DEPARTMENTS

Lucky Dog

'Celebrity Culture' class project makes student's Labrador famous

AUSTIN, Texas

When Charli Kilpatrick received a Labrador puppy as a Christmas present last year, little did she know that he would become famous.

Thanks to a project she completed in the Department of Communication Studies' "Celebrity Culture" (CMS 366C) course, her Labrador – Dudley – has appeared on "Good Morning America," NPR, TeddyHilton.com and Radio Télévision Luxembourg. On Oct. 24, Kilpatrick and Dudley will appear on "AndersonLive" via Skype.

The assignment – which charged students with creating and promoting a blog or YouTube video that would receive at least 1,400 views – inspired Kilpatrick and her four team members to create a video starring Dudley. The video, "Ruff Dog Day," follows Dudley as he gets ready for his day, albeit with human hands.

Because Dudley was already trained, it only took the group about 30 minutes to film the video.

"Also, I caught him on a good day when he was super-tired and cooperative," Kilpatrick said.

While they initially emailed the video to their families and friends, Kilpatrick's team also drummed up interest by posting the video to sites, such as reddit.com and StumbleUpon. They also pitched the video to TV shows, such as "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and Comedy Central.

Through the assignment, Associate Professor Joshua Gunn wanted students to think about how the processes of publicity have changed over time.

"Publicity used to be poised on a model of marketing an object or product – including a 'star,' as with the studio star system that developed in classical Hollywood," Gunn said. "Today, publicity has shifted to a logic of circulation. It's about staying in the 'public eye,' so to speak. Getting noticed."

The emergence of the Internet meme and the label 'Internet famous,' Gunn said, are good examples of how circulation has trumped marketing, quality and talent.

Part of the students' grade will be determined by how many "views," "likes," or "hits" they receive for the blogs or videos they are trying to promote.

"The experiential take-away for the students, when I've used this assignment in the past, is that it is hard work to promote something into circulation, however good or bad that something is," Gunn said. "One has a lot of competition, if only because of the expanding media networks and increasing access to them, especially so-called social media. The assignment also illustrates, however, the sheer contingency of publicity, too – what we call, simply, 'luck.'"

Offered as an interdisciplinary elective since 2009, "Celebrity Culture" examines the importance of fame and its relation to education, entertainment and politics. About 200 students typically sign up for the course each semester.

"I will say, students are attracted to the course by its title, and then are somewhat surprised that they are learning history, public sphere theory, film theory and political theory," Gunn said. "A 'celebrity appreciation' course this is not. By the end of the course, however, I think students are really into thinking critically about their mediated experiences in 'everyday life.'"


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Media Contact:
Nick Hundley, (512) 471-7209