Media outlaws  
Special topics in communication theory Comm 5110-002
Tu Th 12:45-2:00p / B10 Ford Spring 2006

Prof. Gil Rodman GTA Thomas Johnson GTA Emanuelle Wessels
612.626.7721 612.626.7811 612.626.4316
office hours (253 Ford) office hours (271 Ford) office hours (285 Ford)
TuTh 2-3:30p; W 2-3p Tu 10:30a-12:30p TuTh 11:40a-12:40p
and by appointment Th 11:30a-12:30p W 1:30-2:30p

Course description and objectives

This is a course about media subversives: people working outside of mainstream media institutions who nonetheless find creative and provocative ways to use the media as a space for cultural, political, and/or economic critique and resistance. Over the course of the semester, we will examine a range of "alternative" media phenomena, including:

• computer hackers • digital filesharing • punk rockers
• open source software • media pranksters • "slash" fan-fiction
• digital sampling • copyright pirates • pornography

Our goal will not be to simply romanticize these "outlaws" as latter day Robin Hoods, nor will we simply condemn them as criminals or troublemakers. Instead, we will study how and why such figures struggle against the global "media monopoly" in order to come to a richer understanding of (a) the precise nature of the media's considerable political and cultural power, and (b) the ways that ordinary people can engage with powerful cultural institutions, not as passive consumers, but as active participants and creators.

Few (if any) of the questions we'll address this semester have easy or predictable answers. How well you do in this class will depend on (1) your ability to think critically about issues of media, culture, politics, and resistance and (2) your ability to argue your position(s) on those issues persuasively, rather than your ability to memorize and repeat the "right" answers.

Permanent course rules

1-001. Applicability of rules.

At any given time during the semester, all students must abide by all course rules in the specific form in which they are then in effect. All rules listed in the original syllabus are in effect when the semester begins and remain in effect until and unless they are officially changed.

1-002. Rule types.

There are three types of course rules:

1-003. Hierarchy of rules.

In the event of conflicts between two or more rules, precedent is given to the rule at the highest level of the hierarchy (i.e., major rules take precedent over minor rules, and permanent rules take precedent over both major and minor rules). If conflicting rules are in the same level of the hierarchy, the rule with the lowest number takes precedent (e.g., a rule numbered #3-152 would take precedence over a rule numbered #3-155).

1-004. Professor.

The professor (Gil Rodman) is the final arbiter and enforcer of all course rules, and the only person authorized to determine and/or assign final course grades. He is also authorized to determine and/or assign grades for both attendance/participation and individual assignments (or portions thereof).

1-005. Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs).

The GTAs (Thomas Johnson, Emanuelle Wessels) are authorized to determine and/or assign grades for individual assignments (or portions thereof), as delegated to do so by the professor. GTAs are not authorized to determine and/or assign grades for graduate students.

1-006. Students.

For purposes of the course rules, there are two different categories of students:

1-007. Eligible voters.

All students have the right to propose new rules, to propose changes to existing rules, and to vote on official ballots. Proposals and/or ballots that only apply to one category of students (see #1-006 above) can only be proposed and/or voted upon by students who belong to the affected category (e.g., graduate students cannot change rules that only apply to undergraduates, and vice versa).

1-008. One student/one vote.

In all voting situations, each student has exactly one vote. In the event that a ballot ends in a tie vote, the GTAs will be empowered to cast the deciding vote. Should a ballot remain tied after the GTAs have attempted to resolve the deadlock, the professor is empowered to cast the deciding vote. Otherwise, both the professor and the GTAs are non-voting participants in the ballot process.

1-009. Quorum.

Any ballot that fails to achieve a quorum of at least 50% of all eligible voters will be null and void, regardless of the final outcome of the vote.

1-010. Passed ballot grade points.

When a ballot passes, the student who officially proposed that ballot will have one (1) point added to their final course grade.

1-011. Timekeeping.

For purposes of all course rules, a "course week" begins at 12:45:00 pm CT every Tuesday and lasts until 12:44:59 pm CT on the following Tuesday.

1-012. Grade queries/disputes.

Questions about specific assignment grades should be directed to the assignment's original grader. In the event of a dispute over a GTA-assigned grade, the student in question must make every reasonable effort to resolve that dispute with the relevant GTA before asking the professor to consider the matter. In the event that the professor agrees to intervene in a dispute over a grade assigned by a GTA, he will re-grade the assignment in question himself, with the resulting grade -- which may be higher than, the same as, or lower than the original grade -- becoming the official grade of record for the assignment. GTAs are not empowered to change grades assigned either by each other or by the professor.

1-013. Higher law.

No course rules can be created, changed, or amended in such a way as to violate (a) federal, state, or local laws; (b) Communication Studies departmental policies; and/or (c) official UMN rules and regulations.

Major course rules

2-001. Books.

The following required books are available at the University Bookstore in Coffman Union:

Please note that earlier editions exist for both the Bagdikian and the Raymond books. Students who opt to acquire their books from alternate sources should make sure that they acquire the editions listed above.

Students who choose the major research project option (see #2-010 below) are strongly encouraged to use the following recommended book (which is also available at the University Bookstore in Coffman Union) as a helpful guide for how to conceive, plan, research, and write their final papers:

2-002. Course listserv.

All students on the official course roster as of 16 Jan have been subscribed to the course listserv, "media-outlaws," using their listed UMN addresses. Any student who would prefer to access the listserv using some other e-mail account is welcome to do so, but s/he must change his/her own subscription settings, and s/he must use an address that the professor can accurately and reliably associate with the student in question. Students can join the listserv and/or change their subscription settings by using the list's web interface:

To post to the list, send a regular e-mail message to:

The principal uses for the listserv will be for:

2-003. Yoga mat.

All students are required to purchase a molded rubber yoga mat (in UMN maroon and/or gold only; minimum length of 120 inches) that they will bring to every class meeting from 31 Jan until the end of the semester. Students who come to class without their yoga mats will have their attendance/participation grade for that meeting docked by 10%.

2-004. Graduate students.

All of the original course rules apply to graduate students except as follows:

Final course grades for graduate students will be calculated using the following schedule:

Attendance/participation 20%
Major research project 80%

2-005. Grading schedule: undergraduate students.

Final course grades for undergraduates will be calculated using the following schedule:

Attendance/participation 20%
Reading journal (10 entries @ 2% each) 20%
Major research project OR Position papers 60%

Final grade point totals will translate to letter grades as follows:

A   93-100 B   83-86 C   73-76 D+    67-69 F   0-59
A-   90-92 B-   80-82 C-   70-72 D   63-66 N   0-59
B+   87-89 C+   77-79 S   70-100 D   60-62 I   n/a

2-006. Attendance/participation.

Attendance will be taken at the start of every class period, and all unexcused absences, late arrivals, and/or early departures will result in grade penalties. In general, the only absences that will count as "excused" are those resulting from:

Class meetings will be structured around discussions rather than lectures. While the professor will make a concerted effort to insure that as many students as possible get to contribute to our in-class discussions, our numbers this semester are too large to guarantee that everyone will be able to earn the maximum possible participation grade solely through in-class discussions. With this in mind, all students should plan on contributing to our online discussions on a regular basis. Ideally, each student should aim to:

Students who meet all these goals will receive an attendance/participation grade of A. Students who fall short in one of these areas can make up for it with extra work in one of the others . . . but bear in mind that:

2-007. Valentine's Day.

On 14 Feb, any student who wears any publicly visible clothing to class that bears any trace of any color other than red shall have their attendance/participation grade for that course week reduced by 25%.

2-008. Written assignments -- general rules.

(a) Where/how to submit assignments. Unless specifically noted otherwise in the rules below and/or on official assignment handouts, all written work must be submitted in both printed and digital versions, and the text of each version must be identical.

(b) Deadlines. All due dates are "in class" due dates, which means that at least one -- and preferably both -- versions of any assignment must be submitted by 12:45 pm on the relevant due date. For students who only submit one of the two required versions on time, there is a "grace period" for the second version until 3:30 pm on the due date. Late penalties will apply to all assignments where (a) neither printed or digital versions have been submitted by 12:45 pm or (b) only one version has been submitted by 3:30 pm. Late penalties will be assessed in direct proportion to the lateness of the assignment in question. The minimum penalty in all such cases will be one full letter grade deducted from that assignment's grade.

(c) Grammar/spelling/etc. Grades for written assignments will be based primarily on content (rather than form): e.g., insightful, smartly argued essays that contain a few spelling errors will almost always receive higher grades than grammatically flawless papers that have weak arguments. Nonetheless, grammar, spelling, and style still matter to the effective presentation of a strong argument, and assignments suffering from significant "form" problems will be penalized accordingly.

(d) Accepted languages. All written assignments completed after 31 Jan must be submitted in one (or more) of the following languages:

Bottle-nosed Dolphin Klingon Navajo
Esperanto Mandarin Chinese Proto-Indo-European
Flemish Mayan Wolof

Written work submitted in any other languages -- including English -- will be penalized a full letter grade.

2-009. Reading journal.

All undergraduate students must write and submit a minimum of ten (10) short (~250 word) journal entries, each of which will consist of a thoughtful response to a different one of our assigned readings. Each journal entry is due by 12:45 pm on the class date for which the reading in question is assigned. Further details about this assignment are available on a separate handout. That handout constitutes a legally binding extension of this course rule.

2-010. Position papers.

Over the course of the semester, the professor will post specific prompts for each of five (5) different position paper assignments. Undergraduate students choosing to complete position papers are required to write and submit essays of 1000+ words each in response to at least four (4) of these prompts. Due dates are listed below (see #2-017). Further details about this assignment are available on a separate handout. That handout constitutes a legally binding extension of this course rule.

2-011. Major research project.

This assignment will result in a 4000+ word argumentative research paper on a topic appropriate to the course's central theme. Final papers are due by 12:45 pm on 9 May. There are several mandatory intermediate deadlines designed to help undergraduate students complete their projects in a timely and satisfactory fashion.

This assignment is designed so that it can be used to satisfy the Senior Paper requirement for Communication Studies majors. Students intending to use this project for this purpose must:

Further details about this assignment are available on a separate handout. That handout constitutes a legally binding extension of this course rule.

2-012. Super Bowl counter-ad assignment.

In recognition of the extensive media hype surrounding the Super Bowl every year, all students will write and produce a broadcast-quality 30-second television advertisement that deliberately critiques and subverts the glorification of consumerism and militaristic nationalism that pervades the Super Bowl broadcast. Finished ads are due on 2 Feb and must be submitted in DVD format. These ads will not be graded, but any student who fails to complete this assignment will have ten (10) points deducted from her/his final course grade.

2-013. Academic integrity.

To help avoid potentially disastrous misunderstandings, the following is a partial list of major examples of academic dishonesty:

The minimum penalty for academic dishonesty is a zero for the assignment in question -- and, in cases involving the major research project, such a penalty will result in a final course grade of F.

Further information about the University's official policies with respect to academic dishonesty -- including more detailed explanations of what constitutes "plagiarism" and "cheating" -- can be found online at

2-014. Recordings and notes.

Students are allowed to make audio recordings of our class meetings for their personal use, provided they can do so without disrupting the ordinary flow of the class. The purchase and/or sale of either written notes or audio recordings of our class meetings is strictly prohibited.

2-015. Etiquette.

Significant disruptions of the normal flow of course-related business -- e.g., using cell phones in class, excessive side chatter, engaging in premature leave-taking behavior -- will result in penalties to the attendance/participation grades for the student(s) involved.

2-016. Favre Loyalty Oath.

From 31 Jan onward, all of our class meetings will begin with a mandatory group recitation of "The Oath of Eternal Loyalty to Brett Favre." The full text of this oath (which all students must commit to memory) is as follows:

I swear by all that is holy and true in the cosmos
That I shall be forever faithful to Brett Favre,
Who shines forth like Packer gold on a cloudy day,
And is the greatest quarterback ever to trod upon the frozen tundra.
I shall honor Brett faithfully and fully,
Forswearing all other football allegiances,
And defend his name and legend, if need be, with my very life.

Students who fail to memorize the Oath completely and accurately, to participate in our in-class recitations of the Oath, and/or to abide by the noble ideals expressed in the Oath will have their final course grade penalized one (1) point for each infraction.

2-017. Reading/assignment schedule.

The schedule below lists our scheduled class meetings, reading assignments, and due dates for all written work except the reading journal. All students should complete all readings in advance of the dates listed.

date required readings assignment deadlines
recommended readings
17 Jan no readings  
19 Jan Duncombe, pp. 1-15 (Duncombe)
Bagdikian, pp. ix-54
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 1]
24 Jan Duncombe, pp. 67-81 (Benjamin)
Bagdikian, pp. 55-130
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 2]
26 Jan Duncombe, pp. 185-192 (Hall)
Bagdikian, pp. 131-176
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 3]
31 Jan Bagdikian, pp. 177-265 topic due
yoga mat requirement begins
2 Feb Duncombe, pp. 135-149 (Hobsbawm)
Lessig, pp. xiii-79
Super Bowl counter-ad due
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 4]
7 Feb Duncombe, pp. 347-357 (Jordan)
Lessig, pp. 80-173
position paper #1 due
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 5]
9 Feb Lessig, pp. 174-212 [recommended: Booth et al., ch. 6]
14 Feb Lessig, pp. 213-306 5-item bibliography due
16 Feb Duncombe, pp. 89-96 (Scott)
McLeod, pp. 1-61
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 7]
21 Feb Duncombe, pp. 369-378 (Boyd)
McLeod, pp. 62-170
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 8]
23 Feb McLeod, pp. 171-225 [recommended: Booth et al., ch. 9]
28 Feb McLeod, pp. 226-334 thesis paragraph due
position paper #2 due
2 Mar Duncombe, pp. 113-118 (Bey)
Raymond, pp. ix-64
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 10]
7 Mar Duncombe, pp. 333-346 (Epstein)
Raymond, pp. 65-166
annotated 10-item bibliography due
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 11]
9 Mar Raymond, pp. 167-217 [recommended: Booth et al., ch. 12]
14 Mar spring break -- no class  
16 Mar spring break -- no class  
21 Mar Duncombe, pp. 327-332 (Hoffman, Rubin)
Yes Men, pp. 7-76
rough draft #1 due
position paper #3 due
23 Mar Duncombe, pp. 358-369 (Grote)
Yes Men, pp. 77-115
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 13]
28 Mar Duncombe, pp. 316-327 (Frank)
Yes Men, pp. 115-190
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 14]
30 Mar Duncombe, pp. 100-113 (Baudrillard)
Negativland, pp. 1-81
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 16]
4 Apr Duncombe, pp. 379-396 (Dominguez)
Negativland, pp. 82-187
6 Apr Negativland, pp. 188-266  
11 Apr Duncombe, pp. 157-178 (Cosgrove, Hebdige, Clarke)
Hebdige, pp. 1-99
rough draft #2 due
position paper #4 due
13 Apr Duncombe, pp. 118-131 (Reynolds), pp. 178-182 (Riot Grrrl, Hanna)
Hebdige, pp. 100-186
18 Apr Duncombe, pp. 240-248 (Woolf)
Penley, pp. 1-96
20 Apr Duncombe, pp. 259-267 (Radway)
Penley, pp. 97-148
25 Apr Duncombe, pp. 82-88 (Bakhtin)
Kipnis, pp. vii-63
27 Apr Duncombe, pp. 215-231 (Levine)
Kipnis, pp. 64-92
2 May Kipnis, pp. 93-160 position paper #5 due
4 May Kipnis, pp. 161-206  
9 May finals week -- no class final paper and verification pages due

Minor course rules

3-001. Changing course rules.

With the sole exception of rule changes proposed in class on 17 Jan (see #3-010 below), all changes/additions/amendments to the course rules must adhere to the four step process described in rules #3-002 through #3-005.

3-002. Proposing rule changes.

All potential rule changes must first be proposed on the course listserv. A formal and official proposal will consist of an e-mail to the course listserv in which:

Listserv posts that fail to follow the requirements listed above precisely will not be considered to be legitimate proposals. Votes cast on any illegitimate proposals will be null and void.

Proposed rule changes must relate primarily to official course business in a clear and explicit fashion, and must be enforceable within the existing structure of the course. The outcome of any and all ballots must be fully decidable by means of a simple Yes/No vote.

Students may propose a maximum of one (1) official ballot each per course week. In the event that a student proposes more than one legally formatted ballot in a single course week, only the first such ballot proposed will be considered to be legitimate.

3-003. Discussion of proposed rule changes.

The successful posting of a properly formatted proposal will automatically start a 72-hour period for open discussion of the proposal in question. The discussion period is intended to give proposal authors the opportunity to assess the potential effects and/or viability of their proposals -- and, if they so desire, to make revisions to their proposals prior to any formal vote. During the discussion period, any and all members of the course (including the professor, GTAs, and students who are otherwise ineligible to vote on the proposal) are welcome to use the listserv to offer questions, suggestions, objections, and/or other commentary on the proposal in question. [N.B.: On-list discussion of proposed rule changes will typically not score participation points.]

3-004. Revision or withdrawal of proposed rule changes.

After the discussion period ends, the original proposal author has three options:

3-005. Voting.

The official voting period for any and all ballots will last for 72 hours. All voting shall be done offlist via private e-mail. Legal votes must be sent to during the official voting period for any given ballot item and must conform to the following rules:

Votes on separate ballot items must be submitted in separate e-mails. Votes that are unclear, ambiguous, and/or conditional will be null and void. Once cast, votes cannot be changed or retracted -- so vote carefully. Votes that fail to follow these requirements precisely will not be considered to be legitimate votes, either for deciding the outcome of a ballot or for constituting a quorum.

3-006. Changed rules.

Changes to existing rules are considered to have passed if and only if:

3-007. New rules.

New rules are considered to have passed if and only if:

Unless their wording specifically states otherwise, new rules will be assigned to a hierarchical category based on the percentage of Yes votes received: i.e., a new rule receiving at least a supermajority Yes vote will be implemented as a major course rule, whereas a new rule receiving only a simple majority Yes vote will be implemented as a minor course rule.

3-008. Effective date of rule changes.

Any rule change(s) resulting from a passed ballot shall take effect at the start of the first class meeting following the completion of the voting period. No ballot may have retroactive application, even if its wording explicitly states otherwise.

3-009. Formal record of rule changes.

The full text of any rule changes resulting from passed ballots shall be added to the official course rules maintained online at

3-010. "First class" ballots.

During our first class meeting on 17 Jan, students will have the opportunity to meet in small groups, each of which will collectively review the original course rules. After that review process, each group will be allowed to propose one (1) official ballot item in class. Using the official form provided for this purpose, any such ballot items must be submitted to the professor by the end of class on 17 Jan. The discussion and revision periods for these ballot items will be waived, and the 72-hour voting period will begin immediately after the professor posts the ballot items to the course listserv. For purposes of rule #1-010, grade points for any "first class" ballot item that is officially approved will be awarded to all listed members of the group that originally authored the ballot.

This rule does not infringe on the right of any individual student to propose a separate ballot item during the first course week of the semester in accordance with the procedures described above.

N.B.: There are no fewer than five (5) deliberately flawed rules in the initial syllabus. Students are strongly encouraged to locate these, to propose rule changes that would repeal and/or modify them, and to vote these rule changes into effect. Otherwise, by rule #1-001, even these flawed rules will remain in effect until and unless they are officially changed.