“Performance, Television and Social Media” Offered Online This Summer

This semester, Professor Abigail De Kosnik is working to turn her Performance, Television and Social Media class into an online course for summer 2015. The class introduces students to the idea that media and online spaces are performative, with a focus on how race, gender, sexuality and nationality are performed. We asked Professor Kosnik to tell us more about her course and the topics it explores, as well as the process of transforming an in-person class into an online class.

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Professor Abigail De Kosnik

Performance, Television and Social Media is a course that puts two kinds of theory, performance theory and media theory, into conversation with one another in new ways.

It gives students what I consider to be the core concepts of television studies—things like Raymond Williams’ concept of flow, and the idea of liveness being the defining feature of television—as well as the core critical frameworks of new media (especially social media) theory. What distinguishes this course from other media studies courses is that it introduces students to the idea that media spaces are full of performance and are very performative.

Now, television derives from theater, the earliest television was all live and made by theater professionals in New York, and television was originally advertised as bringing theater to you in your home. In addition to all of that, and in addition to the fact that there is plenty of acting on television, there’s an added layer of performance because audiences perform back to television. They perform in many ways: writing fan mail, creating fan communities around tv shows, doing costume play, writing fanfiction.

Then there is also this way that television is performative at a higher level. Television is performing the nation to Americans all the time. It is always staging what it means to be American.

The class has a special focus on issues of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and nationalism, so throughout the course we are always asking “How is America, and American-ness being performed in US television? How does US television today, and historically, depict African Americans? How does that compare to how television depicts Latinos and Latinas? How does that compare to how television depicts indigenous peoples and Asian Americans? What about LGBTQ people?” Each of these groups is treated by US television differently at different times; they’re presented as a different kind of American in every generation in television.

Social media, on the other hand, is more obviously performative. Social media is constituted by millions of users, and users perform through their avatars and online identities every day. So it’s clear that, as Marshall McLuhan says, the internet is a global theater and we are all actors on that stage. None of us are mere spectators—though, of course, you can “lurk”!

In this course we also look at social media spaces, like twitter and Tumblr, and how issues of how race and gender and sexuality are performed in these spaces and how conflicts around those topics play out. So we’ll look at hashtags related to Black Twitter, and talk about the “Gamergate” crisis, which is about the feminist critique of male-dominated gaming culture.

Turning Performance, Television and Social Media into an online course is an intriguing process because teaching the class online is in and of itself performative. While I talk about media as a performance space, and the performances that take place through media, I will also be performing the instruction through media. I have taught this class before with the traditional in-person format, but this will be my first time teaching online and it will be a very interesting experience.

This Berkeley summer online course is open to current Berkeley students that want to fulfill some of their unit requirements in the summertime. It’s important to say that this class does fulfill the American Cultures requirement!

People who would enjoy this course are people who have an interest in advanced performance theory as well as an interest in media studies, and who are interested in the burgeoning field of new media. I think this class would be great for people who are looking at careers in theater and the live performing arts, as well as people who are looking for careers in communication, entertainment and broadcasting, and also people that are interested in getting jobs at tech companies, especially social media companies.”

—Professor Abigail De Kosnik

Abigail De Kosnik is an Assistant Professor in TDPS and the Berkeley Center for New Media, and is an affiliated faculty member of
Gender & Women’s Studies. She researches popular media, particularly digital media, film and television, and fan studies.

Published February 2015