Power In Entertainment


This course explores how power is created, sustained and challenged in entertainment media. Students will learn how and why individuals, groups and corporations achieve and maintain dominance in art, film, television, gaming and digital and social media. Particular attention will be paid to how industries have survived the digital transition. Readings will explore contemporary case studies and debates. Lectures will give theoretical and historical context.

Final assignment:

Paper: 8-15 pages

Argue why a person/organization/corporation should lose, gain or maintain power in their market. You must bring in secondary sources to make your case.

-Investigate the history of your object of study
-Explain how it achieved, sustained or challenged power within its industry
-Argue for whether you agree or disagree with those strategies
-Posit alternatives and counterarguments


Pitch: 8-15 pages

Develop a pitch for a corporate, independent, non-profit or community-based organization or project that contests or amasses power in an entertainment industry. Your pitch must take into account the different debates explored in the course. The goal is to come up with an entity that could be successful in the marketplace or political arena you choose. You must bring in secondary sources to make your case.

Regular reading suggestions for this course:

TV, Film and Online Video: New York (Vulture), Deadline, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Antenna, Flow, AV Club, TV by the Numbers, Shadow and Act, Tubefilter, News for TV Majors, Multichannel News, Reel SEO, Broadcasting and Cable, Will Video for Food, New Tee Vee (GigaOM)

Radio and Music: Billboard, NME, Rolling Stone, Spin, Arbitron, FMQB, Radio Ink, Radio magazine, Pitchfork

Digital and Social Media: All Things Digital, Techcrunch, Valleywag, Wired, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOM, Slate (FutureTense), The Verge, Venture Beat, paidContent, MIT Tech Review, The Next Web, Ars Technica

Advertising and Marketing: Advertising Age, Mediapost, Adweek, Mediaweek, Brandweek, Rentrak, Kantar, Forrester

Art and Fashion: Artforum, Women’s Wear Daily, Art in America, Arts Journal, The Art Newspaper, Art News, Frieze, Hyper Allergic, New York (The Cut), Vogue, CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), New York Times

Games: GameSpot, IGN, Game Informer, Joystiq, Polygon, Killscreen

General: Harvard Business Review, New Yorker, New York, New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, The Nation, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, Los Angeles Times, NPR, The Guardian

Advocacy and Academics: New American Foundation, Free Press, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Social Media, Berkman Center (Harvard University), Center for Internet and Society, Flow, Terra Nova



Course overview: Syllabus

Lecture: Understanding Creative Industries



Power and Ownership (Intellectual Property)

Required Screening:

Copyright Criminals (2009; Benjamin Franzen, Kembrew McLeod, Netflix)

Required Readings:

Sasha Frere-Jones, “1+1+1=1,” New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/01/10/050110crmu_music, January 10, 2005

Aram Sinnreich, “Something Borrowed, Something New,” Mashed Up: Music, Technology and the Rise of Configurable Culture, 2010

Siva Vaidyanathan, “Hep Cats and Copy Cats: American Music Challenges the Copyright Tradition,” Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and how it Threatens Creativity, 2001

Optional Screening:

20 Feet from Stardom (2013; Morgan Neville)

Optional Reading:

Bill Herman, “Lightning in a Bottle,” The Fight Over Digital Rights: The Politics of Copyright and Technology, 2013

Guest speaker:

Aram Sinnreich (assistant professor, Rutgers University) on music as a controlled substance


Power and Labor

Required Screening:

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013, Pilot, Hulu)

Whatever this is, “Westchester” (2013, http://whateverthisis.com) or High Maintenance, “Heidi” and “Jonathan” (2013, http://www.helpingyoumaintain.com/episodes)

Epic Rap Battles of History (2012, “Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates”)

Burning Love (2013, 3:1, “Limo Arrivals“)

Required Readings:

Aymar Jean Christian, “Valuing Post-Network Television,” Flow, http://flowtv.org/2013/05/valuing-post-network-television-aymar-jean-christian-northwestern-university

Vicki Mayer, “Producers as Professionals: Professionalism in Soft-core production,” Below the line: producers and production studies in the new television economy,

Benjamin Wallace, “Diamond in the Mud: The Death of Buckwild Star Shain Gandee and the Search for Authenticity in Reality TV, New York, http://www.vulture.com/2013/09/mtv-buckwild-shain-gandee.html

Optional Reading:

Ted Magder, “Television 2.0: the Business of American Television in Transition,” Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture

James Poniewozik, “Louis CK’s DIY TV,” Time, http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,2078110,00.html

Tessa Stuart, “YouTube Stars Fight Back,” LA Weekly, http://www.laweekly.com/2013-01-10/news/machinima-maker-studios-YouTube/full

Guest speaker:

Patric Verrone (president, Writers Guild of America, West, 2002-2009; producer, Futurama) on Hollywood writers and negotiating with studios



Power in Distribution (Access and Licensing)

Required Screening:

Vocalo, http://vocalo.org (90.7FM Chicago)

Morning Becomes Eclectic (KCRW, weekdays, 11AM-2PM Central; 20 minutes)

WTF With Marc Maron, http://www.wtfpod.com

Required Readings:

Alex Foege, “The Mergers That Transformed Clear Channel,” “The World’s Biggest Radio Company,” Right of the Dial: the rise of Clear Channel and the fall of commercial radio, 2009

Lawrence Soley, “Community renegades: Micro-radio and the unlicensed radio movement,” in M.C. Keith (Ed.), Radio Cultures: The sound medium in American life, 261-286, 2008

Optional Reading:

Helba Newsome, “Media Radio Activist,” July 1998, Los Angeles Magazine, http://books.google.com/books?id=cF8EAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA50&dq=kcrw&pg=PA50#v=onepage&q&f=false

Nathan Rabin, “Marc Maron picks his favorite WTF episodes,” January 10, 2013,  AV Club, http://www.avclub.com/articles/marc-maron-picks-his-favorite-wtf-episodes,90698


Power and Distribution (Monetizing IP)

Required Screening:

Four-Eyed Monsters (2005; http://foureyedmonsters.com/watch)

Required Readings:

Michael Cieply, “Building an Alliance to Aid Films by Blacks,” January 7, 2011, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/08/movies/08urban.html?_r=2&

Peter Decherney, “Digital Hollywood: Too Much Control and Too Much Freedom,” Hollywood’s Copyright Wars: From Edison to the Internet, 2012

Christopher Goodwin, “Block-busted,” June 30, 2013, The Sunday Times

Chuck Tryon, “Desktop Productions: Digital Distribution and Public Film Cultures,” Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence, 2009

Optional Screening:

I Want Your Love (2012; Travis Mathews, http://www.iwantyourlovethemovie.com)

In Their Room (2009-2010; Travis Mathews, http://www.intheirroom.com)

Optional Reading:

Aymar Jean Christian, “Travis Mathews’ Films Probe Intimacy and Play With Genre,” April 30, 2010, Televisual, http://tvisual.org/2010/04/30/travis-mathews-filmsweb-series-probe-intimacy-while-playing-with-genre

Arin Cruimley, “When everyone freely gives, everyone freely gets,” http://arincrumley.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/free

Tad Friend, “Funny is Money,” June 25, 2012, New Yorker

Alisa Perren and Karen Petruska, “Big Hollywood, Small Screens,” in Pelle Snickars and ‎Patrick Vonderau (Eds.), Moving Data: the iPhone and the Future of Media, 2012

Brent Lang and Lucas Shaw, “Why VOD’s popularity is a mixed blessing for indie film,” September 4, 2013, The Wrap, http://www.thewrap.com/movies/article/has-vod-become-over-saturated-114201

Guest speaker:

Travis Mathews (I Want Your Love; Interior. Leather Bar) on new production and distribution strategies



Power and Information

Required Screening:

Happy Endings: Happy Rides (2012: YouTube); Gawker sponsored stories

Required Readings:

Alec Liu, “What Happened to the Facebook Killer? It’s Complicated,” Vice, http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/what-happened-to-the-facebook-killer-it-s-complicated

“Navigating Planet Ad Tech,” MIT Technology Review (with Digilant)

Natasha Singer, “Mapping, and Sharing, the Consumer Genome,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/technology/acxiom-the-quiet-giant-of-consumer-database-marketing.html?pagewanted=all

Joseph Turow, “Introduction,” “The Power Under the Hood,” The Daily You: How the new advertising industry is defining your identity and your worth

Optional Reading:

Robert Gehl, “A History of Like,” March 29, 2013, The New Inquiry, http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/a-history-of-like

Kapitall, “Acxiom: Big Data Equals Big Money,” September 16, 2013, The Street, http://www.thestreet.com/story/12037889/1/acxiom-big-data-equals-big-money.html



Power and Participation

Required Screening:

Me at the Zoo (2012; HBO)

Required Readings:

Nick Bilton, “Disruptions: Gawker Wants to Encourage More Voices Online, but With Less Yelling,” September 22, 2013, New York Times: Bits: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/disruptions-gawker-wants-to-encourage-more-voices-online-but-with-less-yelling

danah boyd, “White Flight in Networked Publics? How Race and Class Shaped American Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook,” in Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White (Eds.), Race After the Internet, 2011

Adrian Chen, “Unmasking Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web,” October 12, 2012 Gawker, http://gawker.com/5950981/unmasking-reddits-violentacrez-the-biggest-troll-on-the-web

Henry Jenkins, “Where Web 2.0 Went Wrong,” Spreadable Media: creating meaning and value in a networked culture, 2013

Optional Reading:

Nicole B. Ellison, Charles Steinfield, Cliff Lampe, “The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x/full, 2007

Mark Andrejevic, “Public service media utilities: Rethinking search engines and social networking as public goods,” Media International Australia, February 2013

danah boyd, “Why youth♥ social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life,” The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, http://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/free_download/9780262524834_Youth_Identity_and_Digital_Media.pdf, 2008


Power and Innovation

Required Screening:

Indie Game (2012; Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky, Netflix)

Required Readings:

Nick Dyer-Witheford, Greig De Peuter, “Cognitive Capitalism: Electronic Arts, Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games, 2009 (online via NUCat)

Cyrus Farivar, “How Zynga went from social gaming powerhouse to has-been,” September 12, 2013, Ars Technica, http://arstechnica.com/business/2013/09/how-zynga-went-from-social-gaming-powerhouse-to-has-been

Adrienne Shaw, “Changing the Conversation, Not Just the Games,” March 12, 2013, Antenna, http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/03/12/changing-the-conversation-not-just-the-games/

Optional Reading:

Nick Dyer-Witheford, Greig De Peuter, “Introduction,” “Game Engine: Labor, Capital, Machine” (1.1, 1.2, 1.3), Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games, 2009 (online via NUCat)

Lisa Nakamura, “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft,” in Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory, 2013


Power and Status

Required Screenings:

The Art of the Steal (2009; Don Argott, Netflix)

Melody Set Me Free, “Return to the Battlefield” (2010, 1:1; Kalup Linzy, YouTube)

Got 2B Real, “The Finale – The Goodbye (Part 2)” (2013; LaBelleOfTheBall2, YouTube)

Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film (2013; Mark Romanek, HBO)

Required Readings:

Adam Davidson, “How The Art Market Thrives on Inequality,” May 30, 2012, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/magazine/how-the-art-market-thrives-on-inequality.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Julian Stallabrass, “A zone of freedom?,” Art Incorporated: the Story of Contemporary Art, 2004

Optional Screening:

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012; Alison Klayman)

Optional Reading:

Jack Halberstam, “Introduction: Low Theory,” “The Queer Art of Failure,” The Queer Art of Failure, 2011


Power and Aesthetics

Required Screening:

Model (1980; Frederick Wiseman, Reserve)

Required Readings:

Ben Barry, “Can using different types of models benefit brands?,” Jule 2012, Elle Canada, http://www.ellecanada.com/living/culture/can-using-different-types-of-models-benefit-brands/a/58327

Thuy Linh N. Tu, “The Cultural Economy of Asian Chic,” The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion, 2010

Optional Reading:

Christine Williams and Catherine Connell, “Looking Good and Sounding Right: Aesthetic Labor and Social Inequality in the Retail Industry,” Works and Occupations, 37 (3), http://wox.sagepub.com/content/37/3/349.abstract, 2010

Guest speaker:

Madison Moore (University of Richmond) on aesthetic labor