“From Culture Jamming to Cultural Acupuncture: Fan Activism and the Civic Imagination”
Leading Media Scholar Henry Jenkins (University of Southern California)
Through work funded by the MacArthur Foundation's Youth and Participatory Politics Network, my research team at USC's Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism is seeking to better understand the mechanisms developed by groups, organizations, and networks which seek to mobilize young citizens. Our case studies include Invisible Children, the Dreamers, young libertarians, American Muslim youth, and the fan activists in the Harry Potter Alliance and Nerdfighters. Rather than talking about "slacktivists" or "Twitter Revolutions" or the "Digital natives," three dominant frames for talking about youth, new media, and civic participation, we describe these groups as deploying transmedia activism, seeking to change hearts and minds through "any medium necessary," and often tapping into the core platforms and practices associated with participatory culture.
One key means of achieving those ends is through attaching themselves to core pop culture myths and icons and using them as a shared language through which to express social concerns, a process which the Harry Potter Alliance calls "cultural accupuncture." Over this paper, I will show how various activist groups have deployed references to Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, and Superman, among other texts, as vehicles for promoting social change. Superficially, these actions bear some relationship to what theorists in the 1980s and 1990s called culture jamming, except that the reflect a very different relationship to the popular texts that they deploy (that of the fan rather than skeptic) and they exert a different relationship to media power (seeking to facilitate and accelerate circulation rather than block the flow).
Sponsored by the Stanford Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages (DLCL); the Stanford Humanities Center; and the Stanford Europe Center.