Category Archives: Science Fiction

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:
http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/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 Podcasts of 2010

1. Bill Simmons, The BS Report
2. Marc Maron, What the Fuck
3. Jeffrey Kripal, Impossible Talk
4. Masterworks Broadway Podcast Theatre
5. Terri Gross, Fresh Air
6. John Hodgman, Judge John Hodgman
7. Robert X. Cringely, I, Cringely
8. Dan Savage, Savage Love Podcast
9. Doug Benson, Doug Loves Movies
10. Doug Henwood, Behind the News
11. Alex Tsakiris, Skeptiko
12. Jon Suintres, Word Balloon
13. Tami Simon, Sounds True: Insights from the Edge
14. The Guardian, World Cup Daily & Football Weekly
15. Adam Carolla, The Adam Carolla Show

Ineligible but recommended:

Tedcast, my own podcast.

Expanding Mind with Erik Davis, who interviewed me in November.


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 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 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

Ted’s Top Comics for 2010

  1. Scarlet, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
  2. Northlanders, Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli
  3. Mysterious, Jeff Parker & Tom Fowler
  4. Captain Swing, Warren Ellis & Raulo Caceres
  5. Underground, Jeff Parker & Steve Leiber
  6. Thunderbolts, Jeff Parker & Kev Walker
  7. Ultimate Avengers, Mark Millar & Steve Dillon
  8. Hulk, Jeff Parker & Gabriel Hardman
  9. Powers, Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming
  10. DMZ, Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli
  11. Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard
  12. Demo, Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan
  13. Rasl, Jeff Smith
  14. New Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen
  15. Atlas, Jeff Parker & Gabriel Hardman
  16. Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis & John Romita Jr.
  17. Batman: Streets of Gotham, Paul Dini & Dustin Nguyen
  18. Gotham City Sirens, Paul Dini & Guillem March
  19. Avengers Prime, Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis
  20. Ultimate Spiderman, Brian Michael Bendis & David LaFuente

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.