Philana Payton awarded Endowed Fellowship and National Museum of African American History and Culture Media Conservation Internship


BIG BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Ph.D. Candidate Philana Payton on her many achievements this year!! Philana has been awarded USC’s Endowed Fellowship for 2018-2019, and will also be joining the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. as their Summer 2018 Media Conservation intern! This girl is on fire!!

To read Philana’s bio and find out more about the fantastic work she is doing, click here

Darshana Sreedhar Mini Awarded Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship from SSRC!



A HUGE Congratulations to Ph.D. Candidate Darshana Sreedhar Mini, who was just awarded the prestigious Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council! We could not be more proud of you!!

Click here to read Darshana’s bio and find out more about the incredible work she is doing!

Announcing the 2016 ZdC Conference!

First Forum Logo Color

Call for Papers: First Forum 2016

Subjected to Play: Locating the Subject in the Promise of Play

Division of Cinema & Media Studies
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
October 14-15, 2016

Submission Deadline: June 3, 2016

As utopian aspirations for new and more participatory media meet the sobering realities of digital labor and the politics of self management, First Forum invites scholars to examine the ways play has shaped the rhetoric of subjectivity within academic and popular contexts as it relates to media production and consumption.

The conference will investigate how we as cinema and media critics, teachers, fans, artists and activists are rethinking play and the promise of agency in order to understand how these modes of address interpret subjectivity in a diverse media landscape, how they enforce or destabilize subjective boundaries, and how they define our own identities in the process. Moreover, this year’s First Forum intends to critically explore the relationship between the classical notion of the cinematic subject and how newly evolving media languages emphasizing interactivity and gameification have resituated this subject within the highly mediated moment of today.

What are the ethical implications of a playful relationship between subject – critic, artist, actor, avatar – and object – movie, game, novel, website? Where does the idea of an “active” subject fit within this historical narrative? How have ubiquitous screen technologies influenced our sense of interacting with the world and with others? How has media pedagogy responded to this interactive turn? What new demands are being asked of users and viewers as a result? Topics are encouraged to take a fluid approach to the theme and draw from a wide variety of critical lenses, as well as focus on any time period, genre, or medium.

Possible topics include:

the rhetoric of play; media archaeology and the history of interactivity; theories of play and subjectivity (phenomenology, post-structuralist, etc.); ethical play, newsgames, games for change; spectator and audience studies; gameification in the workplace, “playbor”; the representation of play and subjectivity in film (i.e. eXistenZ, Gamer); interactive cinema, second-screen experiences; screen culture; gesture and play; hypertext, the Internet, and social media subjectivities; Virtual Reality; postcolonial studies of play; feminist identity and critiques of play; queer subjectivities, queering play; the failure of play; teaching play

Sobchack1This year’s First Forum will feature a keynote address by renowned media scholar, Dr. Vivian Sobchack.

Additionally, conference events will include a roundtable discussion among USC faculty and alumni respondents for panel presentations.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words for a 20-minute panel presentation as well as a brief bio of no more than 100 words. Non-traditional, creative projects are welcome.


Please e-mail submissions and inquiries to by June 3, 2016.

On the Fringe: Two Weeks until Conference

First Forum Poster

Two more weeks until our big conference! Mark your calendars and please join us! Oct. 16th and 17th, starting at 9am both days in SCA 110.

Events include a keynote lecture by Dr. Fatimah Tobing Rony (UC – Irvine), the presentation of the Eisenstein Award to filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien (in person! RSVP at, a workshop from the Academy Film Archive, a special nighttime event with AACS celebrating the legacy of Blaxploitation with filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, Scott Sanders, and other guests, a faculty roundtable, and five graduate student panels!

Look for our final schedule soon on

A special lecture by Dr. Henry Jenkins: “Comics … And Stuff”

ZdC Presents a Special Lecture:

Dr. Henry Jenkins: “Comics … And Stuff”

7:00 p.m. Wednesday, November 20, 2013 SCI 106


In a culture awash with “stuff” (material objects, belongings, collectibles), comics, as a medium, has provided particularly rich insights into our historic, shared, and personal relationships with the stuff of everyday life. In part, this is because of our particular relationship to the mise-en-scène of comics: the ways that we can pause and scrutinize the image in a way that is closer to our relationship to a still life painting and yet these objects are also inserted into a larger narrative framework which often depicts the character’s relationships to their belongings, dealing with the nature and process of memory.  If comics are often discussed as a sequential art with an emphasis on the juxtaposition between frames, comics have also from the start been preoccupied with juxtapositions within the frame, burying elements in the background to be discovered by the reader.

This talk is intended as an introduction to a new book project which will ultimately discuss the work of 9 graphic novelists, each of whom deals with aspects of material culture and media history.  This talk lays the foundation for the project, developing a conceptual vocabulary for thinking about the place of mise-en-scène in contemporary comics.

Henry Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication Journalism and Cinematic Arts at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Henry Jenkins joined USC from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was Peter de Florez Professor in the Humanities. He directed MIT’s Comparative Media Studies graduate degree program from 1993-2009, setting an innovative research agenda during a time of fundamental change in communication, journalism and entertainment.  His most recent books include Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the Literature Classroom (with Wyn Kelley, Katie Clinton, Jenna McWilliams, Ricardo Pitts-Wiley and Erin Reilly) and Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Society (with Sam Ford and Joshua Green).

ZdC is the Graduate Student Organization for the Division of Critical Studies within the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Click here for a PDF of the flyer for this event

Picturing the Popular: 2013 Conference Schedule

ZdC Conference Logo FINAL 2013

7th Annual Critical Studies Graduate Student Conference
School of Cinematic Arts

University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, April 13, 2013



Breakfast & Check-in


Opening Remarks


Panel 1: Criticism and Canons

Chair: Thomas Kemper, Associate Professor of Cinema Practice

  • Lara Bradshaw (USC School of Cinematic Arts)
    • “The Critical Investigation of HBO’s Girls: Feminist Text and Sideways Womanhood”
  • Joshua Richardson (USC School of Cinematic Arts)
    • “Vaults of Horror: Horror Remakes as Living Archives”
  • Raffi Sarkissian (USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism)
    • “Out on Stage: Queer Politics of American Award Shows”


Panel 2: Decentering the Popular

Chair: Priya Jaikumar, Associate Professor of Critical Studies

  • Jessica Lipman (USC School of Cinematic Arts)
    • “A Neocolonial Critique from within the Popular: South Korean National Identity and Historical Reimagination in Park Chan-Wook’s Lady Vengeance
  • Pawan Singh (University of California, San Diego)
    • “Staging Sexuality within Popular Culture: Textualities within Queer Bollywood”
  • Mandy Tröger (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
    • “US Pop-culture Decontextualized: Analyzing Western Media in Socialist East Germany”
  • Sebastián Pérez (Yale University)
    • “Genealogies of Decoloniality: Nuyorican Ways of Seeing and Acts of Recovery”




Panel 3: Popular Literacies

Chair: Tara McPherson, Associate Professor of Critical Studies

  • Rachel Fabian (University of California, Santa Barbara)
    • “Film Studies as Pop or Academic?: Understanding the Institutionalization of Psychoanalytic Film Theory Scholarship and the Rise of University Film Studies Programs”
  • Jorge Cuéllar (Yale University)
    • “Equipo de Educación Maíz: Neoliberalism, Critical Pedagogy, and Vernacular Aesthetics”
  • Katie Walsh (USC School of Cinematic Arts)
    • “The Woman All of America Loves to Hate’: The Game of Recapping The Bachelor


Roundtable Discussion: “Pedagogy and Popular Culture”

  • Nitin Govil, Assistant Professor of Critical Studies, USC School of Cinematic Arts
  • Virginia Kuhn, Associate Professor of Cinema Practice / Associate Director of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy
  • Suzanne Scott, Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Digital Learning + Research, Occidental College
  • Sarah Banet-Weiser, Professor of Communication, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
  • Brett Service (Moderator), Ph.D. Candidate in Critical Studies, USC School of Cinematic Arts




Keynote Address:

Constance Penley, Professor of Film and Media Studies and Co-Director of the Carsey-Wolf Center

University of California, Santa Barbara                          

“Picturing the (Very) Popular: Pornography”


Dinner & Closing Reception



Lara Bradshaw is a Ph.D. candidate in Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  Her research centers on quality television, feminism and post-feminism, and issues of disease.  Her most recent work focuses on the Showtime Network and the relationship between network branding, antiheorine characters, and disease campaigns.

Jorge Cuéllar is a doctoral student in American Studies and Film Studies at Yale University.  He holds a B.A. in Film & Media Studies and Latin American & Iberian Studies from UC Santa Barbara and an M.A. in Critical Studies from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  Jorge spends his time pursuing his research interests in Central American film culture, the sociology of sport, Latin American history and philosophy, political economy of media, Marxism, and visual sociology.  He is currently developing a dissertation project tracing the history of the cinema in Central America with special attention to the material and politico-economic culture(s) of his native El Salvador.

Rachel Fabian
 is a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Film and Media Studies Department.  Her research interests include nationalist cinemas and transnational feminist approaches to the study of film and media and their histories.  She is also deeply interested in studying the ways in which the relationship between theory and practice has been discussed historically by film scholars and critics, as well as in questions regarding “evidence” and materiality in academic film and media studies.

Jessica Lipman is currently a M.A. student in Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  Her research interests center on postcolonialism, transnationalism, and globalization as well as identity cultivation and representation in visual media.  She also has a professional and academic background in film festival programming, documentary filmmaking and multimedia journalism, as well as teaching experience in video production, multimedia composition and critical thinking.  

Sebastián (Sebi) Pérez is currently a doctoral candidate in American Studies at Yale University where he also received his B.A. in American Studies and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration.  Hailing from the Bronx, he is interested in questions of coloniality and the Puerto Rican diaspora, particularly the aesthetic traditions and political legacies of the Nuyorican Arts Movement.

Joshua Richardson is a graduate of the University of Kansas’ Film and Media Studies and American Studies programs.  Currently, he is a Master’s candidate in Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  His publication credits include essays in the edited collections In the Peanut Gallery with Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Inception and Philosophy (both co-written with Ora McWilliams), an article in Film Matters, and a book review in The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.  His interests include horror films, fan culture, and new media.

Raffi Sarkissian is a Ph.D. student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  He received his M.A. in Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  His current research interests are at the intersection of queer theory, popular culture, representation in television and online media, and media effects.

Pawan Singh is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.  His work focuses on the decriminalization of homosexuality in India in 2009 and representations of queerness in popular media, cinema, and the law.

Mandy Tröger was born and raised in East Berlin.  Holding a M.A. in American Studies from the University of Amsterdam, she worked as a news editor before she came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is currently working on her Ph.D. in communication research.  Her research interests lie in critical theory and in the political economy of media.

Katie Walsh is currently a M.A. student in Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she is also Associate Programmer of Screenings and Special Events.  She presented her paper “Selling Masculinity At Warner Bros.: William Powell, A Case Study” at the 2012 ZdC conference The Ephemeral Trace, which will be published in the Spring 2013 issue of Spectator.  She also writes reviews, news, and interviews for “The Playlist” on Indiewire.


Sarah Banet-Weiser is a Professor in the School of Communication at USC Annenberg and the department of American Studies and Ethnicity.  Her teaching and research interests include feminist theory, race and the media, youth culture, popular and consumer culture, and citizenship and national identity.  She teaches courses in culture and communication, gender and media, youth culture, feminist theory and cultural studies.

Nitin Govil is Assistant Professor of Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  He is the co-author of Global Hollywood (2001) and Global Hollywood 2 (2005).  Other work has been published in over twenty journals and anthologies and has been translated into Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish.  He is currently completing two books, a co-authored study of the Indian film industries and a book on Hollywood in India.

Virginia Kuhn serves as Associate Director of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy and Associate Professor of Cinema Practice in the School of Cinematic Arts. She directs an undergraduate Honors program, oversees faculty in the IML Digital Studies minor and teaches a variety of graduate and undergraduate classes in new media, all of which marry theory and practice. She joined USC in 2005 after successfully defending one of the first born-digital dissertations in the United States, challenging archiving and copyright conventions. Her dissertation, “Ways of Composing: Visual Literacy in the Digital Age,” was created in TK3, the precursor to the USC-based, open source, media-authoring program, Sophie. Committed to helping shape open source tools for scholarship, she recently published the first article created in the authoring platform, Scalar. “Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate,” appeared in the International Journal of Learning and Media, she just completed editing her second peer-reviewed digital anthology titled, MoMLA: From Gallery to Webtext, and co-authored a chapter in Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Policies and Politics, which was published by the pioneering UK-based scholarly press, Open Book Publishers.

Suzanne Scott received her Ph.D. in Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and is currently a Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College.  Her work on fandom and participatory culture, authorial paratexts, and digital ancillary television content has been published in the anthologies Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica, and The Participatory Cultures Handbook, and the journals Spectator and Transformative Works and Cultures.  In addition to contributing to the 20th Anniversary Edition of Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, she has publications forthcoming in the collections How to Watch Television and the Companion to Media Authorship.  As part of her commitment to public and digital scholarship, she serves on the board of the open-access, peer-reviewed online journal Transformative Works and Cultures.  She also recently completed a multimodal publication theorizing the application of transmedia storytelling principles to media scholarship and education in Scalar, an open source authoring and publishing platform developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture.

Brett Service is a Ph.D. candidate in Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  He is also the Michael Wayne Fellow for Film Preservation and Restoration at USC’s Warner Bros. Archives.  His dissertation investigates the relationship between audiovisual archives, copyright law, and technological obsolescence.


Constance Penley is Professor of Film and Media Studies and Co-Director of the Carsey-Wolf Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and studied at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.  Her major areas of research interest are film and media history and theory, feminist theory, cultural studies, contemporary art, and science and technology studies.  She is a founding editor of Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies and editor or co-editor of the influential collections Feminism and Film TheoryMale TroubleTechnocultureThe Visible Woman: Imaging Technologies, Science and Gender, and The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure (with Tristan Taormino, Mireille Miller-Young, and Celine Parreñas Shimizu).  Her books include The Future of an Illusion: Film, Feminism, and PsychoanalysisNASA/TREK: Popular Science and Sex in America, and the forthcoming Teaching Pornography.  She is co-producer of Porn 101 with Katie Morgan for HBO Documentaries.  Her collaborative art projects are “MELROSE SPACE: Primetime Art by the GALA Committee” and “Biospheria: An Environmental Opera,” on which she was co-librettist.  Penley is a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Award and the Kenneth Burke Society Prize in Rhetorical Criticism.


Mike Dillon is a Ph.D. candidate in Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, with a background in East Asian Studies.  He was a Japan Foundation Fellow in 2011-2012 and is currently an Oakley Fellow.  His dissertation examines contemporary tensions between globalism and nationalism and how they become legible in violent film and media genres.  His publications include articles in SpectatorFilm InternationalReconstruction, Studies in South Asian Film and Media, and a forthcoming essay in Studies in the Humanities.

Lorien R. Hunter is an Annenberg Fellow and Ph.D. student in Critical Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  Her research interests center on issues of race, identity, popular culture, new media, Africa, and diaspora.  In her dissertation she aims to examine contemporary shapes and practices of the African Diaspora using the virtual space of the hip hop website.  Her most recent projects include an investigation of the structural qualities of hip hop to diasporic group identity formation, and a book chapter titled “‘Bringing Ghana to the World’: Remixing Popular Culture on OMG! Ghana,” which considers the production of the popular news and entertainment website OMG! Ghana as important alternative to Western constructions of Africa.

Picturing the Popular Organization Committee: Sebnem Baran, Heather Blackmore, Lara Bradshaw, Cliff Galiher, Jeremy Heilman, Andy Myers, Brett Service, and Courtney White

ZdC Student Group President: Heather Blackmore

Conference Publicity: Amber Bowyer

Conference Website: Jessica Lipman

Budgeting: Annie Manion

Photographer: Andy Myers

Spectator Special Issue Editor: Courtney White

Thank you: Jade Agua, Asiroh Cham, Alicia Cornish, Kate Fortmueller, Anikó Imre, David James, Dana Knowles, Luci Marzola, Linda Mitchell, William Price, and Michael Renov

“Picturing the Popular”

Call for Papers

7th Annual Critical Studies Graduate Student Conference

“Picturing the Popular”

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Submission Deadline: Monday, January 14, 2013

The graduate students of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts seek presentations from fellow graduate students that examine the relationships and tensions between popular culture and academia.

In engaging with popular objects, scholars, critics, and consumers must all negotiate the potential discontinuities between popularity and cultural or artistic merit.  “Picturing the Popular” turns critical inquiry back onto the scholar to explore how our own intellectual and pedagogical praxes impact, and are impacted by, the study of popular culture.

This conference poses two sets of questions.  One: what does academic scrutiny and critical inquiry reveal about our criteria for defining and evaluating popular culture?  Does academic attention always recognize the depth and cultural significance of a work, or is there a risk of artificially inflating the importance of a work that is otherwise unremarkable?  How does academic thinking define our understandings of what is popular or unpopular?

Two: How is our very understanding of the popular informed by the functions of academia?  To what extent is academic inquiry determined by popular trends, accessibility of media objects, accepted wisdoms, and academia’s own tastes and biases?  How does the specialized set of intellectual parameters employed by academics impact our professionalization?

We welcome papers, creative projects, and other non-traditional presentations exploring the roles that popular, mainstream, or hegemonic media (and their opposites) play in our scholarship and our classrooms.  Presentations may address popular culture in connection to the widest possible range of social, cultural, political, and economic phenomena.  Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • fandom and user-generated media
  • star studies
  • genre studies
  • industry research
  • issues of taste, value, quality
  • canonicity
  • popular or “accepted” histories, identities, political narratives
  • populism and social movements
  • popularity across national boundaries, issues of translation, adaptation
  • alternatives to mainstream popularity (avant-garde/art cinema, trash cinema)
  • “disreputable” media, such as reality television or pornography
  • “aca-blogging” and other forms of popular culture production by academics
  • academic practice, pedagogy, professionalization

Please submit your proposals to Lorien R. Hunter ( and Mike Dillon ( by Monday, January 14, 2013.  Submissions should include a 250-300 word abstract and a brief bio.  Please feel free to contact us with questions.