Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Durham, Meenakshi Gigi

First Committee Member

Andrejevic, Mark

Second Committee Member

Durham, Frank

Third Committee Member

Havens, Tim

Fourth Committee Member

Sosale, Sujatha


This dissertation examines Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's late-night programming block, which has developed into one of the most popular entertainment brands for adults. Expressing and shaping adult sensibilities of the time Adult Swim has been able to become the most popular cable network for (male) adults 18 to 34 years old. Launched in 2001, Adult Swim emerged at a moment in the U.S. when technological developments were changing the television landscape and the meaning of adulthood was fervently being discussed in the media as assumptions and realities of adult life continued to be in conflict. The goal of this dissertation is to understand the contemporary society and media culture as well as the defining characteristics and tensions of contemporary adulthood, adult taste, and adult culture by investigating Adult Swim's rise to a popular entertainment brand among young adults. Through a contextualized critical analysis of selected Adult Swim television texts, representation of Adult Swim in the mainstream press, and Adult Swim fans' online discussions in Adult Swim's official message boards this dissertation interrogates what branding/programming strategies it uses to appeal to its "adult" viewers, how it constructs and understands its "adult" viewers, and how it establishes its brand identity.

With its low-budget, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) style of cartoon and live comedy series that are full of ironic, pop culture references and absurd, surreal humor, Adult Swim has established a unique sensibility that resonates with many young adults and built itself as a "different" and "creative" network brand. However, this dissertation demonstrates that Adult Swim's "unconventional," "edgy" brand identity relies on its male-centric programming strategies that either render women invisible or make use of blatantly sexist jokes for its "adult" appeal. In addition, this dissertation explains that despite featuring many queer characters Adult Swim appropriates queer identity and politics to advance itself as a "subversive," "non-mainstream" and "different" network (a brand identity that greatly appeals to young adults) rather than to subvert heteronormativity and promote LGBT rights. Furthermore, this dissertation interrogates how Adult Swim uses interactive media to invite its viewers to participate in shaping and maintaining its brand identity as a network that "listens to" its viewers and to form sensibility and feelings of conand to construct o form an affective relationship with the Adult Swim brand and to establish itself as a brand that "listens to" and understands the sensibility, affect, and feelings of contemporary young adults who comprise the Adult Swim audience.


Adult Swim, Animation, Brand, Cartoon, Convergence, Television


ix, 303 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 275-303).


Copyright 2013 Hye Jin Lee