Signing Off

By Mona Malacane

To quote Abraham Lincoln (the subject of one my favorite blog interviews) it was four score and seven years ago that the blog began, with Nicky Lewis and Katie Birge at the helm. Actually, instead of 87 years, it’s been about 5, so I’m exaggerating a little.

In these five years, you have read stories ranging from the art of tea and beer to lucky purple socks to words of advice from the department guru Tamera. We have featured the achievements of grad students and faculty, introduced new faculty and staff, and pondered the ebb and flow of the building buzz. If someone were to visit the grad blog to learn more about our program they would see that we are a group of hard-working, creative, entrepreneurial, fun, eclectic, inquisitive, and close-knit group of people. To borrow Harmeet’s favorite words, we try to capture the texture and uniqueness of the people in our department to bring you the human side of things.

Why all the nostalgia? Following the tradition of past writers, I am writing my (second to) last post as a reflection on the past, a look forward to the future, and a thank you to the faithful blog readers. In my two year tenure as a blog writer, I have written quite a few posts that I hope you all have enjoyed. A lot of energy, work, and planning goes into these posts – writing them can be a struggle to balance the right amount of content and intrigue while still keeping things light. I can usually tell whether I’ve achieved this level of equilibrium or completely missed the mark from the email Harmeet sends on Sunday evenings after he has read and edited the posts.

Sometimes he loves them!

Sometimes he loves them!

Other times, I can tell he was underwhelmed.

Other times, I can tell he was underwhelmed.

Whether my post was on point or not, for me, the most rewarding aspect of writing for the blog has been the opportunity to talk to and learn from people that I may not otherwise have had the common ground to interact with*. In academia, it is far too easy to gradually entrench yourself in a specific topic area and collaborate with the same/similar people. Yes, you interact with others in classes, when socializing, gathering data, and in the grad lab, but the bulk of our work is often done in isolation. Sometimes we just don’t have the time to make the effort to meet new people. Even if I haven’t kept in contact with everyone I have interviewed over the past four semesters, I am grateful for weekly assignment that required me to step outside of my box and into someone else’s for 30 minutes to an hour for an interview. Thank you for sharing your stories with me and all of our readers.

Every blog writer has a different taste and style, and adds something unique to the blog. Nicky and Katie are the OG’s, the ground breakers who worked extremely hard and paved the way for the rest of us; Mike and Ken wrote beautiful, almost artful posts; Teresa and Edo kept you on your toes with really unique stories (and kept things afloat while Harmeet was on sabbatical). I’d like to think that Niki and I have added a touch of humor, although Edo has definitely cornered the market on puns and satire.

Stylistic eras notwithstanding, we have all served as kind of de facto historians for the department and the blog has become our chronicle. My chapter is closing but a new one will open next year. New beginnings are on the horizon and the blog will be there to document them.

*The Monday morning croissants and French press coffee are a close second though.

Third Half with Amanda Lotz – April 24, 2015

Being Wired: How U.S. Television was Revolutionized

Amanda Lotz, Department of Communication Studies, University of Michigan

Lotz_Third HalfHow is it that “cable,” an industry that spent 30 years as the dark horse of US television, found itself, by 2010, as both the home of content and industrial practices that resurrected television, and as the gatekeeper to the Internet for 80 percent of American homes? Amanda Lotz presents the first chapter of this story — spanning 1996-2002 — as she introduces her new book that charts the unexpected story of how cable revolutionized television and its owners became the barons of the information age.

Water, Water … Not Really Everywhere

By Mona Malacane

About how many times do you think you wash your hands per day? Flush the toilet? Fill a cup of water or pot to cook? Ever wonder where that water comes from, or where it goes when you pour it down the drain? It’s a simple luxury that we enjoy every day (many times per day) but probably not something that many people stop to think about.

If your interest was piqued by these questions, you will soon be able to learn more about water systems through a user-friendly, interactive game created by one of our faculty. In collaboration with Dr. Shahzeen Attari from SPEA, Professor of Practice Mike Sellers is currently designing a game to educate people on how water systems work.

It’s a common misconception that when water systems have problems they are related to the quality of the water. The bigger problem actually is water quantity. Supply of water to an area that is being developed for residential, commercial, or manufacturing use must be balanced with the water that is needed by the existing population. This doesn’t sound very complicated but there is a lot more that goes into water system planning.  Mike and Shahzeen aim to explain this via a game.

“You start off with a very small well and a couple of houses, sort of Sim City-ish,” Mike explained. “As you have enough water and you’re drawing from a stream or ground water, your little community grows. But you don’t control that growth, it just grows because more people are attracted there, which means you have to increase the water supply. So maybe now you go to water tanks, or digging deeper wells, or you build a reservoir.” As the city continues to grow you have to make choices about where to build water supplying systems and how much these decisions cost. Do you dig a new well? A new water tower? Where should these systems be placed? Should you pull water from a nearby lake instead? How will this affect the surrounding areas?”

Dr. Attari was interviewed by Indiana Green Living magazine (2013) about her research on energy and water consumption.

Dr. Attari was interviewed by Indiana Green Living magazine (2013) about her research on energy and water consumption.

The game will also include challenges/issues that municipal systems deal with every day, like how to handle waste water from an upstream community. Another issue that you learn about is aging water systems and their maintenance. For instance, how to balance the budget of a growing community that needs to tap an additional water source (e.g. a new well) and also also maintain its existing underground pipes.

“The players come to understand, ‘ok here’s how I build a water system, here’s how I keep one running so I can keep my community growing,’ and also to some degree how the people who are creating and running these water systems have no control over how many people they serve.” In other words, the game gives people a look at the tangible and real issues that city planners and municipal water suppliers work through every day.

The goal of this project is first and foremost to educate and inform the general public about water systems. But Mike also hopes that through learning about these systems, people will pay more attention to water issues when they arise in their local communities and perhaps stimulate conversations during local government elections.

Shahzeen and Mike have been working together on this first version of the game since January with a grant from the Ostrom Workshop. Their plan is to continue working on it through the summer with a few of Shahzeen’s graduate students and an undergrad who is working on the art for the game. When the game is ready for release, it will be available on the web and friendly and accessible enough for people of all ages.

Jess and Cosplay: The Journey from Fan Conventions to Academic Conferences

By: Niki Fritz

Before I sat down with Jess Tompkins to talk about her former life as a cosplayer, I had seen pictures of Jess dressed up in amazingly intricate and realistic costumes on Facebook. I had assumed she was just a Halloween enthusiast when these costumes were actually part of a larger and more complex world of media fandom.

Jess started out by explaining that cosplay is not larping; to which I had to ask what larping was.

“As you can probably guess, [cosplay] is an amalgamation of costume and play. It is different from larping (an acronym for ‘live action role playing’). Larping is about being part of a narrative, taking on the role of a character in a story and it often involves physically acting out battles or fights,” Jess explains.

When I continue to look a bit baffled she explained: “[Cosplay] involves making a costume to portray a media character.  Anyone can purchase a costume but most passionate cosplayers want to complete their own costumes, including props, with their own hands. Some cosplayers even make their own costumes with others in a group setting and the costumes are usually worn at a convention. At the fan conventions, it is perfectly acceptable to just walk around in your costume, to pose with other fans and to pose with other characters for pictures.”

We started to flip through her old Facebook photos so I could get a better sense of what these costumes looked like. As we clicked farther and farther back on Jess’s timeline, I began to get curious about how she got involved in this less-than-mainstream world of fandom. Was she drawn to the media or to all the cool convention stuff first?

“I was into the media first. My brother and I were really close when we were teens. I used to watch him play video games and eventually I started to play, too,” Jess says. “We would play a lot of cooperative games together and then I started to venture into what I liked.”

Their hobbies and interests led her and her best friend to the Animazement Convention in Raleigh, NC. It is traditionally an anime convention but has branched out to include video games and comic books as well. It was the summer of 2008 and Jess hadn’t learned to sew yet, so her best friend’s grandma helped her make her first costume for a character from Dynasty Warriors 6 – Yue Ying.

“That was the catalyst moment,” Jess says. “I had a great time [at the Animazement Convention]; I met other people that had the same passion. After that I knew I wanted to do more cosplay and I wanted to make the costumes myself.”

Later that summer, Jess’s aunt bought her a sewing machine and she spent holidays learning to sew, and each year she made progressively more challenging costumes.  At Animazement she was also introduced to another part of the cosplay world: costuming clubs. These organizations usually focus on a particular media franchise.  Members of costuming clubs get together and help each other make costumes, often swapping skills such as sewing and metalworking. Jess was particularly drawn to Star Wars costumes, a franchise she and her brother had been interested in since childhood.

Jess wore her costume to the University of South Carolina for her class on the day she lectured about fan cultures, Fall 2013.

Jess wore her costume to the University of South Carolina on the day she lectured about fan cultures, Fall 2013.

“When I was a teen I spent a lot of time online, usually searching more about Star Wars. When I was about 13 I learned that there is more than the movies. There are more stories about the characters told in video games, comics, and novels. I consumed a lot of the Star Wars ‘expanded universe’,” Jess says. “I really enjoyed those narratives because there was so much more to learn about the characters.”

One character who stood out to her was a little-know bounty hunter named Boba Fett. Although Boba’s role in the official movies is small, he has a deeper narrative in the expanded universe.

“I loved Boba Fett because he was the morally ambiguous bounty hunter,” Jess says. “Like a lot of fans I was drawn to the armor. There was an aura of mystery about him. When I read the books I discovered that there is more to him than just being a bounty hunter.”

Luckily Jess found a group of Mandalorian (the type of armor worn by Boba Fett) enthusiasts in a costume club in North Carolina known as the Mandalorian Mercs, who met once a month for costume parties. The founder, who lived just an hour from Jess, helped her complete some of the complicated metalwork on her custom set of Mandalorian armor.

After completing her costume, Jess was welcomed as an official member of the Mandalorian Mercs costume club. The club often does charity events by dressing up in costumes and requesting donations for pictures. During her undergraduate years, Jess went to about 10 conventions including one of the biggest, Dragon Con in Atlanta. However, as she geared up for grad school in 2012, she realized her life in fandom was about to change.

“The main constraint now is time and money, the two magic ingredients. That was something I realized when I started grad school that I would have to make some sacrifices. Now, instead of a fan convention I am preparing for my first academic conference in May!” Jess says. “It has been an interesting, but exciting, transition. My dream is to be invited as an academic guest-speaker at a fan convention. I look up to scholars who are able to bridge the academy and speak to the fan audiences about their research. I would love to do something similar.”

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Seventh Brown Bag of the Semester – April 17, 2015


Lori Kido Lopez, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mediating Hmong America: Participatory Cultures Beyond the Digital Divide

In this talk, Dr. Lori Kido Lopez will discuss the way that Hmong American media practices reflect a new understanding of how immigrant communities are developing and utilizing culturally specific media technologies in the digital era. Hmong Americans may be on the “wrong side of the digital divide,” but they are nonetheless exploding our definition of traditional communication technologies like “radio” and opening up new spaces of participatory culture for women and other disenfranchised communities.

A Gift of Adventure

By Mona Malacane

Everyone loves and appreciates a thoughtful gift. When you put effort into choosing what the gift-receiver would truly enjoy, you’re giving someone something that they can cherish (hopefully) for many years to come. Perhaps this is why gift-giving is sometimes referred to as an art.

Being the ever-thoughtful couple that they are, Teresa and Nic recently decided to really embrace the challenge of giving a good gift. For Christmas last year they sought to gift memories rather than material items to their loved ones. “We had decided that this year for family and people that we were buying gifts for, we would do a bit more of buying experiences,” Teresa explained. “So for [Nic’s] parents, we bought them a paddle-boarding trip and we bought my god children passes to a nature preserve, things like that.” Little did she know that Nic had something very unique and special under the tree for her.

He had found a Groupon for a flying lesson at a local small airport. When she opened her present, she was a little confused and completely surprised. “I opened the card and had to read it twice and I was like … I’m going to fly a plane? …”

The answer was yes and on March 8th, the two drove up to Indy Sky Sports for the lesson. Because it was a flight lesson and not just a passenger ride, the flight instructor had to go through some specifics before they got up in the air – the ergonomics of the plane, the physics of flying, and some safety info. All pretty necessary stuff if you’re going to be gliding around above the ground in a plane that weighs a little more than 600 pounds soaking wet. And from takeoff to landing, Teresa was pretty much doing all of the flying with the instructor there for support. No really, Teresa literally taxied and lifted the plane into the air for takeoff, and centered the plane to the runway and brought it down to the ground for landing.


After takeoff when they had climbed to about a mile above ground, the instructor threw her a curveball. “When we got up to cruising

A side view of the small plane (Photo credit to Indy Sky Sports Website)

A side view of the small plane (Photo credit to Indy Sky Sports Website)

altitude, which was about 4700 feet, [the instructor] said, ‘one of the first things I like to do to instill a sense of confidence in my flight students is I tell them to cut the engines off …’ And I’m thinking to myself, well you’re in the plane too so you’re not going to tell me to just fall out of the sky.” With the engines off, the cabin was silent and for a few seconds they were just gliding through the air. And then the nose started to dip a little and things got a little dicey for a minute … But just as easily as the nose started to dip, it corrected and tilted up. “Essentially we were dolphin-ing through the air but there was no forward momentum other than what we picked up from flying up.”

The rest of the experience was equally as adrenaline-rushing and yet smoothly effortless. With a huge grin on her face, Teresa told me some of the amazing (and probably terrifying for the average person) tricks the instructor did with her like banking, 360s, and flying towards the sunset.




The instructor took over for some of more advanced tricks they tried, like the corkscrew rise. It is exactly like the name suggests, the plane was climbing at about 60 degrees in a spiral movement. Another advanced maneuver they tried was called astronaut training. “Basically what we did was we went straight up in the air with high acceleration and we were probably at about a 70 degree incline, so I felt like I was laying almost completely flat on my back … and when we got to the top of this ascension we dove straight down. It was like coming over a roller coaster.” Before the ascension, the instructor had handed Teresa a key chain and told her to throw it up in the air when she felt weightless to visually see the loss of gravity but she said that she didn’t need the key chain to feel it because she was already floating out of her seat.

Flying a small plane wasn’t something Teresa had really imagined herself doing before her birthday trip, and understandably so. Flying is kind of a rare and exceptional thing to do, usually reserved for professionals. “I had never thought that I would fly before, not because I didn’t think that I wouldn’t want to, but I just didn’t think it was an achievable thing.” Now that she has a taste for it? “I definitely want to fly again … I would say it’s probably not the last time I’m going to fly, it was really really cool.”

TgmaWhile she hadn’t given much thought to flying before March, T’s grandmother was actually a pilot in World War II. She flew both large and small cargo planes behind enemy lines and would drop supplies for soldiers on the ground. She said about her grandmother, “Growing up she used to always tell my grandfather, who was a paratroop ranger [during the war], that any monkey can jump out of a plane but it takes someone with real brains to fly one.” She sounds liked a real aerial Rosie the Riveter.


What We Save and What We Abandon: A Chat about Ruins and their Social Value

By: Niki Fritz

A view from above of the limestone pyramid ruin.

Up by Bedford, there is a half-completed/ half-uncompleted pyramid. While walking along the limestone slabs with weeds and flowers now poking through the crevices, it looks like a haphazard stone park of some sort. But from above you can see the outline of a pyramid, a human-made one. Back in the 80’s, the now-deserted pyramid began as a project partially funded by the government and partially by the local community. It was meant to display the beauty of one of Indiana’s most prevalent natural resources: limestone. But due to lack of funding, the structure was never finished. And now it sits, weeds seeping through, a ruin.

A glimpse of the pyramid from the ground, which Saul took while exploring the ruins.

A glimpse of the pyramid from the ground, which Saul took while exploring the ruins.

“People call it a folly, an example of government waste. It is interesting to think of that failure of the pyramid when we talk about the history of limestone in Indiana. Limestone surrounds us every day on this campus,” explains Saul Kutnicki, a first year PhD student in Communication and Culture. “[Ruins] are also a way into thinking about history in a way we didn’t do before, to question something that we encounter daily. It is interesting that ruins can be a failure or something to be preserved. There is some sort of culture consensus about what ruins matter and what don’t, about what is sacred and what is not.”

For Saul, ruins weren’t always his primary interest. He came into the program as a MA student interested in film and media studies and gradually began to integrate rhetoric into his work.

“The intersection between film & media and rhetoric & public culture is an important component of my work. This was the impulse behind participating in the interdisciplinary opportunities afforded in CMCL, opportunities that I hope to carry on taking and sharing in the Media School,” Saul explains.

The ideas of ruins interested Saul so much because of their pervasiveness in the media today.

“[Ruins] are kind of a big deal right now. Anyone who is on social media knows ruins are big. There is always some part of Detroit that is being depicted,” according to Saul. “Ruins are such a part of our everyday language. We talk about ruined relationships, ruined careers … What are the things we deem ruins and what does that mean.”

Saul Kutnicki

His work with the rhetorical criticism and images of ruins led Saul to think of the ethics of ruins, which in turn led him to apply for the Poynter Center’s Jesse Fine Fellowship.  Fine Fellowships support the creation of course curriculum that specifically address ethics in classes developed for undergraduate students. In the “Ethics of Ruins” course Saul is developing as a Fine Fellow, he has several objectives.

First, he hopes to help students establish their own archives of ruins and to give them a broader understanding of the history of ruins. Traditionally we think of ruins as things that are a) old and b) part of our heritage, but Saul wants students to expand this narrow definition to encompass what are ruins in their own lives or in their communities or in the larger world.

Next, Saul seeks to encourage students to place the ruins into a narrative, not just looking for similarities in structures or locations but similarities in the value and metaphor, the ruin represents. To illustrate this point, he pointed to the difference in how we treat ruins and slums, going to great lengths to preserve the former and not hesitating to tear down the latter.

“What do we save? What don’t we save? What films do we protect? What buildings do we protect? What value to be attribute to ruins? We assign value according to certain social values,” Saul explains. “Ruins are a good place to start thinking about our values.”

Finally, Saul wants his students to make something out of their ruins, whether that be a film, a photo essay or some sort of multimedia presentation. From his course proposal, Saul explains:

“In my teaching, I strive to provide students with an opportunity to hitch their own intellectual wagon to the ideas, concepts, and problems presented in the course material. The course will be designed to help students carve their own path according to their individual productive or creative impulses. Thus students will be asked to develop individual or group projects that demonstrate critical writing skills, visual storytelling and public speaking.”