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Building Imaginary Worlds: An Interview With Mark J. P. Wolf (Part Two)

September 4, 2013 - 2:05am

There is a tendency for critics to dismiss sequels and prequels as being driven almost entirely by commercial motives. Yet, you show here that such structures have a much longer history. What does this history tell us about other motives that might drive such devices?

Sequels and prequels (and other kinds of sequence elements) are seen as commercially attractive in the first place only because there are other motives for wanting them to begin with; if not, then why would they be thought of as having commercial potential? I think the main reason for wanting them is the idea of returning for more visits to a world that you like, whether you are the audience or the author. That’s really the only reason there is; if you don’t like the world enough to want to go back, there’s no reason to make another work which is set there. One can experience the same work multiple times (as happens with works like Star Wars (1977) or The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955)), which may be rich enough in detail to require multiple visits in order to notice everything, but ultimately audiences will want new experiences within the same world.

Authors who world-build will often create a world to house the original story set there, but if they like world-building, they may go beyond the needs of the story, generating more and more of the world, eventually developing additional narratives set in the world, usually ones connected in some way to the original narrative. The same thing can happen with popular characters that people want to hear more about; a rather early sequel, the second part of Cervante’s Don Quixote (part one, 1605; part two, 1615), was written in response to the audience’s desire to read more of Quixote’s adventures, and particularly because a spurious sequel had appeared after the first volume was published (the spurious sequel is even mentioned within the second volume of Don Quixote, and is condemned by the characters as noncanonical).

So I think commercial potential can only exist if other motives already exist; although one could try to make a sequel to a failed work set in an unpopular world, such a work is also likely to be a commercial failure (even if it is better than the original, its success could actually be hurt by its association with the original, if the original is disliked enough).

You note throughout that world-building (and world-exploring on the part of the audience) can be an activity which is meaningful quite apart from its role in a particular story. There may well be films — Avatar come to mind — which are widely criticized for their stories but widely praised for their world-building, and there are certainly directors — Tim Burton for example — who consistently seem more interested in exploring worlds than in telling coherent stories. Why, then, do we tend to devalue world-building in favor of story-telling when we evaluate so many media and literary texts?

 In works set in the Primary world (which are arguably the dominant kind), world-building mainly exists to serve storytelling, not the other way around. Thus, world-building is seen as a background activity, something done not for its own sake, and something done only to the extent necessary for a story to be told. As such, most critics’ methods of analysis still center around story (and such things as character, dialogue, and events) as the way meaning is conveyed, and many are intolerant of anything that departs too far from the “realism” of the Primary world (Tolkien notes this when he points out how calling something “escapist” is considered by many as an insult, whereas he says this is confusing the “escape of the prisoner” with the “flight of the deserter”; but this is another issue altogether).

But, of course, character, dialogue, and events are not the only ways meaning is conveyed; only the most obvious ways.

A world’s default assumptions, which differ from the Primary world, can suggest new ways that something can be considered, and perhaps make an audience more aware of their own assumptions they normally take for granted. Just like encountering other cultures can help you become more aware of your own culture, and make you realize that there are other ways of doing things or other ways to live, imaginary worlds can comment on the Primary world through their differences, they can embody other ideas and philosophies, and convey meaning in a variety of ways beyond the traditional ways found in stories set in the Primary world.

But these effects are the most powerful when the worlds in question have a high degree of completeness and consistency, in order to be believable; when this is lacking, the world may be risk being rejected as too outlandish and merely silly. And enough worlds are that way, that critics may regard even good ones suspiciously. The popularity of The Lord of the Rings is still not understood by some literature faculty, and likewise, some critics of the Star Wars prequel trilogy wonder why the films were so popular.

Stories and Worlds are evaluated by different sets of criteria, and one cannot simply apply one to the other. Sometimes a story is only there to serve the purpose of providing a framework with which to experience a world, as is the case, I would argue in a movie like Titanic or a book like The Planiverse (1984). While we generally do not fault good stories which don’t involve much world-building (since one has the Primary world to fall back upon, when the author does not provide invention), worlds, even elaborate ones, are often faulted if they do not contain good stories.

Of course, a world is always more enjoyable if the stories set in it are good ones, but some stories are clearly vehicles to convey a vicarious experience of a world and nothing more; once this is realized, one can set aside narrative expectation and focus on the world for what it is. General audiences seem to be able to do this rather well, especially in cinema, where the experience of visiting a world is made vivid through concrete imagery and sound, or in literary genres like fantasy and science fiction. Now that worlds and world-building are more prominent in culture, and particularly in popular culture, and with the rise of media like video games in which the experiencing of a world can be done with little or no narrative, critical criteria may begin to change to recognize the merits of well-built worlds.

Given what we’ve said above, what might be the criteria by which we would evaluate a text based on its world-building capacity?

 Well, as I discuss in chapter three, one way to examine the depth to which a world has been built is to examine the degree to which its infrastructures (such as maps, timelines, genealogies, nature, cultures, languages, mythologies, and philosophies) have been developed, and the interconnections between these infrastructures (which involves examining their degree of invention, completeness, and consistency). The more developed a world is, with these criteria in mind, the more we have something which appears viable, and the more we can extrapolate a world’s logic to fill in missing details, making the world seem more complete than it actually is (a well-designed world makes it so easy to fill in missing details that we may do so without even consciously noticing that we are doing so).

And it is not simply a question of the quantity of details, but their quality as well; their aesthetics must be appealing, in one way or another (this does not always mean something is beautiful) and the ideas embodied within a world must be engaging as well. Good stories will still always help the enjoyment of a world, since vicarious experience relies on character identification to some degree; one can marvel at a work of world-building but not feel one is within a world; and one could argue that such vicarious experience need not be a criterion of greatness.

But most audiences will still want such experiences. When one looks at the worlds that have endured over the years, or have found great popularity, one will find many of these elements are usually present; although some excellent and well-built worlds, like those of Defontenay’s Star (1854) or Wright’s Islandia (1942) remain obscure despite their greatness, but will perhaps hopefully gain the respect they deserve, now that world-building is becoming more valued.

 As I am writing these questions, I just saw Pacific Rim. Here, the filmmaker sets himself a challenge in creating a totally new franchise in introducing the viewer into a fictional world and establishing its basic contours. In this case, of course, he is not creating in a vacuum, since he relies heavily on audience familiarity with conventions from Japanese popular media — the Mecha and giant monster genres. Yet, it can still be challenging to make sense of what we are seeing on screen given the range of unfamiliar objects and creatures going at it at once. What might Pacific Rim teach us about the challenges of introducing new worlds to audiences?

While Pacific Rim does feature some futuristic cities and a single glimpse of a new planet (near the very end of the film), it is still mainly set in the Primary world (our world) and not all that far into the future, so the world-building that occurs is mainly on a more local level (like the Shatterdomes).  But as you say, there’s much in the way of new technologies and creatures appearing on-screen, combined with a rapid pace.  And I also found it interesting that the film was neither based on an existing franchise or constructed as a star vehicle; it seems to have been made and marketed strictly on its own merits (although special effects were highlighted as an audience draw).  Also, as you mention, most of what we need to learn to follow the story relies on established science fiction conventions, along with the film’s two new terms naming its combatants (Kaijus and Jaegers) literally defined up front.

So while I liked the fact that the film starts a new franchise, it seems as though doing so made the filmmakers (most likely, the producers) cautious to do anything too far removed from established conventions. As a result, the film has relatively little innovation and there seems to be little reason to see it a second time; everything seems clearly explained, leaving few, if any, unsolved enigmas.

While concentrating on making the story clear is fine, there could have been more extensions of the world beyond what was required to tell the story; there is not a lot of background detail and action that would warrant additional screenings, and very little world outside the activities surrounding the Kaijus and Jaegers themselves.  As the Star Wars films have shown, though developing and creating such additional background world material may raise the cost of a film, the richness that it adds to a world will make audiences want to return again, inviting speculation and perhaps even generating enigmas that need not be solved for the narrative to be complete.  The world of Pacific Rim, on the other hand, does not seem to extend far beyond the needs of the narrative.


Mark J. P. Wolf is a Professor in the Communication Department at Concordia University Wisconsin.  He has a B. A. (1990) in Film Production and an M. A. (1992) and Ph. D. (1995) in Critical Studies from the School of Cinema/Television (now renamed the School of Cinematic Arts) at the University of Southern California.  His books include Abstracting Reality: Art, Communication, and Cognition in the Digital Age (2000), The Medium of the Video Game (2001), Virtual Morality: Morals, Ethics, and New Media (2003), The Video Game Theory Reader (2003), The World of the D’ni: Myst and Riven (2006), The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond (2007), The Video Game Theory Reader 2 (2008), Before the Crash: An Anthology of Early Video Game History (2012), the two-volume Encyclopedia of Video Games: The Culture, Technology, and Art of Gaming (2012), Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (2012), The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies (forthcoming), Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (forthcoming), Video Games Around the World (forthcoming), and LEGO Studies: Examining the Building Blocks of a Transmedial Phenomenon (forthcoming) and two novels for which he has begun looking for an agent and publisher.  He is also founder and co-editor of the Landmark Video Game book series from University of Michigan Press.  He has been invited to speak in North America, Europe, Asia, and Second Life, and is on the advisory boards of Videotopia and the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, and on several editorial boards including those of Games and Culture, The Journal of E-media Studies, and Mechademia: An Annual Forum for Anime, Manga and The Fan Arts.  He lives in Wisconsin with his wife Diane and his sons Michael, Christian, and Francis.  [mark.wolf@cuw.edu]

Categories: Blog

Building Imaginary Worlds: An Interview with Mark J. P. Wolf (Part One)

September 2, 2013 - 12:14am

This is the first of a series of interviews I am planning to run on this blog throughout the fall with authors, critics, and designers who are exploring the concept of world building through their work.


The concept of world-building (or world-sharing, as Derek Johnson recently described it) has a long and varied history with roots in the popular discourse of science fiction and fantasy writers and in analytic and aesthetic philosophy. Increasingly, the concept of world building has become foundational to discussions of transmedia storytelling. As one long time screen writer told me some years ago, when he started, he pitched a story because you needed to have a great story to make a great film; then, he pitched a character because a compelling character can extend across a series of sequels; and now, he pitches a world, since a world can support multiple stories involving multiple characters across multiple media platforms. Yet, even without the kind of radical intertextuality represented by transmedia practices, world-building is central to a great deal of genre fiction writing. Indeed, some have complained that science fiction and fantasy often lacks compelling (or at least rounded) characters or classically constructed plots because it is more interested in building and exploring worlds than dealing with individuals.


For an example of how the concept of a world gets used in conversations around contemporary media franchises, check out  Travis Beacham’s introduction to the graphic novel prequel to Pacific Rim:

“The story is in the world; not the other way around. That is to say, a world is big and hopelessly uncontrollable. It spills messily outside the edges of any one story. A world has books on its shelves and articles in its newspapers. It has ephemera and lore. It has slang and jargon. It has footnotes and obscure references to take for granted. It has a deep past and a far side. It has roads that fork away from the plot to some only hinted-at place. Just as ‘real world’ stories set themselves on this Earth, with all her richness and complexity, the challenge of genres like science fiction and fantasy is to not only spin a good tale, but to invent for that tale an imagined backdrop that seems to stretch clear into the horizon.”

One of my favorite descriptions of the concept of the world comes from Dudley Andrew’s book, Concepts in Film Theory:

“Worlds are comprehensive systems which comprise all elements that fit together within the same horizon, including elements that are before our eyes in the foreground of experience, and those which sit vaguely on the horizon forming a background. These elements consist of objects, feelings, associations, and ideas in a grand mix so rich that only the term ‘world’ seems large enough to encompass it….We step into a Dickens novel and quickly learn the type of elements that belong there. The plot may surprise us with its happenings, but every happening must seem possible in that world because all the actions, characters, thoughts and feelings come from the same overall source. That source, the world of Dickens, is obviously larger than the particular rendition of it which we call Oliver Twist. It includes versions we call David Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers too. In fact, it is larger than the sum of novels Dickens wrote, existing as a set of paradigms, a global source from which he could draw. Cut out from this source are anachronistic elements like telephones or space ships, and elements belonging to other types of fiction (blank verse, mythological characters, and even accounts of the life of royalty.) It should be clear that even such a covering term as ‘the world of Dickens’ has no final solidarity or authority. A young reader of David Copperfield and Oliver Twists might consider these texts to be versions of a world of education and family relations which concern him outside of literature. The Dickens scholar naturally would consider these texts to be part of the complete writings of Dickens. What they represented for Dickens himself, who lived within them during the years of their composition, no one can say. One goal of interpretation has always been to make coincide the world of the reader with that of the writer.”

Andrew’s comments already point to fault lines in our understanding of the concept of world-building. Mark J. P. Wolf’s new book, Building Imaginary Worlds, uses as its foundation J.R.R. Tolkien’s concept of “sub-creation,” an approach he explains below. This approach values world building which expands beyond the world as we currently know it, which creates an imaginary world from scratch. Andrew’s approach here sees all texts as building up worlds that help define what events may or may not occur there, what characters may or may not exist, what outcomes are or are not plausible, etc. Historical fiction or documentary fiction, by this definition, may require extensive amounts of research in order to build up a richly realized world and make it comprehensible to the viewer. I have, for example, been drawn into the world of women’s prisons as mapped and explored by this summer’s Orange Is the New Black: while this world looks very much like real institutions,  while this series is loosely based on a memoir, most of us knew little of this world before we started to watch the series, the author has gradually added more details and complicated our initial impressions of this world episode by episode, and we draw more and more on that expanded comprehension to make sense of what we are seeing. I often point to something like Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York as a fantastic example of the role of world-building in historical fiction, even if, again, this world is being reconstructed rather than fabricated from scratch. Andrew’s account suggests worlds are built as much by readers as by authors, that they emerge intertextually through the relationship between a range of different texts, and moving a bit beyond him, I would argue that worlds are performative — that is, any given text seeks to evoke a world in the mind of the reader and may or may not successfully achieve that project. Perhaps there is no real conceptual disagreement between these different senses of a world, only a matter of emphasis: Wolf, for example, acknowledges that works that remain closer to the primary world of real experience may still engage in activities of world-building, while his own emphasis is on works that are “sub-created,” that involve a higher degree of original creation on the part of their authors (and readers?).

This potential disagreement aside,  Mark J. P. Wolf’s Building Imaginary Worlds is an extraordinary accomplishment –and a great starting point for an ongoing discussion of the concept of world-building.  Wolf starts with a core background in game studies and science fiction/fantasy and expands outward to develop an encyclopedic account of the place of imaginary worlds in contemporary narrative practice. I’ve known Mark for a long time and he’s been working on this book as far back as I can remember, and it’s exciting to see all of the pieces fall into place. He employs thousands of examples of fictional worlds to illustrate his core arguments, which include discussions of history as well as theory, going back to the earliest adventure stories and forward to contemporary experiments in transmedia storytelling. I have assigned this book for my Transmedia class this term and see it as essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the place of world-building in contemporary culture. Wolf is perhaps best known to my readers as a scholar who has written extensively about video and computer games, so games researchers may be interested to see how he uses theories of imaginary worlds here to revisit some of the core questions animating that field also.

The following conversation only scratches the surface. Today, we are going to try to map Wolf’s basic model of “sub-creation” and “imaginary worlds,” and over three more installments, we will get deeper into the implications of this model, looking at such contemporary examples as Star Trek: Into Darkness, Pacific Rim, and Defiance.

Let’s start with the key words in the book’s title. What do you mean here by “worlds” and how is it related to the concept of “subcreation”?

 As I explain in the first chapter, the term “world” is not used in the geographic sense (like planets), but in the experiential sense, meaning the sum total of a character’s experiences; therefore, an imaginary world could be a planet or galaxy, or more limited in scope, like a continent, a country, or even a city. The fact that it is an imaginary (or “secondary”, to use Tolkien’s term) world means that it is somehow set apart from the “real” (or “Primary”) world, with some boundaries between them, making the secondary world a thing of its own; and whereas some boundaries are physical or geographic in nature, such as mountain ranges, deserts, oceans, and so forth (or the surface of the earth itself, for underground worlds), some boundaries are temporal in nature (as in worlds set in the distant past or future, making them equally inaccessible to us in the present), or even conditional, such as in the alternate versions of the Primary world that some stories present. Tolkien separates the two by calling them the Primary world and Secondary worlds (borrowing terms from Coleridge’s discussion of the two types of imagination), and writes that the latter is dependent on the former, hence the term “subcreation” (literally, “creating under”); secondary worlds use material from the Primary world, reshaping and recombining elements from it, so that the end result is both recognizable but also new and different. So what the book examines, then, is how imaginary worlds depart from our world, and how they are created by authors.

Does the term, world-building, apply to works, such as, say, Gangs of New York, which reconstruct richly-detailed versions of actual historical worlds or does it only apply to works of the imagination?

 I would say the term “world-building” definitely applies, since in cases like Gangs of New York (2002) or Titanic (1997), the past is being meticulously built and recreated. But in both of these cases, and especially that of Titanic, it is something from the Primary World that is being recreated (even though some of the characters are fictional), whereas the kind of world-building that my book is mainly concerned with is the building of secondary (imaginary) worlds. So the term can apply to both.

Of course, it could be pointed out that even the version of the Primary world that each person carries around in his or her head involves a certain amount of imagination, since we fill in parts of the world we have not seen or have forgotten, so in a sense, both kinds of worlds involve the imagination; but secondary worlds are more clearly set apart from the Primary World.

As I point out in the book’s first chapter, there are varying degrees of what we could call “secondariness”, based on how much invention a secondary world contains; some, like the Star Wars Galaxy or Middle-earth, are very different from the Primary World, whereas others, like Lake Wobegon or More’s Utopia, have less invention but are still imaginary.

Then the question becomes, how much invention is needed to call something a “world”? Some fictional characters set in a real place isn’t really enough; to be a “world” you would, I would argue, need a fictional location as well, and one large enough that someone could live there (getting back to the experiential sense of “world”). So although it is a matter of degree, there is a point where you have enough that a secondary world can stand alone on its own, and that’s usually where most people would probably consider it a separate “world”.

In discussing Nelson Goodman’s Ways of World-making, Dudley Andrew argues that the works of a single author — his example is Dickens — may add up to a single world, even if the author never signals any connection between these works. Would you agree?

 I suppose it is possible, though if no connection is indicated, then one would not be forced to conclude that the worlds are connected. Such connections are often made clear by the author, sometimes retrospectively, like L. Frank Baum’s tying together the various lands his stories take place in, which he did to connect them to Oz. Certainly if an author has a popular world, it is in the author’s interest to do so, as this adds canonical material to a world that an audience may be interested in (and sometimes such a link is the only reason an audience is interested, at least initially).

Dickens’ works are all arguably set in the Primary world, so I think it would be difficult to make the case that he’s creating a secondary world; in such a situation, transnarrative characters could signal ways that individual narratives are connected, but they can still be set together in the Primary world without creating a secondary world (if the amount of invention is low enough). So one could have connected stories set in the Primary World, which make no reference to a secondary world, even though they contain fictional characters and events. On the other hand, two or more series can take place in a linked universe in such a tenuous way that for all practical purposes the series are considered separately; for example Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom series (about Mars), his Amtor series (about Venus), and his Tarzan series all arguably take place in the same universe, but each has a different main character and occurs on a different planet, with only a little overlap between them.


Mark J. P. Wolf is a Professor in the Communication Department at Concordia University Wisconsin.  He has a B. A. (1990) in Film Production and an M. A. (1992) and Ph. D. (1995) in Critical Studies from the School of Cinema/Television (now renamed the School of Cinematic Arts) at the University of Southern California.  His books include Abstracting Reality: Art, Communication, and Cognition in the Digital Age (2000), The Medium of the Video Game (2001), Virtual Morality: Morals, Ethics, and New Media (2003), The Video Game Theory Reader (2003), The World of the D’ni: Myst and Riven (2006), The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond (2007), The Video Game Theory Reader 2 (2008), Before the Crash: An Anthology of Early Video Game History (2012), the two-volume Encyclopedia of Video Games: The Culture, Technology, and Art of Gaming (2012), Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (2012), The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies (forthcoming), Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (forthcoming), Video Games Around the World (forthcoming), and LEGO Studies: Examining the Building Blocks of a Transmedial Phenomenon (forthcoming) and two novels for which he has begun looking for an agent and publisher.  He is also founder and co-editor of the Landmark Video Game book series from University of Michigan Press.  He has been invited to speak in North America, Europe, Asia, and Second Life, and is on the advisory boards of Videotopia and the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, and on several editorial boards including those of Games and Culture, The Journal of E-media Studies, and Mechademia: An Annual Forum for Anime, Manga and The Fan Arts.  He lives in Wisconsin with his wife Diane and his sons Michael, Christian, and Francis.  [mark.wolf@cuw.edu]

Categories: Blog

Is School Enough?: Forthcoming PBS Documentary

August 30, 2013 - 4:43am

If you live in the Los Angeles area, I invite you to join me for what promises to be an exciting screening and discussion on Sept. 5 of Is School Enough?,  a new documentary, produced for PBS, which deals with the concept of “connected learning” as it has been articulated by the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative. Details are below.

If you do not live in Southern California, I would encourage you to check online here and see when and where this documentary might be airing in your area. Here’s a preview of the film.

Many of you will already know New Learners in the 21st Century, which aired a few years back.  You can check out this film online here. For my money, this is probably the best film produced on the new forms of learning that have emerged within a networked culture, one which explains why these approaches matter to educators, researchers, students, and parents, and one which moves far beyond the usual focus on “risks” and “dangers” that have dominated some other PBS documentaries on these topics. I was proud to have been included in the New Learners documentary and even more excited when the filmmaker, Stephen Brown, consulted with me about this new production. I was able to help connect him with the incredible work being done by the Harry Potter Alliance, which becomes a key segment of Is School Enough?, and I ended up being a talking head featured in this film. Indeed, I get the Aaron Sorkin-like final speech summing up the vision as a whole. I’ve seen the film when an earlier cut was screeened earlier this year at the Digital Media and Learning conference, and I am looking forward to joining this discussion at USC.



Make Reservations »

September 5, 2013, 7:00 P.M.

The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108, George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts Complex, 900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007

Cinematheque108, The Pearson Foundation, and PBS invite you and a guest to a special screening of

Is School Enough?

Followed by a panel discussion with Stephen Brown, Producer/Director of Is School Enough?; Henry Jenkins, Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts, USC; Juan Devis, Public Media Producer, KCET; Sujata Bhatt,  Founder and Lead Teacher, the Incubator School, Los Angeles; and Abby Larus, Member, the Harry Potter Alliance and student at Duke University. 7:00 P.M. on Thursday, September 5th, 2013 The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108
900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007 FREE ADMISSION. OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Released to PBS stations on September 3, 2013. About Is School Enough?

While policy-makers and educational experts try to determine the best “system” for delivering a world-class education to tens of millions of students across the country, many young people are finding their own ways of expressing themselves, pursuing interests, and participating in communities that are both on and offline. Largely unmediated by school and teachers, these young people, without really being aware of it, are connecting how they learn with what they care most about. Too commonly, young people are asked to solve problems in the classroom that have no relationship to the real world or relevance to their lives. Memorization and the measurement of what we know is the final basis for evaluating a students’ success; moreover, it’s the final evaluation of a teacher’s success as well. But in what ways do we ask our students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to something that’s happening in the world outside of it?

In what ways do we reward the authentic learning and work that young people do that is not validated and evaluated by our educational institutions? In this highly connected world that is powered by what we need when we need it, is school really enough?

Designed for parents and educators inside and out of the classroom, Is School Enough? – a one hour documentary – examines how young people are using everyday tools – including today’s digital ones – to explore interests, connect with others, solve problems, and change the world around them. It is a call to action that moves the discourse away from how do we fix schools to how can we support, sustain and galvanize learning by helping students solve problems in their everyday lives.

Is School Enough? is a production of tpt National Productions, in association with Mobile Digital Arts. Not rated. Running time: 60 minutes.

Visit the Official Website: http://www.pbs.org/program/school-enough/ About the Guests

Stephen Brown, Producer/Director of Is School Enough?

Stephen Brown is President and Executive Producer at Mobile Digital Arts. Mobile Digital Arts uses film and video production as a way to showcase and advocate for innovative educational practices, digital media programs, and 21st century approaches to learning. Brown produced Reborn, New Orleans Schools, a feature documentary about the school reform movement after Hurricane Katrina; A 21st Century Education, a series of twelve short films about innovation in education; and Digital Media and Learning, eleven short films profiling the work of leading researchers, educators and thinkers on the impact that digital media is having on young learners. Mobile Digital Arts’ production – Digital Media, New Learners of the 21st Century – aired nationally on PBS in February 2011. He is also producing an on-going series of films with the OECD about the world’s best performing educational systems. Brown is currently the General Manager of the New Learning Institute for the Pearson Foundation.

Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California

Jenkins arrived at USC in Fall 2009 after spending the past decade as the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. He is the author and/or editor of twelve books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture and From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. His newest books include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. He is currently co-authoring a book on “spreadable media” with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. He has written for Technology Review, Computer Games, Salon, and The Huffington Post.

Juan Devis, Public Media Producer, KCET

Juan Devis is a Public Media producer, whose work crosses across platforms – video, film, interactive media and gaming. His work, regardless of the medium is often produced collaboratively allowing for a greater exchange of ideas in the production of media. Devis iscurrently the Director of Program Development and Production for the largest independent television station in the United States, KCET. Devis has charted the stations’ new Arts and Culture initiative, Artbound, consisting of a television series, an online networked cultural hub and the creation programmatic partnerships with cultural institutions in Southern California. In addition, Devis has spear headed a new slate of series that are either in production or development, some of these include the Presidential Japan Prize Winner Departures, Live @ the Ford among others. For over a decade, Devis has worked with a number of non-profit organizations and media arts institutions in Los Angeles serving as producer, director, educator and board member. Some of these include: The City Project – Outpost for Contemporary Art – PBS World – LA Freewaves – OnRamp Arts – Center for Innovative Education – Los Feliz Charter SchoolFor the Arts.

Sujata Bhatt,  Founder and Lead Teacher, the Incubator School, Los Angeles

Sujata Bhatt is the founder of the Incubator School, an LAUSD-Future is Now Schools, 6-12 pilot school that opened this August aiming to launch the entrepreneurial teams of tomorrow. Inc. reimagines the traditional school day as a mix of individualized computer-based learning and deep, collaborative engagement via design thinking, real world problem-solving, and game-based learning.  The schooldraws upon Bhatt’s 12 years’ experience working as a Nationally Board Certified teacher in a Title 1 school in LAUSD as well as her background in education reform, technology, and startups. She has developed ‘big picture’ educational policy as a Teaching Policy Fellow with Teach Plus and with Our Schools, Our Voice, and Future is Now Schools. She has written on education reform in The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Education Week, Eduwonk, and The Impatient Optimist. She also serves on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center @ Sesame Workshop’s Games and Learning Publishing Council and is a member of the founding team of Outthink Inc., a startup that produces gamified science iPad apps.

Abby Larus, Member, the Harry Potter Alliance and student at Duke University

Abby Larus is a second-year student at Duke University. She’s been involved in the Harry Potter fan community online since middleschool, when she began working with the Harry Potter Alliance, an organization that encourages civic activism by relating real world problems to the issues in the Harry Potter books. Abby started her work with the HPA as a Chapter Organizer, applying the HPA’s campaigns locally in North Carolina. She later became a volunteer on the organization’s communications staff, before taking on the role of Assistant Campaign Director. Abby has since transitioned to a position outside of the HPA, where she is the Associate Director of Logistics for LeakyCon, the largest annual Harry Potter fan convention. But she hasn’t forgotten her roots – a portion of LeakyCon’s proceeds go towards the HPA every year.

About The Pearson Foundation

The Pearson Foundation is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to make a difference by promoting literacy, learning, and great teaching. The Foundation collaborates with leading businesses, nonprofits, and education experts to share good practice; foster innovation; and find workable solutions to the educational disadvantages facing young people and adults across the globe.

More information on the Pearson Foundation can be found at www.pearsonfoundation.org.

About Cinematheque108

Cinematheque108 is an alternative screening series sponsored by the Critical Studies Department at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. The series offers a rare selection of events that highlight noteworthy experimental, documentary, and/or foreign films, many of which can not be seen anywhere else. Cinematheque108 is an educational forum that aims to expand understanding of alternative film and media. All screenings are free of charge and open to the pubic.

Check-In & Reservations

This screening is free of charge and open to the public. Please bring a valid ID or print out of your reservation confirmation, which will automatically be sent to your e-mail account upon successfully making an RSVP through this website. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M.

All SCA screenings are OVERBOOKED to ensure seating capacity in the theater, therefore seating is not guaranteed based on RSVPs. The RSVP list will be checked in on a first-come, first-served basis until the theater is full. Once the theater has reached capacity, we will no longer be able to admit guests, regardless of RSVP status.


The USC School of Cinematic Arts is located at 900 W. 34th St., Los Angeles, CA 90007. Parking passes may be purchased for $8.00 at USC Entrance Gate #5, located at the intersection of W. Jefferson Blvd. & McClintock Avenue. We recommend parking in outdoor Lot M or V, or Parking Structure D, at the far end of 34th Street. Please note that Parking Structure D cannot accommodate tall vehicles such as SUVs. Metered street parking is also available along Jefferson Blvd.


Categories: Blog

Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: A New Syllabus

August 27, 2013 - 11:28pm

Last time, I shared the syllabus for a new course I am offering this fall focused on, basically, “how to be a public intellectual.” Today, I am sharing the syllabus for the other class I am teaching this term. I have taught Transmedia Entertainment three times since coming to USC, each time I have more or less had to re-imagine and redesign the class to reflect shifts in media practice and especially the expanding body of scholarship about transmedia. You can see my first and second versions of the class as I shared them through earlier blog posts. You will see that recent scholarly publications have resulted in much richer models for thinking about the economic and cultural impact of the current franchise structure, the distinctive nature of “media mix” in Japan as a point of comparison with the ways transmedia has taken shape in Hollywood, and the nature and function of world-building. Alongside this class, I am going to be featuring in my blog this fall a series of interviews with the authors of many of these new books, starting soon with an in-depth exchange with Mark J. P. Wolf, author of Building Imaginary Worlds. As always, I am taking advantage of my Los Angeles location to bring into my classroom a rich array of guest speakers who are doing some of the cutting edge experimentation around transmedia.


Transmedia Entertainment

We now live in a moment where every story, image, brand, and relationship plays itself out across the maximum number of media platforms, shaped top down by decisions made in corporate boardrooms and bottom up by decisions made in teenagers’ bedrooms. The concentrated ownership of media conglomerates increases the desirability of properties that can exploit “synergies” among different parts of the medium system and “maximize touchpoints” with different niches of audiences. The result has been a push toward franchise-building in general and transmedia entertainment in particular.


A transmedia story represents the integration of entertainment experiences across a range of media platforms. A story like Heroes or Lost might spread from television into comics, the web, alternate reality or video games, toys, and other commodities, etc., picking up new audiences as it goes and allowing the most dedicated fans to drill deeper. The fans, in turn, may translate their interests in the franchise into concordances and Wikipedia entries, fan fiction, vids, fan films, cosplay, game mods, and a range of other participatory practices that further extend the story world in new directions. Both the commercial and grassroots expansion of narrative universes contribute to a new mode of storytelling, one which is based on an encyclopedic expanse of information which gets put together differently by each individual, as well as processed collectively by social networks and online knowledge communities.


Each class session will introduce a concept central to our understanding of transmedia entertainment that we will explore through a combination of lectures, screenings, and conversations with industry insiders who are applying these concepts through their own creative practices.


In order to fully understand how transmedia entertainment works, students will be expected to immerse themselves in at least one major media franchise for the duration of the term. You should experience as many different instantiations (official and unofficial) of this franchise as you can and try to get an understanding of what each part contributes to the series as a whole.



  • Derek Johnson, Media Franchises: Creative Licensing and Collaboration in the Creative Industries (New York: New York University Press, 2013)
  • Andrea Phillips, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012)
  • Michael Saler, As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • Mark J. P. Wolf, Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (London: Routledge, 2013)


All additional readings will be provided through the Blackboard site for the class.



For the first assignment, you are asked to write a 5-7 page autobiographical essay describing your relationship to a media franchise that you have found to be personally meaningful. You should use this essay to identify the cultural attractors that drew you to this franchise, to discuss which variants of the franchise you experienced, and to describe any cultural activators that encouraged you to more actively contribute to the fan community surrounding this franchise. Be as specific as possible in discussing moments in the transmedia story that were especially important in shaping your engagement with the property. Where possible, make explicit reference to ideas about transmedia and engagement from the readings. This assignment is partially about getting to know you as a transmedia participant and partially about getting you to experiment with the critical vocabulary we’ve introduced so far for talking about transmedia experiences. (Due September 23) (20 Percent)



Write a 5-7-page essay examining one commercially produced story (comic, website, game, mobisode, amusement park attraction, etc.) that acts as an extension of a “core” text (for instance, a television series, film, etc.). You should try to address such issues as its relationship to the story world, its strategies for expanding the narrative, its deployment of the distinctive properties of its platform, its targeted audience, and its cultural attractors/activators. The paper will be evaluated on its demonstrated grasp of core concepts from the class, its original research, and its analysis of how the artifact relates to specific trends impacting the entertainment industry. Where possible, link your analysis to the course materials, including readings, lecture notes, and speaker comments. (Due October 25) (20 Percent)




Students will be organized into teams, which—for the purpose of this exercise—will function as transmedia companies. You should select a media property (a film, television series, comic book, novel, etc.) that you feel has the potential to become a successful transmedia franchise. In most cases, you will be looking for a property that has not yet added media extensions, though you could also look at a property that you feel has been mishandled in the past. You should have identified and agreed on a property no later than Sept. 13th. By the end of the term, your team will be “pitching” this property. The pitch should include a briefing book that describes:

  1. the defining properties of the media property
  2. a description of the intended audience(s) and what we know of its potential interests
  3. a discussion of the specific plans for each media platform you are going to deploy
  4. an overall description for how you will seek to integrate the different media platforms to create a coherent world
  5. parallel examples of other properties which have deployed the strategies being described


For a potential model for what such a book might look like, see the transmedia bible template from Screen Australia, available here: http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/filmmaking/digital_resources.aspx. Or visit: http://zenfilms.typepad.com/zen_films/2010/06/transmedia-workflow.html. If you use either as a model, include only those segments of their bible templates that make sense for your particular property and approach. You can also get insights on what a bible format might look like from the Andrea Phillips book.


The pitch itself will be a group presentation, followed by questions from our panel of judges (who will be drawn from across the entertainment industry). The length and format of the presentation will be announced as the term progresses to reflect the number of students actually involved in the process and thus the number of participating teams. The presentation should give us a “taste” of what the property is like, as well as lay out some of the key elements that are identified in the briefing book. Each team will need to determine what the most salient features to cover in their pitches are, as well as what information they want to hold in reserve to address the judge’s questions. Each member of the team will be expected to develop expertise around a specific media platform, as well as to contribute to the overall strategies for spreading the property across media systems.


The group will select its own team leader, who will be responsible for contact with the instructor/TA and who will coordinate the presentation. The team leader will be asked to provide feedback on what each team member contributed to the effort, while team members will be asked to provide an evaluation of how the team leader performed. Team members will check in with the TA on Week Six and with Prof. Jenkins on Week Ten and Week Thirteen to review their progress on the assignment. The instructor may request short written updates throughout the term to insure that the team is moving in the right direction.


Students will pitch their ideas to the panel of judges on December 2. They should expect to receive feedback from the instructor over the following few days, and then turn in the final version of their written documentation on the exam date scheduled for the class. (40 percent)



For each class session, students will be asked to contribute a substantive question or comment via the class forum on Blackboard. Comments should reflect an understanding of the readings for that day, as well as an attempt to formulate an issue that we can explore with visiting speakers. Students will also be evaluated based on regular attendance and class participation. (20 Percent)


Week 1, Monday, August 26

Transmedia Storytelling 101

  • Mark J. P. Wolf, “Transmedial Growth and Adaptation,” Building Imaginary Worlds (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 245-267.

Speaker: Geoffrey Long


Geoffrey Long is a media analyst, scholar, and storyteller exploring transmedia experiences, emerging entertainment platforms, and the future of entertainment. He is an alum of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program, a fellow with the Futures of Entertainment community, and a co-editor of the Playful Thinking book series from the MIT Press. He previously served as Lead Narrative Producer for the Narrative Design Team at Microsoft Studios. Find more at geoffreylong.com.


Week 2, Monday, September 2

No Class: Labor Day


Week 3, Monday, September 9

A Brief History of Transmedia

  • Henry Jenkins, “Transmedia: A Prehistory,” in Denise Mann (ed.), Wired TV (Work in Progress)
  • Michael Saler, “Living in the Imagination,” “Delight Without Delusion: The New Romance, Spectacular Texts, and Public Spheres,” As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 25-104.
  • J.P. Telotte, Disney TV (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004), pp. 61–79.
  • Justin Wyatt, “Critical Redefinition: The Concept of High Concept,” High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1994), pp. 1-22.
  • Jonathan Gray, “Learning to Use the Force: Star Wars Toys and Their Films,” Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (New York: NYU Press, 2010), pp. 177-187.

Students will meet in their teams for the first time.


Friday, September 13

Teams should have picked media franchise


Week 4, Monday, September 16

Transmedia Engagement

  • Christy Dena, “Emerging Participatory Culture Practices: Player-Created Tiers in Alternate Reality Games,” Convergence, February 2008, pp. 41-58.
  • Ivan Askwith, “Five Logics of Engagement,” Television 2.0: Reconceptualizing TV as an Engagement Medium, Master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007, pp. 51-150.
  • Sam Ford, “True Blood Case Study” (Work in Progress)
  • Andrea Phillips, “The Four Creative Purposes for Transmedia Storytelling,” “Interactivity Creates Deeper Engagement,” “Uses and Misuses for User-Generated Content,” “Challenging the Audience to Act,” and “Make Your Audience a Character, Too,” A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), pp.  41-54, 110-126,  137-148, 149-182..
  • (Rec.) Ivan Askwith, “Deconstructing the Lost Experience,” Convergence Culture Consortium white paper,


Week 5, Monday, September 23

The Japanese Media Mix

  • Otsuka Eiji, “World and Variation: The Reproduction and Consumption of Narrative,” Mechademia 5, 2010, pp. 99-116.
  • Marc Steinberg, “Media Mixes, Media Transformations,” Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).
  • Ian Condry, “Characters and Worlds as Creative Platforms,” The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).
  • Mizuko Ito, “Gender Dynamics of the Japanese Media Mix,” in Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner, and Jennifer Y. Sun (eds.), Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), pp. 97-110.

Autobiographical response due

Speaker: Aaron Koblin


Aaron Koblin is an artist and designer specializing in data and digital technologies. Aaron’s work takes real-world and community-generated data and uses it to reflect on cultural trends and the changing relationship between humans and the systems they create. His work is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. His projects have been shown at international festivals including TED, Ars Electronica, SIGGRAPH, OFFF, and the Japan Media Arts Festival. He received the National Science Foundation’s first place award for science visualization and two of his music video collaborations have been Grammy nominated. He received his MFA in Design|Media Arts from UCLA. In 2010 Aaron was the Abramowitz Artist in Residence at MIT and he leads the Data Arts Team in Google’s Creative Lab.


Week 6, Monday, September 30

Transmedia Learning

  • Meryl Alper and Becky Herr-Stephenson, “T is for Transmedia,” Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Annenberg Innovation Lab white paper.

TA meets with franchise development teams to review progress.

Speaker: Erin Reilly


Erin Reilly is Creative Director for Annenberg Innovation Lab and Research Director for Project New Media Literacies at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Her research focus is children, youth and media and the interdisciplinary, creative learning experiences that occur through social and cultural participation with emergent technologies. Having received multiple awards, such as Cable in a Classroom’s Leaders in Learning, she is most notably known for co-creating one of the first social media citizen science programs, Zoey’s Room.  Her current projects include PLAY!, a  new approach to professional development that refers to the value of play as a guiding principle in the educational process to foster participatory learning and The Mother Road, a chance to explore collective storytelling through the development of the Evocative Places eBook series. Erin consults with private and public companies in the areas of mobile, creative strategy and transmedia projects for children.


Week 7, Monday, October 7

The Franchise System

  • Derek Johnson, “An Industrial Way of Life,” “Imagining the Franchise: Structures, Social Relations, and Cultural Work,” “From Ownership to Partnership: The Institutionalization of Franchise Relations,” Media Franchises: Creative Licensing and Collaboration in the Creative Industries (New York: New York University Press, 2013), pp. 1-106.
  • Sam Ford, “Glee Case Study” (Work in Progress).


Week 8, Monday, October 14

Producing Transmedia

  • Andrea Phillips, “How to Fund Production Costs,” “And Maybe Make Some Profit, Too,” A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), pp. 223-239..

Speaker: Andrea Phillips


Andrea Phillips (born 20 July 1974) is an American transmedia game designer and writer. She has been active in the genres of transmedia storytelling and alternate reality games (ARGs), in a variety of roles, since 2001. She has written for, designed, or substantially participated in the creation of Perplex City, the BAFTA-nominated Routes (a project of Channel 4), and The 2012 Experience, a marketing campaign for the film 2012. Phillips came to the genre in 2001, when she co-moderated the Cloudmakers mailing list, which served players of “The Beast”, the ARG which revolved around the release of the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Phillips in 2012 published A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling as a guide for current and aspiring modern storytellers.


Week 9, Monday, October 21

No Class: Meet with your teams


Friday, October 25

Extension Paper Due


Week 10, Monday, October 28

World Building

  • Derek Johnson, “Sharing Worlds: Difference, Deference, and the Creative Context of Franchising,” Media Franchises: Creative Licensing and Collaboration in the Creative Industries (New York: New York University Press, 2013), pp. 107-152..
  • Mark J. P. Wolf, “World Structures and Systems of Relationships,” Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (London: Routledge, 2013), pp.153-197.
  • Michael Saler, “The Middle Positions of Middle Earth: J.R.R. Tolkien and Fictionalism,” As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 158-196.
  • Henry Jenkins, “The Pleasure of Pirates and What It Tells Us about World Building in Branded Entertainment”, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, June 13, 2007
  • If you have not already done so, please try to watch Oz, the Great and Powerful before this class session.

Prof. Jenkins check-in with teams

Speaker: Alex McDowell


Alex McDowell is one of the most innovative and influential designers working in narrative media today, with the impact of his ideas extending far beyond his background in cinema. McDowell advocates for an immersive design process that acknowledges the key role of world building in visual storytelling. Since moving to Los Angeles from London in 1986, McDowell has designed for directors as diverse as Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, David Fincher, Zack Snyder and Steven Spielberg. Currently McDowell is production designer for Man of Steel with director Zack Snyder, produced by Chris Nolan. He recently completed In Time, directed by Andrew Niccol. With many awards for his film design work, McDowell was named a Royal Designer by the UK’s Royal Society of Arts in 2006. McDowell, who currently serves on the AMPAS SciTech Council, recently joined the faculty of the School of Cinematic Arts, where he will teach across several of the SCA divisions focusing on the role of world-building in the cinematic process. McDowell is co-founder and creative director of 5D | The Future of Immersive Design, a global series of distributed events and an education space for an expanding community of thought leaders across narrative media.

Week 11, Monday, November 4

Continuity and Multiplicity

  • William Uricchio and Roberta E. Pearson, “I’m Not Fooled by That Cheap Disguise,” in Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio (eds.), The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to A Superhero and His Media (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 182-213.
  • Sam Ford and Henry Jenkins, “Managing Multiplicity in Superhero Comics,” in Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin (eds.), Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), pp. 303-313.
  • Shawna Kidman, “Five Lessons For New Media From the History of Comics Culture,” International Journal of Learning and Media 3.4 (2012): 41-54.

Speaker: Corniela Funke


During the late 1980s and the 1990s, Corniela Funke established herself in Germany with two children’s series, namely the fantasy-oriented Gespensterjäger (Ghosthunters) and the Wilde Hühner (Wild Chicks) line of books. Funke has been called “the J. K. Rowling” of Germany. The first of her books to be translated into English was Herr der Diebe in 2002. It was subsequently released as The Thief Lord by Scholastic and made it to the number 2 spot on The New York Times Best Seller list. The fantasy novel Dragon Rider (2004) stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 78 weeks. Following the success of The Thief Lord and Dragon Rider, her next novel was Inkheart (2003), which won the 2004 BookSense Book of the Year Children’s Literature award.  Inkheart was the first part of a trilogy which was continued with Inkspell (2005), which won Funke her second BookSense Book of the Year Children’s Literature award (2006). The trilogy was concluded in Inkdeath (published in Germany in 2007, English version Spring 2008, American version Fall 2008). Funke has been working with Mirada to create a multimedia experience for the iPad based on her Mirrorworld book series.


Week 12, Monday, November 11

Immersion and Extractability

Time to meet with teams

Speaker: David Voss, Vice-President of Design, Mattel Toys


David Voss is Vice-President of Design at Mattel Toys in Los Angeles. He is an alum of the Fashion Institute of Technology.


Week 13, Monday, November 18


  • Jason Mittell, “All in the Game: The Wire, Serial Storytelling, and Procedural Logic,” in Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin (eds.), Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), pp. 429-438.
  • Neil Perryman, “Doctor Who and the Convergence of Media: A Case Study in Transmedia Storytelling,” Convergence, February 2008, pp. 21-40.
  • Mark J. P. Wolf, “More Than a Story: Narrative Threads and Narrative Fabric,” Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (London: Routledge, 2013) pp. 198-225.
  • Sam Ford, “U.S. Soap Operas” (Work in Progress)
  • Elena Levine, “’What the Hell Does TIIC Mean?’: Online Content and the Struggle to Save Soaps,” in Sam Ford, Abigail De Kosnik, and C.Lee Harrington (eds.) The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2012), pp. 201-218.
  • Andrea Phillips, “Conveying Action Across Multiple Media,” A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), pp.  93-102.

Prof. Jenkins check-in with teams

Speaker: Katie Elmore Mota, Executive Producer, East Los High

Katie Elmore Mota is CEO of PRAJNA Productions: Stories with Social Relevance, a Los Angeles-based production company that is focused on creating cutting edge television/transmedia programming that is socially relevant for the Americas and beyond. PRAJNA specializes in the development and production of top-rated dramatic series that address a wide array of social and health issues. Prior to founding PRAJNA, Katie served as Vice President of Communications and Programs for Population Media Center, an international NGO
specializing in entertainment-education, for more than 6 years. At Population Media Center, Katie oversaw the design, development, and management of numerous programs using media for social change around the world. Katie was also Executive Producer for a cutting edge new series that takes place in East Los Angeles called, ‘East Los High’ that will go to air in 2013. She also produced a 70-episode novela with MTV for all of Latin America called ‘Ultimo Año,’ which will premier in the US in February 2013.

Week 14, Monday, November 25

Subjectivity And Performance

  • Henry Jenkins, “‘We Had So Many Stories to Tell’: The Heroes Comics as Transmedia Storytelling,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, Dec. 3, 2007
  • M. J. Clarke, “Tentpole TV: The Comic Book,” Transmedia Television: New Trends in Network Serial Production (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp.27-61.
  • Andrea Phillips, “Online, Everything is Characterization,” A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), pp. 83-92.
  • Sam Ford, “World Wrestling Entertainment: A Case Study,” (Work in Progress).

Time to work with teams


Week 15, Monday, December 2

Final Presentations

Categories: Blog

Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice

August 26, 2013 - 12:48am

Today’s post represents my return from an extended summer hiatus with the blog, as well as the first day of classes for the new term. I wanted to share with you the syllabus for a new subject I am introducing at USC this fall, one intended to provide professional development for our graduate students. The class reflects my own vision of some of the different opportunities for public intervention within the fields of media and communications studies. I have often argued here that at a moment of profound and prolonged media change, which is impacting all aspects of our society, we have a professional obligation to lend our expertise to larger conversations that are going to impact our collective future, that we should be engaged in conversations with industry, journalists, policy makers, and the larger public, and that we should be taking advantage of the full range of affordances of networked media as vehicles for sharing our ideas beyond our own disciplinary enclaves.


I am lucky to be at a place like the USC Annenberg School where so many of my colleagues, from the Dean on down, share such a vision, and so I am drawing on many of them to talk with the students about their work, to share their experiences and insights about what it means to be a public intellectual. I am also giving students a chance to practice and refine their skills at a range of other genres of scholarly writing which go beyond the peer-reviewed journal article and the university press monograph, and to reflect on what roles such modes of writing might play in their own careers as they envision them. And finally, I want to give students a chance to explore options for their future that involve working outside of the university. Too often, we treat graduate students who do not become professors as “failures” or “losses” when the reality is that the field can not absorb the number of students we are producing and there are many other places which do need the kinds of expertise and commitments they have developed. I want to look at the paths of some people who have chosen to do scholarship within non-academic contexts, as many of my best students are starting to consider. I have been delighted by the level of cooperation from my colleagues and staff, at USC and elsewhere, I have received in terms of making this experiment a possibility, as well as the amount of early interest in the class from students.

Some of my colleagues here have expressed concern that this class is adding to the pressure  students will confront as they enter into the job market, that many of them will end up at more conservative institutions that may not value the kinds of public activities that are prized here at USC. I certainly want students to make informed choices that feel right to them, personally and professionally. There’s no question that anyone entering the field as an academic is going to be evaluated first and foremost as a scholar based on their academic writing and publishing. Publish or Perish remains the rule of the day. But, some of us are trying to make the case that a broader range of modes of writing should be valued for the purposes of promotion and tenure and we are seeing a much broader array of career trajectories than would have been common when I entered the field thirty years ago. I want my students to know what those options look like, to have some of the skills and knowledge they would need to pursue those paths if they choose them, and to understand why some of us believe that such work is essential for the field as a whole.

I hope to be sharing some more developments on this course as the semester goes along, but for today, I just want to offer this as a model (reflecting, as such a class must, our local particulars) of what such an approach to professional development might look like.

Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice

COMM 620

Tuesdays, 6:30-9:20

This class is designed to help promote the professional development of graduate students pursuing research in the fields of media and communications. The class was inspired by three primary concerns:


  1. USC faculty engage in a broad range of public-facing professional practices which are expected and rewarded through promotion and merit raise practices, yet—for the most part—graduate students are trained with a primary focus on producing academic monographs and essays for peer-reviewed journals and without deep focus on this public-facing role.
  2. The digital era has created a much broader range of opportunities for actively engaging as intellectuals in important political and cultural conversations outside of academia, yet there are still relatively few academics who are participating in these dialogues or reacting to arguments that are shaping other realms of professional activity (policy, law, business, education, etc.)
  3. There is a growing range of different professions and industries seeking expertise in media and communication at a moment of profound technological and cultural change, yet, for the most part, graduate students are encouraged to think of these other opportunities as afterthoughts as they are being prepared almost entirely for careers as academics.


My goals in this class are to expose you to the diversity of contemporary scholarly and intellectual practices, to encourage you to look closely at outstanding exemplars of work in these arenas, to create conversations with faculty members about their professional experiences, to help students think more deeply about their intellectual profile, and to offer some core advice and practical experiences. We will be exploring a broad range of theories of media and communication across the class, but the primary focus is going to be applied and practical, as students cultivate the skills and understanding required to make meaningful interventions as public intellectuals. For this reason, the class is structured around smaller, more focused assignments than would be typical for a more research-oriented PhD Seminar.


Required Books:

  • Jason Haas and Eric Klopfer, The More We Know (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).
  • Brenda Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).

All other readings will be via Blackboard.


Assignments (Description of each assignment embedded in class schedule below):

Short Personal Profile 10% (Due Sept. 3)

Blog Post 10% (Due Sept. 24)

Op-Ed Piece 10% (Due Oct. 1)

Written Interview 10% (Due Oct. 15)

Radio Interview 10% (Due Oct. 29)

Scalar Pages 20% (Due Nov. 19)

Personal Reflection 20% (Due Dec.  3)

Class Participation 10%


Tuesday, August 27


  • Course mechanics
  • The historic mission of the intellectual and how it is changing in the digital era
  • Developing your intellectual profile




Assignment: Draft a 1-2 page description of your profile as an intellectual that includes your core background, your primary and secondary intellectual interests, your current online activities, the core conversations to which you wish to contribute, and the primary networks/communities within which you participate. Finally, try your hand at writing an author’s blurb for who you want to be, circa 2020. (Due at the start of class on September 3.)


Tuesday, September 3

The Intellectual in the Public Sphere

  • Ernest Wilson on W.E.B. Du Bois and the tradition of the black public intellectual (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Henry Jenkins and Karen Steinheimer on their experiences testifying before various governmental bodies about research into youth and media violence (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Cornel West, “The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual,” in The Cornel West Reader (New York: Basic, 2000), pp. 302-315.
  • bell hooks, “Black Women Intellectuals,” in Cornel West and bell hooks, Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life (Boston: South End Press, 1991), pp.147-164.
  • Cornel West, “Why I Left Harvard University,” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 47 (Spring 2005), pp. 64-68.
  • Ernest J. Wilson, “Communication Scholars Need to Communicate,” Inside Higher Education, July 29 2013.
  • Henry Jenkins, “Professor Jenkins Goes to Washington,” in Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Understanding Participatory Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2006), pp. 187-197.
  • Karen Steinheimer, “From Screen to Crime Scene: Media Violence and Real Violence,” in Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture: Why Media Is Not the Answer (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2013), pp. 101-138.


Tuesday, September 10

The Policy White Paper

  • Mimi Ito on the drafting of white papers for the MacArthur Foundation’s Connected Learning Initiative (6:45-7:45 p.m.)
  • Michael Levine, Meryl Alper, and Becky Herr-Stephenson on the drafting and reception of “T is For Transmedia” (8:00-9:30 p.m.)


Tuesday, September 17

The Blogosphere and the Performance of Self

  • Elizabeth Losh on her project to write a graphic novel about political communication (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • The Aca-Fandom Debate: The Academic Blogosphere at Work (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Elizabeth Losh, Jonathon Alexander, Kevin Cannon, and Zander Cannon, “Spaces for Writing” and “Why Rhetoric?,” in Understanding Rhetoric (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2013), pp. 1-65.
  • Elizabeth Losh and Jonathon Alexander,  “‘A YouTube of One’s Own’: ‘Coming Out’ Videos as Rhetorical Action,” in Christopher Pullen and Margaret Cooper (eds.), LGBT Identity and Online New Media (Routledge, 2010), pp. 23-36.
  • Maria Konnikova, “Why Grad Schools Should Require Blogging,” Scientific American, April 12, 2013.
  • Jason Mittell, “On Disliking Mad Men,” Just TV, July 29, 2010, http://justtv.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/on-disliking-mad-men/.
  • Ian Bogost, “Against Aca-Fans,” Ian Bogost Blog, July 29, 2010.
  • Henry Jenkins, “On Mad Men, Aca-Fandom, and the Goals of Criticism,” Confession of an Aca-Fan, August 11, 2010.
  • Anne Kustritz, Louisa Stein, and Sam Ford, “Aca-Fandom and Beyond,” Part One and Two, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, June 13-15, 2011, Part One, Part Two
  • Henry Jenkins, Erica Rand, and Karen Helleckson, “Aca-Fandom and Beyond,” Part One and Two, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, June 20-23, 2011,
  • John Edward Campbell, C. Lee Harrington, and Catherine Tosenberger, “Aca-Fandom and Beyond,” Part One and Two, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, July 28-29, 2011


Assignment: Write a blog post appropriate for sharing via Confessions of an Aca-Fan or another academic blog. The post should present some aspect of your research in a format that would be engaging to a non-specialist audience. Try to take advantage of the unique features of the web, such as the ability to embed videos or to link to other materials. (Due at the start of class on September 24.)


Tuesday, September 24

The Intellectual in the Court of Public Opinion

  • Workshop student blog posts (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Jeff Brazil on advice for translating academic insights into op-ed pieces (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • selected op-ed pieces (TBD)
  • Mary C. Francis (ed.), “In Focus: Scholarly Publishing,” Cinema Journal, Winter 2013, pp. 114-136.


Assignment: Students will write an op-ed piece about some aspect of their research targeted for a specific publication; the op-ed piece should follow basic formulas we were given in class. I am going to be working with the Annenberg news office to try to place as many of these op-eds as possible. (Due at the start of class on October 1.)


Tuesday, October 1

Translating Ideas for Media

  • Jeremy Kagan and Alex Rotaru on translating your ideas into film production (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Drew Morton on the Digital Essay as a new scholarly mode (8:00-9:30 p.m.)


Reading: Students will spend time examining the Media Education Foundation’s Website. Be sure to watch some of the trailers or clips offered for their films.

Ben Sampson, F for Fake:  http://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/Fall09_FForFake.html Drew Morton, Transmedia Style, https://vimeo.com/59355775 Drew Morton, Free Will in THE SHINING, https://vimeo.com/64695910



Tuesday, October 8

The Interview

  • Gordon Stables on the differences between formal debates and media crossfire programs (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Pacifica Radio’s Terrence McNally on interviewing academics (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Henry Jenkins, “Coming Up Next! Ambushed on Donahue,” in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Understanding Participatory Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2006), pp. 198-207.
  • Read at least three interviews from the Figure/Ground Communications Series
  • Listen to at least one episode of Aca-Media, .
  • Terrence McNally, “Q&A: Jane McGonigal,” Stories of a World that Just Might Work, January 24, 2012, podcast. (Please allow time to listen to the podcast.)

Also recommended:


Assignment: Students will complete the interview questions from the Figure/Ground Communications Series. (Due at the start of class on October 15.)

Tuesday, October 15

Scholarship and Curation

  • Joshua Kun on curation and publishing as extensions of his scholarship (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Workshop interviews (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



Joshua Kun has asked us to explore some of the following links that illustrate different dimensions of his current projects:

Assignment: Students will be interviewed by the Annenberg Radio News team about your research.


Tuesday, October 22

Students will be interviewed by members of the Annenberg Radio News Team.


Tuesday, October 29

Digital Scholarship

  • Steve Anderson on electronic publishing and Critical Digital Archives (6:30-8:30 p.m.)
  • Workshop interviews (8:30-9:30 p.m.)



  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Peer Review” and “Texts,” in Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (New York: New York University Press, 2011), pp. 15-50, 89-120.
  • Tara Mcpherson (ed.) “In Focus: Digital Scholarship and Pedagogy,” Cinema Journal, Winter 2009, pp. 119-159.
  • Tara McPherson, “Scaling Vectors: Thoughts on the Future of Scholarly Communication,” Journal of Electronic Publishing, Fall 2010
  • Steve Anderson and Tara McPherson, “Digital Scholarship: Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship,” Profession, 2011, pp. 136-151.
  • Check out Critical Commons, http://www.criticalcommons.org.


Assignment: Students will write three pages in Scalar discussing a core concept from their research and using as many of the multimedia capabilities as makes sense in relation to their project. (Due at the start of class on November 19.)


Tuesday, November 5

Beyond the Academy: The Chief Culture Officer

  • Sam Ford on Chief Culture Officers (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Brian David Johnson on doing scholarship embedded within a company (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Grant McCracken, “How to Be a Self-Supporting Anthropologist,” in Riall Nolan (ed.), A Handbook of Practicing Anthropology (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), pp. 104-113.
  • Sam Ford, “Listening and Empathizing: Advocating for New Management Logics in Marketing and Corporate Communications,” in Derek Kompare, Avi Santo, and Derek Johnson (eds.), Intermediaries: Management of Culture and Cultures of Management (New York: NYU Press, 2014).
  • Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, “How to Read This Book,” in Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2013), pp. ix-xv.
  •  Brian David Johnson, “Do Digital Homes Dream of Electric Families?: Consumer Experience Architecture as a Framework for Design,” in Wolfgang Minker, Michael Weber, Hani Hagras, Victor Callagan, and Achilles D. Kameas  (eds.), Advanced Intelligent Environments (New York: Springer, 2009), pp. 27-39.
  • James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson, “A Futurist and a Cultural Historian Walks into a Bar,” “A Note from the Futurist,”  “We Want to Remember a Time When Our Lives Were Not Made of Plastic,” and “What’s Next?,” in Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk into the Future of Technology (New York: Make, 2013), pp. 1-14, 283-284, 359-376.


Assignment: Students should write a short five-page reflection sharing their current understanding of the concept of the public intellectual and discussing which models from the class they might choose to pursue in their own career. Be as specific as possible about how these ideas might apply to the intellectual interests you identified in the opening audit. (Due at the start of class on December 3.)


Tuesday, November 12

Risks and Rewards of Industry-Academia Relations

  • Eric Klopfer, Alex Chisholm, and Jason Haas on the NBC IQue Project (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Sandra de Castro Buffington on Hollywood, Health and Society as an intervention into entertainment education (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Jason Haas and Eric Klopfer, The More We Know (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).
  • Shiela T. Murphy, Heather J. Hether, Laurel J. Felt, and Sandra de Castro Buffington, “Public Diplomacy in Prime Time: Exploring Potential of Entertainment Education in International Public Diplomacy,” American Journal of Media Psychology 5(1-4), 2012, pp. 5-32.
  • Sandra de Castro Buffington, “Entertaining Health: Inspiring Writers and Producers to Create Storylines that Change Knowledge and Behavior,” Sustain, Spring-Summer 2013, pp. 16-21.
  • Charlotte Lapsansky, Janel S. Schuh, Lauren Movius, Paula D. Woodley, and Sandra de Castro Buffington, “Evaluating the ‘Baby Jack’ Storyline on The Bold and the Beautiful: Making a Case for Bone Marrow Donations,” Cases in Public Health Communication and Marketing 4, 2010, pp. 8-27.
  • Janet Okamoto, Sandra de Castro Buffington, Heather M. Cloum, Brett M. Mendenhall, Michael Toboni, and Thomas W. Valente. “The Influence of Health Knowledge in Shaping Political Priorities: Examining HIV/AIDS Knowledge and Public Opinion about Global Health and Domestic Policies,” Global Public Health 6(8), 2011, pp. 830-842.

Tuesday, November 19

Innovation and Change

  • Jonathan Taplin on the role of centers, labs, and think tanks in fostering innovation (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • (tent.) Manuel Castells on the global scholarly community





Tuesday, November 26

Theory, Arts, and Politics

  • Marsha Kinder on scholarly and artistic collaboration on the Labyrinth Project (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Debating feminist porn



  • Marsha Kinder, “Designing a Database Cinema,” in Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Weibel (eds.), Future Cinema: The Cinematic Imaginary After Film (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), pp. 342-360.
  • Marsha Kinder will also make some of her digital projects available for access in advance of her session.
  • Editors, “The Politics of Producing Pleasure;” Constance Penley, “A Feminist Teaching Pornography?: That’s Like Scopes Teaching Evolution,” and Tristan Taormino, “Calling the Shots: Feminist Porn in Theory and Practice,” in Tristan Taormino, Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Constance Penley, and Mireille Miller-Young (eds.), The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure (New York: The Feminist Press, 2013), pp. 9-22, 179-200, 255-265.
  • Carole Cadwalladr, “Porn Wars: The Debate That’s Dividing Academia,” The London Observer, June 15, 2013.


Tuesday, December 3

Final Reflections

  • The girls game movement as utopian entrepreneurship
  • Students on their personal goals growing out of the class



  • Brenda Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).
  • Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, “Chess for Girls?: Feminism and Computer Games,” in Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins (eds.), From Barbie to Mortal Kombat (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), pp. 2-45.
Categories: Blog

“Sorry for Disturbing: We’re Trying to Change Brazil”: Brazilian Youth, Civic Media, and The Protests

July 16, 2013 - 1:50am

This spring, my Civic Paths Research Group was lucky enough to be able to host a visit by Carla Mendonça, a journalist and a Doctoral candidate at the Research Center and Graduate Program on the Americas at the Institute of Social Sciences of University of Brasília in Brazil. Her primary research interest is in drawing comparisons between the roles new media is playing in the political lives of American and Brazilian youth. She sat in on our weekly research meetings and also participated actively in a PhD seminar I was running focused on Civic Media and Participatory Politics. She arrived back home just in time to see some significant political rallies across her country and she has been sharing via our group’s discussion forum some of the kinds of new media practices that have been a part of this protest and reform movement. This story has been under-reported in the U.S. media, compared to really important stuff like what’s been said inside the Big Brother House. So, I wanted to share with you today her account of what’s been happening on the ground there and her selection of some key examples of the memes and videos being produced and circulated by this mostly youth led movement.

“Sorry for disturbing: we’re trying to change Brazil”:

Brazilian Youth, Civic Media and the Protests –

by Carla Mendonça 

Brazil is known for its cultural diversity. We have exciting music and spectacular dances. Our media is recognized for its tela novellas and advertisements. Nowadays, we are the second largest community – behind the United States — on Facebook. We are known for our creativity, our warmth, and our diversity.

Throughout the last decades, Brazilians have also made progress in achieving formal democracy, in creating more jobs and providing better wages, and in expanding access to the education system.  For many, the World Cup and the Olympic Games represented the promise of increased global visibility and of bringing more foreign investments into our country.

This winter — it’s winter in Brazil now –  we have also gained visibility as another country which has used network communications to inspire a grassroots movement for social change. What’s happened in cities across Brazil show strong parallels to the Spanish Indignados, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the various Arab Spring uprisings: protests across our country have some of the same spirit as the world saw displayed in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

As these protests have moved forward since June, we are seeing Brazilian youth demonstrate a great understanding of how to use the internet and transmedia for civic engagement purposes. As Henry Jenkins contends, civic media is “any use of any technology for the purposes of increasing civic engagement and public participation, enabling the exchange of meaningful information, fostering social connectivity, constructing critical perspectives, insuring transparency and accountability, or strengthening citizen agency”.

The polling institute Datafolha Research found that most of the protesters in the streets are 26-35 years old and don’t have any political party preference. More than 80% of them follow the movement through Facebook.


(Leave the couch and come to protest)

The movement started in March in the southern town Porto Alegre: the initial action was directed against a proposed increase in the public transportations’ fares. In June, 14th, in Sao Paulo, after weeks of tentative protests for the same reason, students tried again to protest in a main street of the biggest Brazilian city, where the buses’ fares had increased R$ 0,20 – about US$ 0,10. Police violently repressed the protesters to make the traffic free.

Brazilian protests are brutally dispersed by the police

The following day, videos, photos and testimonies about the confrontation between undergraduate students and soldiers were spreading across the internet and social networks. The content was shocking, and even people that were not participating in the events started to support the movement. Police tried to control the protests, especially, in Sao Paulo, Rio and Brasilia, while the biggest Brazilian media corporation – Rede Globo – called the students “delinquents”.  To work around those obstacles, activists deployed transmedia practices to report what was happening in the streets and mobilize the public.

In the eye of the storm

That weekend, protests expanded from the South to the North. Millions of people went to the streets in big cities. Police retreated and media started to call the students “protesters” instead of “delinquents”.



A meme

(Sorry for disturb the traffic, we’re trying to change Brazil)

The increase of the public transportation’s fares was the trigger, but other issues are being brought to the streets. Protesters are asking for change. They want better public services on education, health and public transportation, the jailing of corrupt politicians, and they don’t accept the huge amounts of public money that are being spent on the World Cup. People are saying they would prefer that money be focused on education and health systems rather than on stadiums.

No, I’m not going to the World Cup

A meme

(Kick Fifa – Mr. Politicians, the party is over – The State is made by the people, with the people and for the people)

As with other decentralized protest movements that have sprung up around the world, the absence of a strong leadership within the movement has made it difficult for them to negotiate with government authorities. On internet, some attempted to consolidate their agenda and make clear proposals.


19 de Junho de 2013 04 38


We will be simple and direct!

The radio and television media say that we don’t have a specific cause.

It can weaken the movement.

The decrease of the public transportations’ fares is not enough for us,

but actually we need to know how to start a new Brazil.

So we are raising five straight causes without religious or ideological inferences,

without political parties’ flags or subjectivities.

We are going to raise moral causes that are unanimous accepted.

And we are going to raise few of them for a while in order to keep them strong.

We will call them The Five Causes!

The five causes are:

1)         Not to PEC 37 (an amendment to the Brazilian Constitution).

2)          The quick renunciation by senator Renan Calheiros of the presidency of the National Congress.

3)          Quick investigation by Federal Police and District Attorneys and punishment of illegalities in World Cup’s constructions.

4)           A law that defines corruption as a heinous crime.

5)          The end of the privileged forum for politicians because it is an offense to our Constitution.

Repeat, shout, retweet, and share.

Download this video and post on your social networks accounts before it is deleted from internet.

You will see that your son don’t give up the fight (sentence from the Brazilian anthem).


Despite some criticism of the movement by journalists and political analysts, all local governments decided don’t raise the public transportations’ fares anymore. Even so, protesters kept engaged, demanding better health and education systems, less corruption, and bringing more and more issues to the streets.


A Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff`s meme

(The Queen of the Cups)

A Congress meme (it is the Brazilian Congress shape)

(Don’t re-elect any congressman – The democratic way to give dignity to the Brazilian Congress)

After three weeks under pressure, the main political institutions started to announce some propositions. President Dilma Rousseff, for example, announced the intention to start a process to reform the country’s political institutions. Some of the quick answers from the political institutions included:

-       Mayors of 104 cities in 17 states (Brazil has 27 states) canceled increases in public transportation fares.

-       Federal Government: 1) called a meeting with mayors and governors to discuss an agreement for education, health and urban mobility; 2) called a meeting with some movements’ leaders; 3) announced the intention to start a political institutions’ reform process in the country.

-       The Congress: 1) voted and didn’t approve an amendment to the Brazilian Constitution (PEC 37) that has been proposing restrictions to Ministério Público, an institution similar to the District Attorneys; 2) approved a law that defines corruption as a heinous crime; 3) approved that 100% of the money from oil royalties will be invested on education and health; 4) canceled the July recess.

-       Supreme Court ordered the arrest of a congressman judged guilty of corruption in 2010.

Signs are that the government is responding to this popular movement, and more is yet to come.

Brazilian Spring – Enough! Brazil is of the Brazilian people!

Things did not fall from the sky

The movement was organized by young people, creatively, via internet, working in networks, adding a Brazilian face to this global phenomenon. Young Brazilians used the communication via internet and transmedia exchanging meaningful information, they fostered social connectivity, they constructed real critical perspectives, and they strengthened citizen agency. Thus, they strengthened their social bonds and created a strong sense of civic engagement and collective empowerment.

Civic action is essential for democracy. Those young people have shown that they can know how to deploy civic media to push for a more democratic society and for policies that better represent their values.


Carla Mendonça is a journalist and a Doctoral candidate at the Research Center and Graduate Program on the Americas at the Institute of Social Sciences of University of Brasília, in Brazil. Last semester, Carla worked on her Doctoral dissertation research at Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California thanks to a grant from Capes Foundation, an agency under the Ministry of Education of Brazil. She is comparing how young Brazilians and Americans use technology for civic engagement and participatory politics.

While we are on the subject of participatory politics, I also wanted to share with you today a powerful video on the George Zimmerman verdict, produced by the Black Youth Project. Cathy Cohen, who is a fellow member of the MacArthur Foundation’s Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network, was hosting a convening of more than 100 black youth activists this weekend and they collectively decided to issue a statement about the Trayvon Martin Case and the issue of violence directed against black youth. The video is simple, direct, and poignant: it carries the moral weight of a new generation of political leaders as they grapple with some of the most difficult issues of our time. You will want to watch this.

Categories: Blog