2019 CMCS Keynote – Alex Symons

CMCS 8th International Conference
Bridging Gaps: Re-Fashioning Stories for Celebrity Counterpublics

Alex Symons, PhD
Assistant Professor, Communication and Media Studies
LIM College, New York City

Day 2 – Opening Keynote

“Cultural Citizenship” in the Digital Age:
Activism and Risks for Comedians in America

More so than before, American comedians are able to exhibit their “private” life stories and promote personal causes thanks to the “limitless” possibilities of digital culture – specifically through YouTube, Twitter, and digital television. It was via Netflix that Seth Rogen shared his family experience of Alzheimer’s in his show Hilarity for Charity (2018), and on Twitter that Amy Schumer has expressed her liberal beliefs as is her family tradition. Similarly, Sarah Silverman has drawn on her Jewish, New England upbringing to advocate progressive politics in I Love You, America (Hulu, 2017-).

Yet at the same time, digital culture been known to “backfire” by exposing comedians’ “private” lives and beliefs to intense criticism. This has been facilitated by the rise of “cultural citizenship” whereby “participation in popular culture” has come to be expected of modern citizenry. Such criticism of behavior online has led Kevin Heart to recently withdraw from presenting the Academy Awards, Roseanne Barr had her television show cancelled by ABC, and Kathy Griffin has endured months of venue cancellations across America. These cases considered, American comedians are now more able to express themselves, and exhibit their “private” selves, but they are also at greater personal risk for doing so.


Dr. Alex Symons is Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at LIM College in New York City. He is author of Mel Brooks in the Cultural Industries (Edinburgh University Press, 2012), as well as articles in Celebrity Studies, the Journal of Popular Film and Television, and the Journal of Adaptation in Film and Performance. His recent article on American television satire is published in the book, Trump’s Media War (Palgrave MacMillan, 2018).