Perspectives – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Goodbye to Antenna Thu, 04 Feb 2016 15:00:45 +0000 end

In the week of November 6, 2009, Antenna published its first posts, by Matt Sienkiewicz, Josh Jackson, Nick Marx, Sreya Mitra, myself, Erin Copple Smith, Liz Ellcessor, and Kyra Hunting. I was a new faculty member at UW-Madison, and all these other writers were grad students, as Antenna was an experiment in group-blogging by the Media and Cultural Studies graduate program here.

We had been inspired especially by UT-Austin’s Flow, the preeminent media studies group blog. However, where Flow had more of a schedule, and worked with a columnist model, we hoped to create a system wherein people could write when they wanted to do so, thereby enabling timely responses to current events. The hope was that if there were enough people involved, nobody would need to promise to write much, as the system would carry itself in aggregate. We’d thereby aim to join and complement Flow, not compete with it.

It worked, and quite beautifully so. Those listed above, alongside Germaine Halegoua, Lindsay Hogan, Megan Biddinger, and Megan Sapnar Ankerson kept it stocked with content for the first month. Then, a month later, we had our first post by a non-UW grad student or instructor, when Amanda Lotz wrote for us. Within the next few months, many more wrote for us. Just over six years later, we’ve posted the words of 320 authors, with comments from many more. This is the 1229th post, which means we’ve averaged 3.85 posts a week for our lifetime. And Google Analytics suggest we’ve had a healthy readership throughout, with readership from 222 countries (even one read from Antarctica!) and about 400-600 reads daily (spiking when Myles McNutt wrote something, when Avi Santo pissed off some Whedon fans, or when we apparently hit a deep nerve of the Internet, as with posts on River Monsters or Hit Girl).

A lot of invisible labor went into this. To readers, it may’ve seemed as though posts just magically appeared, but there were always editors behind them, encouraging others to write, helping them understand Word Press, tagging and editing and polishing up posts when necessary, adding photos, organizing columns and series, and more. Those first voices on Antenna all finished up and moved on elsewhere, and were replaced by yet more amazing editors. Andrew Bottomley and Chris Cwynar were here from the start (and alongside me are now the greybeards), as were Mary Beltrán and Danny Kimball, and were joined in time as editors by the likes of Myles McNutt, Nora Patterson, Evan Elkins, Kit Hughes, Jennifer Smith, Alyxandra Vesey, Sarah Murray, Taylor Cole Miller, Drew Zolides, Tony Tran, Caroline Leader, Nicholas Benson, Jenna Stoeber, and April Bethea. Jeremy Morris and Derek Johnson also worked with us behind the scenes after their arrivals in the department, and Eric Hoyt offered background support. Throughout, Comm Arts’ fantastic staff, first Joel Ninmann, and then Pete Sengstock and Michael Trevis, have made it all possible by working the back-end.

But the gas tank is empty. We’re tired. That invisible labor has to come from somewhere, and it’s become hard to keep finding ways to gas up when we have other things going on. Roaming around for content has proven harder and harder a task with each semester. Academic blogging in media studies in general seems to have hit peak then started to decline. Many conversations are happening on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere instead. And so we find ourselves at a point where it’s time to take down the rabbit ears and press the off button.

There are so many people to thank. I list the key grad students, UW faculty, and staff above (and picture the editors below). Andrew Bottomley, Kyra Hunting, Myles McNutt, Taylor Miller, and Alyx Vesey deserve particular commendation for regularly doing way, way more as editors than could ever fairly be expected of mere human beings. I highlight their superhuman efforts not to diminish others’, but because they’ve been especially tireless. And as writers, all hail Myles McNutt for his 52 posts. Other MCSers who’ve spilled more than their fair share of online ink are Erin Copple Smith with 27 posts, Drew Zolides with 23, Kyra Hunting with 19, Matt Sienkiewicz with 16, Andrew Bottomley with 15, Chris Cwynar with 14, Nora Patterson and Nick Marx with 13 apiece, Alyx Vesey with 11, Danny Kimball and Jennifer Smith with 10 each, and Liz Ellcessor and Lindsay Hogan with 9 each. Liz also made it all technically possible in the early days, while Megan Sapnar Ankerson made our little antenna.

Antenna has had some great friends from elsewhere along the way, too. Avi Santo, Jason Mittell, Amanda Lotz, Kristina Busse, and Jeffrey Jones were all supremely helpful in talking through what it could and should be before and after it went live. When we’ve threatened to pull the plug before, Amanda, Jason, and Kristina in particular gave me the pep talks I needed to keep going on, as they often do. All five of them produced content for us like bosses too. Jason’s written 34 posts, Amanda 20, Kristina 17, Jeff 14, and they’re joined in the 10-and-above club by Matt Hills with 21, Kristina Busse with 17, Martha Nochimson with 16, Melissa Click with 13, Brad Schauer with 12, Ben Aslinger, Allison McCracken, and Louisa Stein with 11 each, and Tim Anderson, Bill Kirkpatrick, and Elana Levine with 10 each. Especially amazing was Chris Becker with 70 posts (!!), many (but not all) from her “What Are You Missing?” column. Many more wrote multiples less than 10. And of late our great colleagues at University of Nottingham, led by the formidable Mark Gallagher and Roberta Pearson, have often held us up with their posts.

Thanks to all our readers too for reading, commenting, sharing, “liking” on Facebook, retweeting on Twitter, citing, and so forth.

We debated whether to end with a “best of” series of posts, but partly because the possibilities of the site and the day-to-day-ness of it – what it represented, and what it did in aggregate – were its greatest offerings, and partly to avoid serenading ourselves, instead let’s just end it here. In television finale terms, we couldn’t script something as emotionally satisfying as the Justified finale, and feared the mis-steps of so many other finales, so instead we thought we’d follow Cheers’ lead and say, “sorry, we’re closed,” adjust a picture on the wall, and walk off-stage, leaving a darkened set behind us. As with Cheers in reruns, we’ll keep the site up and running as long as possible so that you can still read past articles, but this will be Antenna’s last post.

With thanks to the editors who made it happen:





And a thank you to everyone who has written for us (with apologies for anyone we’ve missed. Tell me and I’ll add you):

Rebecca Adelman

Pablo Alonso González

Hector Amaya

Robin Andersen

Bailey Anderson

John Anderson

Tim Anderson

Mark Andrejevic

Megan Sapnar Ankerson

Melissa Aronczyk

Robert Asen

Ben Aslinger

Jennifer Stephens Aubrey

Jane Banks

Miranda Banks

Corey Barker

Kyle Barnett

Kathleen Battles

Geoffrey Baym

Nancy Baym

Christine Becker

Ron Becker

Mary Beltrán

James Bennett

Nicholas Benson

Megan Biddinger

Jonathan Bignell

Trevor J. Blank

Anthony Bleach

Aniko Bodroghkozy

Paul Booth

David Bordwell

Nandana Bose

Andrew Bottomley

Maria Suzanne Boyd

Miranda Brady

Lauren Bratslavsky

Piers Britton

Will Brooker

Robert Brookey

Bill Brown

Blanka Brzozowska

Chiara Bucaria

Chelsea Bullock

Colin Burnett

Kristina Busse

Nick Camfield

Karma Chávez

Aleena Chia

Mike Chopra-Gant

Yiu Fai Chow

Cynthia Chris

Yiu-Wai Chu

Jennifer Clark

Melissa Click

Norma Coates

D. Elizabeth Cohen

Brandon Colvin

Andrea Comiskey

Cindy Conaway

Matthew Connolly

Kyle Conway

Li Cornfeld

David Crider

Phillip Lamarr Cunningham

Michael Curtin

Christopher Cwynar

Shilpa Davé

Evan Davis

Max Dawson

Amber Day

Jeroen de Kloet

Rayna Denison

Brian DeShazor

Matthew Dewey

Camilo Diaz Pino

Eric Dienstfrey

Courtney Brannon Donoghue

Bonnie Dow

Jimmy Draper

Brooke Erin Duffy

Sean Duncan

Christina Dunbar-Hester

Amanda Nell Edgar

Kate Egan

Liora Elias

Evan Elkins

Liz Ellcessor

Tarik Ahmed Elseewi

Elizabeth Evans

Anna Everett

Nicky Falkof

Brian Faucette

Brian Fauteux

Laura Felschow

Terry Flew

Sam Ford

Matthew Freeman

Kathy Fuller-Seeley

Joy V. Fuqua

Hiroko Furukawa

Mark Gallagher

Patryk Galuszka

Racquel Gates

Kamille Gentles-Peart

Lincoln Geraghty

Lindsay Giggey

Anne Gilbert

Colleen Glenn

Kevin Glynn

Keara Goin

Ian Gordon

Paul Grainge

Jonathan Gray

Brian Gregory

Hollis Griffin

Sabine Gruffat

Leora Hadas

Germaine Halegoua

Erin Hanna

Mary Beth Haralovich

C. Lee Harrington

Nate Harrison

John Hartley

Mobina Hashmi

Dan Hassoun

Timothy Havens

Mark Hayward

Heather Hendershot

Brian Herrera

Richard Hewett

Matt Hills

Michele Hilmes

Ashley Hinck

Lindsay Hogan

Lisa Hollenbach

Su Holmes

Chris Holmlund

Noel Holston

Jennifer Holt

Jonah Horwitz

Robert Glenn Howard

Charlotte Howell

Eric Hoyt

Kit Hughes

Kyra Hunting

Eleanor Huntington

Nina Huntemann

Kiranmayi Indraganti

Josh Jackson

Jason Jacobs

Deborah Jaramillo

Sarah Jedd

Catherine Johnson

Derek Johnson

Jenell Johnson

Jeffrey P. Jones

Jennifer Jones

Liew Kai Khiun

Carolyn Kane

Katie Karpuch

Mary Celeste Kearney

Amanda Keeler

Jen Kelly

Kelly Kessler

Dina Khdair

Danny Kimball

Bill Kirkpatrick

Amanda Ann Klein

Simone Knox

Carly Kocurek

Melanie Kohnen

Derek Kompare

Jon Kraszewski

Shanti Kumar

Katariina Kyrölö

Jorie Lagerwey

Laura LaPlaca

Mark Lashley

Caroline Ferris Leader

Tama Leaver

Bruce Lenthall

Suzanne Leonard

Elana Levine

Julia Leyda

Chris Lippard

Derek Long

Lori Kido Lopez

Alexis Lothian

Amanda Lotz

Jason Loviglio

Madhavi Mallapragada

Daniel Marcus

Stefania Marghitu

Kelli Marshall

Alfred Martin

Nick Marx

Catherine Martin

Ernest Mathijs

Vicki Mayer

Allison McCracken

Chelsea McCracken

Paul McDonald

Alan McKee

John McMurria

Myles McNutt

Ritesh Mehta

Ross Melnick

Cynthia B. Meyers

Brandon Miller

Taylor Cole Miller

Sreya Mitra

Jason Mittell

Kelsey Moore

Chris Moreh

Jeremy Morris

Caryn Murphy

Daniel Murphy

Sarah Murray

Susan Murray

Linde Murugan

Philip Napoli

Elizabeth Nathanson

Diane Negra

Michael Z. Newman

Jack Newsinger

Darrell Newton

LeiLani Nishime

Martha Nochimson

Andrew Owens

Kathryn Palmer

Eleanor Patterson

Roberta Pearson

Reece Peck

Allison Perlman

Alisa Perren

Anne Helen Petersen

Jennifer Petersen

Karen Petruska

Devon Powers

William Proctor

Aswin Punathambekar

Debra Ramsay

Sripana Ray

Mike Rennett

Maureen Rogers

Sharon Marie Ross

Meagan Rothschild

Leo Rubinkowski

Judd Ethan Ruggill

Alexander Russo

Maureen Ryan

Mark Sample

Rossend Sanchez Baro

Cornel Sandvoss

Kevin Sanson

Avi Santo

Stephanie Sapienza

Emily Sauter

Bradley Schauer

Philip Scepanski

Peter Schaefer

Laura Schnitker

Suzanne Scott

Robert Sevenich

Adrienne Shaw

Josh Shepperd

Shawn Shimpach

Tyler Shores

Matt Sienkiewicz

Anthony Smith

Erin Copple Smith

Iain Robert Smith

Jennifer Smith

Beretta Smith-Shomade

Jason Sperb

Carol Stabile

Matt Stahl

Louisa Stein

Chris Sterling

Jonathan Sterne

Jenna Stoeber

Bärbel Göbel Stolz

Nora Stone

David Suisman

Sylwia Szostak

R. Colin Tait

Lynnell Thomas

Ethan Thompson

Nao Tomabechi

KT Torrey

Tony Tran

Chuck Tryon

Amy Tully

Shawn VanCour

John Vanderhoef

Sonja van Wichelen

Julia Velkova

Neil Verma

Alyxandra Vesey

Travis Vogan

Ira Wagman

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen

Gregory Waller

Sam Ward

Kristen Warner

Amber Watts

Brenda Weber

Ann Werner

Thomas West

Khadijah Costley White

Timeka Williams

Booth Wilson

Joe Wlodarz

Pamela Wojcik

Jennifer Hyland Wong

Faye Woods

Dannagal Goldthwaite Young

Sabrina Q. Yu

Andrea Zeffiro

Andrew Zolides


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What’s New in Media Industries? A Revised Edition of Understanding Media Industries Tue, 02 Feb 2016 15:44:15 +0000 IoC Framework

by Amanda D. Lotz and Timothy Havens

The editorial team at Antenna has generously allowed us this post to speak directly to what we hope is our primary market instead of through the marketing team of our publisher. There is a second, revised edition of Understanding Media Industries available (Oxford University Press, 2017—it’s from the future). If you didn’t know there was a first edition, skip to paragraph three.

This paragraph is for those of you patient enough to bear with a first edition that didn’t turn out exactly as intended and to beseech those of you who considered it but found it too flawed, to please give it another try. There are long and complicated stories about why the first edition turned out as it did that we won’t devote to print, but there were problems, we’re sorry, and we’ve fixed a lot of them.

Teaching media industries classes can be challenging because the object of study refuses to remain constant. Our goal with this project was to create a book that would provide a foundation of study that might manage to stay relevant for a handful of years and to provide a clearinghouse of supplemental material that would be more of the moment.

Understanding Media Industries comes with a detailed instructor supplement that has links to and descriptions of media content to use in classes, applied readings about things in the real world and questions that connect them with textbook concepts, and ideas for assignments and other resources. There are also elaborate weekly discussion section activities (and powerpoints) and lecture powerpoints integrating many of the recommended readings and clips. To access these materials, go to Also, an extended table of contents is available on the OUP site.

The book has an email address and a Twitter feed that we hope to use to build and share more resources. Whenever we come across a new story that illustrates a concept we’ll send a link by Twitter along with a brief suggestion of its relevance and the chapter it fits in. Follow the book @HavensLotzUMI or search #UMI. There are already a few out there. Please send ideas, assignments, and suggestions to or, if you’re not a Twitter person and would like updates pushed by email, send us a note and we’ll distribute updates that way as well.

We’ve learned a ton about the textbook industry in the process and could probably illustrate every point in the book with an example, though that would amuse no one. One of the biggest frustrations has been encountering the perception that a book about media industries isn’t needed because there are so few classes on the topic. Our goal was to make starting such a course, whether a lecture of hundreds or a conversation among a handful, much easier. We’ve been teaching these courses for awhile now and are happy to share our insight. We’ll be presenting a workshop at SCMS and a panel at BEA about the challenges and experiences, and are always happy to chat if you drop us a line.


Original or Exclusive? Shifts in Television Financing and Distribution Shift Meanings Fri, 01 Jan 2016 15:00:40 +0000 netflixoriginalseries

By  Amanda D. Lotz and Timothy Havens

In addition to increasing the possible objects of study, broadband-distributed television services have introduced new challenges to grounding the television shows we study in their industrial milieu. In truth, this is not an issue that originates with broadband services—it has been a part of international distribution for some time—but has become more acute since the late 1980s, when co-productions became common in Europe, Asia, and the Americas as a way to compete against a growing onslaught of US imports. Before that, if you knew a show’s country of origin, it was pretty easy to ascertain what entity it had been produced for: even though many public broadcasters acquired programming from independent producers, they nevertheless aired it on their national broadcast channels. With some noteworthy exceptions, very little television produced outside the US at this time traveled beyond its nation of origin.

Pinpointing a television series’ industrial and national origins became more complicated as cable and satellite introduced a greater range and variety of television services around the globe. These newcomers were often commercial distributors in systems where public service broadcasting had long dominated, as well as various advertising-subscription hybrid services, as was the case for most US cable channels. Not only did the upstarts tend to source their programming much more widely than their broadcast counterparts; they also quickly developed sister channels in multiple markets that shared program acquisitions.

Television programming has consequently expanded its flow through international markets and now more regularly flows in countervailing directions. The greater diversity of services that deliver programming and the greater diversity of flows have made it more challenging for scholars to develop a shared understanding of the impact that industrial conditions have on programming decisions and the meanings we associate with particular programs, because changes in distributors reinscribe how we understand shows as they move beyond their original licensing distributor. For example, what is an “HBO show”? A show produced by HBO and aired in the US on HBO, as was the case of The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and Six Feet Under? Does The Leftovers’ production by Warner Bros. make it less of an HBO show, or does the distinction hold because through produced by another studio, it was created for the logics of a subscriber supported service?

The more difficult question is are these still HBO shows when they air on Sky Atlantic, Canal Plus, and HBO Nordic? What about Homeland? The US-based scholar would immediately categorize it as a Showtime “original”—or at least as one produced under the logics of subscriber-funded television (though it is produced by Fox 21)—but how is that show defined in a conversation between a US based scholar and one in Denmark who watches Homeland on HBO Nordic, which is also the source of The Walking Dead? And what about co-productions? Should they always be described as sourced by all financial contributors or just those involved creatively?

Netflix’s marketers have added to the challenge with its liberal use of the term “original” in marketing, typically marketing any show it has exclusive rights to in a country as “original”—hence Netflix claimed Lilyhammer was a “Netflix original” in the US and often claims shows produced for other US networks and channels as “original” in markets outside the US. But we would argue that the only “Netflix originals” are those Netflix pays to have produced. Most of what Netflix promotes as original content is more accurately described as “exclusive” in a particular market (though they seem to be somewhat liberal in calling programming “Netflix originals” even by this designation!)

All we’re really arguing for is the need to follow the money in order to discern for what type of entity the series we write about are produced. Such distinctions are important to discussions of texts because the mandate (commercial; public service) and business model of the entity it is created for (advertising; subscription; advertising and subscription) ends up imprinted upon it in ways often relevant to the argument at hand. Thus, the sale of shows in secondary markets can obscure those origins. And while we may think that much of this is reasonably beyond the notice of general viewers, it certainly matters for television scholars looking to make precise claims about industrial conditions and representation.

But we would like to push this observation even further, to encourage scholars to consider the ways in which various and subsequent industrial practices and conditions leave their mark on the programming we encounter and our orientations toward that programming. We believe that multiple iterations of industrial authorship—the production company, the original channel, the syndicator, and subsequent channels can be thought of as what Derrida calls a “trace.” For Derrida, the trace is the absent other that makes meaning possible; the other side of a binary, such as “woman” is to “man,” which is necessary to make any term meaningful. But the trace is more than this: it contains within it all of the meanings and contradictions that have accrued to a signifier over time, much like the endless links of chain Jacob Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol drags behind him wherever he goes.

Economic practices, industrial arrangements, brands, and corporate cultures all leave a trace on programming. These traces range from the obvious to the barely perceptible, but they undoubtedly shape televisual representations and viewers’ engagements with those representations.


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Pretty in Pink: BBC iPlayer and the Promotion of On-Demand Television Thu, 19 Nov 2015 12:00:27 +0000 Post by Paul Grainge, University of Nottingham

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. This week’s contributor is Paul Grainge, Professor of Film and Television Studies in our department.

BBC iPlayer as a “pink portal” (2010)

BBC iPlayer as a “pink portal” (2010)

Ever since the BBC launched its on-demand service, BBC iPlayer, on Christmas Day in 2007, short-form trailers have appeared across the BBC’s broadcast channels to promote the availability of iPlayer as a new way of accessing and engaging with BBC content. The distinctive iPlayer logo, pretty in pink, routinely appears in TV end credits as a reminder of program availability through catch-up and as a call to action. The “play” symbol invites audiences not only to watch shows they may have missed but also to download content, interact with educational guides, share recommendations and personalize their viewing through sign-in (the last of these reflecting the BBC’s desire, expressed by Director-General Tony Hall in 2015, to “reinvent public service broadcasting through data”).

As well as using end credits, the promotion of BBC iPlayer in the UK market has also taken place in between programs, a range of teasers (10 seconds), trailers (30-40 seconds) and full-blown brand stories (up to a minute long) appearing as interstitials in the BBC’s linear schedule. These always make me watch. Not simply because I’m a sucker for a well-crafted promo, but also because they reveal something of the way that the BBC has produced, and continues to develop, vernaculars around on-demand television.

BBC iPlayer logo

BBC iPlayer logo

This has become tied to questions of how the BBC communicates its role in a fast-changing media environment. Unquestionably, the BBC has been successful in creating brand awareness for iPlayer. This was evidenced by a YouGov poll in 2013 that named “BBC iPlayer” the UK’s number-one brand in terms of consumer perception, ahead of Samsung (2nd), John Lewis (3rd), (6th), YouTube (7th) and Marks & Spencer (8th). And yet, despite the ubiquity of the brand, it remains the case that iPlayer accounts for just 2-3% of all BBC audience viewing. For those responsible for iPlayer strategy at the BBC, this signals a head-scratching gap between brand awareness and actual use among mainstream audiences. While rebutting claims in 2015 that iPlayer’s audience had dipped for the first time, the Head of BBC iPlayer, Dan Taylor-Watt, nevertheless remarked in a May blog post that “the challenge for us is to get everyone using iPlayer—whether that’s to make the journey to work better, the holiday in the middle of no-where [sic] in the rain more enjoyable or just easily catch-up on what you’ve missed from the comfort of your sofa.”

It is the nature of the “challenge” that Taylor-Watt describes that interests me—specifically, how promotion has been used to get audiences to think of iPlayer as part of their daily habit. Since 2011, marketing campaigns for iPlayer have been informed by a “three beyond” strategy: “beyond PC, beyond catch-up, beyond the early-adopter.” This has been expressed in different ways, but is marked by a move away from techno-representations of iPlayer as a “portal”—viewers gazing at phosphoric BBC content in mystical electro-space—and towards representations that depict the use and function of iPlayer in the spaces and routines of everyday British life.

In the move from portals to port-a-loos (the tempting alternative title for this blog), a 2012 trailer called “Beyond the Computer” would depict the iPlayer logo descending onto screen devices being used in a range of spaces across the UK, from buses, beach huts, canal boats and office blocks to windmills, flats and the aforementioned portable toilet. Promoting the extension of iPlayer onto multiscreen devices, this trailer emphasized platform mobility in contemplative representations of “digital Britain.

More recently, however, iPlayer campaigns have taken a different tack, and have focused more deliberately on what BBC managers that Catherine Johnson and I have interviewed call the “need-states” of on-demand television. This involves communicating the relevance, rather than simply the availability, of iPlayer to audiences. A 2014 campaign called “Always There When You Need It” demonstrates this attempt to show how iPlayer can serve the “entertainment needs” of prospective users. Targeted at the audience persona of “mainstream mums”—women in their thirties and forties with children, seen by the BBC as a group that under-uses iPlayer—the promo imagined “moments and opportunities” where iPlayer could fill gaps and fit into the time-pressed lives of people negotiating hectic, harassed and occasionally hungover moments of the day.

At some level, “always there when you need it” chimes with Max Dawson’s analysis of DVR advertising in the U.S. By the terms of his argument, digital television technologies became linked in the 2000s to discourses of attention management. Dawson connects this to wider neoliberal ideologies and the reflexive project of learning how to allocate attention profitably. Alert to quotidian moments, “Always There When You Need It” depicts scenes where iPlayer solves problems of time and attention in social, familial and workday life—from viewing “opportunities” on a delayed train to calming over-energetic children.

And yet, there is something in these promos that extends beyond a concern with the profitable allocation of attention. In cultural terms, they also contribute to the way the BBC has sought to promote its identity and value as a (digital) public-service broadcaster. In a period when the BBC is having to justify its purpose and unique funding arrangement ahead of charter review in 2016—and in the face of attacks by a Conservative government intent on reducing the corporation’s size—it is perhaps no surprise that the BBC has developed vernaculars that imagine, and assert, the BBC as something that wraps around British life.  While the purpose of “always there when you need it” was to highlight iPlayer’s capacity to meet entertainment needs, this trailer and subsequent promotions (such as this year’s “if you love something let it show” campaign, which invites audiences to share recommendations through iPlayer) have as much to say about the BBC’s own political “need-states” as they do the conditions and situations where audiences might turn to iPlayer as a service.

‘If You Love Something Let It Show" campaign (2015)

‘If You Love Something Let It Show” campaign (2015)


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A Tribute to Barbara Klinger Tue, 03 Nov 2015 15:00:17 +0000 380803_web

This year, Barbara Klinger retired as Provost Professor of Film and Media Studies at Indiana University. Though we’re sure we’ll continue to see superb work from her, we wanted to honor her career to date. Thus we asked several who have worked with her, past and present, to offer some words.


“Cinema’s Contextualist”

from Dan Hassoun (PhD Candidate, Indiana University):

It’s interesting how texts can take on biographical meanings beyond their longer place within a discipline. When I was a college sophomore at the University of Minnesota, dipping myself for the first time into the strange and byzantine world of film theory, I had read virtually nothing of the disciplinary canon beyond the few texts explained in a handful of intro-level courses. In other words, I vaguely knew that there was a difference between signifiers and signifieds, that Hollywood was a culture industry of capitalist ideology, and that spectators identified with some sort of cinematic apparatus that regressed them into babies looking into mirrors (my 19-year-old self was a tad fuzzy on this final point).

It was within this context that Barb Klinger’s Beyond the Multiplex: Cinema, New Technologies, and the Home would stretch and challenge my ideas about what critical cultural scholarship could be. Here was a text, densely thoughtful and accessibly written, that engaged issues of cinephilia, home theater, sharing and memory, repeat viewing – in short, cinema’s receptive contexts – in ways I could immediately relate to. In particular, the book’s use of audience surveys to examine practices of repeat movie viewings was eye-opening for a sophomore who had been learning to associate reception research with the boogeyman of “positivism.” I’m not overstating anything when I say that Barb’s work helped teach me that the empirical, the historical, the theoretical, and the critical need not be exclusive endeavors.

It wasn’t until later that I could place Barb’s work within a longer history of the field. Barb was certainly not the first to write critically on extra-theatrical cinema or everyday (particularly domestic) uses of screen technologies; after all, she belonged to a trajectory of scholarship on media audiences and space that included the work of Ann Gray, David Morley, Lynn Spigel, Anna McCarthy, and many others, some of whom predated and influenced Barb’s work, others of whom were writing alongside her during the 1980s and 1990s. It was also only later that I learned about Barb’s own extended influence in this field, from the many scholars who have cited and engaged her ideas across fan studies, reception, new media, authorship, historiography, and more; to her advisees and colleagues at Indiana University; to the Department of Communication and Culture that she helped to found.

As I write this, the future of critical/cultural media studies at Indiana is uncertain, as Communication and Culture has been dissolved and incorporated into a new Media School dominated by production, design, and social scientific approaches. As a PhD student navigating this new institutional terrain, however, I am grateful to have Barb’s work in my back pocket as a continuing example of what thoughtful research in this discipline can look like. If her work helped to guide me into this line of study, I look forward to it (and her future output) accompanying me into the next phase of my career.


“The Real Deal”

from Chris Holmlund (Professor, University of Tennessee-Knoxville):

Barb Klinger has been a cherished friend of mine for a long time. Her modesty is invigorating, her “can do” attitude exemplary. She makes a point of reaching out to and supporting junior as well as senior scholars: I’ve witnessed her thoughtfulness, based in genuine interest, time and again. I know she loves teaching – and travel – so I very much hope that she will be snapped up for visiting or guest professorships periodically, because it is too sad to think that she will never imitate Princess Leia in a classroom again. (Actually I’m not sure she ever did do that, but I do remember with relish her quick transformation into Leia to illustrate a point at a Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference some years back.)

I am pleased that Barb is now able to concentrate on her research, and to explore Chicago, her new home town. She has done so much fine service, at Indiana University, through SCMS, and for the field, that she deserves a bit of downtime. As a former SCMS President, then Past President, from 2011-2015, I was lucky to work with her as President-Elect, then President. I would be remiss if I did not signal what a great job she did organizing the 2013 Chicago SCMS conference. As President she moved Board meetings along skillfully. Despite long days we got lots done and we enjoyed ourselves, in good part because Barb is organized and gracious. She knows how to create a friendly atmosphere by according everyone their due and periodically adding subtly funny comments that sneak up on you and get you chuckling. She is unfailingly professional, and she is kind. Such a great combination!

Like many, I greatly admire her scholarship and appreciate the way it has evolved. Think about it: she’s gone from melodrama and meaning (her first book on Sirk) to beyond the multiplex. Today she is engaging with 3D and our trans-mediated world. The range of her intellectual engagement is impressive: from cult film to piracy, cable TV to YouTube parodies, transnational TV thrillers, and more. There is good reason why she has twice (in 1997 and 2010) won the prestigious Katharine Singer Kovács Best Essay Award, for articles in Screen and Cinema Journal, respectively. She takes fans and fandom seriously because she has always been intrigued by reception; indeed one of her very first articles, “‘Cinema/Ideology/Criticism’ Revisited: The Progressive Text” (Screen, 1984) engaged with Jean-Luc Comolli and Jean Paul Narboni’s influential 1971 essay.

Over the years Barb has evolved from a film into a media scholar. There is no fear that post retirement she will disappear from view; on the contrary, she will, I am sure, continue to be active. I very much look forward to reading what she writes next and to seeing her as often as possible. Barb Klinger is the real deal, in so many ways.

Kudos to you, Barb, on your retirement, warm thanks for everything, and hugs!


from Gregory A. Waller (Professor, Indiana University):

I don’t think that there has been anything published by my colleague, Barb Klinger, that hasn’t been a model of impeccably researched, theoretically savvy, and carefully wrought, finely tuned scholarship, demonstrating again and again that quantity is never a substitute for quality when it comes to an academic career. And, even without recourse to a citation index, I’d venture to say that Barb’s articles and books have become essential reading across a range of scholarly interests: for starters, 3-D and home theater, Hollywood melodrama and Jane Campion, historical reception studies and transnational fandom. If you know her work largely through Beyond the Multiplex, then you owe it to yourself to read her essays on The Piano, Titanic viewed in Afghanistan, Hollywood’s “adult films” of the 1950s, and The Big Lebowski. If you are not familiar with her current work on the extended afterlife of Hollywood classics like Casablanca, including the role of radio adaptations, rest assured that this research project more than measures up to Barb’s ambitious and exacting standards.

All that you might already know. And you’ve likely encountered Barb in her presidential alter-ego as the major domo of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, an organization that somehow manages to get six years of service out of its top elected official. But unless you’ve been at Indiana University, where Barb spent her entire academic career, you don’t know her as an exemplary department member, principled university citizen, and terrific mentor for graduate students. (And you probably don’t know her abiding fascination with the Rolling Stones and the darkest international televisual crime serials as well as her ability stay cool and on target when conducting a public interview with Meryl Streep in a 3000+ seat auditorium filled with fans and university officials.) These are the very qualities that go far toward making the academy the kind of place we always hope it can be. After I joined her department at Indiana as a chair hired from outside, Barb’s knowledge of the institution, her professionalism, and her smart advice saved me more than once from rashness and folly born of frustration. She’s been all that anyone would want from a colleague, and for me the way she conducted her life as a working academic at a large public university made her multi-faceted scholarship and her contributions to the profession at large that much more impressive.


from Brenda Weber (Professor, Indiana University):

There are many qualities one might praise about Barb Klinger: her ceaselessly excellent scholarship, her all-around pleasantness and good-natured decency, her calmness in sunshine and in storm, but one of the things that has meant the most to me as a colleague and friend is her spot-on advice as a mentor. I began my tenure-track job at Indiana University in the Department of Gender Studies as a literature and media scholar in a domain dominated by people from the social scientists. Don’t get me wrong, these people were (and continue to be) great colleagues and friends, but they weren’t really able to help me think through the intricacies of my projects or to chart out the meanings of the finer points that relate to media theory. By and large, they also weren’t the people I was working with on doctoral committees. My department also didn’t have many senior scholars, and so I found it necessary to outsource my mentoring needs, and Barb was always a steady and reliable voice of thoughtful guidance and support. Indeed, she taught me something quite critical about how to teach graduate students. I remember one occasion in particular when Barb and I served on a doctoral dissertation committee together. I watched in awe as she asked a student to name the five major points of a key book in the field, refusing to give the student any help or encouragement in the answer. Through it all, she never flagged in her insistence that the exam be absolutely rigorous. This was a true watershed moment for me: prior to this point, I had not been willing to push students or to demand that they rise to a level of excellence (mostly being grateful that they wanted to put me on their committee in the first place). I was absolutely gobsmacked at how fearlessly Barb held them to task, and I saw her act as nothing short of courageous since it said to students that female professors needed to be taken as seriously as male professors and that we would hold our students to a level of excellence that allowed those students to know they had been thoroughly and fairly vetted by the protocols of academic benchmarks. Barb taught me through example that I wasn’t doing my students any favors by giving them a “free lift” into ABD status, and I have heard many of them (now long post-PhD) say how grateful they are for her standards of excellence, since those former students who are not professors in their own right can walk into any room or march onto any page knowing that their ideas have been fully vetted and proven. That firmness in a moment when one otherwise might be overly conciliatory taught me much about how to do my job conscientiously and ethically.



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She Works Hard for the Money/Man/Shoes/Herself/Her Sisters… Tue, 27 Oct 2015 13:00:24 +0000 Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-First Century, contributor Elizabeth Nathanson outlines the anthology's "Labors" section and argues that mediated depictions of femininity are always working hard in public and private spheres while striving for creativity, community, and sisterhood.]]> Post by Elizabeth Nathanson, Muhlenberg College 

If one only listened to such early twenty-first century public figures as Carly Fiorina or Sheryl Sandberg, one would believe that the troubles working women face are troubles they alone should solve. The seductive rhetoric of postfeminism rears its head in the language of “lean-in” and in Fiorina’s proclamation that “A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses.” Presumably, the work of femininity is unfettered and the woman who struggles in her labors has clearly made poor decisions. However, American neoliberal promises of free choice ring false in the face of such discriminatory practices as unequal pay for equal work and grossly inadequate maternity leave policies.

article-0-1F98488A00000578-952_634x633If the world of politics and big business all too often offers the illusory promises of free choice and the hegemonic fantasy of “having it all,” so too do popular culture depictions of cupcakes, Kim Kardashian, and Pinterest. But, these media texts also reveal the desire for work that does something more for the women who perform it. The authors of the third section, titled “Labors” in Elana Levine’s new anthology Cupcakes, Pinterest and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-First Century, address the pleasures and pitfalls of popular renderings of feminized work. From new media to chick lit, reality television to cupcake culture, the essays in “Labors” explore how diverse popular cultural forms construct feminized labor. Taken together this collection of essays paints a picture of femininity as always laboring, working hard in public and private spheres, while also striving for creativity, community, and sisterhood.

The authors in “Labors” refuse to blame women for having chosen wrongly in the work they perform, but rather highlight how feminized labor is haunted by the threat of failure. As Julie Wilson and Emily Chivers Yochim succinctly put it: “neoliberalism has rendered all of life precarious.” Popular depictions of feminized labor are faced with such conditions as the global financial crisis, rising economic inequalities, and jobs defined by contingency and flexibility. According to Suzanne Ferris, chick-lit heroines embody the anxieties prompted by such conditions of precarity; their dead-end jobs limit their well-educated potential. Furthermore, the conditions of the postfeminist sensibility hold women to unattainable standards, expecting them to seamlessly manage home, self, and work, all while being punished for their own ambition. Reality television celebrities Kim Kardashian and Bethenny Frankel strive to achieve all the markers of the feminine lifecycle while also becoming successful career women; but as authors Alice Leppert, Suzanne Leonard and Diane Negra demonstrate, the joys these celebrities take in their professional successes are routinely mitigated by the pain of failed romances.


The women discussed in “Labors” struggle to do work that is often performed at the messy, blurred line between public and private worlds. Many popular renderings of feminized labor capitalize upon notions of entrepreneurialism in which the private self is monetized and branded in the interests of professional “success.” Kim Kardashian and Bethenny Frankel’s intimate lives are commodified on their reality television programs and in the marketing of their affiliated products. As Leonard and Negra argue: “Frankel both created and was the ‘Skinnygirl,’ a feedback loop that masterfully associated her brand identity with the affective qualities and class positioning that came to be associated with her as a person.” Combinations of self and product reward the ambitious, self-sufficient laborer who satisfies the requisites of neoliberal individuality. Such entrepreneurialism structures many of the depictions of feminized work by highlighting how success depends upon flexibility and creativity, but only when such flexibility and creativity is performed within strict parameters. On programs like Cupcake Wars I explore how contestants are encouraged to bake cupcakes with high degrees of individual ingenuity, thus presenting their cupcakes as an extension of themselves. But, contestants’ culinary artistry is sharply critiqued by a panel of judges who establish the limits of confectionary (and by extension feminine) acceptability.

These authors show how work that conflates the market with the self promises both economic and affective rewards. Sarah Ahmed’s theory of happiness informs a number of the authors’ discussion of the affective power of such feminized labor. As Wilson and Yochim explain, in the “mamasphere” of Pinterest, the act of pinning operates as digital care work that upholds the family as a “happy object.” On 2 Broke Girls, cupcake baking promises to grant heroines Max and Caroline happiness by releasing them from the drudgery of working as waitresses in a Brooklyn diner. As “happy objects,” cupcakes activate affective structures that maintain relations of power. Cupcakes promise to make Max and Caroline happy by offering them liberation from the diner, where the work environment is marked by racial diversity. Their professional aspirations thus ultimately affirm the ideal of the white, upwardly mobile, heteronormative feminized subject.


The entrepreneurialism explored in these chapters appears to be an efficient solution to the inevitable stresses resulting from the demands of the postfeminist “work-life balance.” Family businesses abound: sisters create their own cupcake business on DC Cupcakes and the Kardashians monetize their family across multimedia ventures. And yet, here we find room for optimism. For while many of the authors argue that this work upholds existing inequalities, mediated renderings of feminized work may also offer a critique of the alienation resulting from the demands of neoliberal individuality. Numerous authors argue that the pleasures offered by such depictions of feminized labor speak to the desire for interpersonal connections and community. We see this in the pinning care work of Pinterest, and in the friendship between Girls characters Hannah and Marnie who gossip while eating cupcakes in the bathtub. As Alice Leppert argues, the sister-branding and sister-entrepreneurship exhibited by Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian “suggests that young women do value and desire bonds with each other.” Such examples reveal how intimate and sometimes surprising connections between women offer the working heroines of popular culture, and the audiences who take pleasure in them, relief from the relentless labor required to be successful or happy.


“Bodies” That Matter Tue, 20 Oct 2015 13:42:26 +0000 Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn, contributor Kyra Hunting outlines the anthology's "Bodies" section in order to argue that critical consideration for women's media cultures facilitates a deeper understanding of embodiment in relation to community practices, self-presentation, and technology. ]]> Post by Kyra Hunting, University of Kentucky

As a feminist scholar (and fashion fan) I frequently find myself returning to the problem of the body. Traditional trappings of femininity like make-up and nail polish and “feminized” interests like dance, fashion, and romance offer the body as a site of creativity, pleasure, and identity play but also something that is monitored, shaped, and disciplined. The contributors to the “Bodies” section in Elana Levine’s edited collection Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-First Century explores this tension by examining how pregnancy apps, fandom-centered fashion blogs, nail-polish blogs, and televised gospel performances all negotiate the complex intersections of technology, gender and embodiment.

That this section is called “Bodies” (plural) is significant, because–despite looking at very different media forms with disparate relationships to the idea of the body–all four pieces in this section explore an investment in how these media work to provide community for their users. Throughout the chapters in this section there were four key threads: an exploration of how these female-targeted media dealt with tensions inherent to the presentation of the female body, the way in which the imagined user and their investment effected the platform, how the technology interacted with these concerns, and the fostering of a female community around these technologies.



In “Mothers, Fathers, and the Pregnancy App Experience” Barbara L. Ley lists the facilitation of a community of mothers (and to a lesser extent fathers) to-be as an important feature of pregnancy apps, alongside their prominent informational and organizational features. “Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance All Night! Mediated Audiences and Black Women’s Spirituality” by Beretta E. Smith-Shomade looks at how a community based around shared spirituality can share profound religious affective experience through the viewing of gospel and religious performance on television. My own chapter “Fashioning Feminine Fandom” touches on how fashion blogs organized around specific fandoms (Dr. Who, video games, or Disney for example) bring together a community of (mostly female) fans interested in expressing their fandom through sartorial engagement. Some of these communities have become significant enough to hold real-world meet-ups.

Michele White’s “Women’s Nail Polish Blogging and Femininity” also addresses the community dimensions of beauty blogs, exploring how they become spaces for not only creative expression but for communities that guide and support one other’s nail art. White notes that while these communities often discursively emphasize the creative elements of nail art, some advice-giving practices end up reinforcing more problematic gendered messages about the woman’s body as a constant project to be worked on towards a normative “ideal.”



Body Presentation

It is the discussion of the photographing of nail polish bloggers hands that seemed to evoke this disciplining of the female body in White’s work, as the quality of the nails themselves (not their designs) are evaluated. She found one blogger’s advice to others on how to photograph their nails so they did not appear “fat,” indicating that even when the goal was creative artistry it is difficult to present the female body without opening it to such scrutiny.

Similarly, Ley found that while pregnancy apps generally provided their users with helpful prenatal information, health advice, and tools, at times some of these tools, like weight and behavior tracking functions, had the potential to facilitate a similar scrutiny of the pregnant body. Ley, in her focus on reviews of these pregnancy apps, draws attention to a key issue in the analysis of feminized popular culture–the experience of the media’s actual users–when she notes that for most reviewers these trackers were not experienced as disciplinary but rather gave the users a sense of control and made some tasks easier. My chapter looks at how most fan-centered fashion blogs de-center a focus on the body altogether. Unlike the majority of fashion blogs, fan-centered fashion blogs generally present images of outfits without showing wearers of these outfits. Because there is no body being photographed, it is the use of clothing and accessories to express an interpretation of a media character that is evaluated as opposed to the appearance of a woman’s body, the fit of the clothes, etc. I also argue that fan-fashion blogs can function to unmoor characters from their embodied associations by interpreting macho super-heroes as prom outfits or hyper feminine Tinkerbell as athletic wear or androgynous jeans and t-shirts.



Here, removing the image or specific referent of the body allows this form of fashion blogging to play with fashion with minimal discussion of body type, weight, or evaluations of attractiveness. Smith-Shomade’s chapter emphasizes the possibility of the female bodies’ presentation outside of the contexts of objectification and surveillance by looking at how women in Gospel-competition television shows like Sunday Best present an embodied experience of faith that can be shared by viewers.


unnamedTechnological Medium

Smith-Shomade considers the impact the television medium itself has on facilitating an intimate affective connection between the person performing on screen and the viewer allowing them to share an embodied spiritual experience. Here the media form–the television screen–can connect multiple bodies and spirits. Ley’s chapter mentions how the intimacy of the smartphone screen and its visualization of the fetus as separate from the mother’s body through the app can reinforce problematic political narratives about the fetus but also allows the user to “share” her pregnancy with others in a new way through its visualization on the device.

The contrast between White’s and my own chapters also show how the significance of the technological differences between the presentation medium chosen for each blog (posting a photograph vs. building a collage with Polyvore) affects the ways in which the female body is or is not scrutinized.

Thematic Focus

Finally, each contributor considers how the thematic focus of each platform under discussion shaped its relationship to gender and embodiment. For Smith-Shomade the emphasis on faith and spirituality structures the context in which both the viewer and the text present the female singers, understanding them not simply as performers to be scrutinized but as participants in a faith community in which these kinds of spiritual experiences present an important space for African American women to take part. I argue that the emphasis on fandom as the focus that shapes the bloggers’ creative engagement with fashion both allows for fashion blogs that emphasize creativity and interpretation and de-emphasize consumption and beauty paradigms while carving out a space for a femininity and female fans to connect in traditionally “masculine” fandoms gaming culture. Ley attends to this issue by considering how pregnancy apps often marginalize or diminish the role of the father in the pregnancy experience and assume a married, heterosexual, cis-gendered user base, which ultimately has ideological problems and consequences for the apps’ usability for some reviewers (like fathers).

These four threads provide only a glimpse into the pieces featured in the “Bodies” section of the anthology, but they illustrate the significance and complexity of the issues identified in these chapters.



Fall Premieres 2015: The Best and the Worst Sun, 18 Oct 2015 15:00:54 +0000 combo

The Fall pilot season is not over – it lingers on well into Winter – but our sustained coverage at Antenna ends here with 47 shows reviewed. Partly as a coda, partly to change things up and have one person weigh in on several shows, and partly because my own blog is currently hacked and/or dead, I thought I’d give a round up of what I consider to be the best and worst. These aren’t group picks, just the choices of my own addled brain.

(and a quick disclaimer: I’ve not yet seen Casual [don’t have Hulu] or Blood and Oil [didn’t record], so they’re not included in consideration)


Best New Sitcom


The Grinder – Rob Lowe is excellent in this, bringing the best of his Parks and Rec performance, with both a great knack for comedy and a deft ability to hit touching moments within and through that comedy. It’s outlandish and over-the-top, but quite gloriously so. And, to compare to the other alliteratively paired FOX new sitcom starring an ageless 80s icon, The Grinder is smart enough not to rely upon Lowe as much as Grandfathered relies upon John Stamos, as Fred Savage holds the show together in many ways. It’s lightweight and has little of note to say about anything, but it’s very funny.

Honorable mentions:

The Muppets – This is fun. It’s not brilliant, but it’s done well, the script is at times very crisp, I’m not wailing “think of the children!” just because there’s some adult humor, and the sub-genre at least pulls something different out of a set of characters that I love. Perhaps I’ll turn off in a week or four, but for now I’m happy to continue with the ride. Besides, Gonzo always deserved more comic action, and here he gets it.

The Carmichael Show – Loretta Devine bugs me, as she does on Doc McStuffins, but otherwise it’s a passable sitcom. I’d never seen Carmichael prior to the show, yet he is all types of comfortable in the genre. I fully plan to check back in on this one, but with such a tiny first season, it hardly encouraged me to do so till later.


Worst New Sitcom


Benders – I was happy to see my old neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens feature on television as something other than the location of a key witness on Law and Order, but that’s almost all I liked. It’s trying to be It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and yet doesn’t pull it off. Weak performances make it feel like a bad script reading not even the final product, weak and telegraphed humor tries to be edgy but is too unoriginal to manage it, a weak concept holds over it all, and there’s not even any ice hockey in a show about an ice hockey team.

Honorable mentions:

Dr. Ken – The stinkiness of the writing here is quite stunning at times. Sitcom pilots regularly stink but this one has so far to go to get anywhere half-decent. The jokes are the worst sort of dad jokes, making Two and a Half Men and According to Jim look proficient and positively witty by comparison. A real pity, especially since Albert Tsai ruled Trophy Wife and can do so, so much more than half-baked mime jokes.

Moonbeam City – Take Archer, modify it slightly for the 80s (but only slightly: visual and comic styles should remain), add comically gifted actors, and it should be alright, yeah? Nope. Very unfunny.


Best New Procedural

The Player

The Player – This show is really stupid, and makes no or negative sense half the time. But it’s a lot of fun and it’s never trying to be more than it is. I’ll need to be in the right mood to watch it, but if that mood calls for mindless, silly, yet high-paced action, it fits the bill. NBC out CBS’d CBS. Plus, all those silly elements (people running the world who like to bet on whether some random dude in Vegas will stop a predicted kidnapping or robbery? Whuh?) are silly enough to allow for a touch of camp, like a higher budget A-Team.

Honorable mention:

Blindspot – A rather gripping pilot that did a good job announcing itself as The Blacklist 2. The Blacklist doesn’t do it for me, and nor will this one, but it’s well-acted, tightly scripted, and once the woman is out of the bag (not a metaphor), it sets a good pace and isn’t as icky as I thought it would be. Not for me on a regular basis, but a step above the “No Thanks” category.


Worst New Procedural


Limitless – Matt Sienkiewicz’s review is really smart and deserves reading, much more than the show deserves watching alas. For me, it just couldn’t get its tone right, jolting between camp, serious, goofy, cool, grave, and frequently with music that jolted a different way. Not horrible, just not worth more time.

Honorable mentions:

Rosewood – Morris Chestnut is good in this, but it’s paint-by-numbers. Granted, some other things I like are paint-by-numbers, too, but I don’t especially care for these numbers. You know those B- papers you read that are okay but don’t really try to do or say anything about anything? This is that. It doesn’t fail, it’s not bad – it just put so little effort into being anything other than adequate.

Public Morals – Just so boring. I guess it’s okay, but I couldn’t get far enough into it. Ed Burns may be one of the more boring people alive, so this show fits him, but after rewinding twice to watch a scene that I’d zoned out of, I realized it wasn’t my fault. (note: maybe it’s not a procedural and belongs in the serial category, which is why I gave the nod to Limitless here, but I’d need to watch more to work that out, and I just can’t).


Best New Serialized Drama


Fargo – A brief history of me and this show: I thought it immensely stupid to try and make the film into a television show, and I avoided it. Then Myles McNutt told me I really should watch Season One, for my class, so I did, and I was blown away. When my fellow Peabody Board members and I awarded it a Peabody, I was excited and proud. It’s a truly amazing season. So where could one go from there? Season Two is off to a superb start, again visually and aurally experimental for television, yet in different ways from Season One, again getting amazing performances from its cast (I saw better acting from Kirsten Dunst in a scene than in her career to date. Even Kieran Culkin rocks his scenes), again delighting with an unpredictable plot, and again an artful mix of gravity and levity. If you choose to watch only one of the new shows, make it this one.

Honorable mentions (though a big gap exists between the above and the below):

The Last Kingdom – Compelling television, this has been billed as BBC and BBC America’s attempt to do Game of Thrones with some historical stakes and referents. So it’s not the fantastical universe of GoT, but nor is it entirely trying to be the same thing. If anything, in fact, it’s BBC and BBC America trying to do The Vikings. And they’re doing it well for now. A decent mix of drama, action, and a tiny bit of history to make it feel like one is eating one’s cauliflower while watching men with unkempt beards bash swords and heads against each other.

Quantico – After the second episode, I already feel this one sliding down in my estimation, but it delivered a very impressive pilot, that packed about ten times as much in as its peers, and that balanced anti-terrorist intrigue and suspense with hot young people mating and dating. Grey’s Anatomy meets Homeland, we were told, but since both shows fell apart, I see the writing on the wall for this hybrid.


Worst New Serialized Drama


Bastard Executioner – I was bowled over by how bad the acting and writing were, such that twenty minutes in, I turned it off. It’s hard for me to comprehend that the same guy who wrote Sons of Anarchy penned this pile of medieval turd.

Honorable mentions:

American Horror Story: Hotel – I don’t subscribe to the AHS Just Gets Worse script that so many others uphold, but this season just strikes me as a different type of horror altogether. I grew up reading and watching huge amounts of horror, but I simply can’t stomach torture porn, and this season is too gleefully going the way of AHS: Hostel. Its filming, editing, and cinematography are still beautiful and refreshingly inventive, but I just can’t watch. At least something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre built up to and earned its scenes of gore, whereas the pilot stumbles from death and bloodbath to death and bloodbath with only thirty seconds or so of setup each time.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – Stalking is neither funny nor endearing, Hollywood. So I was overboard and swimming for dry land at the premise alone. Jenny Clark’s review made me consider turning around to swim back a little, but we only have so much time in our lives. Extra points docked for putting a “West Covina” earworm in my skull.


Best New Reality Show


I’ll Have What Phil’s Having – I really don’t like Exporting Raymond, seeing it as the Uncommon Grounds (see below) of documentaries about the media, and it led to me finding Phil Rosenthal as intensely annoying. But if we hit the mute button on Rosenthal, this is amazing food porn, filmed beautifully, and striking, for me, the right balance between travel show and food show. And Rosenthal’s not that bad – I appreciate how nothing grosses him out, and he’s not out to depict anywhere as a space of either mysterious exoticism or odd barbarism (so far?). I’ve watched two to date and enjoyed both quite a lot.

Honorable mention:

Suddenly Royal – my review is here. I expected nothing from it but was intrigued. Still, as much as I’ve meant to check back, I haven’t, and that probably says something. Passable, interesting, a cut above many others, and just such an interesting premise that makes it somewhat unique in a very paint-by-numbers genre, but ultimately nothing to write home about.


Worst New Reality Show

Uncommon Grounds

Uncommon Grounds – Todd Carmichael proves himself to be a jerk, but I thank him for providing me with a few clips to use next time I teach Othering, since his belittling commentary on Japan dominates a glorified informercial pilot. Many of the other shows that I disliked at least tried to do something and do it well for an audience that isn’t me, whereas this is lazy in every way, and the only people I could conceive of who’d want to watch this are in the “people who enjoy seeing other countries made fun of” demo, which may be large, but fuck them.

Honorable mentions:

Bazillion Dollar Club – my review is here. When you find yourself rooting for everyone on a reality show, contestants and judges alike, to fail and fail abysmally, it’s kind of over, yeah?

Monica the Medium – my review is here. There’s just so much wrong with the person at the center of the show that I can’t stomach the idea of spending more time with her.


Best New Variety or Talk Show


The Daily Show with Trevor Noah – my review is here. Noah’s still not done enough to suggest he’s up to the challenge of interviewing real political guests, which worries me, but with John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, South Park, and occasionally Bill Maher (when he’s not being a monumentally sexist, racist douchebag) doing some heavy-lifting on the satire front, The Daily Show doesn’t need to lead the pack any more, and there’s enough in it to amuse and impress me, so I can wait it out a bit longer.

Honorable mention:

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – Sacrilege not to rate this higher? Look, it’s me – I just don’t like hour-long latenight talk shows that much: too much loud cheering, sketches that go on too long, a lot of guests that say the same thing. They all do it, and it’s great for some people (I don’t mean that to sound patronizing either: I’m just not one of them). Colbert’s better than many, and he’s using the new platform in some interesting and exciting ways, but I liked The Colbert Report better, so I’m still ambivalent about this one.


Worst New Variety or Talk Show


Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris – Blame me, since I’m not a fan of variety shows in general – or blame the show, as did Antenna’s reviewers. Either way, it’s clawing, contrived, and as much as I love NPH, that only made me want to conduct a rescue mission.

Honorable mention:

Fashionably Late with Rachel Zoe – I could be all kinds of snarky about this, and obviously I’m too old and fat to be part of its intended audience (which is why I take some mercy on it, and don’t let it win this category), but I haven’t seen another television host who is so clearly just reading cue cards. Heck, I’d settle for someone underlining the words Zoe could emphasize on those cue cards; Siri and xtranormal put more inflection into their speech than Zoe. It’s wooden, dry, slow, and lifeless.



Reimagining Passions, Pleasures and Bad Lady Texts Tue, 13 Oct 2015 13:00:49 +0000 Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early 21st Century, Kristen Warner discusses the "Passions" section, where scholars consider how pleasure functions for women viewers who use female-centric media texts as models for who they want to be and what they want to reject.]]> Post by Kristen Warner, University of Alabama

A benefit of studying so-called bad feminine media objects is that the debates around poetics and quality are vacated leaving us to look at it however we would like. And while some are in the business of (rightly) reclaiming the beauty of the bad text, there’s something almost liberating about letting it be, immersing one’s self in that which seemingly disqualifies it from study. In the case of the category Elana Levine borders around “Passions” in her edited collection Cupcakes, Pinterest and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-First Century, the contributors all honed in on examining the pleasures women experience and navigate through commodified texts targeted to them. Levine’s instinct in putting these pieces in conversation with one another was spot-on in the realization that although all of the contributors analyzed different pieces of feminist media, the connecting tether among them was how they all explored how women used these texts to negotiate their own identities and desires in this post-feminist era.

Imagining that an affective response like pleasure that is not purely founded in celebration of a television show or a book series targeted to them but also in the joy that comes from critiquing those very texts is an act rarely allowed women in twenty-first century media. Our hot takes and think pieces easily reduce nuanced conversation down to simplistic binaries of “if this is good or bad for women” with the notion of a woman liking bad things as revolutionary.

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But what if women—all kinds of women—have been enjoying the bad all along? And what if, as posited by Melissa Click in her “Fifty Shades of Postfeminism: Contextualizing Readers’ Reflections on the Erotic Romance Series” chapter, the pleasure for women readers of this book franchise emerge after using this text to think through their own behaviors if allowed to imagine themselves as the heroines of this story?


I submit that the goal of the “Passions” category is to answer that very question. Jillian Baez’s “Television for All Women? Watching Lifetime’s Devious Maids,” maintains that depending on if the female viewer is Latina or white, the question of who they imagine themselves to be in the series generates a bifurcated set of pleasures. I like how Baez notes that, “while most female fans are watching Devious Maids as a source of feminine pleasure derived from its similarities to the generic qualities of Desperate Housewives, Latina fans view the series for its Latina cast and storylines that humanize female domestic workers.” Thus the joy for Latina audiences comes from these characters’ specificity as domestics who are also allowed these fantastical moments of power that transgress the servitude so many Latina women must navigate in their own lives.


Similarly, the piece I wrote, “ABC’s Scandal and Black Women’s Fandom,” takes up the question answering how black women identify with a black character also blurred between the stuff of fantasy and the bodily reality of a black woman enshrined in the spirit of colorblindness. The answer I explored was that through a process of gap-filling online labor from discursively making her hair a frequent topic of discussion to rewriting dialogue in the register of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and writing fanfiction around her being the object of desire between two powerful white men, black women fans are able to cultivate a more dimensional and culturally representative version of Olivia Pope.


The final point I make in the chapter ties to the work Erin A. Meyers writes in “Women, Gossip, and Celebrity Online: Celebrity Gossip Blogs as Feminized Popular Culture.” I end the chapter with a small discussion on a “real person” ship within the Scandal fandom—the Terrys (a portmanteau of the two leads Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn) and how while the desire around this couple is not wholly based in the need for them to be true but rather in how it helps some black female viewers to strategize ways to keep Washington at the center of the fandom. This coupling, largely the stuff of gossip, tethers to one of Meyers’ central tenets of the importance of gossip as communication: “Gossip is not simply the pursuit of truth. It is a process of narrativizing and judging the contrast between the public and private celebrity image as markers of larger social ideologies, particularly around gender, race, sexuality, and class. While such talk is not inherently resistant to dominant norms, the fact that it offers a space where women’s concerns are negotiated and made meaningful makes it, and celebrity culture, important sites of cultural analysis.” The pleasures of what it might mean for Goldwyn, a name that’s a part of Hollywood history to be coupled with Washington, a type that represents the best of black womanhood are more than can be expressed in this piece.

What’s more, Meyers’ article ties us back to Click’s contribution in that both describe the pleasures that accompany the ways women look at female celebrities in the same ways they may look at Anastasia Steele: models for who they may simultaneously want to be and also reject.

Women’s passion told through the lens of women’s pleasure is still in its infancy as an object of research. But I think the pieces here serve as a wonderful start in the study.


Feminized Popular Culture in the Early 21st Century Tue, 06 Oct 2015 18:00:52 +0000 Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn, editor Elana Levine outlines some of the motivations for this collection as well as its guiding theoretical and thematic frameworks.]]> CPL cover

Post by Elana Levine, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The editors at Antenna graciously have invited me to contribute a series of posts upon the release of a new book I’ve edited, Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early 21st Century (University of Illinois Press). The book explores a range of recent media and cultural forms associated with femininity, including investigations of the social and economic forces that shape this culture, the ways such products speak to and about feminine identity, and how audiences, readers, and users engage with and experience such culture. This post focuses on the genesis of the project and its central claims.

The origins of this project come from my experiences as a teacher and researcher. Over the past few years, I have taught a graduate seminar on gender and popular culture several times. While the course inevitably considered some questions of representations of gender IN popular culture, I have always structured it more specifically around how and why various popular cultural forms are gendered and how and why the audiences and users of such forms do or do not identify along gendered lines in their practices of cultural consumption. To me, these were the more interesting and pressing matters, the broader “so what?” to which inquiries about gendered representation point. One trajectory of the course had been to read, contextualize, and extrapolate from the history of feminist scholarship on gendered cultural forms—foundational work on the woman’s film, romance novels, and soap operas, as well as studies on masculinized culture such as sports and video gaming. As the course shifted into the present and the contemporary context of postfeminist culture, however, it was hard to find as substantial a body of work on gendered forms and the experiences of their audiences and users.

At the same time, my research on the history of the U.S. daytime television soap opera was leading me to think about the decline of the soaps industrially and culturally. My hunch was that, while the soaps might no longer be as meaningful to as many viewers as they once were, the needs they fulfilled and the pleasures they delivered had not disappeared—they had shifted into newer cultural forms and experiences. I had my pet theories about where that might be (lookin’ at you, reality TV and social media), but I wanted to know more.

I also wanted to understand how the influences of postfeminist culture, neoliberalism, digital culture, post-structuralism, multiculturalism, queer theory, and transgender theory had shaped feminized popular culture, user experiences of it, and scholarship on it. These were big questions, and the potential sites of inquiry were vast, given the rapid proliferation of media in a digitized and niche-ified world. There was no way I could grapple with all of it on my own. So I sought out colleagues across the worlds of media and cultural studies to help me understand it. Their contributions make Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn a provocative start at reopening this once robust arena of scholarly inquiry.

While I hope you will read the book to better understand my argument about what may have occasioned the scholarly shift away from analyses of gendered culture, suffice it to say that I see two opposing forces at work. One of these forces is the insidious dominance of a postfeminist sensibility, one so powerful, and so common-sensical, as to turn even feminist scholars away from conceiving of culture as gendered. Indeed, the postfeminist sensibility assures us that gender specificity is old-fashioned, that it re-inscribes inequalities that have been overcome. While there are of course notable exceptions to this tendency (I see studies of girl culture as a prime example), I think it has affected scholarship as well as shaping popular culture itself.


The other influencing force is wholly different, in that it is the progressive impact of post-structuralism, queer and transgender theories, and intersectional feminism that have helped us to understand how impossible it is to talk about women or even a more flexible category like femininity in any definitive way. When we accept that a gendered identity is as variable as occupation, skin shade, body shape, personality, and a thousand other traits, both individual and social, it is rather paralyzing to consider it at all. While we need the provocations of these theoretical and political interventions, we might use them not to avoid considering gender as an experiential category but rather to push us to imagine gender differently.

While I went into the project with these principles in mind, as well as with a list of objects for analysis that I was determined to include, it was only through the scholarship of the contributors that I really began to see the ways that early 21st century feminized popular culture was being circulated and experienced. Their work helped me to recognize the three chief ways in which this period of feminized popular culture has been developing. While I have categorized in this way, the book as a whole demonstrates how intricately these categories intertwine.

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The first of these is “Passions,” meant to characterize the intensive affective and identificatory aspects of feminized cultural experience, whether labeled as fandom or simply as pleasure. This section includes chapters on readers of Fifty Shades of Grey (the “ladyporn” of our title), Scandal fans, Lifetime Television, and celebrity gossip media.

The second category is “Bodies,” given the ongoing conception and experience of femininity as an embodied state, a situation that provides both constraints and freedoms for differently embodied people. This section explores pregnancy apps, fashion and nail polish blogging, and somatic experiences of spirituality.

The third category is “Labors,” the one that I see as most noticeably reflecting the altered social, economic, and political contexts of early 21st century femininity. The chapters cover “chick lit” and economic precarity, reality TV figures Bethenny Frankel and the Kardashians, Pinterest and the “mamasphere,” and the cupcake craze. These cases point to the imbrication of labor and leisure, pressures and pleasures, in the feminized popular culture of the early 21st century.


We now live within and beside all of these cultural forms and experiences; Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn aims helps us to understand them a bit better. In subsequent weeks, several of the book’s contributors will offer examples of the kinds of analyses the book offers. Stay tuned for the delicious details . . .