Asta in Italy, Shannon’s Scholarly Switch, Rob’s Awesome Earring, Brown Bag

Asta in Italy: Skiing and Rockclimbing in the Dolomites, by Mike Lang

If you’ve been in the program for less than two years, there is a good chance you’ve never run into Asta Zelenkauskaite. While many newly minted PhD candidates in the department disappear into the world of their dissertation after finishing their coursework and qualifying exams, they normally surface occasionally. They certainly don’t disappear to another country. Telecom isn’t anthropology after all. Yet, in May of 2010, that is exactly what Asta did, embarking for a year and a half long adventure in Trento, Italy.

While the vast majority of her time was spent balancing the heady demands of dissertation data collection, and research for the institute she worked for, after a few months she managed to pull herself away from work  occasionally and experience the pleasures that draw tourists from around the world to Trento.

Nestled in the foothills of the Dolomites, Trento is home to some of Italy’s best skiing spots. Every two weeks, Asta would make her way to the ski resort with her friends for a day on the slopes. In one particularly harrowing instance, while cruising down the mountain at top speed, one of Asta’s skis deattached. In most cases, a skier will lean back and fall on their butt to protect themselves. However, lost in the thrill of acceleration and completely unaware of her dilemma, Asta kept leaning forward and dived face first into the ice. Face bloody and swollen she made her way to the closest building. It looked like a cafeteria. Asking for help, a group of guys got her a pack of ice and let her sit down, making sure everything was okay. Only the building wasn’t a cafeteria. It was a private residence, and the people helping her weren’t resort employees, they lived there. People sure are nice in Italy. At the end of the day, Asta made her way down the mountain on her own and two weeks later, she was back on the slopes.

In addition to its skiing, Trento features world-renowned rock formations particularly well suited for natural rock climbing. Always skeptical of the indoor, manufactured rock walls, Trento offered Asta an opportunity to do the real thing. Unlike skiing, which offers the physical bliss of acceleration and speed, rock climbing rewards the brain.  At the most basic level, like a puzzle, one has to figure out the best way to get from point A, the ground, to point B, the top. In the process, one has to overcome the limitations of the body by allocating strength and moving strategically. For Asta, who worried about her upper body strength, she had to figure out ways to move upwards without pulling herself up. In addition, one has to overcome the limitations of the mind. Can you work your way up the rock without looking down and freaking out? Can you look around and visualize your path up the rock? Can you concentrate hard enough to ensure that three of your four limbs are secure at all times?  As Asta explains, overcoming these blocks is a bit like overcoming writer’s block, and the rush that accompanies pen hitting paper productively after so much strain is akin to making your way up the rock after overcoming the struggles of mind and body. However, the reward in rock climbing may be a bit better. Rock climbers are held up by a rope which is held by a belay person. For obvious safety reasons, the belay person uses the rope to catch a climber if they fall. In addition to safety reasons, the belay person also helps a person down after they have made up to the top or given up. In order to come down, the climbers push themselves off the rock Mission Impossible style and proceeds to walk down.

Now that she is back in Bloomington, Asta is going to miss the mountains most. Indiana, much like her home country of Lithuania is flat with forests and lakes, much different than the snowcapped peaks of Northern Italy. While her remaining time in Bloomington will be spent finishing her dissertation, I can’t blame her if her daydreams are silhouetted by the peaks of the Dolomites.

For those interested in the research she conducted in Italy, make sure to check out her T600 lecture this Friday.

On Theory, In Practice: Shannon’s Switch, by Ken Rosenberg

Academia is wrought with numerous rites of passage but, in Telecom, few are as infamous as Annie Lang’s T501: Philosophy of Inquiry in Telecommunications, which is required for incoming MA and PhD students. It serves as one of those quintessential “break ‘em down, build ‘em back up” sort of experiences. Each fall semester Annie helps technically grown-up individuals learn how to think for the first time. Most students have been asked to question reality and their place in it, but rarely by someone who has carefully collected and presented some of the best, most respected answers to those “big” questions. One article complements the next until, at some point, the picture is clear: you may not know exactly what your ontology or epistemology might be, but you can finally begin an informed decision-making process on the matter. It is not uncommon for grad students to shift to a different tone when discussing T501: part reverence, part semi-somber camaraderie. Ask Shannon, though, and be prepared for pleasant-yet-quizzical look of modest anticipation.

For over a month now, first-year master’s student Shannon Schenck has had to hear about T501 secondhand, from almost every other student. Recently, she decided to switch tracks from M.S.—for which T501 is not a required class—to M.A. and therefore missed out on that enculturating crucible of a class. There are a couple of non-Telecom students in one of her other core classes who are also currently bereft of Annie’s philosophical prowess, but Shannon is the only Telecommunications major in the room with a temporary dearth of Kuhnian concerns. Shannon understands what it could feel like—“being the only person at the party who wasn’t at the last party, so I don’t get all the jokes”—and estimates she’s heard a reference to T501 “at least a dozen times; in Theory, probably once a class.” While that might be potentially irksome,  Shannon is instead reassured.”Honestly, it doesn’t annoy me,” she said, “it’s kind of refreshing, because I’m like ‘Cool—so we’re going to talk about that again.’ It helps to reinforce what I have to look forward to.”

As for switching to the M.A. program, that was inevitable. Shannon’s bachelor’s in communications was almost entirely production-based, with only one theory class. Her second degree in literature offered a more scholarly foundation, but the gap between industry, audience, and text had yet to be methodologically cemented. Classes like Julie Fox’s T571: Applied Cognitive and Emotional Psychology finally provided a link and the opportunity to glimpse at life as a researcher. Even at orientation, things changed. “Suddenly, things were possible that I did not have a frame of reference for before.” While Shannon has always been creative, making both static 2D art and films, her works have always been more expressive than commercial. “I never expected to make money with my films,” she admitted. “I’ve got tons of scripts at home, but that’s a matter of me having a story or character that needs to exist, because they live inside of me and I need to get them out so they can live somewhere else.” It took a semester, but Shannon now knows that for her the stress of research-oriented scholarship is more palatable than production work—which still pales in comparison to her experience in the private sector. “Forty hours of my life each week were empty and meaningless,” Shannon said. “Whereas right now, I have no time and I don’t sleep, but I’m really happy because I care.”

Despite choosing the M.S. track, it was a matter of trending toward the default—“that’s what I know I could do,” she said. Shannon’s letter to the department actually mentions plans of earning a doctorate and teaching, so few are surprised—least of all Shannon herself. With a committee in place and paperwork in progress, it is only a matter of time before she ends up in T501.” In terms of theory,” she said, “thus far from what I’ve seen in Telecommunications theory, it’s nowhere near as rigorous as literary theory. It’s not asking you to abandon your sense of self and how the world works and, because of that, it doesn’t seem quite as mentally strenuous; it’s not asking as much of you personally or emotionally to ‘get there.’”

Just wait, Shannon.

Rob’s Awesome Earring,  by Ken Rosenberg

Rob: Then and Now

If you have seen Rob Potter about the halls recently, you probably noticed the shiny new adornment on his left earlobe. Yes, that’s an earring. No, it might not be what you expect from him—and that is why it is awesome. Even though the world has not seen this evidenced in years, Rob considers his piercing a core part of his identity.

Rob first thought of getting his ears pierced back in high school. Back then, it was mostly a joke; a man getting an earring was “a much bigger decision at the time,” Rob explains. For about four years, Rob mentioned that possibility in conversation merely as “a symbol of something wild” that he might do. In addition to the contemporary social norms, Rob had been dissuaded by his mother. While he was growing up, she would tell Rob that if he ever got his ear pierced, he was no longer welcome back home. “I remember coming to a conclusion that it was a ‘rite of passage’-type decision,” Rob said about his new mentality. “’I’m an adult now; I can make this decision.’ I respected my mother’s concerns, but I could do this—I had chosen to do this.” With the solidarity of his roommate in college, who also got an earring, and comforted by cognizance that the hole could always grow back, Rob went for it.

Rebellious yet ever conscientious, “I remember writing a letter to my mom, explaining all these reasons,” Rob recalled. “So I sent this letter off and I don’t hear anything back—at all.” Time elapses, stress rises. Finally, over a phone call, “it came up … and it became instantly obvious to me that the letter, and my concern, and her supposed horror at the prospect of me doing this, was an issue I had completely made up in my own mind.” His mom was bemused and surprised that he didn’t realize the family was just joking. Though imagined, overcoming the potential for familial backlash was deemed a personal accomplishment: “it was still something that was outside the expectations of ‘Rob.’”

Rob continued to wear the earring after graduation; as a disc jockey, “it was fine to wear it.” However, as the instructor of record during his first semester as a master’s student, things changed. “Literally, within three months,” Rob stressed, “I went from being in the seat as a student, to standing in front of it as a teacher.” To better differentiate, out came the slacks and ties, which persisted—along with the earring—when Rob came to IU as a doctoral candidate. Unfortunately, a member of his cohort teased him into acquiescing; the earring disappeared. It remained absent during his stint at the University of Alabama, as well, and only resurfaced earlier this year.

This January was the fateful moment of reclamation. Rob’s wife, Pam, had a birthday and she wanted earrings. After their children bestowed the gift –a(n adorable) lesson in expression and consideration—a set of three pairs, things get a bit fuzzy. Here is how it went down (under the pressure of interview, Pam, if that helps) according to Rob: “My memory—and it’ll be interesting, because my wife reads the blog, and we’ll see if she remembers it this way—is that she tried on one of the three pairs and then said, ‘Well, you’ve been wondering, been thinking about this; try on the other one.’ I did and it looked okay.” Regardless of the specifics, fellow grad students, be sure to thank Pam for the awesome “new” look!

Most of Rob’s colleagues settled for a small double-take during conversation, but Harmeet is too enthusiastic for that; a strong moment of self-expression deserves an equally strong moment of recognition. The first thing he said: “Rob, that’s so cool!” Not “Hello” or “What’s that?” Equal props to Julie Fox who, after some post-meeting exposition by Rob, responded with, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear a word you just said.”

Another fashion trend in Rob’s past was that he would wear a tie on teaching days. Two years ago, he came back from Australia and hasn’t worn one since (except once, for church). Good riddance! The spirit behind the earring is to reveal a bit of unpredictability. When you pass Rob in the halls, you may no longer know if it’s a “teaching day” but, thanks to his awesome earring, you’ll get the point: expectations are meant to be challenged.

Thinking with style. Rock on, Rob.

Rob’s Earring: A Brief Roundtable : Annie Lang, Shannon Schenck, Ken Rosenberg and, of course, Rob Potter.

Brown Bag

Things to Do With Asian Film Co-productions

Stephanie de Boer

Film co-productions are an exemplary site for interrogating the dynamics of regional and transnational media cultures.  In this talk, I reflect on how I have come to approach film co-productions in East Asia and how recent co-productions mobilize the region as an epistemological project.  Approaches to co-production have largely been bifurcated between cultural industry and cultural studies approaches – approaches that look either at industry practices or at the discursive formations of (most often) media texts.  Yet the regional imperatives of film co-production across the media capitals of East Asia demand that we look at both of these fields in relation to one another.  In doing so, we can unpack the ways in which the meanings of Asian production are “made, legitimized, contested and obscured” in the interface between technologies and practices of film and media, on the one hand, and wider regional geographies, on the other.  I will narrate the production ecologies surrounding a couple of Japanese/Chinese language co-productions in the service of outlining these imperatives and approach.

Stephanie DeBoer is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her teaching and research interests include Japanese and Chinese language film and media, inter-Asia cultural studies, global media studies and critical approaches to digital media in the context of globalization.  Recent publications include “Co-Producing Cross-border Action: Technologies of Contact, Masculinity and the Asia-Pacific Border” (Culture, Theory & Critique, 2011), as well as a series of interviews with Tokyo-based film producers entitled “Interviews: Framing Tokyo Media Capital and Asian Co-Production” (East Asian Cinemas: Regional Flows and Global Transformations, 2011). She is currently writing a book manuscript on Asia Pacific film and media co-productions from the second half of the twentieth century.


On the rise and fall of vertical integration in the US movie industry

Dong Kyun Kwak

Vertical integration combining movie distribution and exhibition had been prohibited by the Paramount Decrees in the US, but it was revived after the Reagan Administration didn’t adhere to them in 1985. After shortly-lasting revival since then, however, vertical integration in the US movie business almost disappeared with the only exception of the current relationship between Paramount and theaters of National Amusement, Inc. (NAI). My purpose in this presentation is to review the historical development of the US movie industry in terms of vertical integration, and to share an empirical test outcome showing whether any favoritism remains for vertically integrated entities using current data. These parts will consist two of my 3 research questions in my dissertation.

Dong Kyun Kwak (Dongkyun will be preferred) completed his BA and MA in Communication at Seoul National University, and began Ph.D. program at IUB in 2003. Before he studied media economics here in Bloomington, he worked for KISDI (a Korean government-funded telecommunications policy institute) about 4 years. As a doctoral candidate, he has studied economics of media industries, media convergence, and some policy issues related to media field.

The audio of last Friday’s seminar can be found here: Brown bag 5 (Feb. 17, 2012 – Stephanie and Dong)

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