Monday, August 16, 2010

New Course Draft Syllabus

In the spirit of open-source course design, I thought I'd share a draft syllabus for the course I am preparing for the fall, Sexual Difference in US Film. It is cross-listed with Women's Studies and LGBT Studies and is a new course for me. And I say open-source because I've drawn on the syllabi of those who have taught the class before, Patricia Meltzer and Whitney Strub. If you have any suggestions on readings, pedagogy, etc. let me know. For instance, any readings on camp that you've seen to work better than Sontag's?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Either/Or Logic and Documentary

If I might add my own split-the-difference argument, I would note that the discourse on documentary often indulges in either/or logic. Either documentary is reality or it is a construction duping spectators. (Thankfully some good scholarship has thought through this issue more complexly.) Either we look to documentary traditions or we sweep the traditions under the rug to make way for brand new nonfiction forms. Either documentary works according to a Griersonian ideal of a public sphere instrument or it fails.

On this last point is the ethics critique that Brian Winston poses - though others like Calvin Pryluck have made similar critiques - namely, that the use and abuse documentary makes of the social actor is not justified by the ends of public sphere debate:
[T]he tradition of the victim inevitably requires that some measure or other of personal misery and distress be, if not exploited, then at least exposed. The justification for such exposure is the public's right to know as a species of public good. Yet if no, or little, social effect can be demonstrated, how can that justification stand? (Claiming the Real, 46)
A good point, especially as it suggests that public sphere institutions have their own professional ideologies and self-interest, which present themselves as universal interests. Still, do we have to decide between documentaries instrumentally changing public policy or social/economic conditions and documentaries having no effect? In fairness, Winston does give a condition - if no or little effect can be demonstrated - but his tone here and elsewhere suggests he does not see the effect in practice, at least according to traditional models of the public sphere.

Yet just as some sociological research or some journalism more valuable than others, some documentaries do a better job at serving as public good, which may include its value as a public sphere instrument. And the public sphere utility cannot be measured simply by results; representing an unrepresented position in the public debate adds qualitatively to that debate, regardless of the outcome. Much as in social science research, there are enough documentaries which do not have much impact public sphere that we should be cautious or humble in applying Griersonian aspirations, but I don't know that we need to reject them outright.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Fandom and Spectatorial Investment

I'm sure being a Top Chef fan myself has something to do with it, but I liked this post from Tim Burke:
What Top Chef viewers are saying back to the producers is that they’re not content to watch the show in a deeply ironic, postmodern fashion, knowing that it’s-just-a-reality-show and that whatever they’re seeing is simply the storyline that the producers have decided to show them. Instead, they’re claiming that at least some past competitions have had the virtue of authenticity, that the people and the food and the emotions have been real, and the reputational stakes have had genuine meaning in the careers and lives of the contestants.
If I didn't know better, I would think Burke was seeking a grand unified theory to reconcile British cultural studies and Screen spectatorship theory.

This reminds me of an article I read on Television Without Pity forums (Mark Andrejevic, "Watching Television Without Pity: The Productivity of Online Fans" Television & New Media 9, no. 1 (January 2008): 24-46.), which was a good example of a cultural studies reading of fandom as participatory and productive. And while the Andrejevic isn't completely utopian about fan participation (he sees it as potentially abetting marketing needs of the networks), I have a slightly different take on TVwP: namely, that forum discussion can show both the media savvy of a certain set of viewers then in the next breath be unable to critique the shows as texts. For instance, the posters on the Top Chef board make clever references to the Magical Elves, while the posters on the Barefoot Contessa board talk about the recipes they like and which of Ina's friends they don't like.

SCMS 2011 CFP: All-Consuming Identities

Here's a late posting I've received - I believe the panel is looking for one more participant.

SCMS Panel Proposal
2011 Conference
“All-Consuming Identities: Media, Identity, Consumption”

The emphasis on appealing to niche audiences in contemporary media products has encouraged interest in exploiting perceptible and potentially profitable identity traits—including race, class, gender, and sexuality—as a way to marshal consumption by specific audiences and to extend the value of consumable media beyond their originary forms. This kind of exploitation may seem to be the direct result of the current media environment, but it has arguably been an operative technique for designing media products and inducing their consumption since the inception of mass media in the nineteenth century. Looking at how identity traits have been deployed to promote consumption of media products in different ways and at different times is valuable to understanding the larger sociocultural and economic forces at play in the creation and overall proliferation of a variety of media forms. Accordingly, the main purpose of this panel is to look at how identity traits—of actors, celebrities, characters, producers, or audiences—are utilized to encourage consumption of media products both on and off screen. Submissions may address any aspect of identity and any form of screen or broadcast media and their extensions, and employ
• celebrity or star studies;
• auteur studies;
• branding;
• audience or reception studies;
• historical research; and/or
• industrial analysis.

Please email abstracts of 200-300 words and a brief bio (name, affiliation, position) by August 15th, 2010 to:
Jennifer Jones (jones334 -AT- indiana.edu)
Indiana University, Bloomington, Department of Communication and Culture