There is a widespread perception that the foundations of American democracy are dysfunctional, public trust in core institutions is eroding, and little is likely to emerge from traditional politics that will shift those conditions. Youth are often seen as emblematic of this crisis — frequently represented as uninterested in political life, ill-informed about current-affairs, and unwilling to register and vote.

By Any Media Necessary offers a profoundly different picture of contemporary American youth. Young men and women are tapping into the potential of new forms of communication such as social media platforms, spreadable videos and memes, remixing the language of popular culture, and seeking to bring about political change — by any media necessary. In a series of case studies covering a diverse range of organizations, networks, and movements involving young people in the political process — from the Harry Potter Alliance which fights for human rights in the name of the popular fantasy franchise to immigration rights advocates using superheroes to dramatize their struggles — By Any Media Necessary examines the civic imagination at work. Before the world can change, people need the ability to imagine what alternatives might look like and identify paths by which change can be achieved. Exploring new forms of political activities and identities emerging from the practice of participatory culture, By Any Media Necessary reveals how these shifts in communication have unleashed a new political dynamism in American youth.

This book is part of the Connected Youth and Digital Futures series that explores young people’s day-to-day lives and futures. The volumes consider changes at the intersection of civil and political reform, transformations in employment and education, and the growing presence of digital technologies in all aspects of social, cultural and political life. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning (DML) Initiative has supported two research networks that have helped launch this series: the Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network and the Connected Learning Research Network. The DML Initiative and the DML Research Hub at the University of California, Irvine, support production and open access for this series, published by New York University Press.

Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova Discuss 'By Any Media Necessary'


"A far-reaching book that explores the many different digital strategies and platforms young people use to have their voices heard and their political agendas advanced. The case studies at the heart of this book are powerful, telling the story of how young people across demographic categories are using digital media to engage in a new form of politics — participatory politics — that is destined to significantly shape civic life for years to come."

Cathy J. Cohen, author of Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics

"An indispensable guide to the changing shape of civic and political agency in a digital age. With richly detailed case studies, Jenkins and his team have captured an origin story: the moment when participatory culture got hooked up with politics and the fundamentals of modern democracies shifted beneath our feet."

Danielle Allen, co-editor of From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in the Digital Age

"Fantasy is not an escape from our world; it’s an invitation to go deeper into it. The most relevant book of our era, it will undoubtedly inspire you and those you love to join the millions of people who are transforming our world: by any media necessary."

Andrew Slack, creator/co-founder of the Harry Potter Alliance


In November 2012, MIT’s Futures of Entertainment conference assembled representatives from several of our case study organizations to discuss participatory politics. But, when asked if they identified as activists, each participant distanced themselves from this term. Bassam Tariq of the 30 Mosques project thought it was “awful” that political categories were imposed upon Muslim cultural, social, and religious practices; in his projects he tried to “stay away” from politics in order to focus on “universals,” things everyone can “relate to,” and ideas that are “more open-ended” rather than “imposing an agenda.” Dorian Electra, whose music videos have been widely embraced by Students for Liberty, argued that “being too politicized” might distract from her work’s educational and entertainment value. The Harry Potter Alliance’s Lauren Bird acknowledged that the group, while nonprofit and thus nonpartisan, was involved in a range of political issues, but Bird stressed that members might have widely divergent perspectives; ultimately the HPA was “more on the side of human rights” rather than a particular political “ideology.” In each case, their comments revealed something about the negative ways these youth perceived institutional politics and the ways they define their organizations in opposition to those negative qualities.

As the young panelists expressed their hesitations about situating their work as political, the audience, mostly from a slightly older generation, were expressing, via Twitter, their dissatisfaction with what they characterized as a “backlash” against activism or a denial of the political stakes of these young people’s public expression. One audience member summarized the situation as a “wow” moment when “the young panelists … knee-jerked away from claiming their work is political.”

“Why is activism considered a dirty word?” another audience member asked. “Of course human rights is ideological … EVERYthing is political,” another vehemently argued. Yet another summed up the collective response, “On the semantics front, it’s not called ‘activism.’ It’s called ‘giving a shit.’”

These experiences at the Futures of Entertainment conference have haunted us as we have been writing this book, forcing us to continually ask such questions as: What counts as “politics”? Who gets to decide? Throughout this book, we have referred to these youth as activists, because they are seeking to bring about social and political change through their work. Yet some of them adopt other frames for their activity. Who are we to identify as “political” activities the participants themselves sometimes understood in different terms—as participation in fan communities, forms of sociability, extensions of their cultural and ethnic identities, tools for education and cultural change, forms of charity and public service, ways to “decrease world suck”? And how do we think about the problematic relationship between these attempts to “change the world” and institutionalized politics?

On their own terms, some of the groups and networks we are discussing provide preconditions for a civic culture, performing such tasks as articulating shared identities or values, fostering greater knowledge and awareness of political issues, encouraging civic conversations, or modeling civic practices, as we saw in relation to the Harry Potter Alliance and the Nerdfighters in Chapter 3. We have argued throughout that fostering a culture of participation—both cultural and political—can be valuable in and of itself, especially for youth, quite apart from the specific outcomes of their efforts. Couldry (2010) discusses such preconditions in terms of the ways young people can develop and deploy their own voices as political agents. Ethan Zuckerman (2015) discusses these preconditions in terms of the latent capacities of some groups to mobilize politically under the right circumstances. So what are the right circumstances? We’ve examined a range of different circumstances that have moved individuals and groups from cultural participation to participatory politics, and yet there’s so much more we still have to understand about what kinds of organizational and leadership structures need to be in place to enable such transformations.

Read the entire book online