Communication and Culture | Media Theory
C410 | 1078 | Barbara Klinger


Until recently, theorists of cinema discussed spectators in largely
abstract terms, treating their responses to films as largely
determined by the narrative or visual structure of the films
themselves. Or they considered popular, mass culture as controlled by
social institutions and viewers as passive, thoughtless, consumers of
whatever the culture industries produced. Work in Cultural Studies and
Media Studies has changed these approaches by investigating the active
ways viewers decode and make sense of mass cultural texts. Within this
context, the media fan has emerged as a particularly vital subject of
inquiry. Working against the commonplace misunderstanding of fans as
crazies or misfits, researchers analyze the fan as a spectator par
excellence–an avid, participatory figure whose practices can speak
volumes about the interpretive strategies and pleasures of viewers. By
looking at fan practices, we can better understand the various and
complex relationships between spectators and popular culture.

We will begin by considering contrasting definitions of mass culture
to situate our study of fans. Then, concentrating on film, television,
and the Internet, we will examine several questions that have
structured this area of research. Who are fans and what makes their
viewing habits and strategies distinct? What are the interpretive
practices of fans and how do they affect the meaning of films and
television shows? How have new media technologies such as DVD and the
Internet affected fandom? Do fans comprise a subculture? How do fans
form communities over the Internet and elsewhere? Can we consider fan
activities as subversive, as undermining the intents of media
producers? Or are these viewers manipulated by media industries and
ideologies of consumerism?

As we proceed, we’ll read theorists and critics central to the debates
about fans in Film and Media Studies. We’ll view films (such as King
of Comedy, Life and Death on Long Island, and Nurse Betty) that depict
fandom to gauge how mainstream culture presents and considers such
viewers. We’ll also screen TV shows and films that have gathered a
substantial fan base (such as Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer),
that depict stars that have attracted a cult following (such as Judy
Garland), and that illustrate certain kinds of fan activities (such as
the writing of fan fiction, the making of film parodies on the
Internet, and the reediting of existing media texts).

Students will write a series of short papers for the course, in
addition to taking a mid-term and a final exam.