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Media Paratext and Constitutional Interpretation


In the fields of media studies and fan studies, the concept of paratext is an analytical paradigm for understanding how audiences consume and interpret media texts, such as a novel or movie. Amid today's media-rich society, it is all but impossible to encounter a media text in isolation. Rather, we also invariably interact with a wide variety of associated paratexts, from official materials like trailers or marketing to unofficial materials like reviews or fan reactions, which play a role in shaping our interpretation of the core media text. This concept of media paratext provides a compelling analogy for constitutional interpretation. We likewise do not interpret the U.S. Constitution in isolation, but always in association with related texts that inform our understanding of its meaning, such as legal precedent, historical materials, and scholarly work in relevant disciplines. Moreover, in both instances the determination of the meaning of the core text readily can be a contestable and contested endeavor. Ultimately, the comparison between constitutional interpretation and media paratext refutes the proffered objective of originalism by demonstrating the impossibility of any aspiration to sever the interpretation of an iconic text from the full range of paratextual materials that inform our understanding of it.

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Publication Date

Winter 12-2021