Campus-Cultur Prize Awarded to Film & TV Reading Group / Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research


I am pleased to announce that this year’s Campus-Cultur Prize has been awarded to the Film & TV Reading Group and the student members of the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research!

The award recognizes students’ active participation, initiative, and creativity in curricular and extracurricular contexts. The prize is awarded annually by CampusCultur, an association dedicated to promoting the cultural life of the humanities and social sciences at the Leibniz University of Hannover.

The Film & TV Reading Group offers interested students from all disciplines the opportunity to engage with key texts on film, television, and media theory. In conjunction with the film series, lectures, and other activities of the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research, it offers students and instructors a space in which to discuss relevant media phenomena and media-theoretical issues.

Congratulations and thank you to everyone who helped make this possible, particularly to the student members of the reading group and media initiative!

It’s Not Television (Or Is It?)


Three members of the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research (Felix Brinker, Florian Groß, and Shane Denson) will be presenting papers at the upcoming conference “It’s Not Television” (22-23 February 2013, Goethe University of Frankfurt). Our abstracts can be found here:

Felix Brinker: “Narratively Complex Television Series and the Lure of Conspiracy – On the Politics of Long-Form Serial Storytelling and the Paranoid Eye of Active Audiences”

Shane Denson: “Serial Bodies: Corporeal Engagement in Long-Form Serial Television”

Florian Groß: “Born Alone, Die Alone, But Never Dine Alone: The Creative Individual and Generic Family Structures in Recent TV Series”

Felix Brinker: “On the Politics of Long-Form Serial Storytelling and the Paranoid Eye of Active Audiences”


Abstract for Felix Brinker’s talk at the conference “It’s Not Television” (Frankfurt, 22-23 February 2013). See here for talks by other members of the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research.

Narratively Complex Television Series and the Lure of Conspiracy – On the Politics of Long-Form Serial Storytelling and the Paranoid Eye of Active Audiences

Felix Brinker

The threat of conspiracy looms large in a striking number of recent American television series. From the efforts of 24’s and Homeland’s protagonists to stop terrorists, to the nefarious government conspiracies on Last Resort, Rubicon, and Prison Break, and the shadowy cabals plotting on Lost, Fringe, and Battlestar Galactica: television narratives about secret plots against the reigning order of things appear to be well suited to capture the imagination of contemporary audiences in the US and elsewhere. While the engagement with this theme lends itself to politicized readings, the motif of conspiracy is also part and parcel of a robust narrative structure that enables the unfolding of complex storylines. In this respect, ‘conspiracy’ denotes not just a thematic preoccupation but also an organizational logic that allows these shows to tell long-running stories about investigations, cover-ups, and mysteries whose resolutions are perpetually deferred. As detective stories of a grand scope, these shows keep viewers hooked by juggling the appeals of suspense and mystery, by countering each revelation with a plot twist tailored to sustain audience interest.

My paper will sketch the basic parameters of this mode of storytelling and discuss the audience practices it inspires. I argue that, in order to perform within the competitive media environment of the convergence age, said shows rely on the structure of conspiracy to encourage audiences to carefully comb through their narrative material in search of hidden clues about the plots’ mysteries. By doing so, they ask viewers to rely on an interpretive logic that parallels the paranoid hermeneutics of conspiracy theorists: analysis and interpretation of transmedial story-worlds can thus become a pleasurable, associative, and open-ended activity that allows the viewer to assert her authority over the (shifting) overall meanings of (the) (hi)story. The political significance of these shows therefore lies less in their overt content, but rather manifests itself on the level of storytelling strategies and the audience practices enabled by the latter.

Shane Denson: “Corporeal Engagement in Long-Form Serial Television”


Abstract for Shane Denson’s talk at the conference “It’s Not Television” (Frankfurt, 22-23 February 2013). See here for talks by other members of the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research.

Serial Bodies: Corporeal Engagement in Long-Form Serial Television

Shane Denson

Discussions of so-called “Quality TV” and the narrative complexity seen to characterize the best of contemporary serial television productions often trade on categories of distinction derived from comparisons with “respectable” cultural forms (e.g. the novel as a model for “serious” engagement); these discourses value an intellectually demanding, heady sort of appeal that is opposed both to the narrative simplicity supposedly characteristic of older televisual forms (strictly episodic forms, melodramatic soap operas, etc.) and to the baser appeals of contemporary “trash TV” (e.g. the basically voyeuristic interest encouraged by reality TV). Interestingly, though, graphic scenes of sex and violence proliferate across contemporary television series, including shows widely valued for their cognitive demands; today, bodies are put on display, violated, tortured, dissected, and ripped apart in ways unimaginable on TV screens just a decade ago. In this presentation, I argue that these body spectacles – which range from clinical/forensic to brutal/gory to pornographic – challenge us to rethink the basis of television studies’ formal and normative distinctions. In particular, the complex mental operations valued as correlates of narratological complexity must be seen to take place side by side with a range of more corporeal responses on the part of television viewers. Finally, I propose an alternative view of televisual complexity and serialization: appealing to the body as much as the head, contemporary television will be shown to involve a serialization of bodies (both onscreen and off) that constitutes a central affective mechanism for engaging viewers week after week in long-form serial television.

Florian Groß: “The Creative Individual and Generic Family Structures in Recent TV Series”


Abstract for Florian Groß’s talk at the conference “It’s Not Television” (Frankfurt, 22-23 February 2013). See here for talks by other members of the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research.

Born Alone, Die Alone, But Never Dine Alone:
The Creative Individual and Generic Family Structures in Recent TV Series

Florian Groß

Ever since television has been part of the American family, the American family has been part of television. Even under the “not TV”-paradigm, family remains a central aspect of television, as shows like The Sopranos or Six Feet Under attest. In many recent shows, this constitutive part of the televisual landscape interacts with a highly fetishized figure in contemporary television, the creative individual. Californication’s Hank Moody, Mad Men’s Don Draper, or 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon are but a few examples of non-conformist, iconoclast and ingenious characters who express their innate urges in various aesthetic(ized) fields and serially assert their individual freedom and self-reliance. Yet, despite their superficial undermining of traditional (family) concepts, they also take serial recourse to standard conceptions of family. They may be adulterers, divorcees, or singles, but they hardly ever define themselves without the (white, middle class, nuclear) family, which emerges as a structure that provides the creative heroes with boundaries that prevents them from becoming antisocial.

My paper analyzes this dynamic interaction between an aestheticized individualism and the continued relevance of family structures. Furthermore, I want to link this narrative aspect of television series to their respective take on genres. In an era that is purportedly moving beyond genre, it becomes nevertheless apparent that series frequently resort to classic televisual genres and thus return to their generic ‘family’. In the end, looking at recent television’s simultaneous deconstruction and reconstruction of the American family helps to explain how and why today’s segmented audience(s) are symbolically (re-)united by forms of television that restore the social function of an “electronic hearth” (Tichi).

Glühwein, Film & Vortrag


As announced recently, our screening of Fritz Lang’s M will take place this Thursday, Dec. 13, at 6 pm in room 615 of the Conti-Hochhaus. There will be Glühwein and, following the screening, a presentation and discussion with Urs Büttner. See here for more info.

Batman and the “Parergodic” Work of Seriality in Interactive Digital Environments


On Saturday, December 15 (11:30 am, 6th floor of the Conti-Hochhaus, room TBA) — in the context of a research colloquium of the American studies department — I will be presenting some work in progress from my “Habilitation” project Figuring Serial Trajectories (more info about my project here; also, more info about the larger collaborative project with Ruth Mayer on serial figures here, and the website of the overarching research group on popular seriality here).

The topic of my talk will be Batman, computer games, and digital media environments. I will be expanding on, and trying to make somewhat more concrete, the idea of “parergodicity” which I presented at the recent FLOW conference (see here for my position paper).

Here is the abstract for my talk:

Batman and the “Parergodic” Work of Seriality in Interactive Digital Environments

Shane Denson

In the twentieth century, serial figures like Tarzan, Frankenstein’s monster, and Sherlock Holmes enacted a broadly “parergonal” logic; that is, in their plurimedial instantiations (in print, film, radio, TV, etc.), they continually crossed the boundaries marked by these specific media, slipped in and out of their frames, and showed them – in accordance with the logic of the parergon as described by Jacques Derrida – to be reversible. Through such oscillations, serial figures were able to transcend the particularity of any single iteration, and more importantly they were able to constitute themselves as higher-order frames or media, within which the transformations of first-order (i.e. apparatically concrete) media could be traced in the manner of an ongoing – though not altogether linear – series.

In the twenty-first century, many classic serial figures have declined in popularity, while the basic functions and medial logics of those that remain have been transformed in conjunction with the rise of interactive, networked, and convergent digital media environments. As I will argue in this presentation, the figure of Batman exemplifies this shift as the transition from a broadly “parergonal” to a specifically “parergodic” logic; the latter term builds upon Espen Aarseth’s notion of the “ergodic” situation of gameplay – where ergodics combines the Greek ergon (work) and hodos (path), thus positing nontrivial labor as the aesthetic mode of players’ engagement with games. Expanded beyond narrowly ludological frames of reference to include a wider variety of interactive and participatory potentials in contemporary culture, ergodic media give rise to new forms of seriality that accompany, probe, and trace the developmental trajectories of the new media environment. These new forms and functions of seriality, as embodied by a figure like Batman, raise questions about the blurring of relations between work and play, between paid labor and the incidental work or “immaterial labor” culled from our leisure activities and entertainment practices, in the age of the “control society” (Deleuze) or of “post-cinematic affect” (Shaviro). Following Batman’s transitions from comics to graphic novels, to the films of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, and on to the popular and critically acclaimed videogames Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, I will demonstrate that the dynamics of border-crossing which characterized earlier serial figures has now been re-functionalized in accordance with the ergodic work of navigating computational networks – in accordance, that is, with work and network forms that frame all aspects of contemporary life.

M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (1931): Movies, Machines, Modernity

On December 13, we will be screening Fritz Lang’s M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (1931), the third film in our series “M: Movies, Machines, Modernity.” (See here for a flyer with more details about our film series, and here for a short video introduction that frames it conceptually.)

Following the screening, Urs Büttner (co-editor, with Christoph Bareither, of Fritz Lang: “M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder”. Texte und Kontexte) will discuss the film with us and help us to understand it in its historical context and in the context of the cinema’s negotiations of modernity. (Vortrag — wie auch die Filmvorführung — in deutscher Sprache.)

And because it’s getting to be that time of year again, we will have Glühwein for all!

As always, the screening (6:00pm on Thursday, Dec. 13, in room 615, Conti-Hochhaus) is free and open to all, so spread the word to anyone who might be interested in joining us. More info here and here.