Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Lady Americanist on Social Media.

American studies, due to its interdisciplinary foundation, uses more than just text-only sources to build scholarship.  We use film, photographs, art, music, and pretty much anything you could find around your home to research.  Attempting to organize that research can be quite challenging, especially when one is working on a large project like a thesis or dissertation.  Certain platforms, such as Zotero, are excellent for keeping books and articles in line and organized.  But what if your research relies on purely visual sources?  Or household gadgets?  Or even the Internet itself as a subject?

Enter social media.
I’m not positing that you should move your research hours over to Facebook, but there are very popular sites that can enhance your research capabilities and make your work more accessible to others in process.
1. Pinterest
Pinterest is a virtual bulletin board that allows you to create “boards” and curate online collections.  It began in 2010 as a invitation only site, allowing small numbers of creative individuals to build “pin” libraries and get the site on its feet.  Now, it is a fully open site with numerous categories of “pins” and something for everyone.  I use it to organize online articles, books, and images that I want to refer back to during the writing process of my dissertation.  My most recent board is “NBC Olympics,” which hosts articles about NBC’s handling of the 2012 London Summer Games, as well as pictures of the publicity posters.  One of my colleagues is performing research on Manhattan Mini Storage advertisements, and she has created a board feature more than 90 ads.  Pinterest is also an excellent way to creatively showcase your department and its activities.
2. Tumblr
Tumblr is another social media site that focuses on the visual, but also allows for some “micro-blogging.”  You can easily collaborate with others, as on Pinterest, but there is no option to keep your blog secret, so its best purpose is to share research with others.  Many major research institutions (Philadelphia Museum of Art; National Archives) have Tumblr sites, and they are great sources for images.
3. Twitter & Facebook
Twitter’s purpose for the scholar lies more in networking than anything else.  It is a simple way to connect with other social-media-minded scholars and programs, as well as discover new blogs and books.  If you choose to have a personal and a professional Twitter account, as I do, try a platform like TweetDeck or HootSuite to manage them.  Facebook serves largely the same purpose as Twitter, in that its primary purpose is networking.  Both also provide the possibility of causing more problems than they solve.  Be most careful on these sites, choosing your words, pictures, and shares carefully.  Because I look at the role of media and corporate culture in my research, these sites also allow me to see how different corporations see themselves and how they build online identity.
Obviously, there are lots of other ways to employ social media, like blogging, but these platforms have been especially useful to me in organizing my research.

The Lady Academic on the Academic Summer.

At an Independence Day party yesterday, some of my parents’ friends were asking me how I was spending my summer.  “Do you get the summers off?” one well-meaning friend inquired.  It made me realize to those outside the academy, it might appear that professors and students have a few months off from school, since they are mostly not going into the office.  

To give an idea of what an academic spends the summer doing, here is a sample of my activities: 
 – I am taking one class about consumer culture, which has me doing some dissertation related research, as well as ethnographic research and reading.  It’s nice to be in the classroom and keep myself focused.
 – I am working on a preliminary literature review for my dissertation.  Not only does that include writing, but also reading and understanding new texts.
 – I am fortunate enough to be writing three articles for an online scholarly encyclopedia, which will not only give me experience doing so, but also provide a few publication credits.  I will be writing about youth television, celtic youth groups, and Catholic schools.  
 – I am preparing to teach a new class (for me) in the fall, so I have spent the summer choosing texts, creating a syllabus, and making lesson plans.  
 – Finally, I am the president of our student association, so the other officers and I have been meeting to discuss conferences and other activities for the club this year. We have a lot of fun things in the works, both academic and social.  
So, I might not be going into the office, but I am certainly not “off” for the summer.  I do get to spend significantly more time with my family and friends, and I have found time to recharge, but my mind is never far from the work I’m doing.  

The Lady Americanist on Transnational Hollywood.

Star Trek: Into Darkness; Monsters University; Fast and Furious 6; Despicable Me 2.

A curious trend has been sweeping the American film industry.  Well, perhaps not that curious once one investigates further.  While art-house film buffs and critics have bemoaned the end of American film for quite a while, the average movie-goer is also starting to wonder if the end isn’t near for the artistic side of the movie experience.  It seems as if every movie at the multiplex is part of a larger franchise.

Has Hollywood run out of ideas?  Doubtful.  Certain filmmakers are still creating fantastic new worlds and weaving nuanced narratives that engage and excite.  Woody Allen still produces an average of one film a year; Wes Anderson takes his time to sketch complex characters who live in deliberately-designed environments, right down to the perfect soundtrack.  The only thing these directors are missing is the massive profits of their sequel-driven counterparts.
In May of 2012, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, one of his best received films, made over $66 million worldwide on a budget of $16 million.  Not bad.  It profited and recouped its budget a few times over.  It even tapped into some of the more elusive audiences, appealing to families with older children and teens.  Earlier that same month, the superhero superband film The Avengers came to theaters all over the country. On it’s budget of $220 million, The Avengers made $1.5 billion worldwide.  Billion.  With a “B.”  What did The Avengers have going for it?  Big stars?  Well, while The Avengers had Robert Downey Jr., Chris Helmsworth, and Scarlett Johansson, Moonrise Kingdom had Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Bruce Willis, who have all been attached to some huge movies in their careers.  Big name director?  Both Joss Whedon and Wes Anderson are pretty well-respected auteurs of creative films.  Awards season fanfare?  Both films were nominated for just one Academy Award, but won other industry honors.
The big difference between The Avengers and Moonrise Kingdom is how they translate abroad.  If a film has nuanced dialogue that is difficult to translate (both in word and emotion), its worldwide appeal drops.  Movies like The Avengers don’t rely on dialogue, but on impressive special effects, action-packed sequences, and characters with notoriety.  The characters of The Avengers are already well-known, requiring no introduction.  The Avengers is also essentially a giant sequel for about six franchises.  Abroad, sequels are keeping Hollywood afloat.
Recently, on NPR’s All Things Considered, Hollywood producer Linda Obst discussed her new book, Sleepless in Hollywood.  She has a lot of tales to tell, but she spent much of the interview discussing “the new abnormal.”  As DVD sales have dropped off, a industry that used to comprise 50% of film revenue, Hollywood has shifted its attention to the profitable international market, which now makes up 80% of the market.  Sequels are especially lucrative: While the profits on the Ice Age films stayed the same with each release (still impressive), each sequel doubled upon the last internationally.  As Obst put it, studio heads certainly understand the “business” part of “show business,” but they have lost the “show.”
Obst does not leave us without solutions.  She suggests making one less “tentpole film,” or films that are guaranteed moneymakers such as the superhero movies or Harry Potter that support the industry financially, and using that $200 million to make a few more small films that attract more ignored audiences.
I would suggest using our consumer power to speak out, but only being 20% of the intended audience puts Americans at a disadvantage in that respect.  Movie theaters and distributers need to re-democratize the movie-going experience as well.  The World War Z $50 ticket is a move in the opposite direction of what most movie-goers want or can afford.  As ticket prices decrease, theaters will see increased audience numbers.  Simple as that.  Theaters should also bring back matinee, student, and other specialty pricing.  Tap into the audiences that have the free time to see films with lower prices.  Audiences will still come in large numbers to evening showings because that is when the average working American has the opportunity to see movies.  That will not change.  Additionally, with lower ticket prices, theaters will see increased activity at the concession stand.
Take, for instance, our local West Shore Theater.  It is a rehabbed 1940s one-screen theater that is packed most evenings.  It only shows two movies a night, one at 7 and one at 9 or 9:30.  Ticket prices are a reasonable $3.50, and concessions are just as inexpensive. I took my mother to see The Hunger Games last summer for less than $10, including a drink and popcorn.  In Philadelphia, its difficult to even get into the theater alone for less than $11.  The West Shore Theater shows late / last run movies.  For example, it is showing Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby this weekend, and The Muppets (2011) for a charity fundraiser.  The theater is attempting to raise funds for a digital projector, as most studios are converting to an all-digital format.  The large numbers at the West Shore are evidence enough of what lowered prices will do for attendance.
Sequel-itis is just a symptom of a larger issue in Hollywood.  There is no room in Tinseltown to be a risk-taker; if it isn’t a guaranteed profit maker, especially in the international sector, studios are reluctant.  Even most of the art-films are helmed with veteren directors (Allen, Anderson, Mann, Coppola), so they have something of a built-in audience.  Hopefully profits won’t bury one of America’s most important art forms, allowing creativity and quality to rule the day once more.
Additional Reading: