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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Shawn Shimpach,

Second Advisor

Anne Ciecko

Third Advisor

Asha Nadkarni

Subject Categories

Communication | Critical and Cultural Studies | Digital Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Film and Media Studies | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | International and Intercultural Communication | Mass Communication | Sports Studies | Television | Visual Studies


This project broadly examines articulations of the “primitive” emerging from various sites of popular cultural production, considering their operation within the wider “semioscape”– defined by Thurlow and Aiello (2007) as “the globalizing circulation of symbols, sign-systems, and meaning-making practices.” Taking my lead from Kurusawa (2002, 2004), Torgovnik (1991, 1998), Chow (1995), and Di Leonardo (1998), who have demonstrated the importance of the “primitive” as an interpretive discourse, I add to this body of thought by extending its scope into the realm of popular media and cultural production, examining cases within film, television, advertising, sports, and associated lifestyle commodities. I pose these general questions: How does the “primitive” contribute to the way meaning and usefulness is produced for certain commodities, and how has this changed over the last few decades? Is the “primitive” now an “empty” signifier with respect to the “non-western?” Does the greater proliferation and ease of othering via digital economies render discourses of primitive alterity less problematic? What prospects do these signs of wildness hold for masculine gender formation, shifting environmental awareness, and politics of cross-cultural consumption? Ultimately, the larger aim is to promote dialogue towards a critical re-mapping of the terms of the “primitive” as a resilient semiotic resource for commodity cultures vis-á-vis global information economies. I argue that these signs of wildness serve, as they often have in the past, to activate values about the “human” via transgression, transformation, and transcendence; but that these signs have more recently shifted as expressive resources, now altered by digital technologies, new media ecologies, and creative “knowledge communities” resulting in a pronounced fragmentation, mutability, and wider distribution in response to greater “noise.” Thus, I argue, our informational capitalism is exponentially more prolific at contriving and disseminating various transgressions for us, engendering a schizoid state of consumer appeals via a wider romantic-naturalist discourse of limits and potentials which appeals to the terms of the “primitive.” Finally, the easiness and disposability of such hypothetical transgressions makes conditions for corporate image-makers more desperate and frenetic, propelling an increasingly unstable and unpredictable semiotic state of affairs where signs of wildness take on special currency.