Category Archives: Ideology

Media and Popular Culture, Spring 2011

Media and Popular Culture
Film 4810, Spring 2011
Mondays & Wednesdays 1:30-2:45, Aderhold 303
Office: 738 One Park Place South
Email: ted3k@me.com    Twitter: http://twitter.com/tedfriedman
Website: https://tedfriedman.com/teaching

Popular culture is often described as “escapist” entertainment. But this dismissal evades some very serious questions. What are we escaping? Where are we escaping to? Does everybody go to the same place? How might the trip affect us, once we get back? This class looks at the social consequences and political implications of mass mediated entertainment. Its goal is to develop the theoretical tools and critical perspective to interrogate the TV shows, commercials, films, books, songs, videos, and web sites that saturate our lives.

Readings
The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South). Some readings are available online through the links provided. Links to additional optional readings will be distributed via the Twitter hashtag #popcult.

Schedule

Unit I: Introducing Cultural Studies

1/19    Introduction: What Is Culture?

1/24    Barbie Nation: Culture as Struggle and Negotiation
Ted Friedman, “Introduction,” Electric Dreams: Computers and American Culture:
https://tedfriedman.com/electric-dreams/electric-dreams-introduction/
Watch The Century of Self online:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6718420906413643126#

1/26    Culture as Sentimental Education
Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight”:
http://webhome.idirect.com/~boweevil/BaliCockGeertz.html
In Media Res theme week, Sports & Media: Football/Futbol:
http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/theme-week/2010/45/sports-media-footballfutbol-november-8-12-2010

1/31    Paris Is Burning: Subcultures and Mass Culture
Dick Hebdige, “The Function of Subculture”: http://www.kirkarts.com/wiki/images/a/af/Hebdige_subculture.pdf
Malcolm Gladwell, “The Coolhunt”: http://gladwell.com/1997/1997_03_17_a_cool.htm
Gladwell, “The Science of Shopping”: http://gladwell.com/1996/1996_11_04_a_shopping.htm

Unit II: The Circuit of Culture

2/2    Regulation and Production
Thomas Schatz, “New Hollywood, New Millennium,” from Film Theory and Contemporary New Media, ed. Warren Buckland (Routledge, 2009). (CP)
Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail”: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

2/7    Representation
Ellen Seiter, “Semiotics, Structuralism and Television,” from Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, ed. Robert Allen (UNC Press, 1992). (CP)
Roland Barthes, “Myth Today”: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~marton/myth.html

2/9    Audience, Identity and Meaning
Barbara Ehrenreich et al, “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” from The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa Lewis (Routledge, 1992). (CP)
Ted Friedman, “Myth, the Numious and Cultural Studies,” Flow 10.05, August 6, 2009:
http://flowtv.org/2009/08/myth-the-numinous-and-cultural-studies-ted-friedman-georgia-state-university-atlanta/
In Media Res theme week, “Science Fiction and Fandom,” September 6-10, 2010:
http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/theme-week/2010/36/science-fiction-and-fandom-september-6-10-2010

Unit III: Culture and Power

2/14    Reading the Romance: Cultural Capital
Janice Radway, excerpts from Reading the Romance (UNC Press, 1984). (CP)
John Fiske, “The Cultural Economy of Fandom,” from The Adoring Audience. (CP)
Go to a bookstore. Browse for, buy, and read a romance novel.

2/16    Ideology, Hegemony and Resistance
James Kavanaugh, “Ideology,” from Critical Terms for Literary Study, ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin (U Chicago Press, 1995).
John Fiske, “British Cultural Studies and Television,” from Channels of Discourse, Reassembled.
Stuart Hall, “Encoding, Decoding,” from CCCS Stencilled Paper 7:

Click to access SH-Coding.pdf

2/21    Ultimate Fighting Champsionship
In Media Res theme week, “Professional Wrestling,” August 16-20, 2010:
http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/theme-week/2010/32/wrestling-august-16-20-2010

2/23    Color Adjustment: Racial Formation
Omi and Winant, excerpt from Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge 1994). (CP)

2/28    Spring Break – No Class

3/2    Spring Break – No Class

3/7    Gender
Ariel Levy, “Raunch Culture” and “The Future that Never Happened,” from Female Chauvinist Pigs (Free Press, 2006). (CP)
Alexander Doty, “There’s Something Queer Here,” from Making Things Perfectly Queer (U Minnesota Press, 1993).

3/9    Mad Men
Midterms due

Unit IV: New Media Futures

3/14    Understanding Comics
Scott McCloud, excerpt from Understanding Comics (Kitchen Sink Press, 1993).
Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, Freakangels: http://www.freakangels.com/?p=23
(read through at least Volume 1)

3/16    Adult Swim

3/21    Game Studies
Ralph Koster, excerpts from A Theory of Fun for Game Design (Paraglyph Press, 2004).
McKenzie Wark, GAM3R 7H3ORY: http://www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory/ (read “Agony: on The Cave,” page cards 1-25)
Ted Friedman, “The Play Paradigm: What Media Studies Can Learn from Game Studies,” Flow 9.03 (December 1, 2008): http://flowtv.org/2008/12/the-play-paradigm-what-media-studies-can-learn-from-game-studies-ted-friedman-georgia-state-university/
Ted Friedman, “Strat-O-Matic and the Baseball Tarot: Sense and Synchronicity in Sports and Games,” Flow 9.07 (February 20, 2009): http://flowtv.org/2009/02/strat-o-matic-and-the-baseball-tarot-sense-and-synchronicity-in-sports-and-games-ted-friedman-georgia-state-university-atlanta/
In Media Res theme week, “Gaming,” December 6-10, 2010: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/theme-week/2010/49/gaming-december-6-10-2010
Play World of Warcraft, Farmville, or any other MMORPG or social game of your choice.
Free 10-day trial for WoW at http://www.worldofwarcraft.com.

3/23    Game Demos

3/28    Social Media
Emily Nussbam, “Say Everything,” New York, January 15, 2009:
http://nymag.com/news/features/27341/
Ted Friedman, “Tweeting the Dialectic of Technological Determinism,” Flow 10.02, June 27, 2009:
http://flowtv.org/2009/06/tweeting-the-dialectic-of-technological-determinism

3/30     New Media Demos

Unit V: The Politics of Culture

4/4    Globalization
Benedict Anderson, from Imagined Communities (CP)
Arjun Appadurai, from Modernity at Large (CP)

4/6    Global Formats

4/11    Activism
Watch Naomi Klein, “Addicted to Risk,” online:

Watch The Story of Stuff online: http://storyofstuff.com/

4/13    Late Night TV

4/18    Posthumanism
Donna Haraway, “Manifesto for Cyborgs” from Simians, Cyborgs and Women (Routledge 1990).CP

4/20    New Media Demos

4/25    Ecocultural Studies
David Abram, “The Ecology of Magic,” from The Spell of the Sensuous (Vintage, 1996):
http://www.primitivism.com/ecology-magic.htm
Scott London, “The Ecology of Magic: An Interview with David Abram”:
http://www.scottlondon.com/interviews/abram.html
Ted Friedman, “The Politics of Magic,” Scope 14 (June 2009):
http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/article.php?issue=14&id=1138
Ted Friedman, “Vertigo,” Flow 10.08 (September 19, 2009):
http://flowtv.org/2009/09/vertigoted-friedman-georgia-state-university/
Take a walk in a park.

Take-Home Final Exam due 5/2

Assignments

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

Take-Home Midterm – 45 points
The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the films screened for the first three class units. Due in class March 17.

Take-Home Final – 45 points
The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering units 4-7. Due May 5.

Presentation – 10 points
You will sign up with two partners to research the creators, economics, and audience contexts of a television program or video game. You will then choose a sample episode or gameplay experience, present your research to the class, screen the episode/game for the class, then participate in the class discussion. More information will follow in a separate handout.

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.

Policies

Re-Writes and Makeup Tests
Opportunities for revision and improvement will be available for the midterm and presentations. In addition, I will look at optional drafts of the final submitted on or before the deadline listed above.

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. No work can be accepted after the deadline for the take-home final. 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.

Withdrawals
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
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 Top 50 TV Shows of the 2000s

Originally posted December 29, 2009

This was the decade in which TV became America’s most exciting creative medium. When the most compelling auteurs were not filmmakers, but showrunners like Joss Wheedon, David Simon, David Chase and Matthew Weiner. When fandom became a matter not just of accepting the limitations of a mass-produced format, but celebrating the novelistic possibilities of serialized storytelling. When hundreds of channels meant, at least some of the time, true diversity. Even as the music industry tanked and the movies got bigger and dumber, TV – at least the best TV – got smarter. How long it’ll last is up for grabs. But this decade has at least demonstrated that there’s an audience out there for great weekly storytelling.

Below is a list of my favorite TV shows of the decade. For shows that started in the 1990s (like Buffy), I only considered the episodes that ran in the 2000s.

1 – The Wire
2 – The Office (US version)
3 – Lost
4 – Chappelle’s Show
5 – Lucky Louie
6 – Breaking Bad
7 – The Colbert Report
8 – Battlestar Galactica
9 – Mad Men
10 – Top Chef
11 – Flight of the Conchords
12 – 30 Rock
13 – Big Love
14 – Deadwood
15 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
16 – The Gilmore Girls
17 – Insomniac
18 – Generation Kill
19 – Project Greenlight
20 – Sex and the City
21 – Futurama
22 – Curb Your Enthusiasm
23 – The Sopranos
24 – The Daily Show
25 – Undeclared
26 – Dollhouse
27 – True Blood
28 – Hey Monie
29 – The Powerpuff Girls
30 – Parks and Recreation
31 – The Amazing Race
32 – The PJs
33 – Project Runway
34 – Pardon the Interruption
35 – Weeds
36 – CMT Crossroads
37 – No Reservations
38 – Best Week Ever
39 – MXC
40 – Cover Wars
41 – Human Giant
42 – Michael and Michael Have Issues
43 – King of the Hill
44 – Celebrity Poker Showdown
45 – Ultimate Film Fanatic
46 – Beat the Geeks
47 – World Poker Tour
48 – South Park
49 – Yo Gabba Gabba
50 – The Guild

Ted’s Top 50 Movies of the 2000s

Originally posted December 29, 2009.

As I argue here, this has been the decade of fantasy film, led by Pan’s Labrynth, Lord of the Rings, and Spirited Away. It’s also marked the return of ribald comedy, led by the auteur of arrested adolescence, Judd Apatow. And it’s seen the emergence of a cohort of Mexican directors who bring a new global vision to Hollywood. Childen of Men is to our moment what Blade Runner and The Matrix were to theirs: an extrapolation that tells the truth about right now. Most remarkably, it has the courage to be an SF film that doesn’t fetishize technology or violence – a temptation to which both the other films succumb. Instead, we have a hero who holds a baby but never a gun, and that beautiful final scene of a boat at sea, bobbing in the water, attached to no country. (Then, when we’re ready for some tech & violence, we can turn to Clive Owen’s other classic, Shoot ‘Em Up, which demystifies the Hollywood hero by turning him into a live-action Bugs Bunny.)

1 – Children of Men
2 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3 – Best in Show
4 – Pan’s Labrynth
5 – Brokeback Mountain
6 – City of God
7 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
– Finding Nemo
9 – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
10 – Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2
11 – Rivers and Tides
12 – Spirited Away
13 – Memento
14 – The Aristocrats
15 – Requiem for a Dream
16 – Mulholland Drive
17 – Grizzly Man
18 – The Bourne Trilogy
19 – Bad Santa
20 – The Girlfriend Experience
21 – The Wrestler
22 – The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
23 – Ratatouille
24 – Knocked Up
25 – Wall-E
26 – Startup.com
27 – About a Boy
28 – Old School
29 – Control Room
30 – Little Miss Sunshine
31 – In the Realms of the Unreal
32 – Down with Love
33 – Bend It Like Beckham
34 – I Heart Huckabee’s
35 – Sideways
36 – Moulin Rouge
37 – Lost in Translation
38 – Shoot ‘Em Up
39 – The 40 Year Old Virgin
40 – Casino Royale
41 – The Barbarian Invasions
42 – Hustle and Flow
43 – Crank
44 – Dodgeball
45 – Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
46 – School of Rock
47 – Sin City
48 – Borat
49 – Zoolander
50 – American Dreamz

Ted’s Top 50 Comics of the 2000s

Originally posted December 30, 2009

This was a mixed decade for comics. On the one hand, superhero comics rebounded from the “grim and gritty” cliches of the 1990s to newfound creative relevance, thanks largely to the savvy of Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, who recruited writers like Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Robert Kirkman and Warren Ellis from the indie world and let them run wild on the Marvel universe. Bendis proved to have the best ear for dialogue in the history of the word balloon, and Quesada oversaw a series of crossover events that actually managed to deepen rather than exploit the mythos.

At the same time, the indie bubble of the 1990s popped, as the entire American comics infrastructure shrank in response to overspeculation, insularity, and new competition from manga and the internet. A new generation of personal artists never emerged to follow pioneers like Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, the Hernandez Brothers, Chester Brown, Seth, and Joe Matt. Or if they did, they never made it to my comics shop – which these days is a website, since the three stores closest to me all closed down by the middle of the decade.

By the end of the decade, it appears the industry is finally responding to these transformations. Several of my favorite comics, including Freakangels, Bayou, and PVP, are available for free online (although I still prefer to read them in ink). The early attempt to turn Watchmen into a “motion comic” in advance of the movie was a disaster, but the adaptation of Spiderwoman is much more promising. And the widespread recognition for works like Fun House, Epileptic, and Persepolis suggests the space for sequential art outside the comics ghetto may be growing.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the margins. As science fiction began to gain critical respectability in the 1960s and 70s, some SF authors railed, “keep science fiction in the gutter where it belongs!” Similarly, there’s a legitimate danger that the recent superhero boom – capped by Disney’s purchase of Marvel – will dull the critical edge that Quesada, Bendis, and their cohort worked so hard to sharpen. But with great responsibility comes great power. Hopefully, the new creative opportunities opening up for comics artists will give them the room to explore even fresher visions. The recent explosion of work by the astonishing Warren Ellis for indie publisher Avatar demonstrates what can happen when a writer bursting with ideas wins full creative freedom, and finds the collaborators who can bring his visions to life.

Here’s my list of the top 50 comics of the decade. I’ve lumped together spinoffs like New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, and Dark Avengers, as long as they’re from the same writer. I’ve listed the primary artsists who worked with each writer, using front cover credits to decide whether to include inkers and colorists, and skipping fill-in artists. Foreign comics were considered if they were translated into English in this decade.

1 – Epileptic, David B.
2 – The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
3 – Y the Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
4 – Planetary, Warren Ellis and John Cassady
5 – Buddha, Osamu Tezuka
6 – Stray Bullets, David Lapham
7 – Alias/The Pulse, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
8 – Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
9 – Box Office Poison, Alex Robinson
10 – Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven
11 – Freakangels, Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield
12 – Black Hole, Charles Burns
13 – Desolation Jones, Warren Ellis and JH Williams
14 – Promethea, Alan Moore and JH Williams
15 – Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
16 – The Book of Genesis Illustrated, R. Crumb
17 – Daredevil, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
18 – Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel
19 – DC: The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke
20 – Breakfast After Noon, Andi Watson
21 – Top 10, Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon
22 – Powers, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming
23 – New/Mighty/Dark Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis and various artists
24 – Fables, Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha
25 – Fell, Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith
26 – Bayou, Jeremy Love and Patrick Morgan
27 – Hate/Hate Annual, Peter Bagge
28 – Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
29 – Kick-Ass, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
30 – 50 Days of Night, Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith
31 – DMZ, Brian Wood and Ricardo Burchielli
32 – Northlanders, Brian Wood and various artists
33 – Parker: The Hunter, Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark
34 – La Perdida, Jessica Abel
35 – Eightball, Daniel Clowes
36 – Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma
37 – Doktor Sleepless, Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez
38 – Reinventing Comics, Scott McCloud
39 – Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Guy Delisle
40 – Conan, Kurt Busiek, Cary Nord and Robert E. Howard
41 – Marvel Zombies, Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips
42 – Astonishing X-Men, Joss Wheedon and John Cassady
43 – PvP, Scott Kurz
44 – Local, Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly
45 – Mouse Guard, David Petersen
46 – Courtney Crumrin, Ted Naifeh
47 – 100 Bullets, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
48 – Bonndocks, Aaron McGruder
49 – Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, Brian Michael Bendis and various artists
50 – Dork Tower, John Kovalic


Ted’s Top 50 Songs of the 2000s

Originally posted December 31, 2009

This has been the hardest of all my lists to put together. With the death of Top 40 radio and of music on MTV, it’s become harder and harder to recapture the rush of discovering a great pop song; what used to happen every couple of weeks now only comes a few times a year. On such a limited supply, it’s hard not to OD on the few knockouts when they do come around. I can still appreciate all the songs on this list, but I can’t pretend I still love them the way I did when I first discovered them.

While this list includes my most ephemeral pleasures, it’s also got more explicit political content than any of my other lists. Notoriously, filmmakers had enormous difficulty crafting their outrage into compelling narrative in this decade. The most successful commentaries were oblique: Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy, Alphonso Cuaron’s and Ron Moore’s science fiction. The one great novel I read about the oil wars, Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan, was, well, absurd, in the tradition of Dr. Strangelove and Slaughterhouse-Five. But the single is all about raw emotion, and as John Lydon taught us, anger is an energy. “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” “Windowsill,” “Let’s Impeach the President,” and “A Punch-Up at a Wedding” moved me in a way few love songs could in this infuriating decade. And bittersweet tracks like “Crazy,” “All My Friends,” “Handshake Drugs,” and even the sneaky-dark “Hey Ya!” took on extra poignancy.

Does that mean we’ll now start hearing more of the music of hope? (Maybe the cast of Glee’s revelatory cover of “Dont Stop Believin‘”?) Or of diminished expections for piecemeal reform and timetables for withdrawal? (Yet more Black Eyed Peas singles?) I dunno – I can’t figure out this pop moment. I approve in theory of Lady Gaga, but can’t say she does much for me in practice. I’m still waiting for the next pop revolultion to match hiphop in the 1980s and grunge in the 1990s, but maybe there just is no more center for the margins to storm; after all, these days indie darlings crack the Billboard charts with regularity, and Li’l Wayne went from mixtapes to platinum faster than I could keep up. I can’t say that’s a bad thing.
1 “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley
2 “Hey Ya!” Outkast
3 “Portions for Foxes,” Rilo Kiley
4 “Crazy in Love,” Beyonce with Jay-Z
5 “Do You Realize?” The Flaming Lips
6 “Maps,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs
7 “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem
8 “Cavity,” Stew
9 “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” Big & Rich
10 “Ignition (Remix),” R. Kelly
11 “Handshake Drugs,” Wilco
12 “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” The Legendary K.O.
13 “A Stroke of Genius,” Freelance Hellraiser
14 “Danger! High Voltage,” Electric Six
15 “The District Sleeps Tonight,” The Postal Service
16 “Hurt,” Johnny Cash
17 “Don’t Stop Believin’,” The Cast of Glee
18 “Paper Planes,” M.I.A.
19 “Over and Over,” Nely with Tim McGraw
20 “Windowsill,” Arcade Fire
21 “A Punch Up at a Wedding,” Radiohead
22 “Let’s Impeach the President,” Neil Young
23 “Sk8ter Boi,” Avril Lavigne
24 “I’m Losing My Edge,” LCD Soundsystem
25 “Stan,” Eminem
26 “B.O.B.,” Outkast
27 “1 Thing,” Amerie
28 “Tom Sawyer,” The Bad Plus
29 “Stupid Boy,” Keith Urban
30 “99 Problems/Helter Skelter,” Danger Mouse with Jay-Z and the Beatles
31 “Time to Pretend,” MGMT
32 “Take Me Out,” Franz Ferdinand
33 “Milkshake,” Kelis
34 “Clocks,” Coldplay
35 “Go,” Common
36 “Dance Till We’re High,” The Fireman
37 “I Need More Love,” Robert Randolph
38 “Get Ur Freak On,” Missy Elliott
39 “Oops (Oh My),” Tweet
40 “Bootylicious,” Destiny’s Child
41 “In My Pocket,” Mandy Moore
42 “Don’t Tell Me,” Madonna
43 “The Thong Song,” Sisquo
44 “La La,” Ashlee Simpson
45 “Southern Point,” Grizzly Bear
46 “Strange Overtones,” David Byrne & Brian Eno
47 “Tex Hooper,” Norm McDonald
48 “Umbrella,” Rihanna
49 “Lovestoned/I Think She Knows,” Justin Timberlake
50 “When I Get You Alone,” Thicke

Ted’s Top 50 Books of the 2000s

Originally posted January 06, 2010

OK, here’s one more end-of-decade list, a few days belated. I wasn’t planning on covering books, because I wasn’t sure how to combine fiction, journalism, memoir, history, biography, sports, gardening, cooking, and everything else into one big category, and I hadn’t read 50 books in any subcategory. Plus, I’d already lumped graphic novels in with the comics list. But I did want a place to lay out the really satisfying reads (and audiobook listens) I had over the decade. I decided to skip the academic works; that stuff already has a home on this website, in my syllabi and footnotes. Everything else, fiction and nonfiction, is on the list below. As with the other lists, series are lumped together, but only the volumes published in this decade; for example, the Harry Potter ranking only covers books 4-7.

All of my lists are inherently scattershot, but this one is probably the most unreliable. I managed to catch up with most of the most buzzed-about American comics, TV shows, records, and movies. But it takes a long time to read a book, and I have finicky tastes. I tried and bailed on lots of critics’ darlings, and ignored many more. And there are probably hundreds of books I would have enjoyed, if I’d ever heard of them.

As you’ll see, I read a lot of fantasy this decade, after reading mostly SF in the 1990s. Many of my favorite “literary” novels engaged fantasy culture as well, including The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I think this has something to do with the zeitgeist, as I argue here, but obviously it has a lot to do with the vagaries of my tastes, as well.

1 – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
2 – The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
3 – Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart
4 – Game of Thrones series, George RR Martin
5 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
6 – The Time Traveller’s Wife, Audrey Niffenberger
7 – 3 Bags Full, Leonie Swann
8 – Love Is a Mix Tape, Rob Sheffield
9 – Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, David Foster Wallace
10 – The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
11 – Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
12 – His Dark Materials series, Philip Pullman
13 – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susannah Clarke
14 – Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins
15 – Born Standing Up, Steve Martin
16 – The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons
17 – The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
18 – Samaritan, Richard Price
19 – The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly
20 – Have a Nice Day, Mick Foley
21 – Foreign Babes in Beijing, Rachel DeWoskin
22 – Harry Potter series, JK Rowling
23 – The Post-Birthday World, Lionel Shriver
24 – Moneyball, Michael Lewis
25 – The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, Neal Pollack
26 – Old Man’s War series, John Scalzi
27 – The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell
28 – The Wife, Meg Wolitzer
29 – Karl Marx: A Life, Francis Wheen
30 – The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, Julian Rubinstein
31 – Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, Michael Pollan
32 – Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
33 – Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir Vinkatesh
34 – Heat, Bill Buford
35 – The Geese of Beaver Bog, Bernd Heinrich
36 – Perdido Street Station, China Mieville
37 – The Magicians, Lev Grossman
38 – How I Became a Famous Novelist, Steve Hely
39 – The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman
40 – Little Children, Tom Perotta
41 – The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
42 – The Columnist, Jeffrey Frank
43 – A&R, Bill Flanagan
44 – The End of Mr. Y, Scarlett Thomas
45 – Bangkok 8, John Burdett
46 – How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, Toby Young
47 – From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden, Amy Stewart
48 – Six Seconds or Less, Jack McCallum
49 – In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
50 – Stardust, Neil Gaiman

Tedcast #3: Interviewed by Erik Davis

The third Tedcast takes a break from my Fantasy & Science Fiction lectures to present an interview with me conducted by Erik Davis. Erik hosts Expanding Minds on the Progressive Radio Network, and is author of numerous books, including a great study of Led Zeppelin IV and the new collection Nomad Codes. Erik and I go back to college, where we worked together on a zine. Here we talk about the Centaur Manifesto, critical theory, and the tensions between being an academic and a public intellectual.

Centaur Manifesto

I’m writing a book about centaurs and cyborgs – about trying to bring together mythos and logos, magic and science, Carl Jung and Karl Marx, Maria Von Franz and Fredric JamesonI’m podcasting the book via my lectures on Tedcast. I’m tweeting the book via the #centaur hashtag. And I’m blogging the book here.

The book expands my work on politics, myth, fantasy, and the ideas of Karl Marx and Carl Jung. Theoretically, it’s a marriage of post-Marxist critical theory with post-Jungian depth psychology. My hope is the combination will prove, if not a dialectical synthesis, perhaps an alchemical reaction – what Jung calls syzygy, the marriage of opposites.

Jung like Marx began as a Hegelian. Alchemy is Jung’s own revision of Hegel’s dialectic, just as deconstruction is for Derrida. The Buddhist version is my personal favorite: the middle way. Which leads to emptiness, no-self, nirvana. And as Jack Kornfield puts it, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

The book began as a series of essays in the media studies journals Flow and Scope in 2009 on Jungian approaches to cultural studies:

My most recent work has been on games as forms of active imagination. Here’s a short slideshow I made about the social game Farmville and active imagination. It accompanied a piece I contributed to the digital humanities journal In Media Res, “Farmville: the Garden in the Machine.”

Here’s an interview I did with David Metcalfe, who runs the wonderfulOpenMythSource.com. He also wrote a very thoughtful follow-up piece about my work, “Digital Gardening,” and republished “Myth, the Numinous & Cultural Studies.”

And here’s a talk I gave a couple of years ago about the politics of fantasy films.

Farmville Mandalas

Tedwood Forest

Tedwood Forest

Ted's Labyrinth

Ted's Labyrinth

MinMax

MinMax

Winter Labyrinth

Winter Labyrinth

Poinsetta Labyrinth

Poinsetta Labyrinth

Carrot Labyrinth

Carrot Labyrinth

Peppermint Labyrinth

Peppermint Labyrinth


Click here for “Farmville: The Garden in the Machine.” In Media Res (December 8, 2010).

Tedcast #2: Magic and Extrapolation

My rebooted podcast, TedCast, is up and running. The first few episodes will come from Fantasy and Science Fiction, a course I teach at GSU. Future episodes will cover cultural studies, new media, film history, and eventually  everything else I talk about in public.

In Episode 2, we discuss the key tropes of fantasy and science fiction: magic and extrapolation.

To subscribe to TedCast in iTunes, click here.

For the TedCast RSS feed, click here.

Episode 2 – Magic & Extrapolation

Tedcast #1: Fantasy and Science Fiction

Here’s  Episode 1 of Tedcast, my rebooted podcast. It’s the first class in Fantasy and Science Fiction Media, a class I taught at GSU in Fall 2010. In this opening lecture, I introduce the concept of genre and discuss what distinguishes fantasy and science fiction, and what they share.

To subscribe to Tedcast on iTunes, click here.

The Politics of Fantasy

Here’s a talk I gave at Berry College on the politics of fantasy films, broken into six parts.

I begin by talking about the fantasy boom in the last decade, in which the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Shrek, Chronicles of Naria, Spiderman and Pirates of the Carribbean franchises became Hollywood’s top worldwide grossers.

I continue by looking at the parallels and differences between fantasy and science fiction. Fantasy and science fiction are both forms of myth, I argue, and thus speak the archetpyal language of the unconscious. SF, however, dresses up this irrationality with the clothes of scientific empiricicm, while fantasy embraces the irrational logic of dreams through the trope of magic.

Here I talk about to magic as a metaphor for our alienated relationship with technology.

I quote and unpack Arthur C. Clarke‘s famous line, “Any technology sufficiently advanced from our own would be indistinguishable from magic.”

I also discuss:

– The parallels between the fantasy trope of manna and the medical/spiritual concepts of chi/prana.

– The parallels between spellmaking and computer programming.

– The fantasy genre as the realm of the unconscious.

– Jung vs. Freud

Here I get to Carl Jung’s influence on America and Hollywood via Joseph Campbell, George Lucas, and screenwriting guru Christopher Vogler.

I also talk about the limits of Jung and the ideas of post-Jungians such as Andrew Samuels and Christopher Hauke.

I end by discussing the psychology and politics of the Lord of the Rings books and films from a post-Jungian perspective.

The talk ends at 8:30, followed by the first 1:30 of the Q&A.

In this portion of the Q&A, we discuss:

– Star Wars as an SF/fantasy genre hybrid.
– The roots of both SF and fantasy in the mythic tradition
– SF as “fantasy in techno-drag”
– Fantasy as the language of the unconscious
– Horror as the return of the repressed
– Jung’s analysis of Nazism as the projection of Germany’s collective shadow onto the Jews
– Critiques of Jung’s essentialism & the value/limits of social constructionism/anti-essentialism
– Feminist critiques and reworkings of Jung
– Archetypes and cognitive psychology
– Critiques of Campbell’s universalism
– Jungian cognitive psychology as an alternative to naive empiricism

In the final minutes of the Q&A, topics include:

– Why fantasy is still underrepresented on TV
– Comic book superhero stories as fantasy/sf hybrids
– George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire
– The politics of the hero’s journey in Star Wars & Lord of the Rings

FarmVille: The Garden in the Machine

I just wrote a short piece, FarmVille: The Garden in the Machine, as a “curator’s note” for the digital humanities website In Media Res. Here’s the slideshow that goes with it:

Radio Interview on the Centaur Manifesto

Here’s a phone interview I did about the Centaur Manifesto with Erik Davis of Expanding Mind, a show on the Progressive Radio Network. More info about Erik and his work is available at techgnosis.com.

Updates on Tedlog, Tedcast, @tedfriedman, tedfriedman.com, syllabi, & books

I’m in the midst of a blogging-software shift from Movable Type to WordPress, which explains the current inconsistencies between this site (tedfriedman.wordpress.com) and my original website, tedfriedman.com. Eventually I’ll port all of tedfriedman.com over to WordPress, then move this blog itself back to tedfriedman.com, although the tedfriedman.wordpress.com URL should always resolve to right place either way.

In the meantime, until I can unveil tedfriedman.com 3.0, here are links to some of my stuff that’s online:

Tedcast, my podcast, where I post class lectures and interviews. Currently I’m halfway through my two fall 2010 courses: Fantasy & Science Fiction and Media & Cultural Studies.

@tedfriedman, my twitter feed.

My current project, A Centaur Manifesto.

My first book, Electric Dreams: Computers and American Culture (NYU Press, 2005).

Syllabi for all the classes I’ve taught at Georgia State and Duke.

Search the archives of tedfriedman.com,, 2005-2011, including blog posts, book chapters, and journal articles.

A Centaur Manifesto (Updated)

I’m writing a book about centaurs and cyborgs, myth and history, magic and science, Maria Von Franz and Fredric Jameson, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. I’m podcasting the book via my lectures on Tedcast. I’m tweeting the book via the #centaur hashtag. And I’m blogging the book at my new website, CentaurManifesto.com. It should be live within the next day or two. You can get a preview at centaurmanifesto.wordpress.com.

The book expands my work on politics, myth, fantasy, and the ideas of Karl Marx and Carl Jung. Theoretically, it’s a marriage of post-Marxist critical theory with post-Jungian depth psychology. My hope is the combination will prove, if not a dialectical synthesis, perhaps an alchemical reaction – what Jung calls syzygy, the marriage of opposites.

Actually, Jung like Marx began as a Hegelian – alchemy is Jung’s own revision of Hegel’s dialectic, just as deconstruction is for Derrida. The Buddhist version is my personal favorite: the middle way. Which leads to emptiness, no-self, nirvana. And as Jack Kornfield puts it, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

The book began as a series of columns in the media studies journal Flow, plus a longer essay in the film studies journal Scope. You can find links to all my recent writing here.

I’ve also been podcasting lectures from my two classes this semester, Fantasy & Science Fiction and Cultural Studies. Click here to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, or here to stream and/or download individual episodes.

You can also follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

And Now a Word from Noisy (Updated)

Hi, I’m Noisy. Won’t you be my neighbor?

I’m the middle of Ted and Kate’s three cats. The newest is Pilot Squeaky, a three month old kitten. Congratulations to Rebecca Jackson, who won the #namethiskitty contest with the suggestion that we name Pilot after the gas station where Rebecca found her. Rebecca will soon be the proud owner of Kiki’s Delivery Service, plus a bonus Miyazaki DVD since she already has the second official prize, Ted’s book Electric Dreams.

I play Farmville and Frontierville every day. I give out lots of Mystery Gifts. Tell your friends about me, too, because I’m trying to build as big a network of neighbors as possible. It’s part of Ted’s research on social games. He’ll be writing about the experience in the upcoming In Media Res theme week on games. In Media Res is the online journal edited by Alisa Perren of the Georgia State University Program in Moving Image Studies. You can find it here.

Ted’s also curating pages for upcoming 2011-12 In Media Res weeks on Jung, Play, Pop Music, Heroes and Shadows. Ted’s looking for contributors to all weeks from inside and outside of academia. Rock critics, public intellectuals, grad students, filmmakers – please all consider joining in. It shouldn’t be too hard. Start by clicking here to find #IMR-hashtagged conversations. Reply to anybody, adding the #IMR hashtag to the end of your tweet so that your tweet can be found by everybody else. Add a second hashtag like #Jung or an address like @katyperry if it might help people find what you have to say.

Ted’s going to curate the feeds on specific topics, then turn them into the Friday roundtable pages for the IMR weeks he edits.

At least, that’s the concept – we’ll see if it works in practice. You can help in the following ways: – Become Facebook Friends with Ted Friedman and two of his cats: Pilot Squeaky and Noisy. The third cat, The Dude, doesn’t yet have a page – Facebook doesn’t approve of Firstname: The, Lastname: Dude. He may sit this out – he’s an introvert anyway.

– Become all of our Neighbors in both Farmville and Frontierville, if you play. If you don’t play, consider trying both.

– Contribute to <In Media Res conversations by going here and adding to the conversation, hashtagging your tweet by including #IMR in your 140 characters.

– Contact Ted Friedman to discuss curating a day or editing a week. You can tweet him @tedfriedman or send an email to ted@tedfriedman.com. The standard format for the weeks Ted edits will be: Mon – Intro by Ted. Tues – 2nd curator. Wed – 3rd curator. Thurs – 4th curator. Fri – 5th curator.

The idea is to hold this discussion in the Commons, in the sense developed by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Commonweath. The Commons isn’t exactly public or private – it’s that Third Space that Jane Jacobs described in The Death and Life of American Cities. At its best, it can be a lot more than a Starbucks or mall food court. This will be the explicit subject of some of the discussions, and the implicit context of all of them. On Facebook, we will treat this private company’s network as a resource fairly purchased with our advertising eyeballs (and probably overpriced, given the data mining they do now do with your info). Same goes for our use of Google, which I assume none of us could do without.  And the publishing side of this venture is In Media Res, an online journal created by Avi Santo with the help of Media Commons.   That’s the concept. If all of you pitch in, we can make it happen.  So, won’t you be my neighbor?

Noisy

Welcome to the new Tedlog.

Here’s the rebooted Tedlog, now subtitled Mythos and Logos on the Commons. This site will replace the old Tedlog: Culture, Politics and Technology, which I started about five years ago with the help of the incredible Nate Steiner. I’ll be blogging about my current project, A Centaur Manifesto, which is about bringing together the discourses of fantasy and science fiction in order to imagine better futures. It brings together the ideology theory of Fredric Jameson, Slavoj Zizek and Phillip Wegner with the depth psychology of post-Jungians like Robert Johnson, James Hillman, Andrew Samuels, David Tacey, and Susan Rowland.