GEND 2217 Webnotes

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In my recent literature searches I came across a book that may be useful to some of you: Music Video and the Politics of RepresentationIt is available as an e-book through the library.

The video Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex and Power in Music Video is also an academic source. 

Changes to syllabus as discussed in class:

1. Research essay worth 30% is now due by January 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm. I will begin marking essays on January 5, 2016. The sooner you submit your paper the sooner it will be returned to you. If you submit your essay (in person or via email) by January 6 at 12:30 pm, I will mark it and provide feedback before January 12, 2016. If you submit between January 6 and 8 I will do my best to return this to you prior to January 12. This early submission option will give you a sense of your grade going into the final assignment.

2. Take Home 30% Due: January 12, 2016 by 12:30 pm

3. Assignments will be accepted by email.

4. Jade Boyd’s article will be dropped from the syllabus.

All term work must be submitted by January 15, 2016 except with written permission of the Dean of Arts and Science. There are no exceptions to this rule.

December 15 2015
“Queering Queer Eye

key concepts: liminality in terms of sex, gender and sexuality; transmen; makeover genre; masculinities

1. Tough Guise 2 (76 minutes)
2. Discuss the film and the Booth reading exploring gay, cisgender, bi and trans masculinities.
3. Then I’ll distribute the take home and we can talk about it.
4. Then we have to do course evals!

Tough Guise 2 attempts to empower a new generation of young men — and women — to challenge the myth that being a real man means putting up a false front and engaging in violent and self-destructive behavior.” From

If this video interests you, click here to see the related study guide.

And if you would like to make reference to Tough Guise 2 in your essay or take-home exam, the library has a transcript of the film online for you to use.


Thoughts on the video? What do you think about Jackson Katz’s work?

While Katz is looking at the ideals of masculinity that are used to discipline and shape boys and men, Booth focuses in on two specifically marginalized groups of men—gay men and transmen.

Probably most of you have never seen this series, so the premise of Queer Eye is that five gay men, known as the Fab five, make-over a straight man so that he will be more successful professionally and romantically.

A further premise is that these gay men have knowledge and a general concern for beauty, fashion, grooming, home décor and good manners.

The show is further premised on the assumption that—in contrast—straight men have no skills when it comes to beauty, fashion, grooming, home décor and good manners. These assumptions are in keeping with hegemonic masculinity and its attendant ideology (remember, these are “chains of meaning”) that instructs all of us that these are feminine pursuits and that “real men” should have no interest in them. Katz would likely encourage us to be critical of the very limiting depiction of straight men in this series.


Booth argues that the presence of Miles Goff—a young bisexual and trans man—challenges certain assumptions and patterns that regularly appear on the show.

For one, the show is about “straight” men and Miles is not exclusively heterosexual. He is attracted to “girls and boys” (410). His bisexuality throws a wrench into the usual narrative which is often about getting a makeover for your girlfriend or wife. To properly acknowledge Miles’ bisexuality they have to deviate from their script.

Second, Miles’ presence points out that the straight guys on the show have all been cisgender males. This generally unmarked category is implicitly exposed through the introduction of an episode about a transman.

Cisgender: “term for someone who exclusively identifies as their sex assigned at birth.”

Transgender/Trans: an “encompassing term of many gender identities of those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth.”

“In discussions regarding trans issues, one would differentiate between women who are trans and women who aren’t by saying trans women and cis women.”

Transition: “A person’s process of developing and assuming a gender expression to match their gender identity. Transition can include: coming out to one’s family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) some form of surgery. It’s best not to assume how one transitions as it is different for everyone.”

All definitions above are from:

The show, Queer Eye, has been described as a display of male bonding—between gay men and straight men with no women present—and Miles fits and doesn’t fit into this pattern. He is a liminal figure in relation to the categories of male and female, as well as straight and gay, on a series that is premised on “gay men who desire men” who help “straight men who desire women.”

Booth observes that the Fab 5 treat Miles with great respect and support trans identities on their own terms. He is not suggesting that Miles is treated badly on the show, but that he is treated differently than the usual “straight guys.” Booth looks at these changes in the formula and asks what these shifts tell us about how this particular trans and bisexual / queer guy is understood and treated on the series, in contrast to the usual cisgendered and heterosexual guys.

One shift that Booth observes is that the Fab 5 will often lift the shirt right off of a “straight guy” on any given episode. In contrast, they demonstrate much more caution with Miles. They say to Miles, “Let’s take that shirt off… Can we do that? Are you uncomfortable?”

Booth offers two very different readings of this shift and I appreciate his openness here in offering two interpretations as equally plausible.

On one hand Booth says that a typical Fab 5 interaction involves a marginalized group—gay men—teasing a member of a privileged group (straight men) and this power inversion makes the interaction (potentially) amusing. The episode with Miles changes the dynamic as we have two marginalized groups interacting with each other—gay men and a transman—and consequently there is no power inversion to play off.

On the other hand, Booth says that the Fab 5’s shift away from manhandling Miles could equally be because they see him as “really” a woman. Booth says that Miles’ “youth and small physical stature” may exacerbate their reading of him as not “fully” male.

On one hand Booth says the physical respect could be a sign of a levelling of power between the gay men and the trans man, or it could be that they just don’t take his identity as male at face value. Booth says that regardless of what the motives are, it is clear that the Fab 5 touch Miles in ways that are more respectful and less sexual than the other “straight guys” who appear on the show. Your thoughts?

This leads to yet another difference that marks Miles as outside of hegemonic masculinity and this is the integration of a self-defence class into his makeover.

No other “guy” on the show has been offered self-defence classes. Why do you think they offer this to Miles?

Booth points out how the episode actively challenges popular myths about trans people. He compliments the show for distinguishing between gender and sexuality, and depicting transmen as having diverse sexualities—some are straight, gay, bisexual. While the subject of Miles’ interest in “girls and boys” is largely avoided, a comment made by one of the Fab 5 about Miles having someone else in his bed someday is noted as “refreshing” because it “brings to mind questions regarding who that partner would be [and] what types of bodies would be involved” (412). Further, two of the Fab 5 are shown discussing how they do not view being transgender as a mental disorder and Booth sees this as in line with transgender politics and perspectives. Finally, the offer presented to Miles at the very end of the episode to work for GenderPAC—a political advocacy group for trans people—is also unique as the show generally steers clear of politics entirely.

Booth draws out the unique challenges presented in the Miles Goffman episode of Queer Eye: “The presence of a transman serves to politicize the series because the liminal nature of his social status has political implications. Men are assumed to occupy a privileged position, yet a transman’s body faces a greater risk of attack than that of a [cisgender] male; appropriate clothing may be absent from both men’s and women’s commercial lines; he is diagnosed with a mental disorder, while exhibiting no signs of mental instability; and his existence is perceived to be inherently political, even if he wishes to live a private life as an ‘ordinary’ man” (414).

Your thoughts?

I’ll distribute the take home and we can talk about it.

Now we have to do course evals!

December 8 2015
Polysemic Images: Encoding and Decoding Queerness

Proposed changes to syllabus:

1. Research essay worth 30% now due by January 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm. I will begin marking essays on January 5, 2016. The sooner you submit your paper the sooner it will be returned to you. If you submit your essay (in person or via email) prior to December 19 or between January 5 and January 11 by January 6 at 12:30, I will mark it and provide feedback before January 12, 2016. If you submit between January 6 and 8 I will do my best to return this to you prior to January 12. This early submission option will give you a sense of your grade going into the final assignment.

2. Exam Take Home 30% Due: January 12, 2016 by 12:30 pm
The take home will focus on materials covered after the Fall Reading Week. The take home will be a combination of short answer and essay. The key concepts will figure prominently in the take home. The materials covered after the reading week include: Hall; Wang; Burke; “Sucking the Quileute Dry;” Reel Injun clips; Rose; Han; Padva; Moore; Booth; and Tough Guise 2.

3. Assignments will be accepted by email.

4. Jade Boyd’s article will be dropped from the syllabus. You will not be tested on Boyd.


Choose topics that are relatively narrow in scope: one film / one character across a series / one aspect of a series (such as sexual objectification or cultural appropriation in a few music videos).

A good analysis provides enough supporting detail for the reader to understand the claims without having seen the media text/s.

Provide just enough detail about the media text to help your reader to understand what you are saying, but don’t provide more detail than you need to support your claims.

Remember that TV series, films and album titles must be italicized.

Media is plural. Medium is singular.

Don’t just describe your text, analyze it!

Show, don’t tell. Don’t just tell your reader that the women in “Blurred Lines” are sexually objectified, explain how you came to that conclusion. Support your claims with examples.

Stay away from claims that you cannot support. Don’t say “women want men to be like Edward in Twilight.” Do women want men to be like Edward Cullen? Maybe a few, sure, but many do not. Don’t make claims that are unsupportable. Similarly don’t say that “men want women who look like Kim Kardashian.” Do gay men want women who look like KK? Probably not. Do straight men have diverse tastes? Yes! In both of these cases, a claim that is believable is that popular culture increasingly depicts the KK body as attractive and desirable. This message is communicated to all of us and internalized by some of us. Same with Edward Cullen. He is presented to all of us as an idealized masculinity. Does that mean that women love it? No. Of course not! But he is presented as though women should love him. Finetune your argument and claims so that you’re not overgeneralizing to such an extent that what you are saying just isn’t true.

Be wary of projecting into people’s heads. What was Justin Bieber thinking when he cast that group of dancers for his “Sorry” video? We don’t know. What do viewers think when they watch that video? We don’t know. Stick to what is onscreen. This is supportable. Those women are all wearing sunglasses. That we can all agree on. What that means is a matter of interpretation and argument, but saying that they are wearing sunglasses is supportable while the motives of the dancers get you into pure speculation and claims that are unsupportable and therefore don’t belong in an academic paper.

Use the glossary, starts on p. 696. Those are good definitions.

Use the subject index, starts on p. 724.

Use the “Alternative Contents Index,” starts on p. 678. It draws out themes that might be useful to you such as: Activism; Motherhood; Masculinities; Sports; or Men of Colour. If you are struggling to develop a topic or are looking for academic literature to use in your essay, that list could be helpful to you.

Keep in mind that an article like Kellner’s from September is probably useful to every single essay. It lays out why it is important to study media and that is a worthwhile point to make in any media analysis. Jhally could be important for a wide range of essays in drawing out our emotional investments in certain objects / texts. If you are writing about the internet or fandom, don’t forget about the first part of the course even if it feels very distant right now. Flip back and see if there is anything there that you can use. The more relevant connections that you make to the readings, the better and more impressive your essay will be. The goal is to show off what you learned in this class.

If you find an article that is very useful to you go through the bibliography to find other related sources.

Through the Nipissing website look for e-journals like Feminist Media Studies, Critical Studies in Media Communication and Communication and Critical / Cultural studies.

Read the “peer evaluation guide” handout and strive for “excellent.”

The assignment one more time:
Students are asked to choose a media text and create an original critical textual analysis that draws extensively on the course readings (minimum of three) and incorporates one academic journal article (not from the course readings). In addition to the required textual analysis, you may research the series’ audience, ratings, history, production, marketing and scheduling if this interests you. The essay should be a minimum of 6 pages and a maximum of 7 pages. This minimum and maximum do not include the bibliography or a title page (optional). Please use a recognized style: APA, MLA, Turabian, Chicago. See “Important notes for written assignments” in the online syllabus.

key concepts: depicting and challenging social inequalities; polysemy; queer codes; double-coding; closet; “skirting” / strategic evasion; humour and social inequality

I chose this article, in part, because animated sitcoms are often very queer. For example, in what ways is Stewie on Family Guy depicted as queer?


This short clip from “Homer’s Phobia” will begin to show us some of the characteristics that Padva discusses in the article including camp and gay codes. In terms of depicting and challenging social inequalities “Homer’s Phobia” depicts homophobia in order to playfully challenge such beliefs:

Camp: an appreciation of awfulness, tackiness, exaggeration, over-the-topness, or frivolousness, femininity or “girliness.” Sometimes referred to as “the good taste of bad taste.”

The episode makes elaborate use of phrases and codes that can be easily seen as gay / queer codes:

Bart’s Shirt:
What reads as potentially gay?

Example of queer ambivalence / double coding / polysemic:

Steel mill:

Polysemic text: “One that is ‘open’ to various readings or has multiple meanings” (p. 705 in glossary). The Simpsons presents the steel mill as polysemic.

Does it seem possible to you that one might see this episode from a homophobic perspective and identify with Homer and have your homophobic beliefs confirmed, and for someone else to watch as someone who has anti-homophobic views and to have that view confirmed?

Moore on Ellen

In the early seasons of Ellen, the sitcom, her queerness was usually subtextual (connotative rather than denotative). What are some of the examples the author gives?

In a latter season the character Ellen Morgan and Ellen Degeneres herself came out simultaneously. Ellen became the first openly gay character to be the main character on a TV series.

Ellen looks back on this time:

Ellen returned years later with her daytime talk show. She is known to be a lesbian but that knowledge / awareness often operated in the early years through subtly double-coded comments or jokes.

As the article says, some writers criticized Ellen for keeping her sexuality largely subtextual in the early years of her talk show because it kept queerness at an amusing, nonsexual, safe distance.

media event vs media ritual: “”A media event is a one-time idiosyncratic phenomenon that acts as an exception to the usual rules of both television flow and content, and, if planned, is often surrounded by quite a bit of promotional hype” (212). Any examples?

Media ritual “is “part of the normal flow, and signifies through repetition, over time, or through multiple broadcasts” (212).

“One punctuates the Nielsen’s ratings, the other has the potential to slowly, rather than rapidly, shift consciousness through a process of slow audience acclimation to, and reinforcement of difference” (212). How do these concepts relate to Ellen’s career?

What might be the strengths of a media event?

What might be the strengths of a media ritual?

Moore describes Ellen’s daily dancing is a queer media ritual:

What did you make of the quotes from the people in the readings who said that her dancing is so gay? What might be queer about it? How might her dancing be read as safely containing queerness?

liminal / liminality: “an area of condition of ambiguity and mixture, at the border of two different conditions” (p. 703 in glossary). Moore says that instead of a one time “I’m gay” coming out event, now that Ellen is out her queerness is a part of the daily ritual of her show. Her performance is of someone both “out” of the closet and “in” it. Example: Jake Gyllenhall interview in 2004

As Moore puts it, in the early seasons of the series and pre-Portia Di Rossi, Ellen expressed her nonheterosexuality without explicitly identifying as gay. It was a careful and sly dance which some have referred to as her “skirting” the issue (217). Early on she avoided explicit references to herself as a lesbian and instead “What is made visible. . .is evasion” (217).

In what ways is the current version of the show different than what Moore describes?

FYI: Ellen’s career would be an interesting essay topic. There is lots of academic literature written about her. Moore’s article is from 2008 and  over the lifetime of Ellen’s queer “media ritual” on her daytime talk show, her identification as a married lesbian has become more prominent and is literally spoken of on her show.

“The Gay Agenda:”

This next video is quite interesting in terms of how queerness, straight people, gay people and homophobia appear on the show nowadays.
“Gay-straight alliance”:

If we think about Ellen’s show in terms of social justice, what do you think that she is accomplishing in terms of challenging homophobia? What might be some of the limitations of her approach? 

Referring back to the articles by Balance and Jhally, what emotional hooks draw us to Ellen?

What do you think about her use of humour in terms of gay and lesbian politics?

Next week: Booth writes about a transman featured on the makeover show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

December 1 2015
Racializing Sexualities

Re-organization of the term: The “back to class schedule” that was sent to students by the Registrar’s Office includes a caveat that reads: “The schedule noted above is subject to change pending motions the Academic Senate may choose to pass to remediate events resulting from the labour disruption.” This means that the schedule is a proposal that will be debated and possibly modified.

The next meeting of the Academic Senate is on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 4:00 p.m. in F210.  The purpose of this meeting is to address Senate policies and regulations which have an impact on the class schedule.

“Members of the Senate include: the President; both Vice-Presidents; the Dean of each faculty; the Registrar; Assistant Vice-President Students & International; Executive Director, Library Services; 41 elected members of the teaching staff, seven student Senators as well as representatives from the Alumni Association, Board of Governors and the Aboriginal Council on Education” (

I have a vision for how GEND 2217 can be reorganized based on the proposed schedule but it seems most prudent to wait for the final decision from Academic Senate.

NEXT WEEK IN CLASS: We will cover “Polysemic Images: Encoding / Decoding Queerness” no matter what is decided in Senate.


key concepts: racializing sexualities; subjects and objects; anti-sex agenda; sexual explicitness vs. sexual exploitation; journalistic texts; gay media; assuming a white audience

What is the difference between a sexual subject and a sexual object?

This sex educator provides a useful primer:
Comments? Questions?

Relatedly, Rose mentions that she does not want to sound “anti-sex” and she draws a distinction between sexual explicitness and sexual exploitation. What do you think she means by this?

Rose is suggesting that it is not sufficient to analyze a media text and just say: “This is very sexual.” She might respond, “Ok. So, what’s the problem?”

Rose addresses the mainstreaming of pimp identities. What is a “pimp”? And what might there be to admire about a pimp?

In terms of Rose’s article, I want to start with Jay-Z’s 1999 song “Big Pimpin.” Pay attention to what the women are wearing, what race they appear to be, and which parts of their bodies are deemed important in terms of the camera’s focus. What are the men wearing? What race do they appear to be? What do they do? Who speaks? Who is a spectator? What is said? How is class communicated in this video?

“Big Pimpin”

Certain parts of this mainstreaming of “pimp” persist:

I want us to compare “Big Pimpin” to “Hotline Bling” because both videos make reference to sex work. Let’s watch this video—which I know that many of you have seen—and then I want us to analyze the representation of women and the representation of Drake. What is changing and what is staying the same?

“Hotline Bling”

What are the references to sex work in the “Hotline Bling” video?

With these references to sex work in mind, what is the “hotline bling” that Drake is referring to?

While “Big Pimpin” is about having sex with many women and committing to none, how is “Hotline Bling” different?

In terms of the representation of women in this video, how else is this video different than “Big Pimpin”?

In terms of the representation of women, how is this similar to “Big Pimpin”?
Are they sexual objects or subjects?
Who is a sexual subject in Drake’s video? What evidence can you find to support your claim?

How is Drake’s performance of Black masculinity different than those found in “Big Pimpin”?
And how is it similar to “Big Pimpin”?

How does Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” compare to “Big Pimpin” and “Hotline Bling”? Once again, pay attention to who is a sexual subject and who is a sexual object. How is that communicated?
“Blurred Lines” (Unrated!)

If you were creating an analysis of this video, what observations might you make?

Now let’s contrast the representation of women in “Blurred Lines” with the representation of women in “Sorry” by Justin Bieber:

How are the women depicted in this video in ways that differ from “Blurred Lines”?
How is their representation similar?

The next music video that I want us to look at is “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift. Once again, how are women represented? What race are these women? What is the context? What are the emotions attached to the images? How does this differ from the other videos that we have watched today? What is the story of sexuality told about the woman in the video? And what is the story of sexuality told about the man in the video?

“Wildest Dreams”

This is the last music video that we are going to watch. Once again, I want you to pay attention to how the men and women are dressed. What are the men doing? What are the women doing? What races are represented? What is the context?

“Hey Mama”

 The Han article helps us to think about similar questions as Rose, but the focus is on representations of gay Asian men. We can use this article to think about how representations of men in the media have tended to be fairly generalizable in terms of race, class and sexuality: Black and Latino men / White men / Asian and South Asian men / Aboriginal men (as outlined in Reel Indian).

Changing reps: Josh Chan on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Justin (aka J-Smooth) on ANTM

More of the same: Mr. Chow in The Hangover movies

The Han article narrows in on media produced by and for a subcultural group. Specifically the author looks at how gay Asian men are depicted in gay magazines and gay subcultures. In your paper you can focus on subcultural texts as well (e.g. feminist texts; queer texts; etc).

Additionally, Han focuses on journalistic texts. This is important because journalistic texts are presented as depicting and reflecting reality, and appearing neutral and natural (p. 221).

According to Han, how have Asian men been depicted within American gay male culture?

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?  

November 26, 2015
UPDATE 3:45 pm

As I understand it, we all need to wait and see what is negotiated between NUFA and the Administration. Once we receive this information via email or on their respective websites I will begin reorganizing the syllabus. Please know that you will not be expected to submit the essay for Gender and the Media on December 1. Assignment dates will be changed.

I will be in touch as soon as we all hear from the Administration and NUFA. 

Click here for a pdf of the GEND 2177 midterm.

Update as of October 31, 2015 at 3:30 pm

October 27 2015
Twilight’s “Noble Savage”

NUFA Bursaries: NUFA Learning Opportunity Awards and Textbook bursaries: “Upper year, full-time or part-time, Nipissing University undergraduate or graduate university students may apply · Involved in (or intend to become involved in) a project/learning experience/research that is self-initiated and not related to course work · Maximum funding of $800.00 within an academic year.” So if you see a GESJ-related workshop or conference that you want to attend…

Strike Preparedness: Like all faculty members, I have been provided with some information regarding students and the possible strike / lockout that I will share with you.

In the event of a strike / lockout I really wanted to get your assignments back to you so they are marked and I will return them at the end of class.

key concepts: exoticized Other; “the white man’s Indian;” the Romantic / Noble savage; “imperialist nostalgia;” representing male violence; racializing violence

Any thoughts on the reading?  

You will no doubt have noticed that the author uses the term “Indian” throughout her article. She flags that as deliberate. What is her reason?

Native-Americans are the non-White group that has been represented more than any other in the history of American film. While there are many representations, Native Americans are only represented on very limited terms.

What are some of the characteristics that Hollywood has tended to project on First Nations, Inuit, Metis and Native American peoples?

Here we have the ambivalence that Hall wrote about. As Burke puts it: “kind and gentle and savage and brutal” (208).

In terms of very specific Hollywood types or stereotypes, Native American men have tended to be represented as:

And Native American women have tended to be represented by Hollywood as:

Cherokee / Sioux actor Valerie Red-Horse said that she was told by a producer that she sounded too “educated” to play a Native American woman. What does this imply?

Many mainstream representations up until the 1990s tended to depict Aboriginal people as historical, vanishing and undifferentiated.

As Burke says, the mainstream representations of Native Americans have tended to be “the white man’s Indian.” This is to say, a white fantasy of Indigenous peoples.

Based on the reading, where does Meyer get her information about the Quileute from?

In Twilight how does the character of Jacob conform to and possibly challenge the characteristics often ascribed to Native American men in film?

How does the character of Edward contrast with Jacob?

In keeping with Western fantasies, both desire the white woman.


This narrative maps on to Western thought which has tended to think of the White Western self as an individual, unique, essentially good, logical, reasonable, civilized, intelligent and sexually restrained, while the non-White Other in Western thought was been imagined to be less intelligent, untrustworthy, illogical, emotional, irrational, savage and often hypersexual, sexually dangerous, sexually active and sexually available.

In terms of gender, Burke writes that the series features “contrasting hypermasculine racial stereotypes.” Both are masculine, but in their distinctly racialized and stereotyped ways.

Parallels to Harlequin heterosexuality

Some have argued that this representation of barely repressed male violence is eroticized in the initial books.

Burke claims that one of the Quileute women is scarred by her male partner and the narrative shows her shrugging it off and warning Bella—if you’re not careful, this is what can happen to you.

I included the New York Times article because it offers some sense of how the appropriation of Quileute culture affected their actual lives.

As Burke writes, “Indianness becomes a product that can be consumed and known, available for cooptation and inhabitation like a costume.”

At music festivals this practice became very popular for a little while:

Today we will watch about half of the Canadian documentary Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian.

 Aboriginal people in Hollywood film have historically been hypervisible and invisible.

When White people are behind the camera, you tend to get very limited images that tell heroic stories of White protagonists with a “backdrop” of Aboriginal people. Meanwhile Native American, First Nations, Metis and Inuit filmmakers have had great difficulty finding money for distribution or production.

As the film reminds us part of transforming representations is about allowing marginalized or stereotyped groups to get behind the camera and represent themselves.

Igloolik Isuma was Canada’s first Inuit independent production company and it has already produced a number of films, including Atanarjuat. The company has a policy to remain 75% Inuit owned and they “produce independent community-based media… to produce and enhance Inuit culture and language; to create jobs and economic development in Igloolik and Nunavut; and to tell authentic Inuit stories to Inuit and non-Inuit audiences worldwide” ( If you go to their website, you will see that there are also women’s collectives and youth collectives that aim to represent and foreground women’s points of view and teach youth filmmaking skills.

Return papers: If you have questions or concerns about your mark or if you find a math error, please think about it for 24 hours and then email me. If you do not pick up your paper in class, I will place it in a sealed envelope and hang it on my office door by the end of the week.

October 20 2015
Racialized Tropes and Ambivalent Images


key concepts: ideology; race; overt and inferential racism; ambivalent images; the “slave-figure;” the “native;” the “clown;” “too Asian;” model minority vs. “quasi-robots” (a.k.a. “the technical but unfeeling Asian” (537)

Any comments on the readings?

First a quick side note about “race.” The concept of racialization emphasizes how racial categories are socially constructed, but socially and culturally very real. These are constructed categories with material effects.

Questions? Comments?

A useful shorthand is that dominant groups are often characterized, while groups on the margins are often caricatured. What do you think this means? How are these two ideas different?

Hall gives us three component parts of ideology and I’m going to focus on the first two.

  1. He says that “ideologies do not consist of isolated and separate concepts, but in the articulation of different elements into a distinctive set or chain of meanings” (104). He gives the example of the concept “freedom” which comes to signify differently in different ideologies.

Example: Urban associations with “North Bay” and “social justice”–reflecting ideologies associated with small, northern / rural places

Wang gives us some additional examples of ideologies or “chains of meaning” that Asian-Americans are often represented in. What are some of the “chains of meaning” that have been associated with Asian people?

  1. “Second, ideological statements are made by individuals: but ideologies are not the product of individual consciousness or intention. Rather we formulate our intentions within ideology […] We have to ‘speak through’ the ideologies which are active in our society” (104-105).

Example: News media coverage of the Williams sisters drawn from the work of McKay and Johnson (p. 118 of your reader).

The sisters are variously described as:

“having an ‘Amazonian physique and piranha mentality’”

“a giant bird of prey—a Californian condor, if you like”

“Venus can chase from side-to-side like a cheetah on the run”

“a panther, sensing a wounded animal”

“big beasts”

What can you immediately see about these characterizations? Can you contextualize these comments in relation to Hall’s article? 

These journalists may think that they are sitting down at their keyboards and writing something new, fresh and original, but Hall asserts that they are “speaking through” ideologies that are pervasive and active in their society.

As Hall says, “Largely, the processes work unconsciously, rather than by conscious intention” (105). We may believe that we are using a unique or even neutral metaphor or descriptor, but as this repeated language across so many different media outlets demonstrates, in many instances it is far from original.

In contrast a rare animal reference to white female player was when a journalist wrote the following: “The dying swan [Maria Sharapova] slunk out in her tutu, savaged to death by a giant bird of prey—a Californian condor, if you like” (121). The title said “”Dying swan devoured as giant bird of prey returns” (121). Any comments on this journalist’s characterization?

Russia's Maria Sharapova walks dejected during the ladies singles match against USA's Venus Williams during The All England Lawn Tennis Championship at Wimbledon.

Hall writes, “Since (like gender) race appears to be ‘given’ by Nature, racism is one of the most profoundly ‘naturalized’ of existing ideologies” (105).

Example: “Following Venus’ victory at Wimbledon […] a journalist hailed her as a ‘role model for blacks’ and lamented that black people had not been given more opportunities to participate in sport, because ‘there is a natural physical superiority about those of African origin” (121).

When journalists resort to this kind of language and logic, Hall says that these are statements made by individuals but they pre-date individuals. Our responsibility is to understand the history and implications of these ideologies, and try to change them on a collective level. We should notice if we make such comparisons and work to be more creative in our language rather than defaulting to old racialized associations and assumptions. Comments?  

To practice our skills of textual analysis, I want us to take some of these ideas and look at Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video. How are Black women depicted in the video? What is deemed important about Black women? Whose story is being told? Whose eyes are we seeing the world through? Whose eyes do we not see the world through? Who is behind the camera? Whose visions and values guide us through the process by which we learn what it means to be a black woman? And whose fantasies are these?”

Hall writes that overt racism is not very common in popular contemporary representations, but inferential racism is common. What is the difference between overt racism and inferential racism?

A useful link:

Hall identifies three “base images” that are stereotypes about people of colour. These images may read as flattering from one perspective, but they are also unflattering in other respects. They have a “deep ambivalence.”

So what are these three base images? And what are their qualities?

The model minority is another ambivalent image that Balance discussed in the article about youtube in our last class and it comes up again in Wang’s article: What is a model minority?

How does the Western characterization of Asian-Americans as “forever foreign” (673) relate to Wallace’s video from last class?

How does Wong play with this assumption in his video response?

“Too Asian”:

I thought that the Top Chef article was interesting because it offered an example where the contestant excels at everything that is valued in the show, yet is supposedly lacking some intangible quality. The judges love French food and techniques above all other. The Vietnamese-American contestant specialized in and excels at French cuisine, yet they critique him week after week for possessing technical perfection, but lacking what?


According to the judges, how should Hung Huynh show that he has this intangible quality? 

How does Huynh integrate the ideology of the American Dream into the finale?

 How might the judges expectations be interpreted as a racialized and even essentialized?

October 6 2015
Dominance, Resistance and Incorporation

key concepts: subcultures; dominance; resistance; incorporation / co-optation; embeddedness; texts in a (global) context; affect theory; model minority


  1. Understanding viewer responses: Reconsidering Resistance and Incorporation (Butsch)
  2. Contemporary racism and resistance online (Balance)
  3. Distribution of midterm!

Comments on the readings? Anything of particular interest? Disagreement? Controversy?

Prior to the 1970s there was a real tendency for scholars to think about audiences as passive dupes or victims of popular culture. In class, I will briefly connect this perspective to Butsch’s discussion of Marxism and “false consciousness.”

Then along came media scholars who saw audiences rejecting certain dominant beliefs, actively engaging with culture and many were also producing their own shared subculture. This links back to last week’s readings.

Butsch says that there was a tendency for scholars to dig in to one side or the other. This was (jokingly) referred to as “intellectual ping pong.” This dichotomous thinking provides the context for Butsch’s article, “Reconsidering Resistance and Incorporation.”

He writes, “The path I propose first is to acknowledge the validity of both the strength of hegemony [this is our incorporation into beliefs that benefit those with greatest power] and of the significance of resistance” (88).

He offers a definition of “the flexible concept of cultural hegemony that acknowledged concentrated power, but also allowed for ‘space’ in which people might create and sustain their own ideas different from or opposed to and, on occasion, prevailing over those promoted by concentrated power” (89).

The concept of hegemony acknowledges the privileging of ideas that benefit those with power, along with the recognition that such ideas must be “continually renewed, recreated and defended” (89).
Example: white people

As Butsch explains, ideologies “can be continually challenged and in certain respects modified” (89). Hegemony is “never certain or final” (89) and resistance is “perennial, although the degree of it varies historically” (90).

Drawing on Williams, Butsch describes “hegemony as a central system of practices, meanings and values which we can properly call dominant and effective…which are organized and lived…a sense of reality for most people…beyond which it is very difficult for most people of the society to move, in most areas of their lives” (90).

But hegemony is active, adjusting and flexible (90) and “[i]ncorporation is the dominant cultural response to challenges and the means to overcome them” (90).
Example: Kristal Brent Zook’s scholarship on Black Nationalism in rap

As Butsch explains, “oppositional ideas, such as these subcultures, are often subverted by being commodified and resold as fashionable styles, stripped of their most dangerous content” (90).

In discussing the “flex” in hegemony, Butsch explains, “The incompleteness, contingency, and struggle are necessary concepts to account for historical change” (90). What do you think he means here?

Butsch is seeking to offer “a differentiated vocabulary different levels of resistance” (89).

He says that a pitfall of critical media studies has been to see any reading that goes against the dominant or preferred meaning as resistance. All “resistance” was then thought to be positive, political and counter-hegemonic.
Example: Kellner’s discussion of watching Die Hard in a homeless shelter

One of the more fascinating audience projects that emerged in the 1980s was what Butsch refers to as “embeddedness” and this is watching how people watch TV.
Example: Valerie Walkerdine’s “Video Replay”


Why I chose this reading: connections to social justice, contemporary racism, resistance to racism and the “democratizing potential” of the internet.

In what ways do her statements reflect racist discourses (even though she states that this is not her intention)?

In turn, what are your thoughts Jimmy Wong’s video response?

Do you think that it is an effective challenge? Why or why not?

What do you like about the video? Dislike?

Balance asserts that viral videos need “emotional hooks” (669).

What are the emotional hooks in Wallace’s original video?
What are the feelings that it generates for you?

What are the emotional hooks in Wong’s video?
What are the feelings that it generates for you?

If you wanted to generate a video to convince people to support a certain social justice cause what kinds of emotions do you think it would be best to try to provoke and why? What has worked on you?

Balance also offers some theories for why Asian Americans have seemingly had great success on youtube. What are some of the explanations that she cites?

As part of her analysis, Balance identifies the category “Asian American” as a “catch all” for people from many different countries and ethnicities.

She also outlines how Asian Americans have been characterized as “model minorities” (672-73). What does this mean?

How does the Western characterization of Asian-Americans as “forever foreign” (673) relate to Wallace’s video?

How does Wong play with this assumption?

How would you characterize the political economy of these videos? Who makes them? Are they expensive or inexpensive? Who hosts these videos? How is money made?

Who do you think watches these videos? How do they hear about them?

How do these videos differ from film and television? Is there any content here that you might not see elsewhere in mainstream media?

So far in this class, we have set up a framework for thinking about how to study media with an eye toward seeking social justice. After the reading break we will be looking at popular culture to see what it teaches us about race, class, sex, gender and sexuality, and where we can see “resistance” in popular culture. We’ll keep trying to examine those images in their economic context and understand what audiences do with different media.


If you are interested, “Yellow Fever” from 2006 (15:27):


It is entirely possible to make different points than your classmates and still get the same mark. For example, there are so many good reasons to study popular culture or analyze audience responses.

You are expected to work within the word and sentence limits.

Do not repeat the same content within your midterm. For example, if you choose the political economy long answer question, do not offer the details of conglomeration if you plan to answer “conglomeration” in the definitions section. You can refer to conglomeration in the long answer and define it later. Actively avoid repeatedly yourself across questions.

I have been getting some preliminary questions about the final essay.
From the syllabus: Research essay
Value: 30% of overall mark
Due: December 1 2015
Students are asked to choose a media text and create an original critical textual analysis that draws extensively on the course readings (minimum of three) and incorporates one academic journal article (not from the course readings). In addition to the required textual analysis, you may research the series’ audience, ratings, history, production, marketing and scheduling if this interests you. The essay should be a minimum of 6 pages and a maximum of 7 pages. This minimum and maximum do not include the bibliography or a title page (optional). Please use a recognized style: APA, MLA, Turabian, Chicago. See “Important notes for written assignments” in the syllabus.

October 6 2015
Dominance, Resistance and Incorporation

In class today you will receive the take-home midterm and I will discuss the final essay. You can ask me questions about either of these assignments in class, in person or over email.

ALSO, for marking purposes, I will be asking you for your major and what year you are in.

September 29 2015
Television Without Pity: Active Audiences and Online Labour

key concepts: “seeing queerly”; fandom; slash; “active” viewers; digital labour that is “voluntarily given and exploited” (78); online activity—when is it activism?


  1. What is audience reception?
  2. Radway’s Reading the Romance
  3. K/S—the original slash
  4. Kohnen
  5. Andrejevic

Thoughts on the readings?

As Dines and Humez explain, media studies recognizes that audiences “have a role in creating the meanings of media texts” and some researchers aim to explore audience responses through ethnographic research (xii).

More Dines and Humez from page xii:

Conceptualizing audiences as passive: “By observing and talking with actual consumers of media texts—as opposed to critics—much has been learned about how we are active as we interpret, make sense of, understand, and use such texts within our everyday social and private lives. These studies have played an important role in complicating the older view of media audiences as passive, or even brainwashed, recipients of prepackaged meanings.”

Some assumptions: “Clearly, gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, political beliefs, and age are important factors that can help explain the different meanings that various audiences appear to take away from an advertisement, movie, or sitcom.”

Relates to Kohnen’s article: “Studies of fans–those dedicated consumers of media texts who build community around their experiences of consumption—go even further in exploring how consumers of media texts can produce meanings quite different from those intended by the original text producers.”

Relates to Andrejevic’s article: “With the advent of new media aided by the internet, the debate over audience exploitation versus empowerment has only intensified” (xii).

This week we explore what audiences / readers / listeners “do” with media.

I want to start by giving you some background on two foundational critical audience reception studies. These studies are outlined in the reader in chapters written by Radway and Jenkins.

Radway’s research Reading the Romance is outlined on pages 58-68 in your reader.

When asked why they read romance novels, these women overwhelmingly cited escape or relaxation. They told Radway that reading romance novels helped them forget the problems that they faced in their real lives.

Romance novels provided them with a literal and a figurative escape.

When asked what these romance novels “did” for them that other novels didn’t, they said things like (on page 60):

Romances hold my interest and do not leave me depressed or up in the air at the end like many modern day books tend to do. Romances also just make me feel good reading them as I identify with the heroines.

The kind of books I mainly read are very different from everyday living. That’s why I read them. Newspapers, etc., I find boring because all you read is sad news. I can get enough of that on TV news. I like stories that take your mind off everyday matters.

Different than everyday life.

Everyone is always under so much pressure. They like books that let them escape.

Because it is an escape, and we can dream. And pretend that it is our life. I’m able to escape the harsh world a few hours a day.

It is a way of escaping from everyday living.

They always seem an escape and they usually turn out the way you wish life really was.

In these comments Radway sees a kind of sadness. Do you see a certain sadness in these responses?

How do you think a romance novel might help a woman reader feel cared for?

This group of readers especially liked stories featuring “an unusually bright and determined woman and a man who is spectacularly masculine, but at the same time capable of remarkable empathy and tenderness” (63).

They most wish to participate in the slow process by which two people become acquainted, explore each other’s foibles, wonder about the other’s feelings, and eventually ‘discover’ that they are loved by the other” (63).

As Radway explains, in the end of the novels, “the heroine is always tenderly enfolded in the hero’s embrace and the reader is permitted to identify with her as she is gently caressed, carefully protected, and verbally praised with words of love. At the climactic moment (pp. 201-2) of The Sea Treasure, for example, when the hero tells the heroine to put her arms around him, the reader is informed of his gentleness in the following way:

She put her cold face against his in an attitude of surrender that moved him to unutterable tenderness. He swung her clear of the encroaching water and eased his way up to the next level, with painful slowness …. When at last he had finished, he pulled her into his arms and held her against his heart for a moment…. Tenderly he lifted her. Carefully he negotiated the last of the treacherous slippery rungs to the mine entrance. Once there, he swung her up into his arms, and walked out into the starlit night.

The cold air revived her, and she stirred in his arms.
“Dominic?” she whispered.
He bent his head and kissed her.
“Sea Treasure,” he whispered.” (64)

In what ways might a reader feel taken care of in relation to this example?

In terms of social justice, Radway suggested that these women’s desire to escape their domestic lives in the early 1980s related to the roles that they had in their families. She interpreted these women’s experiences as reflective of a role where women are / were called upon to nurture, clean, cook and provide care as wives and mothers. Rather than seeking to meaningfully reorder their lives—or question their role in the household—they met their own needs only in fantasy.

Radway observes the following of these readers: “women materially express their discontent with their restricted social world by indulging in a fantasy that vicariously supplies the pleasure and attention they need, and thereby effectively staves off the necessity of presenting those needs as demands in the real world.”


K/S: Penley, also outlined in part by Jenkins (69-77) in the reader

The activities of these communities of straight women shocked many people who heard about them. Why do you think their activities might be seen as surprising or shocking?

These straight women writers of K/S offered a refreshing example of how our actions, beliefs and interests can never be entirely contained by our identity.


Penley’s work on K/S is a precursor to Melanie E.S. Kohnen’s work on Smallville.

SMALLVILLE (Season 1) Pictured: Tom Welling as Clark Kent, Micheal Rosenbaum Photo Credit: © The WB / David Gray

What is Kohnen analyzing in her chapter?

What is HoYay!

Has anyone watched Smallville? If yes, what is your assessment of “Clex”?

Kohnen’s chapter reveals straight female fans who read a homoerotic relationship onto the male leads on Smallville even though the narrative makes their heterosexuality clear. These viewers see the way that the show “calls on” the heterosexuality of Clark and Lex, but they refuse to accept it as self-evident. 

She calls this the practice of “seeing queerly” and points out that these are straight viewers “seeing queerly.”

It’s also interesting that the viewers see Lex and Clark’s heterosexuality not as taken-for-granted and obvious, but as something that is occasionally asserted or called on by the writers, yet these viewers never find it believable.
Example: (Re)interpreting the love triangle

Kohnen suggests that rather than simply analyzing representations of gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer characters in television, scholars should also pay attention to shows that don’t “feature any explicitly gay or lesbian characters” (220). She points out that “Smallville certainly isn’t the only show lacking in gay and lesbian characters but inspiring a large following of fans who read it in a queer way” (221). She asserts that scholars need to rethink what a “queer” show looks like, and to think about “queer viewing” beyond “gay” viewers.

Your thoughts on this suggestion? Can you think of any other texts that are read queerly?

Sidebar: possible consequences of consistently flagging male-male intimacy as gay

Andrejevic also takes aim at the now defunct website TWOP to explore the online labour that fans do in recapping TV series.

The article explains, “For producers, fan sites such as TWoP serve as an impromptu focus group, providing instant feedback to plot twists and the introduction of new characters even as it helps imbue the show with the kind of “stickiness” coveted by Website owners by creating an online community of sorts as an added component of the show. As a New York Times article about online fan sites put it, ‘It is now standard Hollywood practice for executive producers (known in trade argot as ‘show runners’) to scurry into Web groups moments after an episode is shown on the East Coast. Sure, a good review in the print media is important, but the boards, by definition, are populated by a program’s core audience — many thousands of viewers who care deeply about what direction their show takes’” (79, emphasis added).

It was also interesting to me how TWoP changed how some viewers watched television. Any examples?

Andrejevic asserts that the posters on TWoP operate as a social factory for labor. What does he mean? What kind of valuable labour might TWoPpers be doing?

In relation to this “social factory,” Andrejevic is concerned about the offloading of program promotion and evaluation onto fans. He refers to this digital labour as “voluntarily given and exploited” (78). Any thoughts on this as a concern?

Andrejevic also suggests that the television show that airs on TV is no longer the final product. For some viewers, it’s the raw material for interactivity and can be extended into recaps, fanvids, gifs, tumblr, video games, Youtube.

As Andrejevic asserts, “It is one thing to note that viewers derive pleasure and fulfillment from their online activities and quite another to suggest that pleasure is necessarily either empowering for viewers or destabilizing for entrenched forms of corporate control over popular culture” (84). Further he suggests that, “a savvy identification with producers and insiders facilitated by interactive media fosters an acceptance of the rules of the game” (85).

Next week, we’ll read more about notions of interactivity and “resistance.”

September 22, 2015
Political Economy of Media

key concepts: political economy; conglomeration; vertical and horizontal integration; synergy; network effects; selling emotions; “a discourse through and about objects”

  1. What is political economy?
  2. Key terms and concepts in the political economy of media
  3. According to the authors, what are some of the effects that the political economy has on media texts?
  4. How do today’s readings relate to Gramsci’s theory of hegemony?

Comments, questions or critiques of the content of today’s readings?

In your own words, what is political economy?

Who is producing the image / text? Is it an individual, a corporation, a conglomerate, a collective? How does the text generate money? How does the profit motive affect the text? What is the political climate in the country? How does the content challenge or fall in line with that political climate? These are some questions related to the political economy.

Example: Melrose Place
Sidenote: Just noticing that two of these actors play moms on contemporary teen TV, specifically Pretty Little Liars and Secret Life of the American Teenager. 

In terms of political economy, how does broadcast television make their money? And if the producer, director, writers and actors created this scene, why do you think the network pulled it at the last minute?
What do you think has changed since the 1990s that means that such controversies are much less common nowadays? Can you connect this to “profit motive”?

Media scholars are interested in how political economy impacts what we see and don’t see every single media text. Political economy applies to all media, not just those that are flagged as controversial. The text reflects the context.

Returning to the definitions of political economy offered in last week’s readings, Dines and Humez write, “Traditionally, political economy has looked at the ways the profit motive affects how texts are produced within a society marked by class, gender, and racial inequality. Who owns and controls the media? Who makes decisions about content? How does financing affect and shape the range of texts produced? In what other ways does the profit motive drive production? These are the central questions asked by political economists. Examining this economic component is still essential to an understanding of what eventually gets produced and circulated in the mainstream commercial mass media industries. However, with the advent of new media technologies that enable consumers to produce and widely distribute their own content, we must broaden our view of production…” (xi).

Similarly, in terms of political economy, Kellner writes: “[I]t is important to stress the importance of analyzing cultural texts within their system of production and distribution, often referred to as the political economy of culture… The system of production often determines what sort of artifacts will be produced, what structural limits there will be as to what can and cannot be said and shown, and what sort of audience effects the text may generate” (12).

Comments? Questions? Examples?

2. Key terms and concepts in the political economy of media

deregulation and conglomeration: What do the readings tell us about media ownership and conglomerates?


Out of interest I generated a list of roughly 20 popular TV shows and a few popular networks like HBO and traced them back to their “parent corporation.” Here’s what I found:

  1. Community, The Voice, SNL, Law and Order and Jimmy Fallon – NBC – NBC Universal – Comcast
  2. Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family and Pretty Little Liars – ABC / ABC Family – Disney
  3. The Simpsons, Glee, Empire, American Idol, New Girl, Family Guy – FOX – FOX
  4. CNN, HBO, The CW Network, ANTM, Game of Thrones – Time Warner

If you find a movie, song or TV show that does not trace back to one of these large corps, you will generally find that it traces back to a very large media conglomerate.

It wasn’t always this way. Last week, Kellner explained how most of US popular culture came to be produced and controlled by roughly four companies. The first and second readings from today cover similar territories. In terms of the key concepts, I want to run you through deregulation and conglomeration.

First, if you were hired to oversee what appears on television, what would you think is important? What do you think should be on television and why?

Overview of regulations prior to 1970s: limits on ownership, geographic coverage, audience share, diversity of content

Through the mid 1970s to today, the logic of the FCC–Federal Communications Commission-changed their approach completely to a free market approach that would allow competition and profit to determine “the public good,” meaning what the audience watches will determine which networks will survive and thrive. One slogan during this change of approach was “The public’s interest will determine the public’s interest” – so there was no more protection for non-mainstream programming.

Through deregulation, which occurred very rapidly, media conglomerates were allowed basically unlimited growth – where mergers and buyouts have made media corporations bigger than ever.


Croteau, et al. write, “Horizontal integration refers to the process by which one company buys different kinds of media, concentrating ownership across differing types of media rather than up and down through one industry” (30).

“In the media industry, vertical integration refers to the process by which one owner acquires all aspects of production and distribution of a single type of media product” (Croteau, et al., 30).

A single conglomerate acquires everything they need to make one product. For a film, a conglomerate might “acquire scripts and sign actors, production studios to create films, manufacturing plants to produce DVDs, and various venues to show the movies, such as theatre chains, premium cable channels, broadcast television networks, and Internet-based streaming services” (Croteau, et al., 30).

Horizontal and vertical integration allow for synergy which describes the increased effectiveness of complementary assets. Synergy allows for the tie-ins and cross-promotion.

Example: Skyfall the movie and Skyfall the song by Adele

Synergy: a conglomerate’s holdings “mutually support one another’s operations” (Croteau, et al., 30). Also, “synergy refers to the dynamic where components of a company work together to produce benefits that would be impossible for a single, separately operated unit of the company” (Croteau, et al., 33).

Deregulation enables conglomeration. Conglomeration enables horizontal and vertical integration. Horizontal and vertical integration enable synergy. Through synergy, conglomerates generally get wealthier and larger.

In terms of new media, the article by Foster and McChesney describes “network effects” online, that are contributing to online monopolies or oligopolies. They describe network effects, “meaning that just about everyone gains by sharing use of a particular service or resource[…] The largest firm in an industry increases its attractiveness to consumers by an order of magnitude as it gets a greater market share[…] and makes it almost impossible for competitors with declining shares to remain attractive or competitive” (47).

So many examples…

Foster and McChesney characterize this kind of monopoly as creating a “walled garden” where the company can, in turn, sell goods and services to those within it or otherwise monetize their users (48). A free social network or search engine may not sell you anything, but they can sell you to advertisers. You get into their “walled garden” and they can make money off of you. The more of us join, the greater network effects, the more they crowd out other competitors.

Similar to mass media deregulation, Foster and McChesney argue that businesses have shaped the internet more than concern for public interest. The authors would like to see the Internet operate in the public’s interest to include commerce, without being exclusively about privatized commerce.

  1. According to the authors, what are some of the effects that the political economy has on media texts?

Independent media gets squeezed out.

Favours any cultural text that works with cross-promotion.

Corporate influence on content: The “Hollywoodization of the news” (Croteau et al, 35) and mentioning “GE lightbulbs on the [news] program” after GE bought the network (34).

Political influence on content: Silvio Berlusconi (35)

National Geographic example:

The “digital divide”-

We see few media texts that are critical of consumption or capitalism.

Those who own or have access to the conglomerates that circulate information can assert their point of view widely. They may circulate ideologies / discourses that help to sustain their financial growth, as well as ideologies that lend themselves to further acquisition of wealth and power. Does this sound anything like a theory we learned last week?

  1. How do today’s readings relate to Gramsci’s theory of hegemony?

What does Jhally tell us about the cultural connections between diamonds and marriage?

Jhally offers the link between marriage and diamonds as “a fairly dramatic example of how the institutional structure of the consumer society orients the culture (and its attitudes, values, and rituals) more and more toward the world of commodities” (246).

Diamond companies want to sell more and create an enduring market. They hire an advertising company and decades later many people associate love, marriage and diamonds. Gramsci would say this belief skews in whose interests?

 Jhally asserts, “Because we live inside the consumer culture, and most of us have done so for most of our lives, it is sometimes difficult to locate the origins of our most cherished values and assumptions. They simply appear to be part of our natural world” (246).

Jhally highlights quality of life surveys where people are asked to outline what really matters in life; what makes their lives good. When asked, people tend to say: “having personal autonomy and control of one’s life, self-esteem, a happy family life, loving relations, a relaxed, tension-free leisure time, and good friendships. The unifying theme of this list is that these things are not fundamentally connected to goods. It is primarily ‘social’ life and not ‘material’ life that seems to be the locus of perceived happiness. Commodities are only weakly related to these sources of satisfaction” (248).

Yet, “Fundamentally, advertising talks to us as individuals and addresses us about how we can become happy. The answers it provides are all oriented to the marketplace, through the purchase of goods and services” (247).

Jhally traces the history of advertising:

This “’discourse through and about objects’” encourages us to attach cherished values and feelings with products (247).

Jhally says that speed and fragmentation of images target us on emotional, not rational levels.

Returning to Jhally’s earlier point: “Fundamentally, advertising talks to us as individuals and addresses us about how we can become happy. The answers it provides are all oriented to the marketplace, through the purchase of goods and services” (247). How does this relate to Gramsci’s theory of hegemony?

Comments / Questions?

Next week, audiences! One article is a pdf online  (link is in the online syllabus) and there is an article in the reader.

September 15 2015
New room: A224

This week: Cultural Studies and Social Justice

key concepts: social justice; cultural studies; political economy; textual analysis; audience reception; hegemony

Today we will cover some foundational ideas. This will help you to understand some of the fundamental assumptions made by the authors in the reader.

But first, any preliminary comments on the content of the readings? Anything that you found particularly interesting? Alarming? Disagreed with? Appreciated? Had a question about?

I’ve organized today’s material around two questions:

  1. If you care about social justice then why study media?

2. If you care about social justice, how can you study the media?

So, first, a few different answers to the question: if you care about social justice then why study media?

Intro to inequality and privilege

Some privileges:

being seen as an individual vs. being seen as representing your race, class, sexuality or sex;

overrepresentation versus underrepresentation;

the qualities of a representation;

diversity of privileged characters;

complexity and centrality, see for example

1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

One of the fundamental assumptions of critical media studies is that privileged people are generally in a better position to see people “like them” onscreen in a very wide variety of roles—good and bad—and these characters are more likely to be emotionally complex and often well-developed.

In turn, less privileged groups are less likely to see people “like them” represented, and when they do, these characters are more likely to be peripheral, rather than main characters. They are more likely to be two dimensional, rather than three dimensional or fully realized. They are more likely to see themselves as following certain stereotypes, such as the gay best friend, the terrorist, the nerd, the criminal, and so on.

Critical media theorists suggest that the power and privileges that exist throughout society are often reproduced and reflected in the media.

These are some of the assumptions that are fundamental to critical media studies. Any thoughts on these ideas? Any questions so far? Any holes you want to poke in these assumptions?

Any examples that you could add for how privilege or the lack of privilege can be seen in media?

So why study media if you care about social justice? In order to shift the norms and values that privilege some people over others, we will need to change media representations.

Dines and Humez—the editors of our reader—write that three fundamental assumptions of the authors are: (1) that social inequality exists along lines of gender and sexuality, race, and class; (2) that everyone living in such a society ‘has’ a gender and sexuality, race, and class, and other aspects of social identity that help structure our experience; and (3) that economic and other resources, advantages, and privileges are distributed inequitably in part because of power dynamics involving these categories of experience (as well as others, such as age, ethnicity, ability, or disability)” (x). These assumptions underpin all the work in the course reader.

Dines and Humez write, “We start from the position that, as social beings, we construct our realities out of the cultural norms and values that are dominant in our society. The mass media are amongst the most important producers and reproducers of such norms and values” (x).

While a lot of critical media studies is about critiquing representations, there is a fundamental optimism that this type of education could lead to cultural shifts in representation.

Example: APTN and challenging the “WD4” rule:

As Dines and Humez write, “We start from the position that, as social beings, we construct our realities out of the cultural norms and values that are dominant in our society. The mass media are amongst the most important producers and reproducers of such norms and values” (x).

If you want to change the way homeless people are represented, understood and treated, one way is to change media depictions:

If you care about social justice then why study media? Because the media can be a tool of social change, just as the media can be a tool for reinforcing and maintaining privilege.

The theory of hegemony summarizes many of the fundamental assumptions that I’ve just covered.

Overview: Marxist understandings of power; Gramsci tries to explain the dissonance between commonsense beliefs and people’s lived realities; develops the theory of hegemony; dominant beliefs favour the interests of the ruling class; ideology presented as commonsense; many become convinced of these commonsense ideas, even when they contradict our lived experiences; but hegemony is not totalizing and ideologies can change (i.e. there is hope).

Example: “anyone can achieve anything if they just try hard enough” (also known as “the American Dream”)

Gramsci theorized that many common sense beliefs serve the interests of privileged groups. He saw the media as one apparatus that seeks to convince less privileged people to work hard and see their success and failure as their own responsibility, rather than a consequence of a society where some simply are set up to have less access to money, education, good health, security of person, and so on.

Through hegemony the ruling class aims to convince everyone in society that the interests of the ruling class are in the best interests of everyone.

“According to Gramsci’s theory of ideological hegemony, mass media are tools that ruling elites use to ‘perpetuate their power, wealth, and status [by popularizing] their own philosophy, culture and morality’ (Boggs, 1976: 39)” (Lull, 39).

According to Stuart Hall, hegemony is a “framing [of] all competing definitions of reality within [the dominant class’s] range, bringing all alternatives within their horizons of thought. [The dominant class] sets the limits—mental and structural within which subordinate classes ‘live’ and make sense of their subordination in such a way as to sustain the dominance of those ruling over them” (1977: 333)” (Lull, 40).

“Hegemony implies a willing agreement by people to be governed by principles, rules, and laws they believe operate in their best interests, even though in actual practice they may not” (Lull, 40).
Example: the phrase “trailer trash”

Critical theorists such as Michel Foucault, Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci (hegemony) all observe that knowledge that is naturalized, taken for granted, and appears as “common sense” is the most challenging to “see” and be critical of.

“Hegemony requires that ideological assertions become self-evident cultural assumptions. Its effectiveness depends on subordinated peoples accepting the dominant ideology as ‘normal reality or common sense…in active forms of experience and consciousness’ (Williams, 1976: 145)” (Lull, 40).

Raymond Williams wrote, “‘The idea of hegemony, in its widest sense is…especially important in societies [where] electoral politics and public opinion are significant factors, and in which social practice is seen to depend on consent to certain dominant ideas which in fact express the needs of a dominant class’ (1976: 145)” (40). Why might Gramsci’s theory of hegemony seem most plausible in countries where governments are elected?

As Kellner writes, “Ideologies make inequalities and subordination appear natural and just and thus induce consent to relations of domination” (9).

The good news is that Gramsci believed that hegemony is not totalizing. There is always resistance to power. Lull writes, “Two of our leading critical theorists, Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall, remind us that hegemony in any political context is indeed fragile[…] Hall suggests that ‘it is crucial to the concept that hegemony is not a ‘given’ and permanent state of affairs, but it has to be actively won and secured; it can also be lost’ (1977: 333)” (41).

If ideologies are belief systems created by people then people can also change them. Example: the slogan “black is beautiful”

Example: changing representations of trans people

To oversimplify hegemony in relation to the media, hegemony is the belief that mass culture privileges already privileged groups and convinces everyone else that what is good for the privileged groups is good for everyone. We may come to believe these ideas even when it contradicts our lived experiences of the world. The theory also says that because these ideas are created and brought to life by humans, then with a collective effort, we can also change these ideas.

And if you care about social justice, how can you study the media? We’ll be covering this for the rest of the term, so this discussion will be short.

As Dines and Humez write, “Media representations are never just mirrors or ‘reflections of reality’ but, rather, always artfully constructed creations designed to appeal to our emotions and influence our ideas, and especially our consumer behavior” (xi).

Kellner writes, “Radio, television, film, popular music, the Internet and social networking, and other forms and products of media culture provide materials out of which we forge our very identities, including our sense of selfhood; our notion of what it means to be male or female; our conception of class, ethnicity and race, nationality, sexuality; and division of the world into categories of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Media images help shape our view of the world and our deepest values: what we consider good and bad, positive or negative, moral or evil” (7).

What we see in media is never arbitrary! It is always very carefully constructed. We will learn some approaches to critical media studies in order to “analyze the ideological significance of media texts—that is, to look at how, through the use of certain codes and conventions, they create or transmit meanings that generally support the economic, social, and political status quo” (Dines and Humez, xi).

Kellner suggests three possible approaches: political economy (more on this next week); textual analysis (we will be reading so many of these studies); and audience reception (more on this in two weeks).

Textual analysis limitations:

“Of course, each reading of a text is only one possible reading from one critic’s subjective position, no matter how multiperspectival, and may or may not be the reading preferred by audiences” (14).

“Because there is a split between textual encoding and audience decoding, there is always the possibility for the multiplicity of readings of any text of media culture” (14).

Audience reception allows for research on how actual viewers interpret, enjoy and use texts. Cannot say that all resistance is “positive.” Example Die Hard.

These are some of the foundational ideas and approaches that we will be working with in this class. They are critical to understanding the course materials and we’ll continue to develop all of these ideas throughout the entire course.