Comparative Literature | Smart Mobs and Beyond: How the Cult of the Amateur Hacks Authority, Story-telling, and Culture
C151 | 13032 | AI: B. Bakioglu


C151 (13032) Intro to Popular Culture
Smart Mobs & Beyond:How the Cult of the Amateur Hacks Authority,
Story-telling, and Culture
MW 9:30-10:45
AI: Burcu Bakioglu

*fulfills A&H and CS requirement*

We’re at the brink of yet another digital revolution. The World Wide
Web is no longer a mere collection of Web sites readily consumable by
its users as it had been in the early 90s. Rather, it is becoming a
full-fledged platform serving Web applications to its end users.
Flickr, MySpace, Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, Google, Second Life,
Twitter, and others are examples of such Web applications that we use
everyday; and they all rely on one thing: user-generated content.
O’Reilly calls them Web 2.0, these days they are called social media,
yet others know them as networking sites. The companies that created
these applications are worth millions of dollars because of the
content YOU generate. What is their killer application? The
communities that they help build. They are easy to get involved in
and are impossible to leave… Whatever their name is, they do the same
thing: facilitate mass collaboration and peer production in order to
solve problems, build virtual worlds, disseminate information, run
political campaigns, write stories, and shoot movies. As such, they
pose a serious threat to everything we knew to be true about
literature and media. Concepts like authority, hierarchy, and a top-
to-bottom approach are being challenged and replaced with more
decentralized models. Those who are able to harness the power of the
masses will have a place in the future, and those who don’t will
wither away.
As a result, culture itself is undergoing a significant
transformation. Think about it: Stephen Colbert uses Wikipedia,
YouTube, and the mainstream media in order to mobilize the masses to
offer a serious critique of our culture. Even Hollywood is aware of
this power. Samuel Jackson’s cult movie, Snakes on a Plane, relied on
its audience to help with script writing and marketing. Lonelygirl15
showed how one could become an Internet celebrity through the use of
viral videos published on YouTube, Revver, and MySpace. Additionally,
communities have started Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) surrounding
Lonelygirl15 where users piece together clues found in the videos and
try to solve the mystery behind Bree (the main character). While
Andrew Keen condemns this transformation, claiming that Internet is
killing our culture, others, such as Henry Jenkins and Howard
Rheingold, see it as a positive development.
This course will include theoretical readings that will facilitate
discussions around these topics in order to help the participants
better understand today’s popular culture while evaluating its impact
on mainstream culture. In addition to theoretical readings, students
will be required to listen to assigned podcasts, watch selected
online videos, participate in the forums of the class Wiki where they
will discuss class readings, and blog on a weekly basis. Some of the
fiction we will read in class will include selections from Exit
Strategy (Douglas Rushkoff’s open-source novel), Shelley Jackson’s
hypertext novel, Patchwork Girl, and blog posts from LG15 site. There
will be two term papers.