The Wow Climax

Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture

285 pages

December, 2006

ISBN: 9780814742839

$27

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Author

Henry Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California.

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Vaudevillians used the term "the wow climax" to refer to the emotional highpoint of their acts—a 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.

Reviews

  • “Building on the tradition of social commentators such as Gilbert Seldes, Robert Warshow, and Susan Sontag, Henry Jenkins brings his outstanding insight and compassionate counsel to contemporary cultural phenomena. Here not only media, but affect, matters. A delightful and helpful collection on popular pleasures.”

    —Janet Staiger, author of Media Reception Studies

  • “Offers a lively, diligently researched, and well-written account of one scholar’s engagement with the emotional punch of media.”

    PsycCRITIQUES