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Writings

 
Teaching Media

Narration and Aesthetics

Film and Emotion

Stars/Reception

Comics
Other Writing

Film

Television

New Media


 

{Most of my writings are available here through either HTML or PDF formats.  I list the HTML link first, followed by a link to the PDF version.}

Teaching Media 

My latest book entitled What Media Classes Really Want To Discuss:A Student Guide is a textbook that is unlike any other. It acknowledges that most students entering an introductory film/television class already have a great deal of knowledge about media (unlike introductory students in an accounting class, for instance).This book addresses the assumptions students bring to class about what “realism” is or how media cause violence, assumptions that we rarely confront directly when we teach about film and television.This textbook gives the introductory student a more precise language for discussing these concepts, which makes better class discussion possible about these vague but broadly held ideas.The book is written in an approachable, personal, non-“textbook-y” tone that makes the big ideas of media studies more accessible to students.For a sense of this tone, you can check out my widely used essay called "It’s just a movie!"  (PDF version) , which is also the first chapter of the book.Many undergraduates taking their first course in media criticism argue that we academics are “reading too much into” a film/television program.This essay takes that complaint seriously, and it provides an extended answer to the concerns raised by that complaint.

Narration and Aesthetics

I am interested in understanding how innovative, well-made storytelling texts enrich the narrative capabilities of media.

My book Beautiful TV: The Art and Argument of Ally McBeal is in part a discussion of the aesthetic innovations of that series (its handling of music, special effects, etc.) and in part an argument that scholars need to study whole television series from beginning to end. This is particularly true for serial television, and Beautiful TV demonstrates how we may examine a long-running serial narrative.  The introduction to the book spells out my argument about the importance of studying television from a narrative perspective, and it also answers a question many of you may have:  "Why Ally?"

I continue to be interested in the complexities of serial narrative on television.  As part of a special journal issue on "good television," I discuss how the British show Cold Feet arranges its story arcs in ways that distinguish the serial without entirely distancing it from ordinary television conventions. My work on Seinfeld(PDF version) answers the question, "How can a series be ‘about nothing’ and simultaneously be one of the fastest-moving shows on television?" 

Some other of my articles look at how the use of Steadicam affects the kinds of storytelling in John Sayles’s City of Hope(PDF version) and in The West Wing (PDF version).  As a way of showing how we should pay more attention to narrative structures in documentary, I have examined the difficult narrative challenge posed by The Aristocrats:how can you maintain interest in a one-joke film?

My essay on the computer game adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (PDF version) discusses what narrative structures in the original film make particularly good material for a nonlinear medium. My article on the pioneering computer game Myst (PDF version) discusses how the rhetoric about the game articulates key concepts that frame a player’s experience.  Computer games are usually considered to be a visual and interactive medium. I have looked at the neglected subject of dialogue in computer games, discussing conventions in the way Final Fantasy VII uses dialogue to tell its complicated story. In the introduction to On a Silver Platter: CD-ROMs and the Promises of a New Technology, I break the vague concept of "interactivity"(PDF version) down into its various component meanings.
 
 

Film and Emotion

We have learned much about emotion in the last couple of decades, thanks to innovations that allow us a much more precise picture of what goes on inside people when they feel. A significant portion work synthesizes much of this research in neurology and cognitive psychology and then applies it to film. Given this new understanding of emotion in general, what does that tell us about people sitting in movie theaters experiencing emotion? My book Film Structure and the Emotion System presents a "mood-cue" approach to analyzing the emotional appeals of film texts, and it demonstrates the utility of that approach on a variety of movies, from classical Hollywood films (such as Casablanca and Stella Dallas) to foreign films (Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Renoir) to independent films (Stranger than Paradise). The introduction to the book outlines the goals for a good approach to film emotion.

Carl Plantinga and I edited Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion, which asked scholars to apply the insights from cognitive psychology and philosophy to a range of film texts. That book contains a good introduction to cognitive film studies of emotion and an overview of my approach to film and emotion.  In addition, I have written about the assumptions about emotion in the theoretical writings of Sergei Eisenstein(PDF version) and Andre Bazin.

Stars/Reception

One thread of my work looks at the construction of film stars. My article on Robert DeNiro (PDF version) shows how his refusal to give celebrity interviews opens up questions about both the mechanism of star publicity and the nature of the performing self. My essay on Norma Talmadge(PDF version), a silent film star who did not make a successful transition to the talkies allegedly because her voice did not match her image, details how silent film made it possible for Talmadge to portray an enormous range of ethnic Others, a feat that sound film made much more difficult. I have discussed how two Barbara Streisand (PDF version) television specials in the 1960’s (one of which takes place largely in a museum, the other in a department store) open up a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences between those two institutions.

Another thread of my work looks at media reception. I investigated the production and the reception of Blockade(PDF version), Hollywood’s first attempt to portray a contemporary war (the Spanish Civil War). In detailing the controversy surrounding this rather tame film, I assert that simplified "encapsulated texts" replace the full complexity of the film text itself when circulating in public discourse. Also included in the online version of this article is a wealth of images showing how one particular theater owner documented the publicity around showing this film, providing an intriguing reception case study in movie ballyhoo.  Pamela Wilson and I wrote an article on Cookin’ Cheap (PDF version), a long-running television cooking show that foregrounds both the cheapness of its recipes and the inexpertness of its hosts. Examining the production of the text (through observation) and its reception (based on viewer letters) enabled us to discuss the construction of "country" values, an aesthetic of "cheap" television that links back to old-time radio, and a rarely discussed feminized version of Southern masculinity. I have also discussed how Western film critics, when confronted with a film that is entirely "Other," rely on commonplaces and certain standard critical positions to make sense out of the film (here I use Rashomon(PDF version), the first Japanese film seen by most Western critics, as my example).

Comics

I am beginning to do critical work on comics (after a lifetime of fandom). I have written about how the animated adaptation of the comic book The Maxx (PDF version) allows us to gain insight into the aesthetic assumptions we have made about the basic nature of both television and comics. I have discussed how the superhero’s secret identity provides both a portrait and a critique of the corporate professional. In the online journal In Media Res, I wrote about the difficulties created by the superhero’s mask in making a film adaptation of a comic book. I also have examined the importance of vaudeville in understanding the work of comics great Will Eisner.

Other Writing

Here is an unpublished personal essay on why I think The Music Man is the Great American Musical.
 

Film

Film Structure and the Emotion System (introduction)
Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion (introduction and overview chapter)

The Aristocrats
Eisenstein and Emotion(PDF version)
Andre Bazin and Emotion
Robert DeNiro and Celebrity Interviews (PDF version)
Norma Talmadge and the Transition to Sound (PDF version)
Blockade and the Encapsulated Text  (PDF version)
Rashomon’s Reception (PDF version)
Multiple protagonists and John Sayles's City of Hope (PDF version)

Television

Cold Feet
Seinfeld(PDF version)
The Maxx(PDF version)
The West Wing(PDF version)
Cookin’ Cheap(PDF version)
Streisand’s Television Specials (PDF version)

New Media

On a Silver Platter: CD-ROMs and the Promises of a New Technolology
"A Few Words about Interactivity" (PDF version)
Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail(PDF version)
Myst(PDF version)
Dialogue in Final Fantasy VII