Author Archives: tedfriedman

About tedfriedman

Ted Friedman is the author of Electric Dreams: Computers and American Culture. He is currently writing A Centaur Manifesto: Mythos & Logos on the Commons. He is Associate Professor of Communication at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

My position paper for the Flow conference: Zizek and Media Studies

For this panel I’d like to look at the relevance to media studies of three ideas associated with the work of Slavoj Zizek: cynical reason, apocalypse as utopia, and the theological turn. As I started putting this paper together, I realized that Zizek himself is actually not the originator of any of the three concepts, which were pioneered, respectively, by Peter Slotterdjick, Fredric Jameson, and Alain Badiou (among others). But Zizek is a useful figure around which to frame these ideas, for two reasons. First, because Zizek, as a public intellectual, has been particularly effective at elucidating these ideas through films such as A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and its sequel, A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, which drop Zizek right in the middle of the scenes he’s discussing. The second reason is that Zizek is an examplary dialectical thinker, a theoretical omnivore eager to assimilate a range of ideas into an always-expanding worldview.

At a time when Web 2.0 technologies seem to be democratizing culture more than ever before, Zizek’s ideas are valuable exactly because of his bracing skepticism over the limits of democracy. His having lived through one alternative, growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Communist Slovenia, makes this skepticism particularly credible.

Zizek is the great philosopher of complicity and disavowal, making his work an invaluable counterpoint to media studies’ tendency, still, to fetishize moments of resistance. The hugely influential model of Cultural Studies developed by Stuart Hall and John Fiske, among others, proposed a dialectic between hegemonic media producers and resistant media audiences. But the 21st Century empowerment of what Jay Rosen has called “the people formerly known as the audience” has failed to transform, or even much challenge, neoliberal ideology and capitalist relations of power. What Zizek helps us understand is that ideology isn’t just out there – it’s in us – shaping all of our sense of the possible.

In his first English-language book, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek distinguished two models of ideology: the classic model of false consciousness – “the know not what they do” – and Slotterdjick’s alternative of “cynical reason” – “the know what they do, but they do it anyway.” Cynical reason captures how we all navigate an exploitative capitalist system. We all know how our iPhones are made – but we buy them anyway, because we see no practical alternative. Cynical reason also helps explain so-called “slacktivism” – we know clickng Like on a friend’s activist message doesn’t accomplish much, but we do it anyway.

Cynical reason is the result of our stunted political imaginations. Visiting Occupy Wall Street in 2011, Zizek borrowed (without attribution) an observation of Fredric Jameson’s: that these days, it seems easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This insight helps explain the boom in zombie culture in the last few years: only by envisioning the slate wiped clean through apocalypse can we free our imaginations to consider a world fundamentally structured differently from ours.

This interest in envisioning utopia has led Zizek in recent years to participate in a third theoretical development: the so-called “theological turn.” Žižek, while remaining an atheist, has argued that theology is one of the few systems of thought available as an alternative to the totalizing power of capitalism’s drive for ever-increasing profit. Again, Zizek’s insight helps explain contemporary popular culture – not just the few explicitly religious hits like Heaven Is Real, but the fantasy boom represented by Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and now Game of Thrones. As I have argued elsewhere, the trope of magic in these texts rejects science fiction’s rigid materialism, instead envisioning a world that is ensouled. The shamans in these texts – Dumbledore, Gandalf, Bran Stark – gain their power by tapping into the spirit of nature, transcending the conventional limits of human perception.

It is here, in understanding the power of this pop mysticism, that I find the limits of Zizek’s postmodern Marxism. In the documentary Examined Lives, Zizek, filmed in a garbage dump, argues that crises of capitalism such as global warming force us to acknowledge that nature is a human invention, and that we should embrace that constructedness rather than fetishize a pristine fantasy of uncontaminated nature. But I would suggest that pop mysticism instead demands of us modesty in the face of a natural world far more powerful and complex than our conventional models can comprehend.

American Film History II, Summer 2014

Film 4960/Comm 6960, Summer 2014

Mondays & Wednesdays 1:50-4:20, Aderhold 324

Office: 25 Park Place South #1017





Course Description

How do movies reflect and influence American life? How has Hollywood shaped Americans’ image of the world, and the world’s view of Americans? What are the alternatives to Hollywood’s stories? What is the future of film in a digital age?

In attempting to answer these questions, this class will trace the history of American movies from the 1960s to the present. Along the way, we’ll look at the semiotics, aesthetics, economics, and politics of Hollywood movies and their independent alternatives.

Readings & Films

The assigned readings include a coursepack and online articles. The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South). The assigned films are all widely available to rent or stream.

Class Schedule



In-class screening: opening of Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998).


6/11Hollywood Today & Warm Bodies (Levine, 2013)

Rachel Dodes, “Why It Took Seven Years to See Mandy Lane,” Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2013:

David Bordwell, “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary 

American Film,” Film Quarterly 55.3 (Spring 2002): 16-28.

Ashley Lutz, “These 6 Corporations Control 90% of the Media in America,” Business 

Insider, June 14, 2012 [infographic by Jason of]: 

Christopher Anderson, “The Long Tail,” Wired, December 2010:

Peter Suderman, “Save the Movie!”, Slate, July 19, 2013: 

Peter Suderman, “The Save the Cat Beat Sheet,” Slate, July 19, 2013: 

Scott Brown, “Nuke the Cat!”, New York, August 4, 2013:


6/16Body Genres & Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)

Robin Wood, “George Romero: Apocalypse Now,” Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan 

and Beyond (Columbia UP, 2003), 101-119.

Thomas Schatz, “Film Genres and the Genre Film,” Hollywood Genres (McGraw-Hill, 

1981), 14-41.

Carol J. Clover, “Her Body, Himself,” Men, Women and Chainsaws (Princeton UP, 1992), 21-64.

Linda Williams, “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess,” Film Quarterly 44.4 (Summer 1991), 2-13.

In-class screening: The American Nightmare (Simon, 2000).


6/18The Hollywood Renaissance & McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Altman, 1971)

Richard Slotkin, “Introduction: The Significance of the Frontier Myth in American History,” 

Gunfighter Nation (Oklahoma UP, 1998), 1-26.

Pauline Kael, “McCabe & Mrs. Miller: Pipe Dream,” New Yorker, July 3, 1971.

Yannis Tzioumakis, “The New Hollywood and the Independent Hollywood,” American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (Rutgers UP, 2006), 169-191.

In-class screening: American Cinema: The Film School Generation (Klarer, 2000).


6/23Crime Movies & The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)

Robert Ray, “Introduction,” “Left and Right Cycles,” and “The Godfather and Taxi Driver,” A Certain Tendency in the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 (Princeton UP, 1985), 3-21, 296-360.

Ed Guerrero, “The Rise and Fall of Blaxploitation,” from Framing Blackness: The African-American Image in Film, excerpted in Movies and American Society, ed. Steven J. Ross (Blackwell, 2002), 250-273.

In-class screening: Baadasssss Cinema (Julien, 2002).


6/25The New Hollywood & Jaws (Spielberg, 1975)

Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz, “Introduction,” “The Hunter Myth” and “Jaws: Faces of the Shadow,” Projecting the Shadow: The Cyborg Hero in American Film (University of Chicago Press, 1995), 1-8, 52-99.

Thomas Schatz, “The New Hollywood,” in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner, and Ava Preacher Collins, eds., Film Theory Goes to the Movies (Routledge, 1993), 8-36.


6/30Teen Films & Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Heckerling, 1982)

Robin Wood, “Teens, Parties and Rollercoasters: A Genre of the 1990s,” Hollywood: From Vietnam to Reagan…and Beyond (Columbia, 2003), 144-167, 309-332.

Susan Faludi, “Fatal and Fetal Visions: The Backlash in the Movies,” Backlash (Broadway Books, 1991), 112-139.


7/2Action Heroes & Top Gun (Scott, 1986)

Susan Jeffords, “Hard Bodies: The Reagan Heroes” and “The Movies are Looking for a Few Good White Men,” Hard Bodies (Rutgers UP, 1994): 24-63, 104-139.


7/7Black Cinema & Do the Right Thing (Lee, 1989)

Nelson George, excerpts from Blackface: Reflections on African-Americans and the 

Movies (Perennial, 1995).

In-class screening: Classified X

Take-home Midterm due


7/9The Sundance Generation & Slacker (Linklater, 1991)

Michael Z. Newman, “Indie Cinema Viewing Strategies,” Indie: An American Film Culture   

(Columbia UP, 2011), 21-47.

Yannis Tzioumakis, “The Institutionalization of American Independent Cinema,” American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (Rutgers UP, 2006), 246-280.


7/14Narrative Play & Mulholland Drive (Lynch, 2001)

David Foster Wallace, “David Lynch Keeps His Head,” A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll 

Never Do Again (Back Bay, 1998), 146-212.

Michael Z. Newman, “Games of Narrative Form,” Indie: An American Film Culture   

(Columbia, 2011), 182-220. 

Bill Wyman, Max Garrone and Andy Klein, “Everything You Were Afraid to Ask About Mulholland Drive,” Salon, October 24, 2001: 


7/16Hollywood Sexuality & Brokeback Mountain (Lee, 2005)

Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, “Sexuality and American Film,” America on Film 

(Wiley-Blackwell, 2009): 303-355.

Alexander Doty, “There’s Something Queer Here,” Making Things Perfectly Queer 

(Minnesota UP, 1993), 1-16.

In-class screening: The Celluloid Closet


7/21War Films & Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, 2013)

Peter Bergen, “Zero Dark Thirty: Did Torture Really Net Bin Laden?”

December 11, 2012:

Jane Meyer, “Zero Conscience in Zero Dark Thirty,” New Yorker, December 14, 2012: 

Steve Coll, “‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading,’” New York Review of Books, February 7, 2013: 

Spencer Ackerman, “Two Cheers for Zero Dark Thirty,”, December 12, 2012: 



7/23Superheroes & Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013)

Readings TBA


Take-home Final due Jul 30




The class assignments add up to total of 100 possible points. Your final grade for the class is determined by adding up your grades for each assignment, adjusting for attendance, then applying the final number to the following scale: 



A 97-93B87-83C77-70F64-0



Director Presentation – 4960: 10 points; 6960: 5 points


You will research and present a 15-20 minute discussion of a contemporary American filmmaker. A list of potential directors is attached. The presentation should include the following parts:


1. Begin by presenting a brief overview of the director’s work, with an emphasis on key films which demonstrate what makes the director’s work distinctive and innovative. Focus on bringing to class up to speed on what they should know about the director in order to have an informed discussion of the clip. If at all possible, include a short clip (under 5 minutes) of the director discussing his or her own work, from a DVD Special Feature, YouTube clip, documentary, or other source.


2. Screen a short film clip (under 5 minutes) to exemplify the director’s style. Unless you choose the alternate presentation (discussed below), use one continuous clip.


3. Present a short analysis of the clip. Choose 1-3 film elements, and discuss in detail how each element functions in the clip. Rewind and replay selections from the clip, or pause on still images, to highlight key moments. (Be sure to prepare by noting in advance the time marks for moments you want to highlight.) 


4. Class discussion.


5. At the end of class, hand in a list of your group’s sources. At least five distinct sources are required. (You don’t need to specifically discuss all sources during your presentation – the goal is that you dig around enough to find the most useful material.) Possible sources include books, journal articles, interviews, documentaries, DVD commentary tracks, and YouTube videos. Wikipedia can be a useful launching pad for your research but does not in itself count towards your six sources. Other recommended resources:


Film & Television Literature Index:

“Gateways to Geekery,” The A.V. Club 

“The New Cult Canon,” The A.V. Club: 

Box Office Mojo: 

Internet Movie Database:

 Film Studies for Free:


Alternate presentation: if you choose, you may produce a video presentation on your director in place of the spoken presentation. Possible video projects include an edited selection of clips with commentary, interviews with viewers, a fan film, or a trailer mashup. Video equipment and training are available at GSU’s Digital Aquarium in the Student Center.


Book Presentation – 6960 only: 5 points

Graduate students will give an additional 15-20 minute presentation to the class on a scholarly book on American film.


Take-Home Midterm – 45 points

The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the films screened in the first half of the semester. Due in class July 7.


Take-Home Final – 45 points

The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering the second half of the semester. Due July 30.


Attendance Adjustment

As Woody Allen put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.” It’s less than that in this formula, but the bottom line is that you can’t contribute to the class if you’re not there. You’re allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. After that, each unexcused absence subtracts one point from your grade total. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies. You will be expected to schedule any employment responsibilities around this class, or accept the consequences of missed classes for your grade. If you do need to miss a class, please contact me ahead of time, and make arrangements to catch up on missed material.





Re-Writes and Makeup Tests

Opportunities for revision and improvement will be available for the midterm and the presentation. In addition, I will look at optional drafts of the final submitted on or before the last class. 


Late and Unsubmitted Papers

Late papers will be marked off by ½ point for every day overdue unless an extension is agreed upon before the due date. Any unsubmitted papers will receive a 0. Likewise, any unanswered exam questions will receive a 0. So, if you answer only 2 out of 3 required exam questions, you will get a 0 on the third question.


Academic Honesty

The university’s policy on academic honesty is attached. The policy prohibits plagiarism, cheating on examinations, unauthorized collaboration, falsification, and multiple submissions. Violation of the policy will result in failing the class, in addition to disciplinary sanctions. 


The Internet makes it easy to plagiarize, but also easy to track down plagiarism. Bottom line: Don’t plagiarize. It’s wrong, and it’s not worth it. There’s always a better way. Cite all your sources, put all direct quotations in quotation marks, and clearly note when you are paraphrasing other authors’ work. 



Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.


Changes to the Syllabus

This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary. 


Course Evaluation

Your constructive assessment of this course plays an indispensable role in shaping education at Georgia State University.  Upon completing the course, please take the time to fill out the online course evaluation

pastedGraphic.pngDirector List


Note: This is only a partial list. Feel free to choose any other director who’s made English-language films since World War II, with one exception: directors of films screened for class are off limits, since they’re already covered. 



Woody Allen

Paul Thomas Anderson

Allison Anders

Kenneth Anger

Judd Apatow

Greg Araki

Darren Aronofsky

Hal Ashby

Ralph Bakshi

Paul Bartel

Noah Baumbach

Michael Bay

Luc Besson

Brad Bird

Lizzie Borden

Danny Boyle

Stan Brakhage

Albert Brooks

Mel Brooks

Charles Burnett

Tim Burton

James Cameron

Jane Campion

Shane Carruth

John Cassavetes

Joel & Ethan Coen

Martha Coolidge

Sofia Coppola

Roger Corman

Alex Cox

Wes Craven

David Cronenberg

Cameron Crowe

Julie Dash

Ossie Davis

Tamra Davis

Guillermo del Toro

Jonathan Demme

Brian DePalma

Tom DiCillo

Ernest Dickerson

Atom Egoyan

Bobby and Peter Farrelly

Jon Favreau

Abel Ferrara

David Fincher

Stephen Frears

William Friedkin

Sam Fuller

Terry Gilliam

Michael Gondry

F. Gary Gray

David Gordon Green

Paul Greengrass

Christopher Guest

James Gunn

Mary Harron

Hal Hartley

Amy Heckerling

Albert and Allen Hughes

Peter Jackson

Henry Jaglom

Rian Johnson

Spike Jonze

Neil Jordan

Jon Jost

Lloyd Kaufman

Harmony Korine

Stanley Kubrick

Neil LaBute

John Lassiter

David Lean

Barry Levinson

Doug Liman

Ken Loach

Sidney Lumet

Terrence Malick

Michael Mann

Elaine May

George Miller

Michael Moore

Errol Morris

Greg Mottola

Mira Nair

Gregory Nava

Mike Nichols

Victor Nunez

Alexander Payne

Sam Peckinpah

Arthur Penn

Sidney Poitier

Roman Polanski

Alex Proyas

Sam Raimi

Rob Reiner

Tim Robbins

Robert Rodriguez

Eli Roth

Alan Rudolph

David O. Russell

Nancy Savoca

John Sayles

Michael Schultz

Martin Scorcese

Susan Seidelman

M. Night Shyamalan

Bryan Singer

John Singleton

Jack Smith

Kevin Smith

Zach Snyder

Stephen Sodebergh

Todd Solondz

Penelope Spheeris

Andrew Stanton

Whit Stillman

Quentin Tarantino

Julien Temple

Rose Troche

Melvin Van Peebles

Gus Van Sandt

Lars von Trier

Lana & Andy Wachowski

Wayne Wang

Andy Warhol

John Waters

Forest Whitaker

Fredric Wiseman

John Woo

Edgar Wright

Boaz Yakin

Benh Zeitlin

Robert Zemeckis

Rob Zombie

The Politics of Magic

The website for the journal Scope is currently down, so I’m re-posting my 2009 essay “The Politics of Magic” here.

The Politics of Magic: Fantasy Media, Technology, and Nature in the 21st Century


The 2000’s have seen an unprecedented boom in fantasy media – including hit films, games, comics and novels – and a corresponding decline in the influence of science fiction. This essay argues that this shift can be explained by the value of the trope of magic for representing twenty-first century society’s ambivalent relationship to technology and nature. On the one hand, magic represents the power of computer technologies, in which lines of code function like spells, enacting the operations they describe. On the other hand, magic evokes the ancient worldview of animism, a perspective that sees all of human surroundings – from animals to plants to rocks and the wind – as infused with meaning and consciousness. Drawing on phenomenologist David Abram’s The Spell of  the Sensuous, the essay argues that this animistic perspective has been too readily dismissed by moderns, and offers the possibility of reclaiming a more balanced relationship with nature. Reworking Donna Haraway’s “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” which in the 1980s embraced science fiction as a mode for critical engagement with postmodern technoculture, the essay calls for a new “Manifesto for Centaurs” – a politics which takes inspiration from contemporary fantasy’s recognition of the limits of technology and rediscovery of our animist inheritance. 

Keywords: fantasy, ecocriticism, technology, postmodernism, animism


The 2000’s have been a decade of fantasy media. Two fantasy film series begun in 2001, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, have now combined to produce eight of the twenty highest-grossing films of all time (Box Office Mojo, 2008). Fantasy authors such as Neil Gaiman, Susannah Clarke, and Philip Pullman have crossed over beyond the SF/fantasy niche to produce bestselling, critically acclaimed books. And massively multiplayer role-playing games such as World of Warcraft have hooked millions of subscribers and generated entire virtual societies.

Fantasy has become so ubiquitous, so quickly, that we may forget how unprecedented its prominence is. While the fantasy genre sports a rich literary history – one could argue that it is the modern inheritor of the vast traditions of mythology – it spent the bulk of the twentieth century as a marginalized field, dismissed as escapism for children and arrested adolescents. Even within the genre ghetto, it rarely achieved the crossover success or critical respectability of its doppelganger, science fiction. While SF novelists such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein reached mass audiences, only J.R.R. Tolkien among fantasy writers found similar influence. While classic SF films such as 2001 (1968) and Blade Runner (1982) were acclaimed as prescient masterworks, no parallel canon of fantasy film emerged. The critical literature on fantasy film is dwarfed by the work on science fiction film. (Two rare exceptions are Bellin (2005) and Worley (2005).) And while the most commercially successful film series of the century, Star Wars (begun in 1977), borrowed much from fantasy, it transformed its swords and sorcery into light sabers and spaceships, disavowing the genre trappings of fantasy for the seemingly more relevant world of science fiction. [1]

But in this new millennium, the tables have turned. Why? What could fantasy offer that other genres weren’t providing? And what are the consequences of this shift in the popular imagination?

The key to fantasy’s contemporary resonance, I’d like to suggest, lies in the way the genre negotiates two intertwined preoccupations of our era: technology and nature. Fantasy films and games are astonishing spectacles of state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery, producing reality-defying virtual worlds of stunning verisimilitude. However, those virtual worlds evoke not the future, but the past, conjuring up pastoral visions of an era before industrialization. At a time of both great technological advances and looming ecological catastrophe, the fantasy genre provides writers, directors, game designers, and audiences an opportunity to re-imagine their relationships with both their machines and their environment.

Many of the most influential fantasy films of this decade began as novels many years earlier. Most prominently, The Lord of the Rings was written by J.R.R. Tolkein in the 1930s and 1940s, published in the 1950s, and first won a widespread cult audience in the 1960s. The stories told by contemporary fantasy media, then, are hardly new. But it has only been in our current moment that this subcultural taste for fantasy has become a ubiquitous mass phenomenon. To better understand this shift in the zeitgeist, my focus in this essay will be on recent blockbuster fantasy films and games. My purpose is not to diminish the significance of their antecedents, but to pinpoint what has changed in this era to allow their sensibility to reach such a large audience.

The central trope of the fantasy genre is magic, an imaginary force that can represent both technology and nature. In some ways, a magic spell is a kind of stand-in for the computer program, coding the fantasy world in its digital image. But at the same time, magic is rooted in the ancient traditions of animism, a worldview that insists human consciousness is inextricably interwoven with the natural world. This paper will examine both of these models of magic, and how they intersect in contemporary fantasy media.

Before we do that, though, it will be helpful to better understand the relationship between fantasy and its closest generic relative, science fiction. 


From Science Fiction to Fantasy: A Manifesto for Centaurs

Over twenty years ago, Donna Haraway (1985) published her landmark “Manifesto for Cyborgs” in Socialist Review. Surveying the battered state of progressive politics in the midst of the Reagan Eighties, Haraway diagnosed a failure of countercultural imagination. The left was dispirited, living off past glories. Nostalgia for the radical promise of the 1960s overshadowed any vision of the future. Widespread Luddism (born of understandable suspicion of the military-industrial complex) blinded progressives to the possibilities of new technologies. And rigid notions of identity threatened to fragment the left into warring factions unable to recognize their common ground.

What socialist feminism needed, Haraway argued, was a new kind of “ironic political myth” (65) – a different story to tell itself about the possibilities of the future. This myth would need a new kind of hero. Examining the culture of her era, Haraway found the most inspiring ideas in a surprising place: not high art or avant-garde literature, but the lowbrow genre of science fiction. As Haraway was writing, the cyberpunk movement was revitalizing SF, offering a new set of tools for making sense of the emerging culture of postmodernity. Cyberpunk authors such as William Gibson and Pat Cadigan combined the speculative futurism of science fiction with the gritty urban texture of punk rock. At the center of this sensibility was the image of the human inextricably, messily intertwined with technology: the cyborg. Haraway’s essay found the links between highbrow postmodern theory and this new pop energy, recognizing that both discourses were creative responses to the same cultural shifts, as the acceleration of late capitalism described by contemporaries such as Fredric Jameson (1984) rendered the modernist verities of fixed identities and familiar master narratives insufficient.

Haraway’s choice of protagonist in her new myth was counterintuitive, because the most familiar fictional cyborgs of the era were hardly conventional heroes. Star Wars’ Darth Vader represented a dystopian vision of the human consumed by the machine. The androids of Blade Runner, while more sympathetic, were intimidating, murderous übermenschen. Haraway’s intervention was to claim the cyborg as a figure worth contesting – to recognize the glimmer of utopia in these dystopian worlds.

Haraway’s essay inspired a new generation of “posthumanist” theorists to rethink the relationship between the human and the machine (see, for example, Hayles, 1999) and helped envision a new kind of cyberactivism invested in engaging rather than rejecting new technologies. The internet boom of the 1990s confirmed Haraway’s prescience, while bringing new recognition to the cyberpunk pioneers of the 1980s. And in 1999, the massive box office success of The Matrix completed cyberpunk’s journey from the margins to the mainstream. Today, the ideas that seemed revolutionary two decades ago are practically common sense. In the era of,, and homemade political ads viewed by millions on YouTube, left technophobia is a fading memory.

But a funny thing happened to cyberpunk in the twenty-first century. Its insights absorbed by the culture, it lost its critical edge. As SF editor David Hartwell once put it, discussing the similarly counterintuitive contraction of the genre after the Sputnik launch in 1957, “When it becomes real, it’s merely technology. Real space travel almost killed the science fiction field” (1996: 109). Similarly, as real life became more cyberpunk, fictional cyborgs grew redundant. The Matrix sequels were critical and commercial disappointments, and no new SF blockbusters emerged to take their place. Science fiction television series such as Star Trek and The X-Files ran out of steam.[2] And no new movement of science fiction writers emerged to capture the public’s imagination as cyberpunk once did. 

Instead, the fantasy genre has provided much more fertile soil, both creatively and commercially, in our era. But just as science fiction was viewed with suspicion by many on the left in the 1980s, today fantasy is likewise politically suspect. Fantasy’s preference for metaphors from the past rather than the future can seem inherently conservative. As Haraway famously concluded her manifesto, “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” (1985: 101). Indeed, the success of fantasy in post-9/11 era – the first Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films both debuted over the 2001 Christmas season – has often been linked by critics to audiences’ desire to escape from a frightening and dangerous present into a comfortingly simpler vision of the past (see, for example, Grossman, 2002).

But a turn to the past can be used not just to escape from the present, but to historicize it, demonstrating that we have not always lived as we do today. The past can shine a critical light on the present, suggesting, as Patrick Curry puts it, “that just as there was life before modernity, so there can be life after it” (Curry, 1997: 15). Curry, drawing on the work of Fraser Harrington (1984), describes this defamiliarizing perspective as “radical nostalgia” (Curry, 1997: 16). Fantasy may often be set in the past, but it speaks to the dilemmas of twenty-first century reality.

Every genre possesses distinct tools, ways of reframing everyday experience to generate new insight into present circumstances. The central trope of the science fiction genre is extrapolation: projecting social, political, and technological trends into the future in order to envision, in extremis, the possible implications of present circumstances. Fantasy, while mixed in with SF on the bookstore shelves, is in many ways its mirror image. The central trope of fantasy is magic: a force by definition outside of scientific explanation.

Science fiction represents the world as it could possibly become. Fantasy, on the other hand, embraces the impossible (Nichols, 1993: 408). If what seems to be magic turns out to be explicable through science and reason – like the ghost in a Scooby Doo episode who always turns out to be that creepy amusement park owner – we’re out of the realm of fantasy, and back in the real world. (Except for the talking dog, that is.)

But the fact that magic doesn’t exist in our real world is exactly what makes it so potent as metaphor. Its meanings float, untethered to everyday reality. That very fluidity and indeterminacy makes it a particularly valuable tool for representing what Zymunt Bauman (2005) calls the “liquid life” of the twenty-first century. In an era in which our lives increasingly feel like science fiction, it takes a trope that extends beyond extrapolation to defamiliarize our world and bring new perspective to our everyday experiences.

Haraway herself has turned from cyborgs to other limnal creatures. In Companion Species Manifesto, she writes, “By the end of the millennium, cyborgs could no longer do the work of a proper herding dog to gather up the threads needed for critical inquiry” (Haraway, 2003: 4). Instead, she examines how a serious consideration of the subjectivity of our companion animals likewise challenges our familiar boundaries between “the human and non-human, the organic and the technological, . . . modernity and postmodernity, nature and culture” (Haraway, 2003: 4).

Haraway writes of real-world relationships between dogs and humans, through breeding, sport, and companionship. But if we look for the works of the imagination that most provocatively explore the relationships between humans and other animals, we must turn to fantasy. Just as SF extrapolates through fiction upon the real-life meldings between human and machine, fantasy uses magic to intensify its representation of the connections between humans, technology, and the natural world.

In that spirit, I’d like to suggest a new myth for the twenty-first century: a Manifesto for Centaurs. The centaur is a creature from classical myth with the head and torso of a human and the body and hind quarters of a horse. An ambiguous archetype, the beast has been used to represent the union of human and animal in both a positive and pejorative light. In Greek myth, the centaur Chiron was a great teacher and healer. On the other hand, some medieval sources “state that the Centaurs represented the duplicitous nature of man as both pious and literally beastly in his behavior” (Rose, 2001: 72). The centaur turns up repeatedly in contemporary fantasy media, including the Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia films.

The centaur is a quintessential magical creature: a figure impossible outside the bounds of the imagination. In the Harry Potter movies, the Hogwarts campus stands on the edge of a dark, mysterious forest, home to myriad dangers but also the source of much power. The tribe of centaurs who live in the woods are the limnal figures who can negotiate between the world of the forest and humans outside – wary of human entanglements, but willing to assist if they are properly respected on their own terms.

Like the cyborg, the centaur is a hybrid: half-human, half-horse.

Like the cyborg, the centaur is also a contested figure. Just as the fictional cyborgs of the 1980s were more monsters than heroes, the centaur – and the fantasy genre it represents – remains often complicit in the ideologies it seeks to transcend. As we shall see, the utopian animism in fantasy media often risks collapsing into smug anthropomorphism. But just as the cyborg was worth fighting for twenty-five years ago, so too the centaur today. The dreams that fantasy inspires are too vivid to turn away from.

The following sections will look at three ways magic functions as a metaphor for technology in contemporary fantasy media. We’ll examine magic as technological spectacle, as a reflection of our alienation from technology, and as an allegory for computer programming. Then, we’ll turn to the other side of the story: how magic re-imagines our relationship with nature.


Magic as Spectacle

The most familiar explanation for the success of the blockbuster fantasy film is the development of new computer-generated imaging (CGI) technologies which can make the impossible seem real. Over the past two decades, Hollywood special effects have undergone a revolutionary shift. Advances in computer processing power have made it possible for filmmakers to largely replace traditional special-effects techniques such as model-building and stop-motion animation with CGI. This technology allows directors to create unnatural landscapes, spectacular battles, and inhuman characters, all of which can be blended seamlessly (or close to it) into the footage of real actors shot on physical sets.

Director Peter Jackson (2002), for one, has made the case that only with the development of CGI did it even become possible for him to successfully adapt the Lord of the Rings books into films. By this logic, animator Ralph Bakshi’s attempted adaptation of the series in the 1970s was doomed from the start. Using the technology available to him at the time, Bakshi combined traditional animation with rotoscoping, a technique in which animators trace over live-action images. The result was an artistic and commercial disappointment. Now that Hollywood finally has the tools to do justice to the fantasy classics, it’s making up for lost time, motoring its way as fast as it can through the decades-old works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Fantasy may be the ideal genre for the contemporary blockbuster film. Many critics have labelled the blockbuster a postmodern version of the early “cinema of attractions” described by Tom Gunning (1980), which was concerned less with character or narrative coherence than with pure spectacle (see, for example, Strauven, 2007). The trope of magic allows today’s fantasy blockbuster to abandon any pretense to obeying scientific plausibility in pursuit of the most spectacular sequence.

But as Geoff King (2001) and Warren Buckland (1998) have argued, this critical emphasis on spectacle risks distorting the degree to which old-fashioned virtues such as storytelling and characterization remain necessary for blockbuster films to reach and satisfy large audiences. Likewise, the appeal of the fantasy genre in this decade cannot simply be explained by the rise of CGI. Magic is more than just an excuse for spectacle. It is a way of interpreting the world with its own rules, logic, and economy (see Jones, 1997). Spells must be learned, skills developed, some form of energy acquired and expended. To suspend their disbelief while watching a fantasy film, audiences need more than persuasive images. They must have reasons to want to believe in magic.


Magic as the “Black Box Effect”

Magic serves the role in fantasy that technology does in science fiction – and in fact, the role that technology serves in real life. Magic is the fictional force that makes tools work in fantasy worlds. The funny thing, though, is how little separates technology from magic in our own everyday experience of the world. Think about all the technological devices you own. Now, for how many of them do you actually understand how they work? In an increasingly technologically complex society, we grow more and more alienated from the actual workings of our technology.

Car engines are a good example. A century ago, you had to know your way around a car engine if you wanted to keep it running. Even a generation ago, it was expected that a driver should know what’s under a car hood. And with a little study, you would have been be able to develop a pretty clear understanding of what connects to what, and what the problem might be if something goes wrong. But in the past decade or so, auto repair, like so many aspects of our lives, has grown more and more computerized, and less and less accessible to the common user. Cars today are filled with computer chips whose problems can’t be diagnosed on sight the way you can spot a blown tire. When your engine light goes on, you have to take it into the repair shop, where they plug in an electronic device that diagnoses the problem and spits out a “repair code” telling the mechanic what to do. This device is the intellectual property of the car manufacturer, which will only distribute it to authorized dealers – spurring the decline of the independent repair shop as well as the amateur mechanic (Sheeres, 2004).

A car, then, used to be an open book. Anybody could pop the engine and take a look inside and see how it works. Today, it’s an example of what science studies theorists such as Bruno Latour (1987) and Langdon Winner (1993) call the “black box effect”: the creation of a walled-off machine whose workings are kept opaque and mysterious to users. For all intents and purposes, it might as well run on magic. That makes magic a valuable metaphor for representing our alienated relationship to technology.

The Harry Potter films juxtapose magic and technology to great satirical effect, defamiliarizing our own everyday technologies by placing them in the context of a magical world. Harry, who was raised in our non-magical world, is understandably surprised and delighted by the marvels he encounters when he is introduced to the world of magic. Floo powder, for example, is a magical substance that wizards use to teleport between locations via ordinary fireplaces. But Arthur Weasley, the wizard father of Harry’s friend Ron and expert on non-magical “Muggle affairs” for the Ministry of Magic, is equally enthralled by ordinary objects such as cars, which seem just as exotic to him.

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Clarke, 1973). I’d suggest that similarly, we could say today that “any technology sufficiently alienated from the user is indistinguishable from magic.” I walk up to my 2008 Prius, and the “smart key” in my pocket automatically unlocks the door as I touch the handle. I sit down, push a button, and the car starts, the key still in my pocket. It might as well be magic. 


Magic as Computer Programming

If magic in one sense captures the user’s alienation from modern technology, it can also represent the power of those who master today’s most potent tools: computer programmers. As Friedrich Kittler (1995) points out, computer code, unlike normal language but much like a magic spell, actually does what it says. Programmers have long recognized the parallels between a magician’s spell and a piece of software. Thus the etymology of such terms as programming “wizard” and software “daemon” (see Raymond, 1996). Both spell and program manipulate simple words on a page to bend reality to their will. And just as programmers must master arcane languages such as C++ to gain control of their machines, magicians in works such as Ursula le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind (2007) must learn the “true names” of objects in order to master them. Internet pioneer and SF writer Vernor Vinge plays on this parallel in one of the founding texts of the cyberpunk movement, the novella “True Names” (1981), in which duelling hackers commandeer computer networks to gain wizard-like power. While using pseudonyms online, the characters go to great lengths to keep their real-life identities secret, to avoid being tracked down and arrested. In the novella, and indeed in cyberspace today, to learn a hacker’s true name is to gain great power over her.

One could say that programmers are simply the latest in a long line of creators to recognize the connection between magic and art. Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for example, explores the parallels between the role of the sorcerer Prospero, master of his mysterious island, and the role of Shakespeare himself as creator of The Tempest‘s fictional world. (The current TV series Lost is just the latest reworking of this story.) Today, the computer age has brought unprecedented power to the simple manipulator of symbols.

The realm of computer games shows the full power of the programmer as magician. Just as in fantasy, the spell can bend reality to its will, so too the program, within the confines of the “virtual reality” produced by the machine, can transcend the laws of nature. When designing a computer game, the laws of physics, time, and mortality need not apply. If you want to allow your players to fly, or give them unlimited lives, no problem, as long as the internal rules of gameplay are coherent and satisfying. In this way, programming is very unlike more traditional forms of technological design, such as architecture. If you’re designing a building, you’d better pay attention to the laws of gravity. But in a computer game, why bother? The laws you have to worry about are the internal rules of the programming language, just as the magic user must follow the logic of the spell.

This may help explain why today the most popular online role-playing game, World of Warcraft with over ten million subscribers (Kirkpatrick, 2008), is set not in a science fiction universe, but a fantasy realm. One might think that the techno-savvy users who play these complex, challenging games would gravitate toward science fictional settings that would seem to speak most directly to their own experiences with computers. However, the fantasy genre is hardly an escape from technology, but rather a compelling reworking of the raw materials of our technology-infused lives.


Magic as Animism

One aspect of magic’s appeal, then, is in its representation of the computer’s power to produce virtual realities unbound by any physical laws. But the flip side is its deep roots in a worldview that predates modern technology, offering an ongoing critique of technology’s limitations, and a utopian glimpse of its alternatives.

Fantasy is the inheritor of the premodern philosophy of animism: a perspective that sees all of human surroundings – from animals to plants to rocks and the wind – as infused with meaning and consciousness. The history of Western thought, historian of science Morris Berman (1981) argues, is gradual resituation of consciousness from the world as a whole into the minds of men – what Max Weber famously called “the disenchantment of the world” (Weber, 1946: 155. See also Norberg and Lundblad, 2001; Glynn, 2003).

As inheritors of the Enlightenment, moderns today take for granted the Cartesian distinction between human subjects and nonhuman, inert objects. Any other way of thinking seems absurd on its face – unscientific, irrational, “magical.” We presume that our animist ancestors were simply too “primitive” to understand how the world really works. But philosopher David Abram makes an intriguing counter-argument. Drawing on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Abram argues that human perception is impossible without a continuous process of interchange with the perceived. Perception is always a form of participation. The mind cannot exist in isolation, but is only formed in the context of “our ongoing reciprocity with the world” (Abram, 1996: 56). On the level of the body, we know this, but as we conceptualize, we repress the evidence of the senses.

This denial of our senses, Abram argues, helps explain the ecological devastation we live with today. Only when we repress our awareness of our reciprocal relationship with the natural world can we do the damage we’ve caused. Conversely, a successful environmental movement requires a reawakening of our senses, and a rediscovery of our animist legacy. As Berman writes,

For more than 99 percent of human history, the world was enchanted and man saw himself as an integral part of it. The complete reversal of this perception in a mere four hundred years or so has destroyed the continuity of the human experience and the integrity of the human psyche. It has very nearly wrecked the planet as well. The only hope, or so it seems to me, lies in a reenchantment of the world. . . . Some type of holistic, or participating, consciousness and a corresponding sociopolitical formation have to emerge if we are to survive as a species (1981: 23).

Abram provocatively rethinks our understanding of animism and magic in his pioneering work of ecocriticism, The Spell of the Sensuous. Abram travelled to rural Asia to study the relation between magic and medicine among the traditional sorcerers, or dukun, of Indonesia and shamans, or dzankris, of Nepal. Abram concludes that the conventional Western notion of magic as the realm of the “supernatural” is wrongheaded. In fact, what gives these traditional healers their power, he argues, is their special relationship with the natural world. The healers he met conceive of disease in ecological terms, as a reflection of an imbalance between humans and the surrounding land. To heal the sick, they must redress that imbalance. And to do that, they must be able to see the world through the eyes of their nonhuman neighbors: animals, plants, rocks, the wind – the entire living world. The rituals, chants, and meditative practices of these healers, misunderstood by generations of Western anthropologists as calls to supernatural “spirits,” are rather, according to Abram, what allows them access to these radically different forms of perception. In an introduction titled “The Ecology of Magic,” Abram writes,

[I]n tribal cultures that which we call “magic” takes its meaning from the fact that humans, in an indigenous and oral context, experience their own consciousness as simply one form of awareness among many others. The traditional magician cultivates an ability to shift out of his or her common state of consciousness precisely in order to make contact with the other organic forms of sensitivity and awareness with which human existence is intertwined. Only by temporarily shedding the accepted perceptual logic of his culture can the sorcerer hope to enter into relation with other species on their own terms . . . His magic is precisely this heightened receptivity to the meaningful solicitations – songs, cries, gestures – of the larger, more-than-human field.

Magic, then, in its perhaps most primordial sense, is the experience of existing in a world made up of multiple intelligences, the intuition that every form one perceives – from the swallow swooping overhead to the fly on a blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself – is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations, albeit sensations that are very different from our own (1996: 9-10).

The neo-animism of Abram and Berman shares some similarities with Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory, which deconstructs the modern distinction between nature and culture, human and nonhuman, and instead proposes a “Parliament of Things” (Latour, 1993: 142). But Latour might very well dismiss their vision as sentimental, counterproductive antimodernism. Latour argues instead, in the title of one book, that We Have Never Been Modern in the first place. He asks,

Haven’t we shed enough tears over the disenchantment of the world? Haven’t we frightened ourselves enough with the poor European who is thrust into a cold soulless cosmos, wandering on an inert planet in a world devoid of meaning? . . . [W]e have never abandoned the old anthropological matrix. We have never stopped building our collectives with raw materials made of poor humans and humble nonhumans. How could we be capable of disenchanting the world, when every day our laboratories and our factories populate the world with hundreds of hybrids stranger than those of the day before? (Latour, 1993: 115)

Latour concludes that antimoderns are simply moderns’ “stooges” (Latour, 1993: 135), swallowing the lies modernity tells itself and simply reversing the valences. “In an effort to offer a supplement of soul to the modern world, the one it has is taken away – the one it had, the one it was quite incapable of losing” (Latour, 1993: 124).

Like Haraway’s “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern is a bracing critique of reflexive antimodernity – a fault Abram and Berman (along with Tolkien and his inheritors) are perhaps at times guilty of. But where Haraway rejects Goddess feminism outright in her embrace of the cyborg, Latour leaves room for models which look to the past within his utopian vision of a “nonmodern” future. He concludes, “Let us keep what is best about [the premoderns], above all [their] inability to differentiate durably between the networks and the pure poles of Nature and Society, their obsessive interest in thinking about the production of hybrids of Nature and Society, of things and signs, their certainty that transcendences abound, their capacity for conceiving of past and future in many ways other than progress and decadence, the multiplication of types of nonhumans different from those of the moderns” (Latour, 1993: 133). In this sense, we can find common ground between the neo-animism of Abram and Berman, and Latour’s “nonmodern Constitution.”

Abram and Berman, in any case, are not simple nostalgics. Both acknowledge that the animistic worldview cannot simply be reproduced in the context of postmodern technological society. Both writers look instead to holistic scientific models such as James Lovelock’s (1975) Gaia hypothesis, which proposes that the entire Earth constitutes a single complex organism. Likewise, we can see emerging fields such as ecological psychology (Gibson, 1979) and situated cognition (Robbins and Ayede, 2008; Noë, 2009) as attempts to develop models of consciousness and culture which view “every organism [as] not so much a discrete entity as a node in a field of interrelationships” (Ingold, 2000: 4).

Meanwhile, in our dreams, we have always been unapologetic animists. As we sleep, every object shimmers with meaning, and dualism falls away. Freud recognized this, while nonetheless dismissing the animist worldview as a narcissistic fantasy of human omnipotence. Rather than seeing the “residues of animistic mental activity” (Freud, 2003: 47) as irrational holdovers, we might instead think of them as the mind’s attempts to reclaim a lost sense of wholeness denied us in the modern waking world.

The fantasy genre is one of the few cultural spaces where a version of this animistic perspective still survives – domesticated into the world of make-believe (and often thought of as a genre for children), but still powerful enough to grip our imaginations. Under the cover of fiction, we grant ourselves brief moments to imagine that the world is truly awake, and truly a part of us. In these moments, we see glimpses of what centaur consciousness might look like. In a time when ecological crisis is ever harder to ignore, it is not surprising that this craving for a different relationship with the natural world grows stronger.

Animism pervades contemporary fantasy. Fantasy filmmakers take advantage of CGI technology to fill the screen with talking animals, self-aware plants, and landscapes that breathe with meaning. This animistic vision, however, is often intertwined with its shadow double, anthropomorphism. While animism challenges us to engage the natural world on its own terms and in doing so transform us, anthropomorphism simply remakes the world in our own image and subordinates nature to our desires. As the following examples from recent fantasy films demonstrate, the push and pull between animism and anthropomorphism define the possibilities and limitations of centaur consciousness.


Animism and Anthropomorphism in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Golden Compass

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), the second of the three Lord of the Rings films, features, among many magical creatures, a race of sentient trees known as the Ents. The Ents look more like trees than people, and their sense of time and space is arboreal rather than human. They can take weeks to hold a conversation, and they are reluctant to get involved of the affairs of men, who are often no friends of the trees. When they discover that the corrupt wizard Saruman has deforested his region, however, they finally act, destroying his forces with great fury.

Ent-consciousness is not exactly what Abram might describe as tree-consciousness. True tree-consciousness would mean to learn what it feels like to move at the pace of a branch or root, to communicate through seed and pollen. On the other hand, the Ent is more than simply a tree that acts like a person. We learn that the Ents were once a humanoid race of “treeherds.” Over time, they grew more and more like the trees they cared for. As we can see, their arms have transformed into branches, legs into trunks, hair into moss, facial features into knots in the wood. An Ent, then, is not a tree that acts like a human; rather, it’s a human who’s become treelike. Rather than anthropomorphism, we could describe this transformation as its reverse – perhaps, vegetamorphism.

The Golden Compass (2007) dramatizes the inextricable link between the human and animal worlds through a particularly inventive conceit, the dæmon. In the magical universe where the story begins, every human’s soul is physically incarnated in the form of an animal. A child’s dæmon can shape-shift (represented in the film through the CGI technology of “morphing”), but after puberty, the dæmon settles into a fixed form which reflects dominant aspects of the human’s personality – a kind of totem animal as constant companion. Most human and their dæmons must remain in close proximity or suffer severe physical and emotional pain. If a human is killed, the dæmon disappears, and if the dæmon dies, the human dies as well.

The Golden Compass, like The Two Towers, risks anthropomorphism, as dæmons serve in a sense as simply animal reflections of human subjectivity. But dæmons also function as the reverse: reminders of the animal within the human. As Maude Hines writes, “dæmons are what connect us to animals, reminding us that we too are animals” (Hines, 2005: 45). The villain of The Golden Compass, Mrs. Coulter, conspires with religious authorities to develop a horrifying device to permanently separate children from dæmons, as a way to repress the primal drives of sex and aggression and produce docile citizens. The process is a nightmare version of Weber’s “disenchantment,” as the rejection of the animal within the human leaves the children soulless and ashen.


Becoming-Animal in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter first discovers his magical powers in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), the first film in the series, on a trip to the zoo in nonmagical London. There, he discovers that he can suddenly speak Parseltongue, the language of snakes. Without quite realizing what he is doing, he responds to the caged snakes’ pleas and frees them, causing havoc. Harry learns he is special and powerful by discovering the animal within himself.

By the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), the Potter universe has been populated with a rich network of human-animal relations. A partial list of those in this film includes:

Pets (owned by children studying to be wizards at Hogwarts Academy)

  • Harry Potter’s owl Hedwig.
  • Hermione Granger’s cat Crookshanks.
  • Ron Weasley’s rat Scabbers (later revealed to be the shape-shifted form of the traitorous human Peter Pettigrew).


Animagi (adolescent and adult wizards who have learned how to shape-shift between human and animal form):

  • James Potter, Harry’s now-deceased father, became a stag.
  • Sirius Black, Harry’s uncle, becomes a giant black dog.
  • Peter Pettigrew becomes the rat Scabbers.
  • Remus Lupin becomes a werewolf, although he lacks control over the shift, which overtakes him on the full moon.


Magical creatures:

  • The Whomping Willow, a dangerous tree that attacks anything in reach of its branches.
  • Buckbeak, a hippogriff (a mixture of lion, eagle, and horse) sentenced to execution for attacking an aggressive student, then rescued by Harry, Hermione and Ron.
  • The Monster Book of Monsters, a textbook which is itself a monster.
  • The Boggart, a monster who takes the shape of its victim’s worst fear.
  • Patronuses, animal spirit protectors produced by the Patronus Charm spell. Each wizard produces a different patronus – Harry discovers his to be a stag, the same form as his father’s animagus shape.

The frequent shapeshifting of characters in Prisoner of Azkaban between human and animal forms evokes the process that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1991) call “becoming-animal” – a transformation that challenges the boundaries of human identity and breaks down the Oedipal subject. In a section of A Thousand Plateaus appropriately titled, “Memories of a Sorcerer,” Deleuze and Guattari offer an intriguing hierarchy of animal representations:

We must distinguish three kinds of animals. First, individuated animals, family pets, sentimental, Oedipal animals each with its own petty history, “my” cat, “my” dog. . . . And then there is a second kind: animals with characteristics or attributes: genus, classification, or State animals; animals as they are treated in the great divine myths, in such a way as to extract from them series or structures, archetypes or models . . . . Finally, there are more demonic animals, pack or affect animals that form a multiplicity, a becoming, a population, a tale . . . (Deleuze and Guattari, 1991: 240-241).

As Cary Wolfe writes, “Deleuze and Guattari’s distinctions aim to underscore that the figure of the animal, properly understood, is a privileged figure for the problematic of the subject in the most general sense because here we are forced to confront the reality that the subject is always already multiple” (Wolfe, 2003: 170).

We could roughly match the three groups of animals in Prisoner of Azkaban to Deleuze and Guattari’s three categories, although with Donna Haraway (2003), I bristle at their tidy hierarchy. The pets are certainly subordinated to their human “masters,” but they also retain autonomy. Crookshanks the cat continually chases after Scabbers the rat, ignoring their owners’ attempts at discipline. 

The animagi are very much archetypal figures, each animal reflecting the character of its wizard. Sirius is dangerous but loyal, James is noble, Remus lives in fear of aggression he can’t always control, and Peter is a rat. In the stability of these archetypes (really closer to a stereotype, in the case of the rat) we see perhaps the limits of the film’s animism. The animagi remind us of the animal within the human, but each animal remains singular, unitary – unlike the continuously shapeshifting dæmons of children in The Golden Compass, which are always in the process of becoming.

The magical creatures in Prisoner of Azkaban are the certainly the most disruptive, although in some cases coded negatively as monsters. The hippogriff, whose impending execution motivates the film’s climax, is not simply a hybrid, but a hybrid of a hybrid: it’s the offspring of a mare and a griffin, which itself is a magical creature with body of a lion and the wings of an eagle. On the other hand, the Boggart, which shape-shifts into the worst fear of whoever it confronts, is a nightmare vision of the instability celebrated in The Golden Compass. The Monster Book of Monsters is a particularly inspired animistic creation – a book that embodies its own subject. It’s presented not as threat but comic relief, attacking its owners like an aggrieved poodle until they learn to soothe it by rubbing its binding.

But perhaps to rank the various forms of animals in Prisoner of Azkaban along a scale is to miss what’s most distinctive about the film: the way it presents humans and animals living interdependently in a dense network of affiliations. Almost every frame of the film flickers with plant and animal life. Some of the most vivid scenes, in fact, don’t involve humans at all, as the camera of director Alfonso Cuarón periodically cuts from the narrative to follow the paths of birds and butterflies as they fly through the campus grounds, tour the countryside – and get smacked by the Whomping Willow.


Magic between Technology and Nature

What are the possible consequences, then, of the emerging centaur consciousness produced by twenty-first century fantasy media? We could certainly see the strange mixture of technology and nature in these stories and games as simply a compensatory fantasy: as the globe melts, we retreat to our movie, TV, and computer screens to recreate an imaginary version of the world we’ve lost. But if we are to have any hope for the future, it must involve just the kind of marriage of science and spirit that these fantasies are groping towards.

In calling for a “reenchantment of the world,” Morris Berman points out that the posthuman science of cybernetics actually has much in common with the archaic tradition. Cybernetics, like animism, recognizes “the relational nature of reality” (Berman, 1981: 273): the fact that we are all us – human, animal, machine, plant, stone, wind – part of the same integrated circuit, inextricably enmeshed in multiple feedback loops. To be a centaur is already to be a cyborg, and vice versa. Learning the lessons of fantasy, then, does not need to mean clinging to a lost, mythical past. But it will require us to re-imagine the future.




[1] One could certainly argue that Star Wars owes as much to fantasy as science fiction. But the way the film series reframes fantasy elements through the rhetoric of science fiction demonstrates its era’s reluctance to nakedly embrace the fantastic without a veneer of pseudo-scientific rationalization. In the original Star Wars (1977), Obi-Wan Kenobi defines the Force as “an energy field created by all living things.” The terms – “force,” “energy,” “field” – deploy the language of physics to describe what more traditionally might be called  “spirit,” “karma,” or “God.”  Most notoriously, in The Phantom Menace (1999), we learn that all living things are filled with microorganisms known as “midicholrians,” which communicate with the Force. A blood test determines that Anakin Skywalker has “a high concentration of midichlorians,” proving that the Force is strong with him. The dissonance of this genetic explanation for a mystical metaphor provoked a fan backlash, perhaps reflecting an emerging popular willingness at the turn of the millennium to accept magic on its own terms.


[2] An exception to the demise of science fiction in this decade is the the revived Battlestar Galactica franchise. But the limits of Battlestar’s commercial success suggests the changed playing field for science fiction today. While Star Trek spawned multiple series and feature films, Galactica remained a cult phenomenon on the low-rated SciFi network. Following Thomas Schatz’s (1981) model of generic evolution as “patterns of increasing self-consciousness,” we could compare the Star Trek (and original Galactica) series’ “classicism” to the new Galactica’s “self-reflexivity.” Schatz points out that as audiences become more familiar with a genre’s formal and thematic structures, they demand more self-aware storytelling. Galactica, produced by Star Trek veteran Ronald D. Moore, was widely celebrated for its deconstruction of science fiction cliches, presenting fallible heroes, sympathetic villains, and an ambivalent perspective towards technology – including cyborgs. This approach won the show critical praise, but perhaps limited its audience. As Schatz writes, “we tend to regard early genre filmmakers as storytellers or craftsmen and later ones as artists” (1981: 41). Compared to the science fiction genre, the fantasy genre on film and television is still largely in its “classic” stage (save for rare auterist exceptions such as Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labrynth).






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Jackson, Peter (2002) Director’s Commentary, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Special Extended DVD Edition. New Line Cinema.


Jameson, Fredric (1984) Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, New Left Review I/146, (July-August).


Jones, Diana Wynne (1997) Magic, in John Clute and John Grant (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, pp. 615-616.


King, Geoff (2001) Spectacular Narratives: Hollywood in the Age of the Blockbuster. New York: I.B. Tauris.


Latour, Bruno (1987) Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Latour, Bruno (1993) We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


le Guin, Ursula (1968) A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam.


Lovelock, James (1975) Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Nichols, Peter (1993) Fantasy, in John Clute and Peter Nichols (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, pp. 407-411.


Noë, Alvo (2009). Out of Our Heads. New York: Hill and Wang.


Norberg, Peter and Nicklas Lundblad (2001) E-nchantment – Wiederverzauberung in Contemporary Computer Games. e-Everything: e-Commerce, e-Government, e-Household, e-Democracy. 14th Bled Electronic Commerce Conference, Bled, Slovenia, June 25-26, 2001.


Raymond, Eric S. (1996) The New Hacker’s Dictionary – 3rd Edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Rose, Carol (2001) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend and Myth. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.


Robbins, Philip and Murat Ayede (2008) The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Rothfuss, Patrick (2007) The Name of the Wind. New York: DAW Books.


Schatz, Thomas (1981) Hollywood Genres. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Strauven, Wanda, ed. (2007) The Cinema of Atrractions Reloaded. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.


Vernor Vinge (1981) Nightflyers/True Names. New York: Dell Publishing.


Weber, Max (1946). From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Trans. and ed. by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Winner, Langdon (1993) Upon Opening the Black Box and Finding It Empty: Social Construction and the Philosophy of Technology, Science, Technology and Human Values 18 (3), pp. 362-378.


Wolfe, Cary (2003) Animal Rites. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.


Worley, Alec (2005) Empires of the Imagination. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.






Box Office Mojo (2008) All Time Box Office Worldwide Grosses. Accessible at: Accessed June 1, 2008.


Kirkpatrick, Marshall (2008) World of Warcraft Hits 10 Million Subscribers.  ReadWriteWeb, January 22. Accessible at: Accessed June 1, 2008.


Kittler, Fredrich (1995) There Is No Software, CTheory, October 18. Accessible at: Accessed July 5, 2008.


Sheeres, Julia (2004) Drivers Want to Code Their Cars,, May 31. Accessible at: Accessed June 1, 2008.






2001: A Space Odyessey. 1968. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. MGM.


Blade Runner. 1982. Dir. Ridley Scott. Blade Runner Partnership.


The Golden Compass. 2007. Dir. Chris Weitz. New Line Cinema.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. 2004. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón. Warner Bros.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. 2001. Dir. Chris Columbus. 1492 Pictures.


The Lord of the Rings. 1978. Dir. Ralph Bakshi. United Artists.


The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 2001. Dir. Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema.


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 2002. Dir. Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema.


The Matrix. 1999. Dir. Andy Wachoowski. Groucho II Film Partnership


Fantasy & Science Fiction Media, Spring 2014

FILM 4280/6280, Spring 2014

Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:00-2:15 PM, 401 Langdale

Screenings Tuesdays, 11:00 AM-12:50 PM, 406 Arts & Humanities


Ted Friedman

25 Park Place #1017



Course Description

How do we dream our visions of the future? How do we explore our fantasies of the past?


Science fiction extrapolates the trends of the present to imagine possible future worlds, both utopian and (more often) dystopian. Fantasy looks back to imagine past worlds in which technology has not yet usurped nature. Both genres are rooted in mythic traditions that push beyond the boundaries of realism to reach for deeper truths.


This class will examine the genres of fantasy and science fiction across multiple media, including film, television, literature, comics and gaming. We’ll survey their history, while at the same time tracing the impact of each text forward into the present. We’ll look at how these works have reflected and influenced American society, as each new generation of creators has responded to changing social conditions by re-imagining the key tropes and themes of the genres. And we’ll try to understand why these visions continue to capture the world’s imagination.



Class readings will include books and a coursepack of articles. Here are the books you’ll need:


Maggie Hyde and Michael McGuinness, Introducing Jung

Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz

Neal Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles


The course books can be ordered through online retailers such as,, and The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South).


Students in Film 6280 will read two additional books of their choice, one scholarly book and one work of fiction, and will present them in two separately scheduled meetings with the other graduate students.


Twitter Feed 

Relevant news and commentary will be shared with the class via the Twitter hashtag #fsfmedia. Feel free to respond to tweets or post your own.  Class Schedule


Unit I: Modern Myths


T 1/14 Understanding Fantasy and Science Fiction


Th 1/16 The Power of Myth

Ted Friedman, “Myth, the Numinous, and Cultural Studies”:

Ted Friedman, “The Politics of Magic,”


T 1/21 Star Wars

Joseph Campbell, excerpt from The Hero With a Thousand Faces (CP)

Christopher Vogler and Stuart Voytilla, excerpt from Myth and the Movies (CP)


Th 1/23 Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Hyde and McGuinness, Introducing Jung

Ted Friedman, “Jung and Lost”:

Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Child and the Shadow” (CP)


T 1/28 The Lord of the Rings 

J.R.R. Tolkien, “Introduction to The Fellowship of the Ring” (CP)

J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”:


Th 1/30 Game of Thrones



Unit II: Folklore and Fantasy


T 2/4 The Wizard of Oz

Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz


Th 2/6 Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, “Why Vampires Never Die”:

Laura Miller, “Real Men Have Fangs”:


T 2/11 The Company of Wolves

Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves” (CP)

Selections from Marjorie Tatar, ed., The Classic Fairy Tales (CP)


Th 2/13 Firefly


T 2/18 Where the Wild Things Are

Alison Lurie, “Something Wonderful Out of Almost Nothing”:


Th 2/20 Dollhouse


T 2/25 Spirited Away

Margaret Talbot, “The Auteur of Anime” (CP)

James W. Boyd and Tetsuya Nishimura, “Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film Spirited Away,” The Journal of Religion and Film 8.2 (October 2004):

Norkio T. Reider, “Spirited Away: Film of the Fantastic and Evolving Japanese Folk Symbols,” Film Criticism 29.3 (2005): 4-27:

Aaron Sherwood, “Characterization, Narrative Structure and Mythopoeia in the Films of Hayao Miyazaki” (2006):


Th 2/27 Lost

Jason Mittell, “Sites of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of Lostpedia”:


T 3/4 Pan’s Labyrinth and Sandman

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists


Th 3/6 The Walking Dead

Take-home midterm due


Unit III: Science Fiction


T 3/11 Metropolis

J. P. Telotte, “The Seductive Text of Metropolis” (CP)

William Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum” (CP)

Andrew Ross, “Getting Out of the Gernsback Continuum” (CP)

David Hartwell, excerpt from Age of Wonders (CP)


Th 3/13 The Twilight Zone


T 3/18 Spring Break – no class


Th 3/20 Spring Break – no class


T 3/25 Bride of Frankenstein

Gary Morris, “Sexual Subversion: The Bride of Frankenstein”:


Th 3/27 Star Trek

Henry Jenkins, “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” (CP)

Ted Friedman, “Capitalism: The Final Frontier”:


T 4/1 Blade Runner

Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (CP)

Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (CP)


Th 4/3 The X-Files

Carl Jung, “Flying Saucers as Modern Myths” (CP)


T 4/8 Brazil and Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game


Th 4/10 Battlestar Galactica

Spencer Ackerman, “Battlestar: Iraqtica,”


T 4/15 The Matrix

David Weberman, “The Matrix: Simulation and the Postmodern Age” (CP)

Slavoj Zizek, “The Matrix, or the Two Sides of Perversion” (CP)

Aleksandar Hemon, “Beyond the Matrix”:


Th 4/17 World of Warcraft and The Guild

Download and play the free World of Warcraft trial:


T 4/22 Children of Men and The Age of Miracles

Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles


Th 4/24 Futurama



Take-Home Final due via email to on Thursday, May 1 by 5 PM




Screening Schedule


You are responsible for viewing assigned films in time for class discussion. Screenings are held on Tuesdays at 11 AM in 406 Arts & Humanities.


1/14 No screening

1/21 Star Wars

1/28 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

2/4 The Wizard of Oz

2/11 The Company of Wolves

2/18 Where the Wild Things Are

2/25 Spirited Away

3/4 Pan’s Labyrinth

3/11 Metropolis

3/18 Spring Break – no class

3/25 Bride of Frankenstein

4/1 Blade Runner

4/8 Brazil

4/15 The Matrix

4/22 Children of Men






The class assignments add up to total of 100 possible points. Your final grade for the class is determined by adding up your grades for each assignment, adjusting for attendance, then applying the final number to the following scale:


A+ 100-98 B+ 89-88 C+ 79-78 D 69-65

A 97-93 B 87-83 C 77-70 F 64-0

A- 92-90 B- 82-80


TV Presentation – 10 points (Film 4280 only)

As part of a 2-3 person team, you will give a presentation on an influential fantasy or science fiction television show. Your team has two presentation options:


Research Presentation: Each member of the team gives a 5-minute presentation on a different aspect of the show: 1) the creator/creators; 2) the economics of the production, including available budget and ratings information; 3) audience responses. Each member hands in a list of sources. A minimum of five separate sources is required for each member’s presentation. (Wikipedia can be consulted to find sources but does not itself count toward the five sources.) PowerPoint is not necessary, but short video clips (such as creator interviews, news stories, and fan films) should be incorporated into each presentation when available.


Creative Presentation: Alternately, the presentation team can choose to collectively produce a short film about the TV show. Options include an edited selection of clips with voice-over commentary, a series of interviews with viewers, or a fan film.


Book Presentations – 5 points each (Film 6280 only)

Graduate students will read two additional books of their choice, one scholarly book and one work of fiction, and will give short a presentation on each in two separately scheduled meetings with the other graduate students.


Take-Home Midterm – 45 points (Film 4280 and 6280)

The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the assigned films, series, novels and comics. Undergraduate and graduate students will take the same exam, but graduate students will be expected to submit more detailed answers. Due March 7.


Take-Home Final – 45 points (Film 4280 and 6280)

The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering the second half of the semester. Due April 30.


Attendance Adjustment

As Woody Allen put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.” It’s less than that in this formula, but the bottom line is that you can’t contribute to the class if you’re not there. You’re allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. After that, each unexcused absence subtracts one point from your grade total. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies. You will be expected to schedule any employment responsibilities around this class, or accept the consequences of missed classes for your grade. If you do need to miss a class, please contact me ahead of time, and make arrangements to catch up on missed material.






Office Hours

Office hours are by appointment. I’m usually available to meet before and after every class.


Late Papers

Late midterms are penalized at the rate of 1/2 point per day overdue. Late finals cannot be accepted without an extension.



Rewrites of any midterm question are welcome. The final grade on the question will be the average of the original grade and the rewritten version’s grade. Rewrites of the final are unavailable, but rough drafts of the final can be submitted for feedback through April 23.



Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.



Your constructive assessment of this course plays an indispensable role in shaping education at Georgia State. Upon completing the course, please take time to fill out the online course evaluation.



Students who wish to request accommodation for a disability may do so by registering with the Office of Disability Services. Students may only be accommodated upon issuance by the Office of Disability Services of a signed Accommodation Plan and are responsible for providing a copy of that plan to instructors of all classes in which accommodations are sought.


Changes to the Syllabus

This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary.

Senior Seminar: Convergence Culture, Spring 2014

Film 4910, Spring 2014

4910-010: Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:30-3:45, Classroom South 325

4910-015: Tuesdays & Thursdays 5:30-6:45, Classroom South 506


Ted Friedman

Office: 25 Park Place #1017





Course Description

Media today are converging, as the boundaries that divide movies, TV, games, computers and phones blur. Likewise, the familiar categories of producer and consumer intermingle in Web 2.0 practices such as blogging, vidding, modding and tweeting. This senior seminar will examine the shifting roles of creators and audiences across a range of media practices, culminating in a capstone project that represents your own engagement with the changing media landscape.



Two books are required for the class. Both are available for free online:

Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying (Harvard UP, 2010).

Laurence Lessig, Remix  (Bloomsbury Press, 2008)


In Praise of Copying can be downloaded at Spreadable Media can be downloaded at . Other assigned readings are available online at the URLs listed below. Supplementary links to media news and criticism will be distributed via the class Twitter hashtag #sensem.


Capstone Project

This seminar is structured to support the creation of an individual project (research or creative) addressing some aspect of authorship, audiences, and/or convergence.  This project may either be a research paper (10-15 pages), a website (15-20 pages), a fiction/nonfiction video (5-10 minutes), a comic book (24 pages), or a game (a board game with cards and rules, or a computer game), depending on your preference and previous technical experience. (Students will not receive technical training in the details of video production or multimedia development as part of this class. Support is available through the GSU Digital Aquarium,  The final submitted project will be the culmination of a series of assignments, as described below.




Critical Thinking through Writing

This course is a designated Critical Thinking through Writing (CTW) course. In film, “critical thinking” is defined as identifying, analyzing, and evaluating arguments and truth claims; and formulating and presenting convincing reasons in support of conclusions.

“Writing” refers to the skill of writing clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct English prose.





Introducing Convergence Culture


1/14 Introduction

In-class screening: Star Wars fan films


1/16 Read Henry Jenkins, “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars? Digital Cinema,

Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture,” Convergence Culture (NYU Press, 2006):

Read Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail,” Wired, December 2004:

In-class screening: Barbie Nation


The Culture of the Copy


1/21 Read Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying, Introduction, Chapters 1-2

In-class screening: Rip! A Remix Manifesto 


1/23 Read Boon, Chapters 3-5


1/28 Read Boon, Chapters 6-7, Conclusion

In-class screening: Exit through the Gift Shop

Project Proposal due


1/30 Read Ted Friedman, “Ideologies of Information Processing: From Analog to Digital.” From Electric Dreams. New York: NYU Press, 2005. electric-dreams-chapter-two/


Remix Culture


2/4 Read Lessig, Remix, Introduction

In-class screening: Copyright Criminals


2/6 Read L essig, Part 1

In-class screening: Everything Is a Remix


2/11 Read Lessig, Part 2

Project Structure draft due


2/13 Read Lessig, Part 3


Source/Influence Presentations


2/18 Source/Influence Presentations


2/20 Source/Influence Presentations


2/25 Source/Influence Presentations

Project Structure final draft due


2/27 Source/Influence Presentations


3/4 Source/Influence Presentations


3/6 Source/Influence Presentations


Proposal Workshops


3/11 Proposal Workshops


3/13 Proposal Workshops


3/18 Spring Break – no class


3/20 Spring Break – no class


3/25 Proposal Workshops


3/27 Proposal Workshops


4/1 Proposal Workshops


4/3 Proposal Workshops



New Media Today


4/8 Read Sasha Frere-Jones, “Cash on the Pinhead,”, August 12, 2013: musicians-survive-in-the-spotify-era.html?mobify=0

Read Damon Krukowski, “Free Music,” Pitchfork, July 26, 2013:

Read Tim Quirk, “My Hilarious Warner Bros. Royalty Statement,”, December 2009:


4/10 Read Joe Karaganis, “Rethinking Piracy,” Media Piracy in Emerging Economies. New

York: Social Science Research Council, 2011. Rethinking-Piracy.pdf

Read Richard Barbrook, “The High Tech Gift Economy,” First Monday, December 5, 2005.


Final Project Presentations


4/15 Final Project Presentations


4/17 Final Project Presentations


4/22 Final Project Presentations


4/24 Final Project Presentations


Final project due May 1





The class assignments add up to total of 100 possible points. Your final grade for the class is determined by adding up your grades for each assignment, adjusting for attendance, then applying the final number to the following scale:


A 100-93 B+ 89-88 C+ 79-78 D 70-65

A- 92-90 B 87-83 C 77-73 F 64-0

B- 82-80 C- 72-70



Project Proposal – 10 points

Write a 2-3 page proposal.  Students creating research papers, nonfiction videos, or websites will detail the questions to be investigated and the sources they will use (including bibliography).  Those creating fiction videos will present a story synopsis and a statement of their project’s intended meaning/purpose. The proposal is due in class on January 28.


Source/Influence Presentation – 10 points

Pick one or more texts that you expect to engage in your project. These may be sources you plan to write about, clips you plan to sample, or models for your own creative work. Present to the class (10-15 minutes) the background and context for the sources or influences, discussing how you plan to engage them in your own project. Presentations will be scheduled from February 18 to March 6.


Project Structure – 30 points

Write a 6-10 page document including the following segments:


I. Outline or script: 3-5 pages, form depending on project. An essay project should include an expanded outline. A nonfiction video project should include a detailed segmentation breaking down scenes. A fiction video project or comic book should include a full script. A website project should include a site map.


Plan: 3-5 pages. You will answer a series of questions to flesh out your goals and strategies for the project. (More information to follow on a separate handout.)

A rough draft of the Project Structure is due in class on February 11. After meetings to discuss revisions, the final version is due in class February 25.


Proposal Workshop – 10 points

Present your work in progress to the class. Workshops will be scheduled from March 11 to April 3.


Final Project Presentation – 10 points

After incorporating the class’s feedback from the Proposal Workshop, you will present a final version to the class at the end of the semester, April 15-24.


Final Project – 30 points

After incorporating further class feedback and polishing any rough edges, the final version of the capstone project is due on May 1.


Attendance Adjustment

As Woody Allen put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.” It’s less than that in this formula, but the bottom line is that you can’t contribute to the class if you’re not there. You’re allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. After that, each unexcused absence subtracts one point from your grade total. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies. You will be expected to schedule any employment responsibilities around this class, or accept the consequences of missed classes on your grade. If you do need to miss a class, please contact me ahead of time, and make arrangements to catch up on missed material.





Late Assignments

Late assignments will be marked off by ½ point for every day overdue unless an extension is agreed upon before the due date. No work can be accepted after the deadline for the final project. Any unsubmitted work will receive a 0.



Students withdrawing on or before the midsemester point will receive a W provided they are passing the course. Students who withdraw after the midsemester point will not be eligible for a W except in cases of hardship. If you withdraw after the midsemester point, you will be assigned a WF, except in those cases in which (1) hardship status is determined by the Office of the Dean of Students because of emergency, employment, or health reasons, and (2) you are passing the course.



Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.


Changes to the Syllabus

This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary.



Ted’s Movie List for 2013

Since the early 1990s, I’ve been rating every movie I see according to the DTMTBD system: how it compares to Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. DTMTBD  is my movie equivalent of what sports statheads call a “replacement-level player” – what you could expect to pick up off the waiver wire if your starter went down. I’m still catching up on a lot of 2013 releases, but here’s what I’ve got so far.

Best Movies of the Year

  • Gravity
  • Before Midnight

Much Better than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

  • Warm Bodies
  • This Is the End
  • We’re the Millers
  • The Heat
  • Pain and Gain
  • American Hustle
  • Behind the Candelabra
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  • The World’s End
  • Iron Man 3
  • Much Ado About Nothing

Better than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

  • Elysium
  • Trance
  • Admission
  • Clear History
  • The Fast and Furious 6
  • Anchorman 2
  • The Great Gatsby

About as Good as Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

  • Captain Phillips
  • World War Z
  • Thor: The Dark World
  • The Hangover 3
  • Star Trek Into Darkness

Worse than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

  • Identity Thief

Much Worse than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

  • Man of Steel