Media Outlaws Syllabus
Comm 5110-002 Spring 2009
Prof. Gil Rodman GTA Amy Pason / 612.626.7721 / 612.626.7811
office hours (253 Ford): office hours (271 Ford):
TuTh 10-11:15a, W 10-11:30a, and by appointment TuTh 3:00-4:00p

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 • copyright pirates
• open source software • mashup artists • punk rockers
• digital sampling • media pranksters • pornography

Our goal will not be to simply romanticize these "outlaws" as latter day Robin Hoods, nor will we merely condemn them as criminals or troublemakers. Instead, we will study how and why such figures struggle against the global "media monopoly" so that we might come to a richer understanding of (a) the 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 issues we'll address this semester have easy or predictable solutions. How well you do in this course 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.

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, 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. Class participants.

There are four categories of class participants:

1-005. Eligible voters.

All students included in #1-004(c) and #1-004(d) above have the right to propose new rules and/or rule changes, and to vote on official ballots. Proposals and/or ballots that only apply to one category of students can only be proposed and/or voted upon by students who belong to the affected category (e.g., graduate students cannot create or change rules that only apply to undergraduates, and vice versa). In any voting situation, each student has exactly one vote. In the event of a tie vote, the GTA is empowered to cast the deciding vote. Should the GTA choose not to resolve the deadlock, the professor will cast the deciding vote. Otherwise, the professor and the GTA are non-voting participants.

1-006. 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.

1-007. Passed ballot grade points.

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

1-008. Timekeeping.

For purposes of all course rules, a "course week" begins at 4:00:00 pm CT every Tuesday and lasts until 3:59:59 pm CT on the following Tuesday.

1-009. Grade queries.

Questions about specific 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 GTA before the professor will intervene. Should the professor intervene in such a dispute, he will regrade the assignment in question, and the resulting grade -- which may be higher than, the same as, or lower than the original grade -- will become the official grade of record for the assignment. The GTA is not empowered to change grades assigned by the professor.

1-010. Higher law.

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

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 the Bagdikian, McLeod, and Raymond books. Students who opt to acquire their books from alternate sources should do their best to acquire the editions listed above. The actual differences between these versions varies considerably (for McLeod, it's minimal; for Bagdikian, it's significant), but students who choose to use an older edition of one (or more) of these books do so at their own risk.

Students who choose the major research project option (see #2-011 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 blog.

All students on the official course roster as of 19 Jan have been given posting privileges for the course blog. The principal uses for the blog will be for:

Further details on how to access the blog are available on a separate handout.

2-003. Yoga mat.

All students are required to locate and 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 10 Feb until the end of the semester. Students who come to class without their yoga mats will have their course grade docked one (1) point for each and every such infraction.

2-004. Graduate students.

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

2-005. Grades.

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

Reading responses (20+ entries @ 2% each) 40%
Major research project OR Critical response papers (4 @ 15% each) 60%

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

A   93-100 B+   87-89 C+   77-79 D+   67-69
A-   90-92 B   83-86 C   73-76 D   60-66
  B-   80-82 C-   70-72 F   0-59

2-006. Attendance/participation.

Class meetings will be structured around discussions rather than lectures. The professor will assume that all students present on any given day are suitably prepared to contribute to those discussions: i.e., they will have done the assigned reading carefully enough to offer productive comments and questions about it. In this context, "being prepared" does not require a full mastery of the assigned readings. It does, however, require the sort of good faith effort that can be demonstrated with a thoughtful question and/or a clear explanation of at least some meaningful portion of the reading. Vague, superficial, and/or generic contributions (e.g., "I just didn't get it," "I liked this essay," "What does [word found in the reading] mean?") will not count as evidence of adequate preparation.

2-007. March Madness.

All students are required to predict the winners of both the men's and women's 2009 NCAA Division I Basketball Tournaments, and to submit their predictions to the professor in writing by the start of class on 12 Mar. Students who fail to submit such predictions or who fail to predict both tournament winners correctly will have three (3) points deducted from their final course grade.

2-008. Written assignments -- general rules.

(a) Where/how to submit assignments. With the exception of the reading responses (which are to be submitted only in digital form), all written work must be submitted in both printed and digital versions, and the text of each version must be identical.

(b) Deadlines. At least one -- and preferably both -- versions of any assignment must be submitted by 4:00 pm on the date it is due. Students who only submit one of the two required versions on time have until 12:00 noon on the day immediately after the due date to submit the other version. Late penalties will apply to all assignments that do not meet these deadlines, and will be assessed in direct proportion to the assignment's lateness. The minimum penalty in all such cases will be one full letter 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 submitted after 10 Feb 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 responses.

All undergraduate students must write and submit a minimum of twenty (20) short reading responses, each of which will consist of a brief critical response to one of our assigned readings. Each reading response is due by 4:00 pm the day before the class period 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. Critical response papers.

Undergraduate students choosing to complete critical response papers are required to write and submit at least four (4) essays of 1000+ words, each of which should be a critical (i.e., thoughtful and analytical) response to a particular range of the assigned readings. 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 4:00 pm on 12 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.

All students will write and produce a broadcast-quality 30-second TV advertisement that critiques the glorification of consumerism and militaristic nationalism that pervades the Super Bowl broadcast. Each ad must contain recognizable game footage from the official televised broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII (5:00 pm CT on 1 Feb on NBC). Finished ads are due on 5 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 five (5) points deducted from her/his final course grade.

2-013. Academic dishonesty.

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 course notes.

Students may 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. Code-your-own software assignment.

All students will design and code a major piece of software from scratch. Allowable types of software for this assignment are limited to the following:

email client ogg-vorbis music player spreadsheet
instant messaging client photo editor web browser
MMORPG engine RSS feedreader word processor

Finished software is due on 24 Feb and must be submitted in DVD format. This assignment will not be graded, but students who fail to complete it will have five (5) points deducted from their course grades.

2-016. 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 grade penalties for the student(s) involved.

2-017. Polka pledge.

From 12 Feb onward, all of our class meetings will begin with a mandatory group recitation of the "Polka Pledge." The pledge's full text (which all students must memorize) is as follows:

Polka! Polka! Polka!
It's the only music for me!
Polka! Polka! Polka!
It sets your spirits free!

Hip-hop just hurts my head.
Jazz makes my ears hurt.
Country makes me wish I were dead.
Rock sounds like nothing but dirt.
Polka! Polka! Polka!
It's the only music for me!
Polka! Polka! Polka!
It sets your spirits free! Boo-YAH!

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

2-018. Reading/assignment schedule.

The schedule below lists reading assignments and due dates for major written assignments. Readings should be completed in advance of the dates listed.

20 Jan
no readings

22 Jan
this syllabus

27 Jan
Duncombe, pp. 1-15 (Duncombe)
Bagdikian, pp. ix-54
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 1]

29 Jan
Duncombe, pp. 35-41 (Williams)
Bagdikian, pp. 55-130
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 2]

3 Feb
Duncombe, pp. 42-58 (Marx & Engels, Arnold)
Bagdikian, pp. 131-176
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 3]

5 Feb
Super Bowl counter-ad due

Duncombe, pp. 58-67 (Gramsci)
Bagdikian, pp. 177-265
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 4]

10 Feb
yoga mat requirement begins
"accepted language" requirement begins

Duncombe, pp. 185-192 (Hall)
McLeod, pp. 1-61
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 5]

12 Feb
Polka Pledge requirement begins

Duncombe, pp. 67-81 (Benjamin)
McLeod, pp. 62-170
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 6]

17 Feb
research project topic / 5-item bibliography due
critical response paper #1 due

Duncombe, pp. 89-96 (Scott)
McLeod, pp. 171-225

19 Feb
Gopher Spirit T-shirt requirement begins

Duncombe, pp. 369-378 (Boyd)
McLeod, pp. 226-334
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 7]

24 Feb
code-your-own software assignment due

Duncombe, pp. 135-149 (Hobsbawm)
Lessig, pp. xiii-83
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 8]

26 Feb
Duncombe, pp. 347-357 (Jordan)
Lessig, pp. 84-154
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 9]

3 Mar
Facebook photo requirement begins

Lessig, pp. 155-224
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 10]

5 Mar
Lessig, pp. 225-294
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 11]

10 Mar
thesis paragraph / annotated 10-item bibliography due
critical response #2 due

Duncombe, pp. 113-118 (Bey)
Jordan, pp. 1-65
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 12]

12 Mar
Duncombe, pp. 333-346 (Epstein)
Jordan, pp. 66-141
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 13]

17 Mar
spring break -- no class

19 Mar
spring break -- no class

24 Mar
"change your major" requirement deadline
rough draft #1 due

Duncombe, pp. 157-178 (Cosgrove, Hebdige, Clarke)
Raymond, pp. ix-64
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 14]

26 Mar
Duncombe, pp. 118-131 (Reynolds)
Raymond, pp. 65-166
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 16]

31 Mar
Duncombe, pp. 178-182 (Riot Grrrl, Hanna)
Raymond, pp. 167-217
[recommended: Booth et al., ch. 17]

2 Apr
Duncombe, pp. 327-332 (Hoffman, Rubin)
Yes Men, pp. 7-76

7 Apr
critical response paper #3 due

Duncombe, pp. 358-369 (Grote)
Yes Men, pp. 77-115

9 Apr
Duncombe, pp. 316-327 (Frank)
Yes Men, pp. 115-190

14 Apr
rough draft #2 due

Duncombe, pp. 100-113 (Baudrillard)
Negativland, pp. i-77

16 Apr
Duncombe, pp. 379-396 (Dominguez)
Negativland, pp. 78-139

21 Apr
critical response paper #4 due

Negativland, pp. 140-192

23 Apr
Negativland, pp. 193-266

28 Apr
Duncombe, pp. 82-88 (Bakhtin)
Kipnis, pp. vii-63

30 Apr
Duncombe, pp. 215-231 (Levine)
Kipnis, pp. 64-92

5 May
Duncombe, pp. 240-248 (Woolf)
Kipnis, pp. 93-160

7 May
Duncombe, pp. 259-267 (Radway)
Kipnis, pp. 161-206

12 May
finals week -- no class
final paper and verification pages due
critical response paper #5 due

Minor course rules

3-001. Facebook profile photo

By the start of class on 3 Mar, all students must change their primary profile picture on their Facebook page to the official logo of one of the following:

Eastern Airlines Viagra
McDonald's Walmart
University of Wisconsin/Madison World Trade Organization

All students must keep their chosen logo as their primary Facebook profile picture until the end of class on 7 May. Students who do not already have a Facebook page will be required to set up a Facebook account in order to comply with this requirement. Students who fail to meet this requirement fully will have their final course grade docked by four (4) points.

3-002. Changing course rules.

With the sole exception of rule changes proposed in class on 22 Jan (see #3-013 below), all changes/additions/amendments to the course rules must adhere to the four step process described in rules #3-004 through #3-007.

3-003. Email timing.

From 15 Feb onward, all course-related email sent by any student to either the professor or the GTA must have a timestamp indicating that it was sent between 3:24:00 am and 3:32:17 am CT. At the sole discretion of the recipient, any email messages sent outside that obligatory time period will either (a) be ignored completely or (b) result in a one (1) point penalty assessed against the sender's final course grade.

3-004. Proposing rule changes.

All potential rule changes must first be proposed on the course blog. An official proposal will consist of a post to the course blog in which:

Proposal names are not case-sensitive (e.g., "PROPOSAL #04-11-DSmith" is functionally equivalent to "proposal #04-11-dsmith"). Spacing, punctuation, and leading zeros, however, do matter (e.g., "PROPOSAL #03-06-TJones" is a valid proposal name, but "PROPOSAL #3-6-TJones," "PROPOSAL 03 06 TJones," and "PROPOSAL #0306TJones" are all invalid). Blog 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 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.

Each student is allowed to put forward a maximum of one (1) legitimate proposal each per course week. In the event that a student puts forward more than one legitimate proposal in a single course week, only the first such proposal will be considered to be legitimate.

3-005. Discussion of proposed rule changes.

The successful posting of a legally 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 course participants are welcome to use the course blog to offer questions, suggestions, objections, and/or other commentary on the proposal in question.

3-006. Revision or withdrawal of proposed rule changes.

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

3-007. Voting.

The official voting period for all ballots will last for 72 hours. Votes on any given ballot must conform to the following rules:

Votes on separate ballots must be submitted in separate emails. Votes that are unclear, ambiguous, and/or conditional will be null and void. Once cast, votes cannot be changed or retracted. 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.

3-008. Gopher spirit.

From 19 Feb onwards, all students must wear T-shirts to class honoring two great Minnesota sports teams of the past. On Tuesdays, students must wear maroon T-shirts displaying a team photo of the 1962 Rose Bowl champion Gophers. On Thursdays, students must wear gold T-shirts displaying a reproduction of the Minnesota Daily story describing the women's basketball team's appearance in the 2004 Final Four. Students who fail to wear the appropriate T-shirts on the appropriate days will have their final course grade docked two (2) points for each infraction.

3-009. Changed rules.

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

3-010. New rules.

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

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.

3-011. 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.

3-012. 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 on the course blog.

3-013. "First week" ballots.

During our class meeting on 22 Jan, students will have the opportunity to meet in small groups for the purposes of proposing changes to the course rules. After that review process, each group will be allowed to propose one (1) official ballot in class. Any such ballots must be submitted to the professor by the end of class on 22 Jan, using the official form provided for this purpose. The discussion and revision periods for these ballots will be waived, and the 72-hour voting period will begin immediately after the professor posts the ballots to the course blog. For purposes of rule #1-007, grade points for any "first week" ballot 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 during the first course week in accordance with the procedures described above.

N.B.: There are no fewer than ten (10) deliberately flawed rules in the original 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.

3-014. Change your major.

Before classes resume after spring break, all undergraduate students must have officially and permanently changed their major, and must provide suitable documentation demonstrating that this change has been filed with the University. Students who begin the semester as Communication Studies majors must change to one of the following majors: Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, Dental Hygiene, Radiation Therapy, or Urban and Community Forestry. All other students must change their major to Communication Studies. Students who fail to provide documentation of their major change will be assigned a course grade of "F."