realized that what I‘m interested in is the way technology shapes but
also reacts to the way we as a culture make ourselves or imagine
ourselves and create our identities." - Paul Booth
By Caelin Niehoff
American popular culture increasingly encompasses a wider presence
of media forms. Professor Paul Booth investigates the meaning behind the
media's impact on culture: its ability to shape our time, identities
and communities. Teaching about new media, technology, and popular
culture in the College of Communication, American Studies students
explore both the interdisciplinary nature and contemporary themes in his
Media and Cinema Studies courses.
While Professor Booth has always considered himself a professor and
academic at heart, his career aspirations have evolved since childhood.
After teaching for a graduate school apprenticeship, Professor Booth
couldn't imagine doing anything else. It combined his love of theater
with his own academic history. He pursued studies in digital media and
completed a PhD in Communication and Rhetoric at the Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute. Because PhD programs are small to begin with,
Professor Booth needed to look at the big picture when selecting a
program. Rhetoric and its roots in identity became an indispensable
After finishing his dissertation, Professor Booth condensed roughly 550 pages into a 250 page book, Digital Fandom (2010).
"Digital Fandom is the result of that dissertation and
research. It looked at the way media fans, people that really feel this
close emotional attachment to a media text— and in this case it was a
television program — how they‘re using social media to create
identities, rhetoric and arguments. I looked at blogs, wikis, and
MySpace because that‘s what was big at the time.
"I concluded that in the past fans wrote fan fiction and made fan
videos, but it‘s much more visible today because of the internet.
They‘re using social media a bit differently. It‘s not just to create
their own text, but to create their own communities and groups of like-
minded fans who can interact with each other, help each other and
support each other. So it‘s much more about creating a network and that
was the ultimate conclusion of Digital Fandom."
There is a parallel between Professor Booth‟s academic interests
and teaching style. His research in fandom involves attendance at fan
conventions, and exchanging knowledge with the fans he studies.
Likewise, his classes are interactive and participatory. Creative
project assignments allow students to explore the process of becoming a
fan in MCS 361 Fandom and Participatory Culture. Whether producing their
own fan fiction, website, or movie, students engage in alternative ways
at looking at the media.
"You can‘t really study the media without making the media. It kind
of goes hand in hand... I really try and let students be as creative as
they want to be as long as they are also critical, because my classes
mainly focus on critical thinking and being able to express deep and
intelligent ideas in an articulate way."
Article originally published in the American Studies (part of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences) Program's Spring 2013 Newsletter. Reprinted with kind permission.