Riffing in academia

So, has MST3k or riffing more generally made it into formal academic curricula yet? I mean, there are classes about cinematography and film history and on and on and on…do any schools teach courses that examine riffing as it relates to the broader world of filmmaking?

I don’t mean teaching people to riff, exactly, more like studying and deconstructing the form itself.

Has anyone heard of a place doing this?
Has anyone taken one of these courses if they exist?
Would you?
What kind of stuff should/would/did it include?


I can’t point you at any scholarly books on it at the moment, and I prowl the academic book release charts pretty regularly. But I would be surprised if it wasn’t already in the canon somewhere. It’s an absolute fit for the postmodern school of thought.

I’d say it’s most likely to show in courses centering on metatextuals and critique. It could also appear in rhetorics, semiotics, history of theatre, and performance theory. In many ways riffing is a codified (and slightly reified) form of heckling, which has been around as long as theatre and performance have.

I probably would have taken a course in this back when I was in college, I took a number of film history and theory. And I’m into philology and semiotics, so applications there would be of interest.


There was a while back a call for papers.

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Doing a quick search on Google Scholar, it looks like there are a good number of articles and a few books about MST3K specifically. Two of the more notable books that might appeal to you are “In the Peanut Gallery with MST3K” (which has a forward by Kevin and an afterward by Mary Jo), and “Reading Mystery Science Theater 3000: Critical Approaches”. No idea if they’re any good, but they do exist.


Good finds, thanks! Reading the description of Reading Mystery Science Theater 3000, I feel somewhat vindicated in where I thought MST3K might land in the academic canon.

In Reading Mystery Science Theater 3000: Critical Approaches , Shelley S. Rees presents a collection of essays that examines the complex relationship between narrative and audience constructed by this baffling but beloved television show. Invoking literary theory, cultural criticism, pedagogy, feminist criticism, humor theory, rhetorical analysis, and film and media studies, these essays affirm the show’s narrative and rhetorical intricacy. The first section, “Rhetoric and the Empowered Audience,” addresses MST3K’s function as an exercise in rhetorical resistance. Part Two, “ Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Genre,” analyzes *MST3K* through distinct generic traditions, including humor studies, traditional science fiction tropes, and the B-movie. Finally, the third section addresses postmodern and intertextual readings of the show.


I think I’m going to have to see if our library network has either of those. I keep meaning to pick up another nonfiction read, and this seems like an interesting rabbit hole to fall down.

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