Eighth Brown Bag – November 7, 2014


Daphna Yeshua-Katz, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Telecommunications, The Media School

Navigating Stigma in Online Communities

Virtual relationships among people have enjoyed scholarly interest across multiple disciplines while emerging media systems are increasingly designed to enhance anonymous connectedness. This environment affords a safe space for stigmatized groups to convene. Yet, there is limited information about how the online environment is used by the stigmatized. Moreover, the theoretical approaches used so far treat the online environment as a place for marginalized communities to escape from offline stigma. It is time to consider how these support groups shape collective group norms and perform rituals of group membership.

Drawing from stigma and online social support literature, this presentation will address the role of stigma in shaping media use of three groups: Pro-ana bloggers who are members of an online community for people with eating disorders, Israeli childless women who go through fertility treatments and Israeli women who are voluntarily childless. Quantitative content analysis and qualitative in-depth interviews are used to address research questions.


Daphna is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Telecommunications (newly merged Media School) at Indiana University. Her research interest focuses on understanding the interconnections of technology, society and norms–particularly with respect to online community making among stigmatized groups. Daphna attended the University of Amsterdam (UvA) for BA and MA degrees in Communication Science. She was a lecturer at the Open University of Israel, a journalist in Israel and in the Netherlands, and a public relations manager in the Israeli NGO The Jaffa Institute.

Daphna’s Double Defense

By Edo Steinberg

Daphna, ABD-plus

Last month, Daphna Yeshua-Katz did something that has never been done before in our department, as far as people can remember. She defended her qualifying exam and her dissertation proposal on the same day. Daphna is modest and says that other programs do this all the time.

“I think it’s quite exceptional,” Betsi Grabe, Daphna’s advisor says. “I do know of other institutions where it’s done, but I don’t know that anyone within the confines of our structure has actually done it.”

“There is risk involved,” Betsi says. “You’re getting your committee together to defend your qualifying exams. At the tail end of that dangles the proposal. You might appear presumptuous to think you can continue on to proposal defense, which is the next step. We were very careful in making it clear to the committee members that there is no presumption, that we meet to have Daphna’s qualifying exam defense, and should the committee then decide to pass her, then we will proceed to discuss her proposal and decide if we give a green light on that. If Daphna were to fail the qualifying exams, we would have a conversation with her anyway, but it would be more of a conversation than a dissertation proposal defense.”

After the qualifying exam defense, Daphna was sent out of the room so the committee could decide whether to pass her. “Daphna offered to put the tea water on, so she walked all the way to the faculty lounge, and shortly after she arrived there I was already in the hallway calling her back with good news.”

Both Daphna and Betsi, who were interviewed separately, think the combination of the two defenses allows for greater focus and efficiency in both the qualifying exam and proposal. “When you do it this way, your quals are much more directed towards your dissertation,” Daphna says. “Then, you sit and write about your dissertation in your own voice for the four days of the exams.”

Daphna recommends it to other Ph.D. students, as long as they are able to withstand the pressure of preparing for both at the same time. “It’s also very important that your chair supports you in this process,” she says. “Not all chairs would agree to do it. I was lucky that Betsi not only agreed, but encouraged me to do this. I am also fortunate to have a good circle of support in my life that is crucial to endure the pressure.”

Betsi would also recommend it, as long as you’re focused and know what your proposal is going to be even before you answer your first written qualifying exam question. Daphna’s proposal was sent to the committee members before she took the exam, so by the time of the defense, they had more than a month to look it over.

Betsi equates a double defense with a marathon. She used to think that with the right training, anyone could run the ultimate long-distance race, but after observing one up close, she changed her mind. “A marathon isn’t in everybody,” she says. “It’s like Walt said to me, ‘you can’t fake a marathon.’ You can’t fake your way through it. Likewise, you can’t fake your way through the qualifying exam and proposal defenses. It might not be in everybody, and doing them both on the same day might not be the right way to do it for everyone.”

Dealing with Stigma

by Teresa Lynch

It started off, as many graduate student research projects do, as a class proposal.  The paper (“Communicating Stigma: The Pro-Ana Paradox”) that would ultimately go on to be published in the journal Health Communication and featured on Time, Jezebel, USA Today, and IU’s online research forum  grew from an idea that Ph.D. student Daphna Yeshua-Katz had during Nicole Martins’ Media and the Body course in Fall 2010.  It was during that course that Daphna became aware of a group called “pro-ana” bloggers.  The spectrum of opinion within this online community for people with eating disorders ranges from those who claim that anorexia is a lifestyle choice and not a disorder to those who seek to provide a non-judgmental environment, including support for those who seek medical treatment.  What was so fascinating to Daphna was that this community, despite its controversial nature, was shrouded largely in mystery.  “This community was creating an outrage in the public sphere, but we really know almost nothing about the motivations of [pro-ana bloggers] to become a part of it.”  Despite the widely shared negative view of pro-ana blogs, there seemed to be some provocative element in their existence.

Nicole Martins (left) and Daphna Yeshua-Katz. Photo courtesy of Nic Matthews

So, Daphna, with support and guidance from Nicole, set out to develop her study.  She conducted a series of in-depth interviews with pro-ana bloggers that contribute not only to the growing literature on how people communicate with others regarding their eating disorders, but also more broadly to the research on stigmatized illnesses.  But, the flurry of press reports on her work came at a potential cost.  As a former journalist, Daphna understands the editorial process well.  She shared with me that during her days as a journalist, her stomach would ache at the worry over how her words would be skewed after she submitted them to the editor.  Outside of the academic realm, writers often see their words changed without any opportunity for final approval, a fact that Daphna knows all too well.  Even so, being misrepresented or misquoted is a difficult thing to swallow, especially since she now finds herself in a discipline where 94% confidence just isn’t good enough and an academic culture where fine points in scholarly research hold much import. That made the interview she had with a writer from Time magazine all the better.  Not only was she well versed in the literature about stigmatization of drug-addicts, but she also knew about Erving Goffman’s work on social stigma.  Needless to say, the interview went very well.

But in today’s Internet age, the most destructive commentary often comes in the way of … well, comments.  We all have seen such comments, especially the readers’ comments at the bottom of the article you just can’t ignore no matter how hard you try.  Now consider a situation where your research is the basis of the article and you are unable to hold your resolve that you will not read readers’ comments.  For Daphna, that dissolution of resolve yielded a happy experience.  What she found there, made her feel good about the attention her research had received in the popular press.  Many of the comments were from pro-ana bloggers or former members of pro-ana online communities reaffirming the positive place pro-ana blogs hold for them.  In fact, after the study was published in the journal, a blogger who had participated in the study contacted Daphna by email to thank her for doing the research.  She went on to say that participating in Daphna’s study had made her consider her condition and she is now moving toward recovery.

Daphna and Nicole’s journey in conceptualizing, performing, and ultimately publishing the collaborative study was in some ways a roller coaster.  Daphna says that she feels more confident now in her research and in her overall desire to study stigmatized health issues and social media.  She says that there is much more work remains to be done with the pro-ana community with the next step possibly being a quantitative study.  But, for a community so sensitive to stigmatization, gaining the necessary access to perform that research will be difficult.  After this experience, Daphna feels deeply connected to the research on the pro-ana community, as she has met some of its members and had glimpses into their struggles to cope with a stigmatized mental disorder.

Distinguished Annie; Brown Bag

(approximate visual representation)

Distinguished Professor Annie Lang: The tiara was a gift; the brain is all hers.

For the professor who has it all, by Ken Rosenberg

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “awesome” as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” Sounds about right. By denotative measure, Professor Annie Lang is awesome.

One colleague, tasked with finding less colloquially-abused words to describe her, remarked upon Annie’s “ferocious intellect.” Professors do not pick words without purpose and careful specificity. “This describes Annie in many dimensions,” said Professor Walt Gantz, Department Chair. Her own words seem to justify this assessment, at least in terms of her professional rigor:

“‘Does it meet the criteria for all those things you might someday want to do? Are you moving the field forward, or just padding your vitae?’ Those are questions I ask myself every two, three years. I sit down and look at my publications from three years ago to make sure I’m not still doing the same thing. If you haven’t added anything new or had a new thought, or changed the way you look at something, or invented something new—a measurement, a technique, a way of looking at something—then what are you doing? Not that everybody has to do that, but those were my standards for myself, because those are the standards you have to meet if you want to hang those awards on your wall—and I did want to hang the awards on my wall. I mean, who wouldn’t? I’m not really big on struggling in obscurity.”

Struggle in obscurity, indeed! Annie has, among many other credits to her name, the Chaffee Career Productivity Award—as the youngest recipient ever—and is still twelve years from retirement.  “I’ve kind of won everything, and I’m still young,” Annie said, proud but bemusedly flustered. Still, as anyone who knows her can attest, she is not in it for the awards. “What’s to make you come to work,” she asked rhetorically, “other than being interested in what you do?” To project how much more prolific her work can become in the last third of her career, one need only look at Annie’s tremendous vitae. She is a former Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. With her co-authors, she has given the field seven psychophysiological measures, either through adoption from another discipline or ground-up, from her own ingenuity, including heart rate monitoring, skin conductance, and facial electromyography (EMG). For some people—most, even—this would easily constitute a career’s worth of work. But then, there’s her work on the measures for message complexity and secondary task reaction time, not to mention her way with completely shattering students’ worldviews in T501: Philosophy of Inquiry in Telecommunications, as she replaces them with a much better explicated mentalite (something this author considers award-worthy in its own right).

For a graduate student, it is the dissertation; for those with a fledgling professorship, it is about tenure—but what is left for an academic who has mastered the roles of student, teacher, philosopher, and researcher? Well, for those select few professors who manage to strive further than that, there is the process of becoming distinguished. A title bestowed by consensus from those who have already earned it, “Distinguished Professor” is one of the most prestigious distinctions anyone can put after his or her name. It indicates global, field-wide recognition and respect. Each year Indiana University allows no more than five to obtain the title. This year the committee appointed only four; Annie was one of them.

When trying to express the impact a character has made in a two-hour story arc, sometimes a filmmaker will rely on a symbolic trope: a gathering of all those friends met along the way, smiling and nodding (and often uttering one last catch-phrase) in a way that is collectively and overwhelmingly positive. Cue the thumbs-up and high-five gestures, introduce a “slow clap” that culminates in unrestrained applause, and fade to black. As surreal as this event seems, it is not too dissimilar to how Annie received her latest accolade.

“Distinguished Professor” is one rank one cannot apply for.  One can only be nominated.  The department put together a dossier that included letters from leading researchers from all over the world and her “academic family,” including mentors, mentees, and co-authors. Professor Gantz wrote an extended cover letter and the rest of the department, led by Professor Ted Castronova, wrote the departmental statement. For tenure or promotion to full professorship, the number of letters from outside experts is usually around eight. “In Annie’s case,” Walt recalled, “we sent twenty-four letters from external reviewers.” The response was overwhelming. “No one said no,” Walt said about the request for letters. “Everyone who could [write a letter], did.”

That is a sizable crowd, certainly suitable to any cinematic, celebratory soirée. However, reality is rarely as beautifully truncated as film, or as excitingly dramatic. Most of the communication was via email, and the whole process took more than a year. Annie was nominated last year, but was (obviously) not elected; first time, very few are. Furthermore, simply being at IU, with its very high standards for distinguished rank, made the application more challenging. Annie stated, only half-jokingly, that you usually have to obtain most of the awards in your field before this committee will entertain your submission. At least the standards imply more deserved prestige for those who make the cut.

Annie is the first member of the Telecom department to earn the title. It’s good for the department to have a member in this distinguished group, which has impact on the university. “It provides input for the department on a level we’ve never really had before,” Annie said. Walt sent out a letter to notify everyone that Annie had been promoted to the distinguished rank. “That was a really nice day,” Walt said, “because I was getting emails from all the luminaries in the field.”

Though her career is comprised of new scales and measures, Annie’s reputation defies proper measurement and documentation. To make their points, students are supposed to cite the words and thoughts of wiser, more accomplished scholars. Unfortunately, there is no entry in the APA style manual for “practically everyone in the field.”

Speaking on behalf of the department—all faculty, staff, and students—we are so very proud of you, Annie. Congratulations!

(Video: By Mike Lang)

Brown bag

Communicating Stigma: the Pro-ana Paradox

Daphna Yeshua-Katz (Presenter), Bernice A. Pescosolido (Discussant)

Adolescents increasingly use the Internet as a primary source for health information, including information about eating disorders. One of the controversial online communities that have attracted the attention of scholars, health professional and the media is the pro-ana community.

Daphna’s study focusing on the personal experiences of pro-ana bloggers, using Erving Goffman’s foundational work on stigma, identifies the motivations, benefits and drawbacks of blogging about a stigmatized eating disorder. Professor Pescosolido presented the “Pro-Ana Paradox” in the larger context of stigma research.

The complete audio recording of this past Friday’s seminar can be found here: Brown Bag – January 20, 2012 (Daphna and Bernice on Pro-Ana Bloggers)

Daphna Yeshua-Katz is a second year doctoral student in Telecommunications at Indiana University. Her research interest focuses on the ethical dilemmas created by new types of social activities on the Internet.  She seeks to understand the interconnections between technology, society and norms, in particular with respect to online communities that have a strained relationship (e.g. stigmatized groups) with the rest of the society.

Bernice A. Pescosolido is Distinguished and Chancellor’s Professor of Sociology at Indiana University and Director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research. Professor Pescosolido received a Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University in 1982. She has focused her research and teaching on social issues in health, illness, and healing.  More specifically, Pescosolido’s research agenda addresses how social networks connect individuals to their communities and to institutional structures, providing the “wires” through which people’s attitudes and actions are influenced. This agenda encompasses three basic areas: health care services, stigma, and suicide research.

Ted Jamison-Koenig’s Hi-Fi Dreams, Avi and Daphna, Brown Bag

Dreams of a Music Man: Inside the Creative Mind of Ted Jamison-Koenig

Ted Jamison-Koenig didn’t grow up dreaming of graduate school (what kid does really?). Instead, he spent his time with music, and when his senior year at Communications High School in New Jersey rolled around and the time came to make a decision about where to go and what to study, one thought dominated: become a recording engineer at a multi-track studio. Five years later, after finishing his degree in recording arts in the Jacobs School of Music, Ted  finds himself here, an MA student in telecommunications, putting together a committee, writing papers, and doing the prerequisite intellectual push-ups in T501. A far cry from throwing faders, placing mics, and checking equipment at Sunset Studios, I sat down with Ted to talk about his background in music, his experiences with recording arts, and why he ultimately decided to leave it behind.

Music has been a part of Ted’s life since he can remember. When he was really young, his first instrument was the family piano. His parents signed him up for lessons, but like many kids, practice just wasn’t a priority. Even though the lessons stopped, Ted’s musical interest still simmered, waiting for the right outlet. In 3rd grade he got his first trumpet. “The first day I brought home my trumpet was really awesome, I didn’t know how to do it, so I asked someone to show me the basics, and I just sat there for hours, and played. It sounded like crap, but I thought I was doing really awesome.” After that it clicked. In 4th grade Ted started playing the baritone euphonium (the solos in Holst’s “Mars: The bringer of War” from his suite “The Planets” are played with a euphonium if you need a sonic reference), and in 5th grade Ted started playing the trombone. Throughout middle school and high school music became Ted’s sport. He earned all state twice, in addition to a long list of honors and awards for his musical acumen.

Brass Quintet for the Ages – Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Ted attended Communications High School in New Jersey, a small, competitive magnet school that that specializes in equipping students with the skills necessary for careers in the media. Despite the lack of a specialized recording arts program, Ted became the token audio guy in a program that focused on film making.

Even outside of formal settings, Ted was finding creative musical outlets. In addition to the trombone and baritone euphonium, Ted played guitar. A fervent metalhead, he formed a band, New Jersey’s Drown the Swim Team, in which he played guitar and performed vocals. Although he admits to conducting an “Axl Rose one man band take over” (writing all the material, doing most of the thinking, and having his band mates execute his vision), Drown the Swim Team was, and to an extent, still is, his baby. While Drown the Swim Team earned a respectable following in the local area, more than anything, the band unlocked Ted’s passion for the recording arts.

School projects, high school band, Drown the Swim Team; the opportunities for recording were growing, and so too was Ted’s stockpile of recording equipment. His first important piece of equipment was a Korg 12 track digital recorder with its own disc drive so Ted could directly export his recordings from the machine. That allowed him to experiment and create. “I sat there, and at the time, I was ignorant, and interested in guitar pedals and processing. It was me sitting there alone in my room for hours and hours a day, with a guitar in my hand, hitting buttons that I didn’t understand, writing things. It was all very intuitive. It was very creative.” Not one to read manuals if he doesn’t have to, Ted learned the basics of compression, EQ, gain structure, and the like through experimentation. In some cases, it yielded something unique. “Even if the way I’m using something isn’t how it is supposed to be used, if it sounds good, or works for me, then I use it.”

Drown The Swim Team – The Guns of August

When it was time to choose schools, his parents warned him that going into recording arts would pigeon-hole him, but he pushed ahead, knowing it was exactly what he wanted to do. He was accepted to Ithaca College’s film school, but opted for Indiana after learning Ithaca didn’t offer a specialization in recording. Moreover, Jacobs is considered one of the best music schools in the world, and Ted wanted to record the best players. “No matter how much people tell you that they won’t care how the piece is played, and will care more about how you recorded it, it always helps to have a good player.” On his first day of his freshmen year, he sat in a class with Konrad Strauss, chair of the Department of Recording Arts, who posed this question: “Why invest in an education in recording arts, when you could use the money you are spending on education to purchase the necessary equipment to start your own studio?” For Ted, the answer was simple. The program allowed him to learn his craft, learn what equipment he should buy if he ever wanted to start his own studio, and it allowed him to play with rare vintage equipment that he would never have been able to use otherwise. Most importantly though, it gave him the chance to figure out if the recording business was really right for him. As he learned later, it wasn’t.

However, while he was in the program, Ted was inundated with projects. Every graduate recital in the musical school is recorded and archived, a responsibility that falls to the recording arts students. He helped record IU operas at the MAC, and worked with local bands looking to record EPs and albums. His best experience in the program was the orchestration of the live stream of American folk icon Todd Rundgren’s Halloween recital in 2010.  “I got to sit in the booth and watch it, and order cameras around. The place was packed.” Held in Auer Hall in the music school, the show drew so many people that an overflow room was organized downstairs, where they watched Ted’s livestream.  Furthermore, popularity of the stream ended up jamming up the servers. “It was the coolest thing because I knew what I was broadcasting was being watched by a ton of people, it was high pressure. Even if I never get to do anything like that again, I’ll have that experience.”

After four years, Ted decided that a career in the recording arts wasn’t for him. As digital technologies develop and allow individuals like Ted to gain access to top flight recording tools, the demand for big dollar mega studios is drying up. “Big studios are dying. If I have the same stuff that everyone else has, so why would I spend $1800 a day to record in a big studio when I could just do it at home?” As big studios die, so do the dreams of those like Ted hoping to find their name in the album liner notes of the world’s biggest bands. “The thing that I wanted to do is becoming more and more of a pipe dream. Frankly, it’s becoming unattainable by most people.” As the role of the recording engineer shrinks, the money is shifting to electrical engineers and computer programs who build the equipment and design the programs relied upon by recording engineers. As such, to break into the world of recording you need to “be willing to literally clean toilets for 2 years just to get your foot in the door. For every person like me who is unwilling to do that kind of work, there are 200 people willing to wade through the crap just to get a job.” Ted acknowledges that he would be willing to do it  if the end result was more rewarding. The head of the studio he interned for was 25 or 26 years old and had been in the business for a few years. Even though he had been elevated to head engineer, he still lived at home, didn’t make enough to have his own place, and he never saw his family. He got home at 3 in the morning, only to have to be back at 9, and as a result, he would often sleep in the studio. The life of a recording engineer is a grueling one, and for Ted, who one days dreams of a family, it is just too much.

Ted Jamison-Koenig – Mantlepiece

Although his dreams of recording superstardom have faded, his memories won’t. He recently compiled a list of 70 songs which remind him of his undergrad days, and every song transports him back to an event or a moment in time. “Music is very connected to memory” Ted tells me. As one who listens to his own recordings more frequently than he would like to admit, Ted will always have a vivid archive of his brief career as an aspiring recording engineer. While he may not ever use his recording skills in a professional environment, his recording career mirrors his life in music.  From piano, to baritone euphonium, to trombone, to guitar, and finally recording, musical skills come and go, but the fervent passion for music lingers on.

The Artist and the Academic

Grad student Daphna Yeshua-Katz and her husband Avi are true masters of time management.  Daphna is in the second year of her PhD program in the Department of Telecommunications and Avi is a working artist who recently opened a show at the John Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington.  For both organizing work and play is extremely important while raising their two young children, Stav and Itamar.  Luckily for her, Daphna can easily dispel all common notions of what it means to live with an artist. She says, “Avi is a really social person; he can make friends anywhere.  He is actually much nicer than me.”  Daphna explains that when she and Avi first started dating in their native Israel, her friends joked that for an artist, Avi is surprisingly normal.  Some of Avi’s previous projects include providing artwork for all the rooms at a hotel in Tel Aviv, designing the calendar for logistics company DHL, and creating art for health video games.  He is now in the process of designing wine labels for a major winery in Israel.

His current exhibition focuses on the urban landscapes of Bloomington. The creative process for this project involves several stages.  He first scouts a location that is visually intriguing.  The vistas he chooses are often ones that feature what most would characterize as eyesores, e.g. electric lines and light poles.  He then sketches out the line work of these vistas freehand, before going back and scanning them into his computer.  Next, he uses Photoshop to color the line works before printing them on canvas.  “When I first print them on canvas, it always surprises me.  It’s such a big difference as compared to working on a little computer screen.  The large scale prints on canvas reveal so many more dimensions.”  He leaves the electric lines, fences, and other “eyesores” uncolored or white, so to separate them from the rest of the landscape.  Avi explains, “Photoshop is liberating.  I have more artistic freedom.  I change the colors until the painting reflects something that evokes an emotion while viewing it.”  Indeed, two of Avi’s line work sketches did not make it into his current exhibition because the colors weren’t quite right.  When asked about the two sketches, he explains that although technically the line work was very good, the colors did not speak to him.

Both Daphna and Avi agree that his artwork has a playfulness inspired by their two kids.  They own several ‘Where’s Waldo’ books in Hebrew that get a lot of use.  Avi explains, “I began to hide animals in my illustrations to quiz them.  Then I found that it added an interesting element for adults who view my art.”  Avi names his works after the animals he has hidden in them, such as “The Hawk and The Hog.”  Avi observed that once viewers read the title of the work, they began looking for the animal or animals hidden inside.  While the piece is dignified by its placement on a wall at a gallery, it has a child-like challenge to it, something Avi describes as art you can play with.  “I use it as a tool to get people to stop and take a good long look at the painting.  This makes them take part in my game.”  The side effect is that the viewers take more interest in other details of his work.  While his current work was inspired by the Monroe County Courthouse, Avi’s next inspiration springs from the various broken down cars he has seen in and around Bloomington, often in fields.  This inspiration invokes nostalgia, as each car has a history, a story behind it.

As for making the lives of an artist and an academic work?  For Daphna, it’s a balancing act.  Back in Israel, both her and Avi’s parents helped in watching the kids while they worked.  Now, they schedule their work while the kids are in school and organize a shift system on the weekend.  Daphna explains, “I’ll work Saturday and Avi will work Sunday or I’ll work mornings and he’s work evenings.  We have to schedule the time to work on what each of us do.  Also, we are lucky that we can rely on the friends we’ve made in Bloomington.”  Before Daphna came to the United States, she remembers reading a blog of an IU grad student who was also a parent.  It stressed the importance of being able to work day and night.  A self-proclaimed day-worker, Daphna had serious doubts about whether she would be able to do so, but looking back, she wouldn’t change a thing.  “Once you find something you are passionate about, you find a way to do it.  I am passionate about my research and Avi is passionate about his art.  We find a way to make it work.”

Check out some of Avi’s work here.  His exhibit runs at the John Waldron Arts Center, 122 South Walnut Street, until November 28th.

Brown Bag 

Co-sponsored by Gender Studies, Telecommunications, and Journalism, this week’s brown bag featured two scholars whose research interests involve the dimensions of self in regards to makeover television.  Katherine Sender is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.  Brenda Weber is an associate professor of Gender Studies and adjunct associate professor of American Studies, Communication and Culture, Cultural Studies, and English at Indiana University.  You can listen to the full audio here: Katherine and Brenda


The Reflexive Self: Makeover Television and its Audiences

Katherine Sender talks about her forthcoming book Makeover Television and its Audiences (New York University Press), which is the first to consider the rapid rise of US makeover shows from the perspectives of their viewers. Here she argues that this genre of reality television continues a long history of self-improvement, shaped through contemporary media, technological, and economic contexts. Most people think that reality television viewers are ideological dupes and obliging consumers. Instead, Sender found that they have a much more nuanced and reflexive approach to the shows they watch. Audiences are critical of the instruction, the consumer plugs, and the manipulative editing in the shows. At the same time, they buy into the shows’ imperative to construct a reflexive self: an inner self that can be seen as if from the outside, and must be explored and expressed to others. This book intervenes in debates about both reality television and audience research, offering the concept of the reflexive self to move these debates forward. It concludes by addressing the concept of reflexivity itself, and how we can rethink this to take account of people’s emotional and institutional investments.

Brenda Weber reflects on Sender’s presentation via her recent book Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity (Duke University Press). Based on her analysis of more than 2,500 hours of makeover TV, Weber argues in this work that the much-desired After-body speaks to and makes legible broader cultural narratives about selfhood, citizenship, celebrity, and Americanness. Although makeovers are directed at both male and female viewers, their gendered logic requires that feminized subjects submit to the controlling expertise wielded by authorities. The genre does not tolerate ambiguity. Conventional (middle-class, white, ethnically anonymous, heterosexual) femininity is the goal of makeovers for women. When subjects are male, makeovers often compensate for perceived challenges to masculine independence by offering men narrative options for resistance or control. Foregoing a binary model of power and subjugation, Weber provides an account of makeover television that is as appreciative as it is critical. She reveals the makeover show as a rich and complicated text that expresses cultural desires and fears through narratives of selfhood.


Nicky Lewis:  The Artist and the Academic, Brown Bag

Mike Lang:  Dreams of a Music Man

T101 Redux, Steve Krahnke’s Award-Winning Films, Betsi and Lelia in the News, PhD Prep

T101: Highlights from Media Life

It could be pretty easy for Professor Mark Deuze to structure T101: Media Life as your average 100 level introductory course.  With over 400 students enrolled, it presents major challenges in how to keep the students engaged.  With help from his Associate Instructors (AIs), Mark has revamped T101 into a highly participatory and exciting class.  Associate Instructors Peter Blank, Lindsay Ems, Mike Lang, Gayle Marks, Lelia Samson, and Daphna Yeshua-Katz not only lead their respective discussion sections but also help with course development.

Instead of a grading system based on attendance, discussion activities, and written papers, Mark has developed a new method for grading – Social Representative System.  Similar to YouTube star rankings and Ebay seller rankings, students are responsible for building their reputation in the class by participating in lecture and discussion activities and by contributing to the class Twitter feed.  AIs distribute experience points to students based on their performance on written papers and discussion activities.  Students are responsible for keeping track of own their attendance by assigning personal star ratings for themselves.  The in-class attendance exercises are related to the topic discussed in the lecture that day.

As a result, students are more involved in the course.  The T101 twitter feed has been extremely active this semester.  Under the t101medialife tag, both instructors and students openly post content for discussion.  You can check out T101’s twitter feed here: T101 Media Life

Tuesday’s lecture  focused on past technological innovations, current smartphone technology, and predictions of what the next technological innovation will bring.  The attendance exercise required students to get out their cellphones and participate in a massive ringtone display.

Steve Krahnke’s Films Receive Awards

Recently, two of Steve Krahnke’s film productions were named recipients for awards. Blacking Up, a film about race in the hip-hop music industry, was selected as one of the 2011 Notable Videos for Adults by the American Library Association, an honor bestowed on 15 films selected every other year by the organization. Harp Dreams, a documentary about the international harp competition on IU campus, has received a CINE Golden Eagle Award for Fall 2010.

Steve’s work as executive producer for Blacking Up began more than 7 years prior to the film’s completion. “When we started the project, Eminem was a breakout artist,” Steve explains. The  film was also in production during Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction, meaning the footage had to be edited even more to be “cleaned up” for airing on public television stations. Blacking Up was produced with the aid of former CMCL graduate student Robert Clift, who helped craft the narrative. Steve advised him to tell his own story during the process. “I told him, ‘anybody can say anything they want about hip-hop, but you have to own this for yourself and tell the story your own way,'” Steve recalls. The award received from the ALA for Blacking Up means the film will soon be found in most libraries across the country.  Watch the trailer here: Blacking Up

Harp Dreams, a more recent production, was produced with the help of several undergraduate students who spent considerable amount of their time collaborating with executive producer Steve and producer Susanne Schwibs of CMCL and Radio Television Services. More than 100 hours of raw footage were shot for the project, and the editing work was slow-going. “It’s a tedious process,” Steve explains. “In some ways, it’s like making bread by grinding your own flour.” The final product had the honor of airing nationwide on PBS last June and now is a recipient of the Golden Eagle Award.

Betsi and Lelia’s Study Garners Media Attention

A study by Professor Betsi Grabe and PhD student Lelia Samson has hit headlines in a number of news outlets this week. Originally published in a top journal Communications Research, the experiment measured recall and credibility perceptions from audience members viewing neutral or attractive female newscasters. The study found that male viewers were significantly less likely to remember news content when the female news anchor’s appearance was more sexualized, and men found the attractive version of the news anchor to be less credible when covering political and economic news stories.

Of the recent press attention, Lelia notes that it’s rewarding to see their work make an impact outside of the research realm. “It’s impressive to realize that people actually care what we do. It’s good to know that people who aren’t academics are reading it,” she says. “We’re in a little bit of a media frenzy right now,” Betsi adds. The study has received additional attention from the Poynter Institute over the past week.

For Betsi and Lelia, the publicity is nice, but the most important outcome of the recent coverage is that the implications of their findings have gotten to women in the news industry. “This study helps female journalists understand the pressures from their organizations to sexualize themselves on air. If the study provokes debate and attention, it’s doing something,” Betsi says. Lelia explains that it’s likely the study got picked up by media outlets for its social relevance. “It’s surprising to see the comments on the websites discussing the study and the conversations started because of the research,” Lelia adds.

Betsi and Lelia, along with other graduate students, are working on a follow-up study that examines female audience reactions to sexualized and non-sexualized female anchors. From their initial findings, Betsi posits that it’s likely women feel more competition with the sexualized version of the female anchor, and their upcoming work will delve deeper into this issue. For now, Betsi cautions that the findings aren’t meant to solve problems for women in the news industry. “There aren’t solutions in the study. The best advice is to use these tiny insights for empowerment,” she offers.

For more information, check out some of the news coverage of Betsi and Lelia’s study:

Miller-McCune, The Star, Forbes, Politics Daily, IU News Release, Wall Street Journal

Brown Bag Presentation

In a panel discussion moderated by Rob Potter, members of the Search Committee (Nicole Martins, Annie Lang, Barb Cherry, and Ted Castronova) shared insights from the recently concluded search.  Here is the description that was included in the announcement for the brown bag:

Abstract: This colloquium is intended for PhD students who are considering a career in academia. This seminar will offer specific advice for those students who intend to enter the academic job search this year but also to students whose job search resides several years in the future. Members of the recent Department of Telecommunications search committee will be on hand to address questions such as: what makes a candidate a good “fit”; what information should be included in a personal statement; and what a strong CV looks like, to name a few. Students planning to attend this T600 are encouraged to come with questions to ask the search committee.


Nicky Lewis:  T101 Highlights from Media Life

Katie Birge:  Steve Krahnke’s Films Receive Awards, Betsi and Lelia’s Study Garners Media Attention

Special Thanks

Elizabeth Crosbie: Photo Credit for Lelia Samson

A Top Paper, Mark and the Janissary Collective, the Third Dimension, and the Market for Eyeballs

This week’s edition brings an array of happenings from all ends of the department:   conference honors for Travis Ross,  Wednesday meetings of  the Janissary Collective in Mark Deuze’s office,  Chris Eller’s 3D project “An Ancient Pond,” and the brown bag featuring Ted Castronova’s quest for the elusive eyeballs of video game players.

Travis Ross has a Top 5 Paper at Meaningful Play 2010

Doctoral student Travis Ross has received recognition with a Top 5 paper at the upcoming 2010 Meaningful Play conference.

PhD student Travis Ross and co-author Jim Cummings received top paper recognition for the upcoming Meaningful Play 2010 Conference. Photo Credit: Travis Ross

The paper, entitled “Optimizing the Psychological Benefits of Choice: Information Transparency & Heuristic Use in Game Environments,” was co-authored by Travis and IU Telecom grad alum Jim Cummings. Jim, who completed his MA here, is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at Stanford University’s Department of Communication.

Travis and Jim will present the paper at the conference, which will be held October 21-23 at Michigan State University. With regard to the top paper honor, Travis says, “I’m really excited. I knew our paper had some potential, but I thought it would lead to an empirical study, not an award.” The paper, along with the other 4 top papers, will be compiled into a special issue of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations on meaningful play.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of writing this paper, according to Travis, is the opportunity to work with Jim, a former classmate. “Although writing the paper was time consuming, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “Jim is a great co-author, and it isn’t everyday that you get to produce academic work with someone you also consider a close friend.”

Mark Deuze and the Janissary Collective

If you happen to walk by Professor Mark Deuze’s office on Wednesdays around lunch time, you might notice a small group of students and faculty inside.  It is a constant flow with people popping in for minutes or hours at a time, crowded on the couch or sitting on the floor.  What they talk about varies from week to week, but it often revolves around works in progress, current research ideas, and life in general.  The meetings often include some variations of caffeine and sweets and the discussions range from popular culture to philosophy.

Mark explains that the group began last year, with just Laura Speers and Peter Blank coming to his office to chat.  Eventually it grew to the size it is today, with a core group of around 10 people, coming from several different departments on campus.  In addition to both graduate and undergraduate students from Telecom, the group includes students from Learning Sciences, Journalism, Informatics, and Communication and Culture. Professors Mary Gray (CMCL) and Hans Ibold (Journalism) also drop by regularly.

Recently, several  students from the Wednesday meetings collaborated to write a chapter for the upcoming Routledge Handbook of Participatory Cultures under the pseudonym The Janissary Collective (evoking the spirit of Ottoman warriors against theories, paradigms, and methods that dampen free thinking). This chapter focuses on developing a definition of participatory culture and situating the individual in it. The group is also collaborating on future writing projects, including an essay on authority and digital media in the British fashion magazine Under The Influence, and a chapter in a forthcoming NYU Press anthology on social media and dissent.

Last week’s meeting covered a wide range of topics, including: concepts of online identity, the idea that being delusional can lead to happiness (according to Woody Allen), and notions of what makes a culture unique.  Participants of last week’s meeting included: Siyabonga Africa, Mark Bell, Peter Blank, Watson Brown, Lindsay Ems, Mary Gray, Hans Ibold, Mike Lang, Nicky Lewis, Jenna McWilliams, Nina Metha, Brian Steward, Mary Gray and Daphna Yeshua-Katz.

See a clip of the discussion on the possibility that we all exist in our own Truman Shows and how the concept of delusion may hold an answer:

3D at IU Telecom

“An Ancient Pond,” a stereoscopic 3D short film project by MS student Chris Eller, wrapped up its filming over the weekend. The project’s shooting finished on Sunday with cast and crew recording final scenes in the IU Arboretum and in Telecom’s own Studio 5. “It’s a film about power, assassination, revenge, and innocence,” says Chris, who is filming “An Ancient Pond” as part of his final project, which will eventually include two other shorts in 3D. “This is the first project that Telecom has really been involved in. This has been in pre-production for three months.”

In addition to shooting his own work, Chris is also helping Professor Susan Kelly teach T452: 3D Storytelling. The course,

Chris Eller edits 3D video footage for "An Ancient Pond."

a pioneering one in the country, immerses 12 students in semester-long advanced 3D production work. The students were selected on the basis of an application process, and the high demand led to the addition of another course in the spring.  Chris is hoping to develop a course design for future 3D production classes through a special T540 project this semester.

Chris says that producing 3D film is really interesting because it presents unique challenges. “There’s the added complexity of the 3D camera rig. The two cameras have to work together,” he says. From a production standpoint, Chris says he’s gaining a new awareness for the techniques involved in capturing the magic of 3D. “You have to be much more conscious of how you frame. You have to reconceptualize everything, but then there’s a new sense of realism,” he says.

The finished product of “An Ancient Pond” will be viewed in the soon-to-be completed IU Cinema, which will be 3D-ready when its renovations are finished. Chris is also helping IU Cinema gather 3D content through both grad and undergrad projects. The IU Cinema’s grand opening gala will be in January.

Grad student Chris Eller makes adjustments to the stereoscopic 3D camera.

For the future, Chris has several other 3D projects planned. On the agenda for upcoming months are a thriller/comedy involving zombies and a documentary on the art of bookbinding.

In addition to talking with us this week, Chris was interviewed for a pair of 3D-themed stories in the Indiana Daily Student for the Weekender section. You can view one of the stories through the IDS website here:


Brown Bag

Professor Ted Castronova was featured in the T600 Brown Bag Presentation this past Friday:



Much has been written about the Attention Economy, yet there are not many conceptual tools for thinking about it in terms of Communications.  How does a game designer know how many monsters to put into a Facebook game?  Adding monsters costs money, yet more monsters – to a point – are needed to capture the eyeballs she needs to make a profit.  What is this market for eyeballs??  In this talk I start with a model of limited cognitive resources and end with a model of supply and demand for attention.  In other words, I walk the long, arduous, dangerous, difficult road from Annie to David.  I’ll need help on the way, so come with me!

Take a look at some of Ted’s presentation here:


Nicky Lewis: Mark and the Janissary Collective and the Market for Eyeballs

Katie Birge: Travis Ross has Top Paper and 3D at IU Telecom