The Wow Climax
Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture
Publication Year: 2007
Henry Jenkins at Authors@Google (video)
Vaudevillians used the term "the wow climax" to refer to the emotional highpoint of their actsa final moment of peak spectacle following a gradual building of audience's emotions. Viewed by most critics as vulgar and sensationalistic, the vaudeville aesthetic was celebrated by other writers for its vitality, its liveliness, and its playfulness.
The Wow Climax follows in the path of this more laudatory tradition, drawing out the range of emotions in popular culture and mapping what we might call an aesthetic of immediacy. It pulls together a spirited range of work from Henry Jenkins, one of our most astute media scholars, that spans different media (film, television, literature, comics, games), genres (slapstick, melodrama, horror, exploitation cinema), and emotional reactions (shock, laughter, sentimentality). Whether highlighting the sentimentality at the heart of the Lassie franchise, examining the emotional experiences created by horror filmmakers like Wes Craven and David Cronenberg and avant garde artist Matthew Barney, or discussing the emerging aesthetics of video games, these essays get to the heart of what gives popular culture its emotional impact.
Published by: NYU Press
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Consider the singular beauty of the word "wow." Think about the pleasure in forming that perfectly symmetrical phrase on your tongue. Imagine the particular enthusiasm it expresses--the sense of wonderment, astonishment, absolute engagement. ...
Part I: The Lively Arts
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In 1924, the cultural critic Gilbert Seldes wrote an essential book on the popular aesthetic, The Seven Lively Arts, making what was then a bold argument--that America's greatest cultural contributions in the twentieth century would come not from imitating the great art traditions of Europe, but rather from exploring emerging idioms such as jazz, Broadway musicals, cinema, and comic strips.1 ...
1 Games, the New Lively Art
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Over the past three decades, computer and video games have progressed from the primitive two-paddles-and-a-ball Pong to the sophistication of Final Fantasy, a participatory story with cinema-quality graphics that unfolds over nearly 100 hours of game play, or Black & White, an ambitious moral tale where the player's god-like choices between good and evil leave tangible marks on the landscape.4 ...
2 Monstrous Beauty and Mutant Aesthetics: Rethinking Matthew Barney's Relation to the Horror Genre
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Deep in the subterranean vaults of the Chrysler Building, a creature stirs. A hand breaks through the earth and a red-haired, blue-skinned zombie pushes her way out of the ground. She is hauntingly beautiful and yet otherworldly, an object of both desire and dread. ...
Part II: The Immediate Experience
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Writing shortly before his death in 1955, Robert Warshow argued that "the unresolved problem of 'popular culture' . . . has come to be a kind of nagging embarrassment to criticism, intruding itself on all our efforts to understand the special qualities of our culture and to define our own relation to it."1 Three decades had passed since the publication of Gilbert Seldes's The Seven Lively Arts. ...
3 Death-Defying Heroes
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Media scholars draw an important distinction between mass culture and popular culture. Mass culture is mass-produced for a mass audience. Popular culture is what happens to those cultural artifacts at the site of consumption, as we draw upon them as resources in our everyday life. ...
4 Never Trust a Snake: WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama
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Like World Wrestling Federation (WWF) superstar Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Roland Barthes saw wrestling as a "morality play," a curious hybrid of sports and theater. For Barthes, wrestling was at once a "spectacle of excess," evoking the pleasure of grandiloquent gestures and violent contact, and a lower form of tragedy, where issues of morality, ethics, and politics were staged. ...
5 Exploiting Feminism in Stephanie Rothman's Terminal Island
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Two women--one white and blonde, the other black and sporting an Afro--are harnessed to a plow, struggling to move forward through thick muck. Glistening sweat slides through their exposed cleavage and down their taunt, muscular thighs. ...
6 "You Don't Say That in English!":The Scandal of Lupe Velez
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This remarkable story links together the origins of Lupe's transgressive female sexuality (her willingness to use men as "tools" for her own ends) with the origins of her desire for film stardom. Lupe, the young Mexican girl, desires glamour photographs of Hollywood stars and is willing to trade her sexual favors to get them, to exchange bronze flesh for silvery images. ...
Part III: Welcome to the Playground
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So far, we have read popular culture as being governed by a logic of aesthetic intensification. We have also seen that the immediacy of popular culture can become the focus of anxiety or fear since it is often read as breaking down constraints that operate elsewhere in the culture. ...
7 "Going Bonkers!": Children, Play, and Pee-Wee
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Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a Dantesque vision of the faults and foibles of contemporary children, reserves special ire for the young television addict, Mike Teavee. When we first encounter Mike, he is so preoccupied with a television gunfight, "his eyes glued to the screen," eighteen cap guns assembled at his side, that he refuses to be distracted even by the news that he is the recipient of one of the much coveted Golden Tickets...
8 "Complete Freedom of Movement":Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces
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Sometimes I feel nostalgic for my boyhood spaces in suburban Atlanta in the 1960s. My big grassy front yard sloped sharply downward into a ditch where we could float boats on rainy days. Beyond, there was a pine forest where my brother and I could toss pine cones like grenades or smack sticks together like swords. ...
9 "Her Suffering Aristocratic Majesty": The Sentimental Value of Lassie
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The year is 1954. A television legend debuts. Jeff Miller, a simple farm boy, squirms in his suit and tie as he listens to the reading of a neighbor's will. The bored boy is overjoyed when he learns that he is to receive "the best thing," a collie named Lassie. However, Lassie refuses to leave the house where she has lived since she was a puppy. ...
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About the Author
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2007