A traditional account of democracy might focus on institutions, policies, laws, and systems. I am interested, however, in the ways that everyday citizens live in relation to the principles and ideals of a democratic society. Early in my career, I majored in political science, but found the field too abstracted from the everyday details of political culture. I have found that studying popular culture gives me an alternative way of addressing the issues that initially attracted me to political science. For me, the study of media and the study of politics are inextricably linked. My approach, however, contrasts sharply with writers like Noam Chomsky or Robert McChesney who understand popular culture primarily as a distraction from political participation. I see our relationships to popular culture as shaping our political identities in profound ways and am interested in the ways that people mobilize the contents of popular culture to understand the stakes in political struggles. Popular culture often expresses ideas or perspectives that are outside the consensus framed by the news media and are allowed to be expressed here precisely because popular culture is not taken seriously. Many subcultural communities draw on those resources to inspire their own acts of political resistance or to shape their own understanding of citizenship.

This approach represents a movement away from a traditional notion of public sector politics and towards an engagement with the more domesticated conceptions of citizenship that emerged through feminism, queer activism, and other identity politics movements. I believe firmly that one reason why fewer and fewer people are voting is that the realm of governance and elections has remained too abstract and removed from the realm of their everyday lives. Increasingly, we are getting our knowledge about the world around us from nontraditional sources and we are expressing our political concerns outside the realm of government.

The informed citizen is a central ideal underlying any democratic society and that means the study of information technologies and practices are strongly linked to the study of political life. To be able to fully participate in the decision-making process, one has to have access to core information, one has to be able to process that information, and one has to have the right to share your insights with others.

"Media in Transition: An Introduction," which I co-authored with David Thorburn, deals with many issues surrounding media change, but an important aspect of the essay is an overview of a diverse range of theories and approaches to the issue of how digital media is impacting democracy, approaches which range from top-down approaches to governance, campaigning, and public opinion formation to bottom-up approaches to the notion of informed and participatory citizenship.

The Boston Review recently asked me to respond to an essay written by political theorist Cass Sunstein, titled The Daily We, which makes the case that net communities may ultimately be less democratic than people have imagined because of the tendency of discussion groups to become isolating and to filter out opposing ideas. In my response, I offer my fullest discussion to date of how I think democratic principles operate in the new media environment, making the case that traditional intermediaries were far less neutral than Sunstein implies and that the new political culture will be shaped through the interactions between old and new media. I also include in the work an account of the circulation and political impact of my essay, "Professor Jenkins Goes to Washington," to illustrate the ways that the act of crossposting may embody the kinds of temporary tactical alliances between groups and individuals which theorists of radical democracy discuss.

Some of the ideas in this essay first took shape in "Contact[ing] the Past," which I initially wrote for an MIT student publication, but has enjoyed a much broader circulation on the web. This essay used the opening of the film, Contact, to explore the ways that the history of the participatory uses of early radio have been erased from our popular memory of broadcast history and how these developments paralleled the participatory spirit of the early internet.

"Information Cosmos," one of my Technology Review columns, deals with information and citizenship from a different comparison -- seeking to understand what lessons the modern world might learn from the history of the Ancient Library of Alexandria and framed as advice to the librarians in Egypt who have just opened a new library on that old location. Although the column is more evocative than definitive, a key subtext is how structures of information reflect and in turn shape political cultures.

Another Technology Review column, "Good News, Bad News" extends this exploration of the information structures in place within contemporary media culture to consider the future of the local newspaper in a world where consumers can choose between hundreds of news sources on-line. I argue that the United States is evolving away from a culture centered on strong identifications with geographically localized communities and towards a national information culture, more like those found in Europe. The article also considers the issue of diversification of information sources in an age of media concentration, making the case that a locally focused journalism may not, in the end, be any more diverse in the perspectives it offers than a rigorous national news culture.

"Reading Popular History: The Atlanta Child Murders," which appeared in the Journal of Communication in 1987, explored the issue of the relationship of documentary and docudrama as vehicles for reporting on recent historical events -- in this case, on the Atlanta child murders. At the same time, I depict the struggle between local and national framings of the case, as I see how the Atlanta media responded to a disturbing network representation of the city's handling of this case.

One of the writers who has most influenced my own thinking about media and democracy is the Australian cultural critic and journalism historian John Hartley. I have twice been asked to review Hartley's books and have used the occasion to delve deeper into his ideas about democratic citizenship (not to mention to pastiche his distinctive authorial voice.) My review of his book, "Popular Reality," for Continuum, enabled me to develop some of my own ideas about the different ways that news and entertainment television refract contemporary social and political developments and to speculate about the Monica Lewinsky scandel.

The question of who has access to information technologies and who has the power to express their ideas through these channels remains one of the most worrisome aspects of the digital revolution.

I was one of the co-organizers behind a joint MIT-USC conference on Race in Digital Space, which sought to shift this discussion away from the largely negative focus of the debates about the "digital divide" and focus attention on successful efforts within minority communities to exploit the political and community building potentials of these new technologies. Conference participants argued that the digital divide rhetoric can disempower minority activists by denying a history of innovative minority use of communications technologies. Rather than seeing cyberspace as "race blind" or exclusionary, the speakers focused on how minorities had pioneered alternative uses of the media more appropriate to the interests of their communities. The conference, held at MIT, was the first of two such events. The second one next year will enlarge the conversation about race to include a more global perspective. The conference organizers, Anna Everett, Tara McPherson, Erika Muhammed, and myself, are currently in the process of editing a book based on the conference and the related art exhibition for the University of California Press.

One of my Technology Review columns, "Digital Land Grab" examines the erosion of fair use in the current moment of media in transition, suggesting the ways that the expansion of corporate control over media content through copyright and trademark law had the potential to disenfranchise the general public's efforts to mobilize popular myths for their own expressive and ideological purposes.

How are democratic principles embedded in the practices of everyday life? How do democratic cultures produce democratic citizens? Can we understand democracy more in cultural than institutional terms? How can we examine democracy as a "structure of feeling" or a way of interrelating to people around us? These questions have been a recurrent concern in my research, primarily refracted through a focus on the political issues impacting children and youth. Running through this research have been three major concerns: how do people use popular culture to explore and express cultural and political identities; how has a discourse of culture war and moral panic sought to silence critical voices in our society by regulating their access to popular culture and communication technologies; and how might we develop a progressive discourse about childhood and "family values" which sees the home as the birthplace of our political identities.

"Fandom, the New Identity Politics," originally posted to a fan discussion list and later reprinted in Harpers, represents perhaps my most explicit discussion of the links between popular culture and identity politics. I argue here that the category of cultural preference may be increasingly important to the articulation of political beliefs and commitments in contemporary society, discussing parallels between discomfort within fandom about overt displays of identification and debates within queer politics about whether gays, lesbians and bisexuals might gain "a seat at the table" if they tempered the more flamboyant aspects of their identities.

These same assumptions about the links between cultural identity and politics run through a succession of essays written in response to the Columbine massacres and their aftermath. Some weeks after the shootings, I was called to Washington to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee investigations of the potential links between popular culture and youth violence. In my testimony, I sought to explain why popular culture was increasingly the site of generational conflict and to point towards the limitations of media effects as a language for explaining that conflict. I wrote about my experiences in testifying before Congress in "Professor Jenkins Goes to Washington," an essay widely circulated through the internet and posted on the web and ultimately reprinted in Harpers. I discuss the circulation of this e-mail message in my response to Cass Sunstein, seeing it as an example of the kind of short-term alliances and coalitions that can emerge in the digital environment.

I delved deeper into the politics of moral panic across a series of essays designed to help educators better understand the place of popular culture in the lives of their students. "The Uses and Abuses of Popular Culture" and "Lessons From Littleton" grow directly from my Senate testimony itself. "The Kids Are Alright Online" reflected an attempt to examine the ways teens were building a culture for themselves in cyberspace which contrasted sharply with the problems they confronted at home and at school. A fuller version of that talk can be found on the website for our MIT conference, "We've Wired the Classroom -- Now What?"

Many people -- parents, teachers, religious leaders -- urged me to develop some models and guidelines for how parents might talk with their children about popular culture. I chose a somewhat novel way to approach this task, developing a dialogic essay with my son, using episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to explore the power relations between parents and teens.

Jon Katz emerged as an important ally as I sought to break down the atmosphere of moral panic that surrounded popular culture in the post-Columbine period. Katz, a journalist for slashdot, offered up his column to high school students around the country to report on the backlash against student rights and subcultural identities they encountered in their schools. Katz came to MIT to participate in a public conversation with me about the politics of adolescence, which was transcribed for the Media in Transition website. Katz also asked me to write the introduction to a book based on his "Voices From the Hellmouth" columns. What I produced is perhaps my most openly autobiographical work to date, explaining how my own troubling high school experiences shaped my political identity and led me to play such an active role in responding to Columbine. Unfortunately, the book has never appeared, so this may be the only place you will see this particular essay.

In "The Innocent Child and Other Modern Myths," the introduction to my book, The Children's Culture Reader, I make the case that every major political battle in the 20th century was fought through the trope of childhood innocence. In any given debate, whichever side is the first to play the child card gains an enormous degree of moral authority. The essay explores radically different accounts of the politics of childhood as articulated at the 1996 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

For the most part, the right has been far more effective at exploiting the concept of "family values" than the left. In my essay, "No Matter How Small," which will appear in Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasure of Popular Culture (which I co-edited with Tara Mcpherson and Jane Shattuc) I describe a very different formulation of the family which emerged at the end of World War II as parents sought to develop more democratic forms of childrearing which would prepare their young for future citizenship. In this essay, I explore how the writings of Doctor Seuss emerged from this post-war discourse about the micropolitics of family life as well as from his own public role as an editorial cartoonist for PM during the Popular Front period and as a writer for the Frank Capra "Why We Fight" Propaganda films. How did Seuss transform the categories of adult politics into simple fables intended to be read to children in the context of the "permissive" home? What lessons might contemporary progressives learn from examining this explicitly leftist discourse about parenting and family life? How might it have foreshadowed the countercultural politics of the 1960s as the children raised in these "democratic" homes reached maturity?

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