Cultural Theory

Culture theory is a concept created and published by Marxist theorist Raymond Williams. Williams published this theory in 1961 in his piece “The Long Revolution.” Williams’ culture theory was inspired by his curiosity in how the structure of feelings and culture/lifestyles changed from generation to generation in Britain.

Williams determined that it would be impossible to track culture change between generations by analyzing and comparing society as a whole at different times. Instead he chose to compare art and media and how they interacted in different periods. He determined that since media was a key site of cultural interaction in each generation it could be helpful in gauging the structure of feeling in each era. Williams theorized that to get a full picture of the cultural significance of media would need to be analyzed through three different, yet equally important cultural lenses: ideal, documentary, and societal culture of each piece.

The ideal culture of a piece of media is its representation of the process of human perfection, as well as the display of its realtion to absolute and universal values. Ideal culture manifests itself in media as the perceived values and behaviors a perfect individual would display in an equally perfect society. Due to the wealth and power relations related to perfection, especially in media, ideal culture is nearly exclusively apparent in media deemed to be ‘high culture.’ High culture media is typically defined as media that is exclusively available to the wealthy, expensive and difficult to interact with, and/or of a refined taste. Often art will originally lack high culture until an expert in the pieces field comes forward and declares that the piece is high culture. Due to this, a piece can originally lack ideal culture then over time obtain it.

Documentary culture refers to the way media is recorded, preserved, and displayed. Moreover, documentary culture refers to the criticism and reaction that media receives. Williams states that the documentary culture of a given piece of media is the longest lasting form of culture, because after the original carriers of the cultural opinions of a piece die, thee documentation remains. Documentary culture is normally reliant on what the experts in a field think the significance of a piece is, and how to best exemplify this significance. Because a piece can gain significance over time, as well as expert opinion can change, the documentary culture of a piece is subject to change.

Social culture is the third and final lens at which one will analyze a piece when using Williams’ culture theory. Social culture is the perception of a piece by the masses, and how society reacts to a piece of art or media. Social culture, like the previous two cultural lenses at which to view media, are subject to change over time.

It is essential when utilizing Raymond Williams’ culture theory to analyze all three types of a piece’s cultural significance to get a complete picture. No single piece of a piece’s cultural build up is more important than another, and all three lenses must be used and analyzed when applying culture theory. For example, a theorist cannot just analyze the documentary culture of a piece, or just the documentary and ideal culture of a piece. All three types of culture must be analyzed when utilizing Williams’ culture theory.

The final element of Williams’ culture is to analyze how each type of culture changes over time. Keep in mind that Williams’ inspiration for this theory was to analyze how the structure of feeling changes every generation. To utilize media to determine this, it is necessary to analyze how a piece’s ideal, documentary, and social culture changes over time. By analyzing enough pieces of media, one can notice and document trends amongst the cultural change in different media from one generation to the next. It is by analyzing these trends that theorists can determine a natural progression of structure of feeling from one generation to the next. Williams’ himself applied this theory to Britain and concluded that while one generations culture is derived and inspired by the structure of feeling of the prior generation, the structure of feeling of a generation is always significantly different and comes primarily from society at the time.


A promotional image for an 1884 showing of Macbeth

Raymond William’s culture theory can be easily applied to the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, as well as to the Eiffel Tower. Macbeth originally lacked an association with ideal culture. During it’s first showings, the play was considered anything but high culture, being viewed primarily by the lower classes. However, as the play has aged, it has been recognized by experts in the field of theater as a timeless work of art. The distinction by experts as one of the best plays of all time gave it prestige, propelling the play into the ranks of high culture. With it’s rise into high culture, it became sought out by the wealthy and upper class. This combination garnered the piece high culture status.

Through the lens of documentary culture, Macbeth was originally only documented through the actual performance of the play and on the pages in which they were written. These pages held little significance at the time. Now however, basically any document produced by Shakespeare, including Macbeth, is cherished, and displayed in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Lastly, attending Macbeth was a originally a cherished experience for the lower class. Today however, attending a play no longer bears as much significance to either the


The Folger Shakespeare Library

upper or lower class, despite the level of prestige the play garners. Time has altered the structure of feeling for Macbeth.

At the time of its debut, the Eiffel Tower entirely lacked ideal culture; it was originally deemed architecturally uninspired and ugly. Now however, the Eiffel Tower is perceived as a beautiful structure on the Paris night sky, appreciated by architectural and art experts alike.

The documentation of the Eiffel Tower at first was completely negative. Almost all the documentation of the landmark was negative, calling for it to be torn down for scrap metal . Now however, the Eiffel Tower is adorning the front of postcards, magazines, and more. Experts agree that the Eiffel Tower was ahead of its time and is a beautiful, classic piece of art.

Finally, the social culture surrounding the Eiffel Tower was entirely negative (like the ideal and documentary culture). The people of Paris agreed that the landmark was Jacob3horrendous and a blemish to the beautiful skyline of their city. The Eiffel Tower has evolved to become a symbol of France, being widely accepted as beautiful and timeless by not only all of Paris, but by the whole world.

After analyzing more media by using Williams’ culture theory as done above, one will notice patterns and trends in the change in structure of feeling of these pieces of media. By connecting these trends and patterns, a theorist can script a conclusion about the change in structure of feeling of society itself across time.


Williams, R. (1961). The Long Revolution. Orchard Park: Broadview Press, pp. 57-70.

Image Attribution: Image 1 by Adrian Farewell under CC3; Image 2 by W.J. Morgan & Co. Lith under CC0; Image 3 Image under CC0 requiring no attribution

Written by Jacob Gonzalez, 2018



Culture Industries

In 1944, Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer published their article, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” This article introduced the world to the theory of culture industries from the Frankfurt School. Adorno and Horkheimer developed this theory from living in Nazi Germany, where they witnessed people unthinkingly conform to whatever roles the government prescribed. They also saw how U.S. culture was thriving in Europe. Both theorists saw blind subjugation authority as a danger to the general population; hence, they constructed the idea culture industries. This theory is still important and relevant to today’s communications and media scholars; it can apply to many situations in the everyday world.

According to Adorno and Horkheimer the culture industries have two defining characteristics: homogeneity and predictability. These two characteristics create the mass production of mass culture. This commercial marketing of culture is structured around human nature (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2002). It creates standardization among the masses to fit people’s ‘need and desires’ as directed by elites. By advising individuals of their wants and desires, elite systems in charge of the culture industries erase individualities. They then no longer have genuine experiences People cannot freely decide what brings them pleasure; they are told indirectly what they need and it is reinforced continuously. This creates what Adorno and Horkheimer call ‘social cement’ (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2002). ‘Social cement’ is when a person loses curiosity and passively accepts what is happening; people become so comfortable that they no longer wish question the elite system (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2002). When we believe the system is providing a choice of being an individual, this is a false choice (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2002), which has led us to believe we are unique. But, in effect, we are still promoting homogeneity and predictability. According to Adorno, this is present in popular music.

In his article, “On Popular Music,” Adorno differentiates ‘serious’ and ‘popular’ music. Adorno (1941) considers serious music as ‘highbrow,’ meaning a more refined taste, and popular music as “lowbrow,” meaning it is for simpler tastes or no tastes at all. To distinguish between serious music and popular music, Adorno uses the category of standardization. Standardization is the process that creates regularity and repetition (Witkin, 2003, p. 98). This constructs homogeneity among the masses as every song has the same formula in its length, range, themes, dances, and etcetera. (Adorno, 1941). Each song has the same elements that appeal to what masses seem to ‘want’ and think they are getting a variation of; but in reality, they are hearing the same song repeatedly.


The Beatles land at JFK airport for their first U.S. visit in 1964.

This was prevalent during the British Invasion of 1964. Bands from England flew over to America gaining popularity quickly. These bands all had the same sound called the ‘Mersey Beat.’ This music was made by all-male groups. It had mixtures of early American Rock ‘n’ Roll from the 1950s with barely any influences from the Anglo-Celtic area (Schweitzer, 2018). The first band to “invade” was the Beatles. The band was made up of four members: John Lennon (lead guitar), Paul McCartney (rhythm guitar), George Harrison (bass), and Ringo Starr (drums). The band seemed ‘rebellious’ at the time as they were breaking the old mold of the music industry standards by not being professional musicians (Schweitzer, 2018). After seeing the Beatles perform so well with American audiences on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 7, 1964, many other ‘Mersey Beat’ groups followed in their footsteps (Schweitzer, 2018). The bands coming over to the United States included Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Hollies, and more. These bands did not copy the Beatles exactly, but developed very similar songs with lyrics and sound of the Fab Four (Schweitzer, 2018). Each band dressed the same and looked like the Beatles. They dressed in slick suits that matched the other band members in their groups and had the same haircuts. The music industry was using popular music, British Rock, to promote homogeneity and predictability among the mass fan culture that the British Invasion was creating in America.


The band, Gerry and the Pacemakers, also came to America in 1964 from England looking and sounding like the Beatles.

Popular music, according to Adorno has many differences within its ‘details’ from serious music. Chord sequences, melodic themes, harmonies, rhythmic motifs, the breaks, blue notes, dirty notes, and many other sounds create the form (Adorno, 1941). Choruses will have 32 bars and are limited to one octave and one note (Adorno, 1941). Even when a song has a different construction, it will return to the same standardized pattern that was created by the elite system. Nothing new is actually introduced that affects how the song turns out (Adorno, 1941).

Adorno further sees popular music as a distraction, a type of ‘social cement.’ After working long hours, people want to escape the frenzy and boredom of life, so they turn to activities that provide amusement and diversions. In the culture industry, “commercial entertainment induces relaxation precisely because it is patterned and pre-digested” (Witkin, 2003, p. 106). It provides entertainment so people no longer need to create their own leisurely activities.  This creates a demand for standardized goods like popular music. This activity is “[molded] by the same mechanical, rationalized, disciplines that characterize the world of work” (Witkin, 2003, p. 107). Adorno believes the culture industries has hijacked society’s ‘leisure’ time so people are always under the system created for them and never have individual freedom (Witkin, 2003, p. 107). This in turn makes people yearn for individual freedom. They then seek to have their needs satisfied through things like popular music, but this creates the opposite of what was intended. The more people are stimulated by popular music, the higher the demand for the cycle of commercial interests under the culture industry.

Adorno argues that ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultures result in people turning to popular culture for their ‘guilty pleasures.’ People use these ‘guilty pleasures’ as a way to relax and escape their busy lives. He believes everyone deserves pleasure, but not in the way the culture industry provides as “a faint copy of pleasure disguised as the real thing; repetition disguised as an escape; a brief respite from [labor] disguised as luxury” (Hulatt, 2018). By giving society ‘guilty pleasures,’ the culture industry takes away individual freedom, as there is no place for imagination because it fortifies certain thought patterns. Popular culture is “a kind of training; it engages us in, and reinforces, certain patterns of thought and self-understanding that harm our ability to live as truly free people” (Hulatt, 2018). The only solution, according to Adorno, is to destroy both ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture (Hulatt, 2018). But, this is nearly impossible because the culture industry prevents society from realizing what opportunities it can seize.


The set of The Voice is the same no matter what country it is in. The only thing that changes is the language used throughout.

A guilty pleasure of today is reality TV. It is considered ‘low’ culture, so people don’t normally share that they watch the show. Many television networks play reality tv in a variety of formats such as dating shows (The Bachelor/Bachelorette), competitions (The Voice), travel (Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous), and more. These shows are targeted at mass audiences to create homogeneity. Each show has a particular pattern of what it does, creating predictability. For example, The Voice, goes from auditions to a finale where one winner is selected by the audience every season and is signed to a record label to make an album.  The show has gained such a large audience many countries in the world have their own version of the show. It is mass produced around the world with the same results every time. People tune in every week and season to watch the show, even though it never changes. They never break their ‘social cement. Thus, the elite system continues to promote homogeneity and predictability.

Adorno and Horkheimer believe the world must be balanced to allow people to have a choice, something the culture industry does not provide. In this world of culture industry, people are exploited to promote homogeneity and predictability for profit and control. For Adorno, popular music was another product of the culture industry that suppressed spontaneity and creativity and constrained choice. This promotes the interests of the market over the individual and is toxic as it permits the suppression and manipulation of society.


Adorno, Theodore W., & Horkheimer, Max (2002). The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. In Gunzelin Schmid Noerr (Ed.), Dialectic of Enlightenment (p. 94-136) (Edmund Jephcott, Trans.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University.

Hulatt, Owen (2018). Against Popular Culture. Nigel Warburton (Ed.), Aeon . Retrieved from

Schweitzer, K. (2018). The British Invasion (Class Lecture). Chestertown, MD: Washington College, MUS 106.

Witkin, Robert W. (2003). On popular music. In John Urry (Ed.), Adorno and Popular Culture (p. 98-115). New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from

Image Attributions: “The Beatles in America” by United Press International (cc: Public Domain); “Gerry and the Pacemakers group photo” by Paul Schumach, Metropolitan Photo Service, New York City (cc: Public Domain); “The Voice” by Alatele fr, Licensed under ShareAlike 2.0 (CC BY_SA 2.0).

Written by Jillian Horaneck, 2018

Digital Blackface

Digital blackface is a term that describes types of minstrel performances in which individuals embody blackness through GIFs and memes available, and enabled, through the anonymity of the internet.  Reaction GIFs and memes rely on excessive expressions of emotion which are associated with stereotypical displays of blackness.

MckaylaMinstrel performances date back to the early 19th century when performers would “blacken” themselves to play black caricatures, exaggerating behavior, facial features, and expressions as a form of entertainment (BBC News, 2017).  While minstrel performance is associated with a distant past, variations of minstrelsy continue to evolve on social media, television, and film.  Internet minstrelsy relies on the anonymity and deregulation of the internet to embody blackness without consequence, often taking the form of unauthentic profile photos and grammatically incorrect African American Vernacular English (AAVE) rather than physical alterations (Jackson, 2014).

As a variation of internet minstrelsy, digital blackface allows users to embody blackness without physical alterations or changes in identity.  This typically takes form through an excessive use of GIFs with images of black people as the performer (Jackson, 2017).  Reaction GIFs, specifically, are used in situations that may not necessarily require a verbal response, but rather an emotive one.  Some of the most well-known reaction GIFs include Donald Glover walking into a garbage fire, rapper Conceited pursing his lips anddownload giving a side-eye, and various others that rely on the physical reaction to situations through facial expressions and behavior.  While GIFs and memes are used for entertainment, it is significant that black images are overwhelmingly popular when searching for emotional and behavioral reactions.  Reminiscent of the minstrel performances of the 19th century, digital blackface perpetuates cultural stereotypes of excessiveness.

GIFs do not exist in a deracialized vacuum, but instead are cultural products built on the simultaneous marginalization and infatuation of blackness.  Digital blackface is a byproduct of the reality black people face in today’s society.  Many GIFs and memes emerge from moments of trauma and hardship of black experiences (Orr, 2016).  The “ain’t nobody got time for that” GIF which is now used by students stressing during finals week or someone who couldn’t be bothered by drama, was originally a news segment of woman whose apartment complex had caught fire (Jackson, 2014).  The resignification of black trauma as entertainment also takes shape through remixed soundbites.  The Netflix series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt remixes a witness interview into their theme song, making sure to include the voice inflictions and facial expressions of the black man being interviewed (Orr, 2016).

The viral sensation surrounding digital blackface is not merely a form of expressing excessive emotions, but also a sardonic satire on the lived experiences of black people.  Black images are clearly popular when searching for reaction GIFs as a way to display an excessive emotion, but that is not the only moment when their emotions are evaluated.  The current sociopolitical climate associates black people with excessive behaviors, regardless of a GIF reaction or reality.  The Black Lives Matter movement, brought to a head during a media storm on police brutality, situates the experiences of black people as more than a form of entertainment (Jackson, 2017).  Their own reactions can get them killed no matter how “excessive,” and yet they are used to for someone on the internet to complain about finals.


[BBC News]. (2017, August 15). Is it OK to use black emojis and gifs?-BBC News [Video File]. Retrieved on April 29, 2018 from

Jackson, L. M. (2017, August 2). We Need to Talk About Digital Blackface in GIFs. Retrieved on April 26, 2018 from

Jackson, L. M. (2014, August 28). Memes and Misogynoir. Retrieved on April 28, 2018 from

Orr, N. (2016, April 14). Black Trauma Remixed for Your Clicks. Retrieved on April 28, 2018 from

Image Attribution:  The image used in this post is in the Public Domain.

Written by McKayla Gamino, 2018.

Edward Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge is a well-known pioneer when discussing the development of film. Muybridge is credited as the first person to manipulate photographs in order to make the images appear to be in motion while simultaneously projecting them onto a screen (Fabos & Martin 215-250).  He completed this project by using multiple cameras to take consecutive photos of animals and humans in motion. His accomplishments is this field of study jumpstarted the evolution of film and his influence is still felt today. Although his projects seem very premature now, the works have been a foundation or building block for the future generations of filmographers.


Muybridge was birthed Edward James Muggeridge on April 9, 1830, to John and Susan Muggeridge of Kingston, England. At the age of 20, Muybridge moved from England to New York and then to San Francisco five years later where he established himself as a well know bookseller. Although he had a slight interest in photography, Muybridge did not devote his life to it until later (Muybridge 2016) At first, Muybridge focused on the scientific aspect of film study. He advanced the chemicals that are used to develop film. He made camera shutter speed faster and found ways to make photos elastic.

After running his book store in San Francisco for a period of time, Muybridge planned to travel the world. He even ran an advertisement saying that he was planning to sell his store and on May 15th, 1860, Muybridge embarked on his journey. While on the way, Muybridge’s stagecoach crashed in Northeast Texas (Phippen 2016). The vehicle went down a mountain and slammed into a tree completely destroying it. Muybridge, along with seven other passengers, were thrown for the stagecoach. One man died. Muybridge was severely injured. He hit his head so hard that he lost his senses of taste and smell. The first thing he remembered from the incident was waking up 150 miles away in Arkansas with a doctor telling him that he would never fully recover from his injuries. Muybridge spent six years recovering in England and nobody knows much about his time there. When he was recovered, he moved back to San Francisco in 1866. His life took a turn when he returned as he was now a masterful photographer. People raved over his landscapes. Eadweard was able to capture great landscapes with the help of his own invention, the “Sky Shade” (Phippen 2016). Muybridge shielded light from the sun which allowed for a more beautiful landscape but still had the sky’s majestic colors. He signed his photos under the Greek name, Helios.

In 1871, Muybridge married a younger woman by the name of Flora Shallcross Stone. A year later, Stanford contacted Muybridge and he began doing a project for them. The project involved his photography of horses and the motion of the creature. But in 1874, the project took a pause as Muybridge allegedly killed someone. After finding a note that his wife was trying to send to a well-known drama critic named Major Harry Larkyns, Muybridge freaked out. He began to believe that his child was not his and instead was little Harry’s (Phippen 2016).  Larkyns was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head. Muybridge was actually released from the charges as Muybridge pleaded insanity as his lawyers argued that his accident caused him to have radical changes in behavior.

Muybridge’s big break came when Leland Stanford, a former governor of California, questioned if all four of a horse’s legs are airborne when they are running. “In 1877, at a track in San Francisco, Muybridge strung a thread across the dirt at horse-chest height. It led to a trigger attached to his camera. Stanford had funded Muybridge’s work for years, and this was their most meaningful trial yet, so when Stanford’s horse trotted down the track at 40 feet per second, Muybridge was ready with his camera” (Phippen 2016).  He was credited as being the first person to put photos into motion. Although a key figure in the development of film, Muybridge is somewhat forgotten as many have improved on his works but nonetheless, Eadweard paved the way for these future generations.


Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. (2017). Movies and the impact of images. H. Chester (Ed.), Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age (215-250). Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s.

Muybridge, Eadweard. (2015, September 29). A biography of Eadweard Muybridge. N.A, December 07, 2017.

Phippen, J. W. (2016, July 24). The Man Who Captured Time. Retrieved December 04, 2017.

Image Attribution: “A Cat Running By” by Wellcome Images Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Written by Barry McCormick, 2017


Hannha 1The encoding/decoding model of communication is a system that describes how media messages are produced, circulated, and consumed by people in society. The model was developed by Stuart Hall, a cultural studies scholar and theorist, in 1973. Hall was an influential member of the Birmingham School and his creation of encoding and decoding has made a major impact on media studies. The main idea of encoding and decoding is that there is a break between the production of a message (encoding) and its reception by a person or a group (decoding). The model is represented by a circuit in which the producer or encoder frames (encodes) the meaning of the message in a certain way. Then, the readers or decoders, receive this message and understand (decode) it according to their culture, positionality (the specific conditions that help create and mold an individual’s position on any matter of topic, whether social, political, cultural, economic, etc.), and/or frame of perception.

Hannah 2

The circuit of encoding/decoding

The circuit begins with the construction of a message and a program is produced by “The institutional structures of broadcasting, with their practices and networks of production, their organized relations and technical infrastructures” (Hall, 1977/1980). The technical infrastructure, the relations of production, and the frameworks of knowledge taken to develop a “meaning structures 1,” is where the message is encoded into meaningful discourse. But, for the message to “have an ‘effect’(however defined), satisfy a ‘need’ or be put to a ‘use,’ it must first be appropriated as a meaningful discourse and be meaningfully decoded” (Hall, 1977/1980). The decoded meanings have an “effect,” bringing the circuit to meaning structures 2 (which is allowed to be different from meaning structures 1). A message is developed and, because of its decoding, become redefined in technical infrastructure, relations of production, and frameworks of knowledge. Then, the whole cycle begins again.

Hall’s concepts of encoding and decoding argue that a message’s meaning cannot be fixed by the sender. Essentially, the interpretation of an encoder’s message is ever-changing depending on the demographics of the decoder. Hall’s argument takes into account different people’s responses to situations and how these differences can affect the interpretation of a message. Hall established three positions when decoding a text— dominant, negotiated, and oppositional— that can be observed in the film Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986). Before one can analyze the scene, one should familiarize themselves with the definition of Hall’s three positions: A reader takes a dominant position when they fully share the text’s code and accept and reproduce the preferred reading or original intention of the message. A negotiated position is one where the reader partly shares the text’s code and broadly accepts the preferred reading. During this negotiation of meaning, readers also sometimes resist and change a message’s original intent in a way that reflects and is most suited to their positionality. An oppositional position is one where the reader’s positionality puts them in direct opposition to the dominant code. Although these readers are still able to understand the preferred reading, they reject it.

These positions can be applied to the volleyball scene in the film Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986). A dominant interpretation would be if the reader understood the scene to be a competitive game of volleyball between Maverick and Iceman. A negotiated interpretation would be if the reader understood the scene to be a competitive volleyball game but did not understand how it fit into the movie’s frame. Finally, an oppositional interpretation involves viewing the scene as homoerotic, a perception that is popular among members of the gay community. For example, men flexing their oiled bodies and making noises, while Kenny Loggins’ “Playing with the Boys” (1986) plays in the background– suggests a sexualization of male bodies to the gay community based on their positionality as homosexual men.

First year Chinese college students are taught the English language by listening to American music. However, Christian Z. Goering and Huang Wei, the authors of the article “Playback and Feedback: Revelations of an ‘Encoding, Decoding’ Analysis of Popular Songs Used to Teach English in China, found that they did not know the songs that were listed in the curriculum. Their article examines the difference between American Pop and the American music from the curriculum and come to the conclusion that if more emblematic songs were used, the students would have a more beneficial experience in learning the English language: “the exposure to different types of songs (encoding), may create a different outcome (decoding) for language learners” (Goering & Wei, 2014). Their study concluded that “Of these randomly selected songs, none are seemingly a natural fit for language instruction in China, each a compromise of positive and not-so-positive attributes” (Goering & Wei, 2014), meaning that the songs mainly classified into a negotiated position based on Hall’s model.


Goering, C.Z., & Wei, H. (2014). Playback and Feedback: Revelations of an “Encoding, Decoding” Analysis of Popular Songs Used to Teach English in China. The Clearing          House, 87, 270-277.

Hall, S. (2007). Encoding, decoding. In S. During (Ed.), The Cultural Studies Reader (pp. 90- 103). London and New York: Routledge.

Kozma, A. (2018). Cultural Studies / The Birmingham School [PowerPoint slides].

Image Attribution: Image 1 Free Art License 1.3 and Image 2 CC0 Creative Commons.

Written by Hannah Sauer, 2018.

Episodic-Chapter TV Show

Episodic-Chapter Shows are stories that have a recurring set of characters who deal with conflict and resolution (Campbell 2017). It is the opposite of serial programs, which are shows that have a continuous storyline (Campbell 2017). Episodic-Chapter Shows can be watched and completely understood by viewers who have never seen a single episode of the show.  A wide variety of genres such as comedy, science fiction, detective shows, and drama fit the episodic-chapter format adequately (Campbell 2017).

In the 1930’s and 40’s, more and more televisions were being sold, and there were many questions about what type of television shows would take up air time (Thompson 2017).  Chapter shows were not introduced until the debut of television sitcom I Love Lucy (1951-1957) in 1951. This black and white sitcom follows Lucy Ricardo and her husband Ricky Ricardo in New York City. I Love Lucy followed the episodic-chapter structure instead of the typical variety show (Thompson 2017). The show was “the most watched on television for four of its six on the air” (Thompson 2017:1).


The Big Bang Theory cast

The popularity of this show revealed I Love Lucy established itself as the first episodic-chapter popular TV show and inspired other sitcom writers today to use this format. For example, Chuck Lorre’s The Big Bang Theory (2007-) follows the episodic-chapter style. The Big Bang Theory follows four socially awkward friends scientists living in California, and is a popular contemporary TV show today.

The growth of Netflix has helped episodic shows grow dramatically. Netflix allows people to watch “all episodes of a season at once” without worrying about having to watch a certain show at a specific time (Adalian 2017: 1). Many of the chapter shows on Netflix, such as Stranger Things are getting increasingly popular. Also in today’s world, new streaming technology helps ad-dependent programs by making it less stressful for them to produce huge ratings each week with services like Netflix and Hulu (Adalian 2017).


Adalian, J. (2017, August 03). The Return of the Episodic Anthology Series.  Retrieved December 03, 2017, from

Allen, S., & Thompson, R. J. (2017, October 18). Early Genres. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 03, 2017, from

Campbell, R. (2017). Media and Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age. 11th Edition. Boston and New York: Bedford Books/ St. Martin’s.

Image Attribution: The Big Bang Cast Photo By: BagoGames. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Written by Cole F. Storm, 2017



Episodic-Serial TV Show

Episodic-serial TV shows are a type of fictitious tv programming that are commonly seen aired on major networks such as NBC, ABC, FOX, and HBO. These programs can vary in subject matter covered. An episodic-serial shows’ focus of the plot is usually over a whole season, rather than individual episodes. Shows like Game of Thrones follows a main cast of characters across a permanent, dynamically changing world where their actions have a direct effect on the plot that comes ahead. Furthermore, missing an episode or two of Game of Thrones will have a stronger negative impact on the viewer than episodic-chapter shows because the viewer will be missing crucial pieces of information given in episodes past. Episodic-serial TV shows have their roots in radio broadcasting, with shows like The Shadow being one of the first episodic-serial shows to be broadcasted to the masses.

Episodic-serial shows found their start in radio broadcasting, with The Shadow being one of the first popular serial shows on air. The Shadow was one of the first major superhero characters created and built upon. The show itself was about the adventures the Shadow, a mysterious character who had, “the power to cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him”. The show ran on radio from 1930 to 1935, becoming the early influence for many other famous superheroes we see in pop culture today (anon. 1998). Episodic-serial shows today on TV have become some of the most critically acclaimed TV programs currently on air. The Walking Dead has become AMC’s highest grossing tv show they offer by total number of viewers, with as many as 17 million people tuning in for the shows 5th and 7th season premiere (Otterson, 2017). Episodic-serial shows are also expensive to produce, even from episode to episode. HBO is expecting to spend 15 million dollars per episode during production of season 8 for Game of Thrones. Widely successful serial shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Have become the flagship programs for many networks, bringing in large numbers of viewers.

Episodic-serial shows have traditionally been shied away from in the past, due to the requirement that the viewer pays attention to the show, requiring the viewer to pay attention week in and week out, without missing an episode. Due to the ease of accessibility of shows today from services such as Netflix or HBO, episodic-serial shows are now increasing in demand. Viewers are now able to binge an entire season of a show, without having to wait a week between each episode, viewing entire seasons as quickly as one season per week (Dwyer, 2016).

With many episodic-serial shows, it is not uncommon to see them start out as episodic-chapter, and then naturally migrate to a more serialized show. The show Lost Was originally intended to be a very procedural, episodic-chapter show, but due to the huge early on success the show saw, producers were able to make the story between each episode the focal point rather than the afterthought. In the later seasons of Lost, the individual story of each member on the island stopped becoming the driving force of each episode’s plot, compared to the first several seasons, where the individual story told about each character each episode was the object that furthered the plot. Eventually the show evolved to the point where the rich, elaborate mythology of the island became the driving force of the plot, taking a whole season to tell the hero’s journey, rather than a single episode.


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Written by Cole Wilhite, 2017