constrained future creative contributions. What are some of the ways creative talent has negotiated in and around that Box through the years?

As we discuss in the introduction of the book, and at a number of points throughout, Roddenberry has become a ‘brand’ – the only name associated with television Trek to be given a credit in the new movie franchise. As such he represents both commercial value, but also something more intangible – what Kerry McCluggage referred to as a ‘vision’, and what writers sometimes referred to, using the more restrictive metatphor of a ‘box’. McCluggage told us:

“You do try to factor that [the Roddenberry vision] in, because that’s part of the appeal of Star Trek. He had an optimistic view of the future. He had a whole notion of how the Federation would evolve, and the Prime Directive, and things that are key elements in the show and values that are inherent in the show. In exploiting this property on a commercial basis, you really do find yourself going back to that, thinking, How does this fit in with the original vision of the show?”

Which is all very well, for the CEO, but for a writer the ‘vision’ and its strict rules could raise practical problems of narrative structure, not to mention a tendency for the ‘vision’, paradoxically, to generate conflict among the production team.

The two writers who specifically referred to the Roddenberry Box were Michael Piller, and Ronald D. Moore and they gave us specific examples of how they worked both within it, and around it. Piller described Roddenberry’s strict insistence that in the 23rd century (the period of TOS), “there wasn’t a lot of conflict between the characters because with the disappearance of want, poverty, disease, people were out pursuing a better quality of life;” this caused arguments among his writing team, who felt that conflict was necessary in a drama.

He described how he got round these strict rules in TNG’s ‘The Bonding’ [3:5] by using Gene’s insistence that in this advanced era of humanity nobody grieved when someone died, as a hook to develop a more interesting story. “The freakiest thing you’ve ever seen . . . a kid that doesn’t cry when his mother dies” enabled Piller and his team to bring forward an underdeveloped character, Counsellor Troi, to “strip down” to the underlying emotions of the bereft child. This was a good example of writers’ resourcefulness in being able to kill different birds with the same stone – giving Marina Sirtis a more satisfying role, which she had wanted, as well as solving a narrative problem arising from the restrictions of the ‘vision.’

Piller described how the Roddenberry Box suited him, and it became, to some extent, “ the Piller box”. Ron Moore, the author of “The Bonding”, also described arguments over the fight between the Picard brothers in a TNG episode he wrote – a two parter called “Family” [4:1 and 4:2]. On this occasion, Piller and Berman were able to prevail over Roddenberry and to leave the fight in – despite the fact that Roddenberry didn’t want it. These discussions are described more fully in Chapter 2 of the book, ‘Art, Commerce and Creative Autonomy’ and also in a chapter by Máire: “Quality and Creativity in TV: The Work of Television Storytellers,” in Quality Television: American Contemporary Television and Beyond, ed. Janet McCabe and Kim Akass (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007), 171–84.

You describe how the creative talent on the series tends to stress the importance of “good scripts” in triggering the production process. What are some of the traits they associated with a “good” Star Trek script?

First, let’s address this question from a more general perspective. Judgments as to good and bad have been largely dodged by people within media and cultural studies, because of the influence of theories of cultural relativism. As we told you, we did try to come to grips with questions of quality in a chapter that didn’t make it into the book, both because the book was getting too big and because we didn’t manage to resolve the debate to our own satisfaction. But since producers, critics and audiences all continue to make value judgments it’s important that academics address this issue. And in doing so, it’s vital to listen to what practitioners have to say about their own value judgments, even though they might believe in them implicitly and find them hard to articulate.

That being said, in terms of Star Trek, perhaps surprisingly in light of its genre, the writers and others’ evaluation of scripts depended on criteria that were established with 19th century literary and dramatic realism. Perhaps primary among these is what you might call fully developed, rounded or psychologically motivated characters whose motivations contribute to story development. Several of our interviewees, especially Michael Piller, emphasized the importance of character above all.

So a good script might be one that advanced a character’s arc through giving him a dilemma to grapple with and resolve. Piller told us that the fan favourite “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter in which Picard gets assimilated by the Borg is really more about first officer Riker’s decision to take his own command or stay with the Enterprise.

A good script could also explore the ongoing relationship between two characters. Good characterization, consistent with the previous establishment of the character, we think, was the overarching criterion determining whether a script was good or bad. Scripts would also have to be like the proverbial ‘well-made’ play or for that matter, classical Hollywood film, setting up and resolving enigmas and wrapping up everything neatly at the end.

Roberta Pearson is Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of Nottingham in the UK.  Much of her career has been devoted to studying major cultural phenomenon or icons, such as Star Trek, Batman, Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes.  She was the co-editor of The Many Lives of the Batman, now being rebooted as Many More Lives of the Batman, co-edited with William Uricchio and Will Brooker (coming out with the BFI next year).  She’s also written several essays on Shakespeare’s cultural status and has recently been involved in a collaborative project on digital Shakespeare.  Her next project is on Sherlock Holmes for a book tentatively titled I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere: Transatlantic Sherlock Holmes. The book will deal with issues of authorship/canonicity, intellectual property, cultural distinctions, media franchises and lots of other topics currently at the forefront of debates in the field. For a preview see ‘A Case of Identity: Sherlock, Elementary and their National Broadcasting Systems’ in Roberta Pearson and Anthony N. Smith, editors, Storytelling in the Media Convergence Age: Exploring Screen Narratives (London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2015) as well as ‘Sherlock Holmes, a De Facto Franchise?’in Lincoln Geraghty, ed., Popular Media Cultures: Writing in the Margins and Reading Between the Lines (London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2015.She’s been a Star Trek fan (in terms of watching and enjoying the tv programmes) since the original series’ first run so writing the book was indeed a labour of love. But she was a Sherlock Holmes fan even before that, so her academic career seems to be progressing backwards, like Benjamin Button.

Máire Messenger Davies is Professor of Media Studies and Director of the Centre for Media Research at the University of Ulster. Her first degree was in English, from Trinity College Dublin – hence an interest in storytelling. She’s a former media professional – she worked as a journalist in local newspapers, magazines and radio for many years – hence her insistence on the importance of hearing the producers’ points of view. After having four children, she did her PhD in psychology as a mature student researching how people learn from television – hence her interest in audiences, particularly young audiences. Her own young audience shared many happy hours watching Star Trek TOS in the UK. On moving to work at Boston University in the US, from 1990-1994, the family were there at the height of TNG‘s greatest era and became firm fans. Using Star Trek as a case study to teach about TV, Culture and Society seemed an obvious way to freshen up a rather hackneyed core module at Cardiff University, alongside Professor Pearson, and this led – eventually – to Star Trek and American Television. Her other books include Television is Good for Your Kids (Hilary Shipman, London  1989, 2001); Fake, Fact and Fantasy (Mahwah NJ: Laurence Erlbaum, 1997);  Dear BBC: Children, television storytelling and the public sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Children, Media and Culture, (Open University Press, 2010).

USC Annenberg Offers Tenure-Track Position in Diversity and Digital Media

The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is seeking a tenure track Assistant Professor or Associate Professor in the area of diversity and digital media. We seek faculty who will contribute to diversity and equal opportunity in higher education through their teaching, research and service. We are especially interested in work at the intersection of communication theory, digital media and issues of difference.

As communications media serve increasingly diverse and global constituencies, understanding of the ways in which differences in gender, class, race, ethnicity, national origin and other “fault lines” can divide us and present barriers to communication becomes even more critical. We seek candidates who are interested in a broad array of topics in the area, including barriers to adoption of digital technologies by underrepresented groups; media diversity and public policy; representation of women and minorities in the media; social networking and political mobilization; assistive and adaptive technologies for persons with disabilities; and diverse voices in user-generated content. Candidates should have competencies in robust qualitative and/or quantitative techniques for examining data from media sources across multiple platforms.
The successful candidate will have the opportunity to collaborate with the new Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA). IDEA will examine diversity in media, illuminating the complexities of inclusion and multiculturalism with the goal of making positive, long-lasting change to facilitate civic engagement and foster partnerships between the School of Communication and other organizations.

About the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

The USC Annenberg School was established in 1979 with a gift from US Ambassador Walter Annenberg. It was expanded to include programs in Journalism and Communication Arts and Sciences in 1994, and has continued to grow to its current size of 95 full-time faculty, 100 adjunct faculty, and 175 staff, with the support of more than $182 million in gifts from the Annenberg Foundation. We have recently opened a new 85,000 square foot building, made possible by an additional $50 million gift from Wallis Annenberg. The Annenberg School has a combined undergraduate and graduate enrollment of 2200.

About the University of Southern California

The University of Southern California is a leading private research university. USC was founded in 1880 and is today home to more than 40,000 students and nearly 3,600 full-time faculty. It is located in the heart of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. An anchor institution in Los Angeles, and the city’s largest private employer, USC enrolls more international students than any other US university. USC has an endowment of $4 billion and substantial federal research funding, placing it in the top tier of US research universities.

Applicants

In order to be considered for this position, all candidates must apply via the USC Employee Recruitment Services website at this link
Submission materials should include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, samples of recent refereed publications and the names of three references. Final candidates will be required to submit three (3) letters of recommendation. The cover letter should be addressed to School of Communication Faculty Search, attention Dorine Lawrence-Hughes, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California, 3502 Watt Way, Suite 305, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0281.

Applicants may direct questions to Dorine Lawrence-Hughes:
dllawren@asc.usc.edu or (213-740-3970). Materials submitted by regular mail will not be accepted.

Review of applications will commence on January 5, 2015 and continue until the position is filled or the search closed.

USC is an equal-opportunity educator and employer, proudly pluralistic and firmly committed to providing equal opportunity for outstanding persons of every race, gender, creed and background. The University particularly encourages members of underrepresented groups, veterans and individuals with disabilities to apply. USC will make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with known disabilities unless doing so would result in an undue hardship. Further information regarding accommodations is available by contacting uschr@usc.edu.

Why Star Trek Still Matters: An Interview with Roberta Pearson and Maire Messenger (Part Two)

You discuss Star Trek as in some ways a transitional text between the models of the mass audience and the least objectionable programming which shaped the early network era and the model of the niche or segmented audience which would inform the multi-network or post-network era. This seems closely connected to your idea that the series is both representative and exceptional to the television practices of its time. So, what was it about Star Trek which encouraged networks and producers to think differently about television audiences?

In our chapter 1, on Star Trek and television history, hopefully we make it clear that during the network era, the networks and producers didn’t really ‘think differently’ about TV audiences, even though there’s obviously evidence that audiences were already ‘niche-ing’ themselves by becoming active fans. Star Trek fans certainly did this, although they didn’t affect the network’s decision to cancel the show. In terms of the industry’s attitudes, it’s only with hindsight that we (and other writers on Star Trek) have been able to see that what saved the show/franchise during this era was the beginnings of a ‘niche’ audience when it was sold to Kaiser Broadcasting for syndication.

In 1967 Kaiser syndicated it at 6 pm against the news on other channels, calculating that this would attract ‘young males.’ We describe the ‘faint signals’ of the future of specialized audience targets on pp 45- 46. Star Trek fans were the elusive 18-25 age group and they were even prepared to ‘march in the street’ to try to save their show. But NBC at that stage cancelled it because success was still primarily measured in mass numbers. To some extent it continued to be and still is – Enterprise failed in 2005 because it didn’t get high ratings, other shows still fail for the same reason.

But as we point out, ‘eras’ don’t neatly stop and give way to the next one; there’s always overlap and even in the fragmentary downloading world of today, the ‘mass’ audience has continued alongside ‘niches’, who are of course, components of the ‘mass’.

We collected a lot of information about audience behavior in 2002; Mike Mellon, the head of audience research at Paramount gave us masses of material, wonderful breakdowns of demographics within the Neilsen ratings, and Paramount’s own qualitative research. But this kind of information tends to be ephemeral and because our book was written over such an extended period of time, anything we said about particular audience figures would have been outdated.

We also had some audience research of our own – questionnaire and interview data collected at different cultural venues, and we’ve referred to some of it in other writings (see references in the bibliography), but again, we decided it didn’t quite fit the shape of the book in its final version. But we certainly do think that audiences are important and interesting, and Star Trek audiences especially so.

You write at the end of the book, “Without Roddenberry, there may have been no Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, Chris Carter, or whoever else may follow in their footsteps.” So, what role did Roddenberry’s self-promotion as a producer/author contribute to the contemporary concept of the show runner?

It’s always hard to make historical connections across time, so not sure that we’d want to argue for direct causality here. What’s needed is an historical study on the rise of the showrunner in US television from about the 1970s onwards, including key figures like Norman Lear and Aaron Spelling. That book would have to account for all the other changes that were going on during those decades, particularly the shift from the classical network era to the multi-channel era that began to put the emphasis on named producers as a way of distinguishing content in a much more competitive environment.

That being said, you’re really asking two different questions here, one about the role of the showrunner within the industry and one about the role of the showrunner as a publicity mechanism.

With regard to the first, that’s something that the book waiting to be written would need to engage with. While Roddenberry functioned like a modern showrunner in that he was both producer and writer (although he actually wrote relatively few of the Star Trek scripts), how many of his peers did the same? And while he seems to have exercised the same degree of overall control and oversight that his successors now have, did his contemporaries have that same degree of control and oversight? In other words, were there producers in the classical network era whom we would want retrospectively to dub showrunners aside from Roddenberry (and probably Rod Serling)?

And we shouldn’t forget of course, that a lot of the people with whom Roddenberry worked, particularly Herb Solow, resent the extent to which Roddenberry attempted to co-opt all the credit for Star Trek. One of the most important arguments in our book is that a good television show requires the input of a lot of talented people. Roddenberry presented himself as Star Trek’s sole auteur but there would have been no Star Trek without Solow, associate producer Robert Justman, and all the others who worked on the show. But, today at least, it also seems to require a named individual to serve Foucault’s author function – to market the show.

We think it’s easier to make an argument for Roddenberry having served to some extent as a template for subsequent showrunners with regard to their publicizing themselves and their shows as opposed to the specific production tasks he undertook. In the classical network era, this self-publicity was most unusual, not really necessary and probably resented to some extent by NBC.

In that era, it was assumed that most shows, let alone their producers, would not really stand out much from the pack. That’s because the three networks were content to divide the mass audience between them, airing ‘least objectionable programming’ the goal of which was to keep people tuned into the same network throughout the evening. Shows were associated with networks, rather than with named individuals, except for their star actors of course.

But Roddenberry showed that it was possible to engage in a discourse of artistry and authorship that distinguished him and his show from the pack. And as you say somewhere, viewers, fans particularly, are culturally inclined toward a belief in auteurism, a single guiding voice that creates meaning throughout a programme’s episodes.

In Roddenberry’s case, as we discuss, that guiding voice became elevated to ‘Roddenberry’s vision’, a utopic notion of the future associated with him and with Star Trek. In that regard, we can’t really think of a single one of today’s showrunners who have had quite the same cultural impact, probably because the field is much more crowded; there’s much more content and many more people producing it. And of course, in the tele-fantasy genre Roddenberry got there first.

Fans may refer to the ‘Whedon-verse’ and critics may characterize aspects of Whedon-produced or directed texts as ‘Whedon-esque’ but that refers to a certain style and tone rather than a complete world, which is what Roddenberry is associated with. The more we think about it, the more we think it might be the case that being in a sense a man out of time, a post-network showrunner in the classical network era, Roddenberry was actually a one-off. But that’s a hypothesis that needs to be tested with empirical research.

One could also argue that Star Trek’s appeal to its intellectual pedigree — from the science fiction writers like Harlan Ellison, Norman Spinrad, or Theodore Sturgeon, who wrote for the series, to its ongoing references to Rocket Scientists and Harvard/MIT students in describing its audience, helps to establish the contemporary concept of “quality television.” What qualities were ascribed to Star Trek in its heyday and to what degree do these anticipate or contrast with the “complex narratives” and “novelistic characters” associated with today’s quality dramas?

That’s a whole book in itself. In one of our earlier drafts there was a whole chapter called ‘Is it any good? The quality of Star Trek.’ Looking at this discarded ‘quality’ chapter again, I see we offer a number of definitions of ‘quality’ and address the question of ‘is it any good’? in a number of ways. We look at academic definitions of ‘good’ e.g. Charlotte Brunsdon’s: ‘[it’s good] in terms of its closeness to already-‘legitimate’ cultural forms, such as theatre or literature. Secondly, it is seen to be good because ‘it poses a privileged relation to ‘the real’’. In our discarded chapter we argue that Star Trek meets both of these criteria. We also discuss ideological interpretations of ‘good’ – is it sensitive to minorities, and to the representation of race, gender and general ‘otherness’? – the subjects of a very great deal of writing on Trek. And we particularly quote our production interviewees on their definitions of ‘quality,’ such as Michael Westmore comparing his work on alien makeup with that of Star Wars, which he described as ‘a real cheap job.’

We also discuss a couple of individual episodes that we thought were ‘good.’ Much of this material got lifted and dispersed to other chapters in the final version of the book: the craftworkers and writers’ views on ‘good’ appear in Chapter 2,’ ‘Art, Commerce and Creative Autonomy’ and Chapter 3, ‘The Craft Workshop Mode of Production’. Textual aspects of quality are woven into the textual chapters at the end of the book on worldbuilding and character, where the ideology question is also addressed – here, mainly by arguing for Trek’s ‘heteroglossic’ characteristics. The best of Trek, such as the TNG episode, ‘The High Ground’, offers ambiguity not clarity, enabling diverse interpretation, which again, is a traditional literary criterion of quality.

Because Star Trek has been such an enduring show, it ought to be possible to make comparisons between it and other ‘high quality’ TV shows contemporary with it over the years, for example at Emmy awards. But, as several of the writers pointed out, Trek has never been honoured by its peers in this way. Berman was indignant that Patrick Stewart never got an Emmy for his performance as Captain Picard. Ron Moore told us how he suppressed his Trek work in his resume because he thought it wouldn’t be taken seriously and Patrick Stewart had similar reservations about foregrounding his Trek work, proud as he was of it.

The craft workers, on the other hand, have received multiple awards over the years, thus highlighting the division between ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’ positions in the creative hierarchy – a division which we argue, in our book, is somewhat artificial in terms of how the final product gets produced. Everyone has to pull together: the line producers Merri Howard and Peter Lauritson, who had to make sure everything ‘gelled’, and came in within budget, were particularly enlightening on this aspect of ‘quality.’

Roberta Pearson is Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of Nottingham in the UK.  Much of her career has been devoted to studying major cultural phenomenon or icons, such as Star Trek, Batman, Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes.  She was the co-editor of The Many Lives of the Batman, now being rebooted as Many More Lives of the Batman, co-edited with William Uricchio and Will Brooker (coming out with the BFI next year).  She’s also written several essays on Shakespeare’s cultural status and has recently been involved in a collaborative project on digital Shakespeare.  Her next project is on Sherlock Holmes for a book tentatively titled I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere: Transatlantic Sherlock Holmes. The book will deal with issues of authorship/canonicity, intellectual property, cultural distinctions, media franchises and lots of other topics currently at the forefront of debates in the field. For a preview see ‘A Case of Identity: Sherlock, Elementary and their National Broadcasting Systems’ in Roberta Pearson and Anthony N. Smith, editors, Storytelling in the Media Convergence Age: Exploring Screen Narratives (London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2015) as well as ‘Sherlock Holmes, a De Facto Franchise?’in Lincoln Geraghty, ed., Popular Media Cultures: Writing in the Margins and Reading Between the Lines (London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2015.She’s been a Star Trek fan (in terms of watching and enjoying the tv programmes) since the original series’ first run so writing the book was indeed a labour of love. But she was a Sherlock Holmes fan even before that, so her academic career seems to be progressing backwards, like Benjamin Button.

Máire Messenger Davies is Professor of Media Studies and Director of the Centre for Media Research at the University of Ulster. Her first degree was in English, from Trinity College Dublin – hence an interest in storytelling. She’s a former media professional – she worked as a journalist in local newspapers, magazines and radio for many years – hence her insistence on the importance of hearing the producers’ points of view. After having four children, she did her PhD in psychology as a mature student researching how people learn from television – hence her interest in audiences, particularly young audiences. Her own young audience shared many happy hours watching Star Trek TOS in the UK. On moving to work at Boston University in the US, from 1990-1994, the family were there at the height of TNG‘s greatest era and became firm fans. Using Star Trek as a case study to teach about TV, Culture and Society seemed an obvious way to freshen up a rather hackneyed core module at Cardiff University, alongside Professor Pearson, and this led – eventually – to Star Trek and American Television. Her other books include Television is Good for Your Kids (Hilary Shipman, London  1989, 2001); Fake, Fact and Fantasy (Mahwah NJ: Laurence Erlbaum, 1997);  Dear BBC: Children, television storytelling and the public sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Children, Media and Culture, (Open University Press, 2010).

Why Star Trek Still Matters: An Interview with Roberta Pearson and Máire Messenger Davies (Part One)

The book recently published by Roberta Pearson and Máire Messenger Davies might well have been titled The Making of Star Trek, but that title was already taken, by none other than Gene Roddenberry, who published the book as part of his campaign to promote and protect the series in the 1960s. Instead, they called their book, Star Trek and American Television.

As far as I can tell, no other academic has had the degree of access to the “above the line” and “below the line” workers who helped to create Star Trek as these two did. And, as a result, we have never before had such a rich account of its production process and of the ways that Star Trek fits within larger trends within the television industry. They do not set out to demystify Roddenberry’s original book, precisely, but the effect is to shift the focus away from the notion of Roddenberry’s authorship onto the collaborative process by which television is produced. Roddenberry certainly has a central role here, as will be clear from the frequency with which his name surfaces in the following interview, but they also direct attention onto the many collaborators who helped to shape that original “vision” and onto the many who have carried forward Star Trek‘s legacy to the current day.

Anyone who knows me knows how central Star Trek has been to my life on so many levels. I have myself written two books in which Star Trek plays a key role. But in recent years, I have declined many invitations to say or write more about Star Trek because I was skeptical that there was much more that could be said.

Pearson and Davies proved me wrong: there are new insights and new historical details on every page of this book. Star Trek and American Television is the kind of book that could only be written now — now that we have some historical perspective on the ways that this iconic series fit within the evolution of television as a medium, looking forward in some ways to developments in terms of ideas about franchising, world-building, and audiences, that are only being fully realized today.

As an interviewer, I am bit rude to these authors (both old friends), pushing them to speak about topics that are just on the margins of the book, getting them to revisit the decisions they made about what to include or develop in depth. My bet is that as a reader, you will appreciate some of the insights I got them to scoop up off the cutting room floor here. But at the end of the day, I agree with most of their editorial decisions. This book works because they focus on Star Trek as a television series, not as a cult phenomenon, not as a fandom, not as a transmedia franchise. Dealing with Star Trek as a television series encourages us to look upon it in a new way and at the same time, to use its history to shed light on the possibilities of television as a medium.

This five part interview will constitute my last posts for this blog in 2014. I need some time to refresh myself, to get more interview questions out to authors, to focus on finishing up some of my own writing projects. But, I think you will agree that this exchange ends the year on a highpoint.

I’ve known Pearson for most of my academic career. Our overlapping interests has led to us working together in many ways through the years. And I have a great appreciation for what she has contributed to our understanding of popular heroes (including The Batman and Sherlock Holmes) and cult media. Through her, I’ve also gotten to know her co-author, Davies, who has produced a great deal of important work on children’s television and the notion of quality as it relates to popular media. So, I am delighted to share with you their reflections here on “the Making of Star Trek” and so much more.


Many readers may be skeptical –as I was initially — that the world needs another book on the Star Trek franchise. So, let’s tackle that right away. What are people going to learn from this book that they do not already know?

As we explain in the introduction and opening chapters, of all the myriad books that have been published on Star Trek, we believe that none of them has effectively dealt with its core status as ‘a television show’ (William Shatner’s description of it, to us, in our interview with him.) On p. 9 of our book, we discuss the Star Trek entry in Oxford Bibliographies by Dan Bernardi and Michael Green, which lists the following categories of academic literature on the subject of Star Trek: ‘reference works and bibliographies; anthologies; fandom; popular culture; critical race studies; gender studies; sexuality studies; religion; technoculture; and nationalism and geopolitics’. It doesn’t list television studies.

In this book we are writing as television scholars, not fan scholars, nor sci-fi scholars, nor national geopolitics scholars, and we are admirers of the television show but we’re not – (and we’re really sorry about this word, I don’t know how it happened, after all our careful proof reading) – ‘Trekkies’ in the sense of being the kinds of fans who attend conventions, write fanfic and the like.

So, as our research proceeded, our question became: why didn’t anyone write about Star Trek as television because the programme is a really terrific case for examining the history of American television.

The project started life as core material for a teaching module on ‘Television, Culture and Society’ on the undergraduate course TV, Film and Journalism at Cardiff University. Because we were both keen on the show, and wanted to teach about it, we decided to adapt the TV, culture & society module to enable us to use Star Trek as a case study about television: the course included lectures on television production; TV history; TV economics; American /British contrasts; aesthetic and narrative aspects; TV audiences. The book went through various incarnations since we began the project in 1999, losing some cherished aspects of our original module on the way (including a big chunk about audiences – not just fans, but audiences, Nielsen data etc.) But we never lost sight of the fact that we wanted to talk about Star Trek as television, and that was our selling point to UC Press back in 2000.

The other unique aspect of it, we believe, is the interview material. We were lucky to be helped by Patrick Stewart to gain access to so many Paramount workers, from executive producers to make-up artists to actors to set builders to writers to craft workers, during our visit to Hollywood in 2002, funded by a grant from the British Academy. We think that the insights these interviewees gave us don’t appear to the same extent in other literature on Star Trek, partly because our research questions focused very specifically on televisual aspects. In particular, because we talked to people who were working together as we met them (on the TV Enterprise and the film Nemesis at the same time), there were constant references to, and plentiful evidence of, their interdependence as a working team. Collaboration and co-operation emerged as key components of how a TV production is put together, which was one of the main questions we were pursuing.

We were privileged to meet these people at work, and it was as industrial workers (very hardworking workers) that they came across, not as showbiz luminaries. This was one of the most illuminating and paradoxical revelations of the Star Trek phenomenon as we observed it. It has been such a valuable financial property within a huge global, capitalistic corporation but what we saw was its socialistic way of working.

One of our most revealing interviewees on this aspect was construction co-ordinator, Tom Arp, head of his Local trade union, who’d been working on the show for 14 years, and told us ‘the people on this show pretty much work together as a family’. (All the Star Trek workers we spoke to were unionized). In one of our discarded passages, we wrote about how interdependence and collaboration, rather than conflict and individual heroism, are essential narrative tropes, particularly in the female-dominated Voyager (see e.g. the episode, ‘One’). If the whole team doesn’t pull together, the ship is doomed – the experiences of the working production team often seemed to be reflected in these kinds of ‘socialistic’ storylines, which we suggest, is one of the enduring aspects of the Roddenberry Utopian ‘vision’ (see more comment about the ‘vision’ below). Interdependence between different levels of above and below the line workers is discussed more fully in our chapter on ‘The Craft Workshop Mode of Production.’

Roberta Pearson is Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of Nottingham in the UK.  Much of her career has been devoted to studying major cultural phenomenon or icons, such as Star Trek, Batman, Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes.  She was the co-editor of The Many Lives of the Batman, now being rebooted as Many More Lives of the Batman, co-edited with William Uricchio and Will Brooker (coming out with the BFI next year).  She’s also written several essays on Shakespeare’s cultural status and has recently been involved in a collaborative project on digital Shakespeare.  Her next project is on Sherlock Holmes for a book tentatively titled I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere: Transatlantic Sherlock Holmes. The book will deal with issues of authorship/canonicity, intellectual property, cultural distinctions, media franchises and lots of other topics currently at the forefront of debates in the field. For a preview see ‘A Case of Identity: Sherlock, Elementary and their National Broadcasting Systems’ in Roberta Pearson and Anthony N. Smith, editors, Storytelling in the Media Convergence Age: Exploring Screen Narratives (London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2015) as well as ‘Sherlock Holmes, a De Facto Franchise?’in Lincoln Geraghty, ed., Popular Media Cultures: Writing in the Margins and Reading Between the Lines (London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2015.She’s been a Star Trek fan (in terms of watching and enjoying the tv programmes) since the original series’ first run so writing the book was indeed a labour of love. But she was a Sherlock Holmes fan even before that, so her academic career seems to be progressing backwards, like Benjamin Button.

Máire Messenger Davies is Professor of Media Studies and Director of the Centre for Media Research at the University of Ulster. Her first degree was in English, from Trinity College Dublin – hence an interest in storytelling. She’s a former media professional – she worked as a journalist in local newspapers, magazines and radio for many years – hence her insistence on the importance of hearing the producers’ points of view. After having four children, she did her PhD in psychology as a mature student researching how people learn from television – hence her interest in audiences, particularly young audiences. Her own young audience shared many happy hours watching Star Trek TOS in the UK. On moving to work at Boston University in the US, from 1990-1994, the family were there at the height of TNG‘s greatest era and became firm fans. Using Star Trek as a case study to teach about TV, Culture and Society seemed an obvious way to freshen up a rather hackneyed core module at Cardiff University, alongside Professor Pearson, and this led – eventually – to Star Trek and American Television. Her other books include Television is Good for Your Kids (Hilary Shipman, London  1989, 2001); Fake, Fact and Fantasy (Mahwah NJ: Laurence Erlbaum, 1997);  Dear BBC: Children, television storytelling and the public sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Children, Media and Culture, (Open University Press, 2010).

Media Literacy in Action: An Interview with Belinha S. De Abreu and Paul Mihailidis (Part Three)

Paul, you make a case in the book for curation as a “media literacy imperative” in an age of participatory culture. How are you defining curation and what has made it such an urgent skill? And again, how can we think about curation in relation to the ideas of teaching about media and teaching through media you discussed above?

Paul: In a paper I recently published titled, Exploring Curation as a Core Competency in Digital and Media Literacy Education, I contextualized curation as:

The word curate derives from the Latin root Curare, or ‘to cure.’ To curate, historically, has meant to take charge of or organize, to pull together, sift through, select for presentation, to heal and to preserve. Traditionally reserved for those who worked with physical materials in museum or library settings, curation today has evolved to apply to what we are all doing online. The preservation and organization of content online is now largely the responsibility of the individual in highly personalized information spaces. This has created a need to understand how individuals choose to pull together, sift through, organize, and present information within these spaces.

I think there is an urgency to curation, at least now with some semblance of free choice online, largely because young people can design their own engagement with information with more choices and diversity than they ever have in the past. At least in terms of strict content and platform. In an age of filter bubbles, search algorithms, sponsored content, and endless aggregators trying to personal and define our information needs, I think it’s an imperative that we teach ability to organize, sift, sort and continuously recreate the type of content diets that we want and need.

As a result, I think curation becomes a core competency in media education today. From issues of access, values, identity, assessment, sharing and express, we must continue to ask how these are situated in the context of engagement with me, but also use of media. These involve social and informal information sharing and consumption, but also in civic spaces. Curation has been decentralized from the few to the many. Knowing how to effectively navigate, use and create strong media is, I argue, an essential skill for all citizens in digital culture.

Your book offers a survey of the ways media literacy is practiced in a number of distinctive countries and regions. What do you see as the most significant continuities across these various contexts? Where do you see the most significant differences emerging?

Paul: Of course the unique approaches to media literacy pedagogy and practice emerge from different educational, political, cultural and social properties of a specific society. In our book, we tried to find a nice balance of media literacy scholarship and practice to highlight. We sought voices from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, so we could show what’s similar and what’s unique. The similarities all rest on the aim to engage young people in competencies to critically analyze media. The more traditional model of media literacy approaches, if you will. That’s to a large degree because in places like Lebanon and Hong Kong, media literacy is still emerging as a pedagogical concept. As a result, they are still finding their footing in terms of how to implement and build media literacy as a skill set for their youth. Luckily, they have a wealth of information, content, and experience to choose from, so they’ll be scaling up rather quickly.

Most importantly, I think the differences that emerge in this space are embedded in socio-cultural practices that reflect media systems and government control. In places that have arguably less “free” media systems, media literacy is not so much about expression and voice as it is nuanced consumption. In places where political dissent is vibrant, media literacy is embedded in more narratives around corruption, propaganda, and civic inquiry. Interestingly, most forms of media literacy practice and pedagogy around the world are embedded in formal communication practices, and not many about information or participatory spaces. By that I mean that most media literacy approaches from emerging parts of the world focus on more traditional media literacy content (news, political speeches, ads) and less in newer cultural spaces (fan clubs, social networks, and so on).

I think, overall, the trends will continue to move to a more similar place, because a lot of research, pedagogy and practice are now being shared. And more media literacy scholars from around the world are meeting at conferences, publishing together, and doing more work alongside each other in general.

Many ideas about “21st Century Learning” stress the kinds of skills needed for performing well in the classroom and the workplace. Where do notions of civic or citizen-related skills fit into these models? In what ways might media literacy be understood as an effort to bring about social change?

Paul: This is a great question, and one close to my heart. I’ve just published a new book titled Media Literacy & the Emerging Citizen, that explores the role of media literacy in civic life. This is more about social change than formal pedagogy. I would argue, however, that pedagogy is at the center of long term civic engagement and social change, it’s just not explicitly made known. I think media literacy has a lot of growing to do in the social and civic change space, and that’s an area where we need to grow the field. Our book takes this topic on briefly with a chapter on citizenship by Frank Gallagher of Cable in the Classroom, but most of the work is pedagogically centered. I’d personally like to see media literacy be the civic education of the future.

Perhaps that’s the next book :-)

Some have been skeptical of the need for media literacy education in schools because so many youth are “digital natives” who grew up with the technology and are more adept online than most of the adults around them. The Harvard Good Play project has found that most youth lack mentors who can talk with them about the choices they make as participants in online communities. And, of course, access to technologies and to meaningful experiences online are unevenly distributed across the culture. What roles might formal media literacy education play in addressing the digital divide and the participation gap?

Belinha: As I stated previously, I think the term “digital natives” is loosely used to correlate with “digital savviness,” and that’s a concern because most of the time it isn’t true. Just because we have a generation of students who have grown up with technology does not make them adept at being online. Most students I see in schools working online tend to not go past the first page of any search results, and then turn around to the teacher and say they can’t find anything on their given topic. Just because a teen can find their way through their social network does not mean that they can search for viable, truthful, or accurate information. In fact, that is evenly distributed across the line when we are looking at how youth engage with each other online and they make some major social gaffes. What I mean is that we are looking at two different problems. There is the technology component which drives how students interact with each other. There is also the adolescent maturation point where that part hasn’t caught up with the part of themselves which is engaged in an online community. They need social skills that transcend face-to-face to online. The digital divide isn’t just about technology, it is about interrelations and lack thereof. We have a generation of students who have not learned how to interact as people. They have allowed the computer to be their voice without actually having a history or a background to that voice. The mentorship that they need is in bridging their knowledge of themselves with the knowledge of how they want to be represented. Media literacy education provides them with opportunity to understand representation and what that means on a worldwide scale. It helps them to consider multiple viewpoints and not the singularity of one –themselves.

Given the lack of formal media literacy education in many American schools, media literacy creeps in around the edges, through, for example, the work of librarians or museums and institutions or churches. What roles can these organizations play in ensuring wide access to core media literacy skills?

Belinha: I think these places offer opportunity- creative opportunity for engagement which is not offered in schools as much. Besides being places which are considering the innovators and the creators of educators, museum and libraries are providing resources that would not be accessible elsewhere. They are offering classes and opportunities with new technologies because they are reaching a very public platform. Libraries in particular tend to have an open-door policy when it comes to engaging with students or other patrons. They hold up the ideas that censorship is not acceptable. They provide patrons with books, databases, and the most current materials which may oftentimes not be available in schools. They have become the house for children whose parents can’t afford certain technologies including the basics of infrastructure such as Wifi. They already offer production classes. Why not infuse those classes with media literacy? Asking key questions as students work to get them to think more deeply is important. Helping students to problem solve, consider multiple points of view, or even understanding real-world questions related to money and power. It doesn’t have to formal, but sure put it up on a sign that teaching and learning in the structure of a museum or library is done with through the guide of media literacy education.

Belinha S. De Abreu, Ph.D., is a Media Literacy Educator and Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Technology at Fairfield University. Her research interests include media literacy education, new media, visual and information literacy, global perspectives, critical thinking, young adults, and teacher training. Dr. De Abreu’s work has been featured in Cable in the Classroom and The Journal of Media Literacy. She is the author of Media Literacy, Social Networking and the Web 2.0 World for the K–12 Educator (Peter Lang Publishers, 2011) and the co-editor and author of Media Literacy in Action: Theoretical and Pedagogical Perspectives (Routledge 2014). She currently serves as the Vice President for the National Telemedia Council.

Paul Mihailidis is an assistant professor in the school of communication at Emerson College in Boston, MA, where he teaches media literacy and interactive media. He is also the Associate Director of the Engagement Lab at Emerson College, and Director of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. His research focuses on the nexus of media, education, and civic voices. His new book, Media Literacy and the Emerging Citizen (2014, Peter Lang), outline effective practices for participatory citizenship and engagement in digital culture. Under his direction, the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, a global media literacy incubator program, annually gathers 70 students and a dozen faculty to build networks for media innovation, civic voices and global change. Mihailidis sits on the board of directors for the National Association of Media Literacy Education. He has authored numerous books and papers exploring media education and citizenship, and traveled to around the world speaking about media literacy and engagement in digital culture. He earned his PhD from the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.