The Cupid of Telecom

By Mona Malacane

Ah elementary school Valentine’s Day … No matter how unpopular you were, you were guaranteed at least 10 generic cards, probably with Wile E. Coyote or Garfield saying some cheesy friendship-love quote, and a box of Sweethearts.  And then you go through the romantically tumultuous middle school and high school, where your popularity (and self-esteem) is pretty much measured by how many anonymous roses you receive.  Now fast forward to graduate school. Sadly, none of the professors are going to pause class to give us 15 minutes to deliver candy-grams to each other’s construction paper V-day mailboxes, nor are they going to decorate the hallway billboards.

Valentine's Day...

Valentine’s Day…

as adults.

…as adults.

But if you visited the grad lab on Friday, fully expecting to walk into the same stark-ish table and ever-evolving white board mural, you may have felt transported back to those elementary school days, thanks to Michelle Funk – our resident cupid.

Michelle's decorations

Michelle’s decorations

“I love that we have a holiday reserved for love – just love.  Not love for a country or love for God or love for a specific family member, but the act and feeling of love itself.  That’s just so damn cool to me.  And it’s been going on for centuries, since the (admittedly bloodier and ‘rapier’) traditions of pagan civilizations.  It wasn’t always about fertility and procreation, though.  It was about emotional connection.”

If you know Michelle at all, you have to admit you’re a little surprised.  (You know I love you Michelle, but I wouldn’t exactly call you very emotive.)  But that’s one of the reasons why she gets excited about Valentine’s day. “My enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day is admittedly a little manufactured because I had a very self-aware moment where I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious for my character if I suddenly got way too into Valentine’s Day?’  I think people see me as cynical and moody sometimes, so it’s always fun to see people’s reaction to finding out I’m a huge V-Day fan.  Maybe it started out manufactured, but I can assure you that the enthusiasm is REAL now!”Michelle vday

She also loves Valentine’s Day because she arguably would not even be alive if it were not for the holiday.  “[My parents] were both the leaders of two different singles’ groups in St. Louis, and they had a phone conversation to organize a Valentine’s Day dance between their groups. They wound up staying on the phone talking to each other all night!  So really, I wouldn’t be here without Valentine’s Day.  It’s like a pre-birthday.”Michelle vday2

Michelle even has love and empathy for V-day cynics who think the holiday is manufactured.  “I think people really hate on Valentine’s Day a little too hard, and I do get it.  It’s rough to have a day devoted to love if you’re going through a tough time in your romantic life,” she explains.  “Some people call it a shallow holiday because it’s pushed on us by marketers to ‘get our money’ by buying cards and flowers and making expensive dinner reservations.  Still, without this Hallmark Holiday, I wouldn’t be here.  And I try to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a way that gives attention to all types of love – platonic, romantic, etc … I think I fall in love with everyone I meet, but that love manifests itself in different ways – friendship, dating, and even a weird appreciation for the villains in my life.”

In addition to spreading the love in the grad lab, Michelle also set up one of her neighbors on a blind Valentine’s Day date this year.  All she needs is a quiver of heart-tipped arrows and a few lessons from Whitney and she could be Cupid.

Yep, that's Michelle.

Yep, that’s Michelle.

Everything You Never Knew You Needed

By Edo Steinberg

singing gondolier

Singing Gondolier for your pool!

Long before they met each other, Mona Malacane and Michelle Funk had developed the same hobby. They both love looking through SkyMall, the catalogue you’ll find in the seat pocket in front of you on most flights in the United States. They haven’t bought anything yet, though.

For Michelle, her love of SkyMall started as a child. “It was more important to me than reading how to get out of the plane in an emergency,” she says. “Reading which pool floats are available was really cool.”

Mona also got hooked at an early age. “When we lived overseas, we would go on very long flights across the ocean, so I would sit there and read SkyMall catalogues three times,” Mona says. “I would read every single thing, all the descriptions, hoping one day to be able to afford them with my allowance.”

Recently, Mona and Michelle discovered that they shared this passion and started looking through the catalogues together. “I went to visit my boyfriend Matt in Tallahassee,” Mona says. “I took SkyMall with me, because it’s free. It had been the first time I had flown in a long time, so I had to look through it. When I was back in town I told Michelle, ‘you have to see this thing that I found.’ It might have been a life-sized Bigfoot garden statue. Then Michelle said she loves SkyMall, too, so that’s how we knew that we share this love.”

Wrinkle reducing face belt!

Wrinkle reducing face belt!

Both Michelle and Mona are about to attend NCA in Washington, DC later this month. Of course, they are very excited about the opportunity to present their academic work, meet fellow researchers, learn about the latest studies in our field and tour the city. However, they are also looking forward to their flight, when they will be able to get their hands on the fall issue of SkyMall.

One of the things they love about the catalogue is how ridiculous some of the products are. Would you like a Porch Potty, with a scented fire hydrant to attract your dog? Perhaps you’d like a hair rejuvenation system with headphones and a built in MP3 player?

Michelle compiled a list of six real items sold by SkyMall and six products she made up. Can you figure out which is which? Take our SkyMall Quiz!

Feminist Radio with Michelle Funk

By Mona Malacane

Unfortunately, there are those in the popular media who have some serious misconceptions about feminism. Take, for instance, Farrah Abraham, who confused it with being feminine and/or lesbian… She probably should have been listening to Michelle Funk’s feminist radio segment called “Listen Up, A Feminist Perspective” for a good dose of education.

feminism gif

No, this is not feminism.

If you were in Bloomington this summer you may have been lucky enough to catch it. It aired on Thursdays during the WIUX radio show “Just Brewed,” which was hosted by Michelle’s boyfriend Stephen and his friend Tyler. “Just Brewed” featured music, news, sports, interviews with local musicians, cooking, and Michelle’s 10-15 minute quick lesson on the feminist topic of the week. Michelle wanted to discuss feminist issues because (a) she is a feminist herself, and (b) because she believes that “there aren’t many ways to talk about feminism without sounding like you’re trying to put the listener in school, especially when it is a foreign idea to a lot of people.”

The big scary feminist of WIUX.

The topic of feminism can be difficult to discuss without sounding, in Michelle’s words, “preachy.” As a listener of the show, I found the issues she covered to be relatable and pretty darn interesting. The first week, she wanted to start off with “a good beginners lesson in feminism” so she discussed the “he’s a stud, she’s a slut” concept. Also known as the double standard, it is the idea that it is socially acceptable for men to have a lot of casual sex while women who do this are often referred to as “sluts.” During this segment she also touched on the topic of slut-shaming, the admonition of female sexuality that is perceived to be too sexual.

 The second week, Michelle talked about friendzoning, defined as “putting someone in a place where you would never date them but you would only be friends.” Michelle explains that “the problem arises when people (usually males) get upset about being in the friend zone because they feel entitled to a sexual/romantic relationship with the person after having been nice to them for so long.” This phenomenon is very succinctly summed up by the adage:  “a girl isn’t a vending machine you can put kindness coins into until sex falls out.”

“Just Brewed”

She also discussed the Steubenville rape case where media coverage of sexual assaults involving athlete perpetrators was an issue – something Michelle’s has been studying in one of her research projects. Oftentimes rape cases with high profile athlete perpetrators garner a lot of media attention and sensationalizing, which can be a double-edged sword: it is good because it gets the public involved in the discourse but harmful as the coverage is often “full of victim blaming and also reinforces the notion that most rape is serial rape… when really it is often [committed by] people you know.” She ended her radio stint with a confab of boobs and how breastfeeding in public is considered “inappropriate” by some, mainly because breasts have become sexualized into “objects of male desire more than what they are actually [biologically] for.”

Although she would have liked to discuss pornography and how the “sexual dialogue we have in the real world can be influenced by the media,” Michelle understands that the radio is not the best medium for these topics. Instead she posts on her blog, which you can visit here . By discussing feminist topics on her blog, she keeps the subject of feminism more conversational instead of being a unidirectional, “preachy” voice.

Although the segment was sometimes cut short and aired just four times (she had to jump on a cruise to Italy y’all!), Michelle wants to use the experience as a jumping off point for her own podcast.

Analyzing Porn

By Edo Steinberg

Dr. Bryant Paul is undertaking a very large content analysis of pornographic videos from two websites. The aim of the study is to find out what’s in porn. In particular, coders are looking for aggression, degradation and the types of sex acts depicted. They are also looking at the demographics of people appearing in porn.

With 2,000 videos already coded, 2,500 others to be coded by the end of the semester and even more planned after that, he needed a large team of coders. Two graduate students, Yanyan Zhou and Michelle Funk, participate in the study, as do 28 undergraduate students who are taking it as a class.

Michelle recently coded 40 videos for reliability testing. “Once the summer hits, I’m going to be doing hundreds,” she says.

Coding so many sexually explicit videos isn’t easy. “When I went out last night, I actually caught myself thinking, ‘wow, I had a hard day watching porn, I think I’m going to kick back with a drink.’ That’s probably something most people don’t ever say in their lives.”

“Porn really isn’t too friendly to women,” Michelle says. “There’s a certain amount of forcible things that you see that bum you out. There’s a lot of degradation. I don’t like to see myself reduced to a collection of body parts, which is really what porn is. It does this to men too, but it does it to women to a much larger degree.”

The effects of coding on the undergraduate coders can already be felt. “We’ve noticed that the boys in the class, who used to joke around and use crass language in their questions, now, after watching so much porn, they have been sensitized. Now they’re trained to look for aggression. The fact that they’ve been exposed to the nitty gritty dark side of porn has caused them to really think about it.”

“I’ve lost a lot of my appetite and have lost weight since I started coding,” Michelle says. “But the silver lining is that this project has been begging to be done for a really long time and nobody has done it, because it is so large scale.” Michelle thinks this can become the flagship content analysis researchers refer to when studying pornography.

Pornography isn’t Michelle’s main research interest. She’s interested in “the potential for negative media effects in viewers that cause potential violence against women,” including in mainstream media. She’s interested in such issues as rape myths, harmful stereotypes and coverage of sexual assaults perpetrated by athletes. She will, however, continue studying porn as well. For instance, she would like to analyze the language used on porn sites in titles, tags and other kinds of text.

Sci-fi On the Side

by Ken Rosenberg

Graduate students are necessarily writers by trade, but it takes a bold and motivated soul to try and add to the prescribed writing schedule with side projects – especially wholly non-academic ones, like fictional stories. Master’s students Michelle Funk and Shannon Schenck are two such people. They have ongoing side projects; both write in the realm of science fiction/fantasy. Michelle, a first-semester IU grad, is actually writing two stories.

“One of them is my baby,” Michelle said, “and the other is something that’s been on the backburner for a very long time, because it’s not as close to my heart and it’s a little more advanced than I want to start working on yet.” The story which currently receives the most attention is the one that is closer to her personal experiences. According to Michelle, it is “more psychological,” dealing with a mental disorder that has the protagonist losing track of reality and replacing it with a mediated reality. She has been working on this story for about a year and a half.

The other story is a more standard sci-fi fare and requires more scientific knowledge to make it seem plausible. It takes place about 1,000 years in the future, where a dystopian society is dissatisfied with its lifestyle and hires “Internet archeologists” who use refracted signals from space to data mine through time, back to our era, to observe how a younger, simpler world conducts its business. Michelle was inspired to work on this story when she heard about how radio signals bounce back from the moon.

“They couldn’t look back far enough, though,” Michelle said, describing her story, “because we’re already messing up the earth. Ultimately, the people who do this research are going to scrap the project, because it’s worthless. They can’t look far back enough. They’re already viewing a society that had too many flaws.” The main character, though, becomes personally attached to the project after stumbling upon a man from the past who “apparently had a clear obsession with recording his life on the Internet,” Michelle said. She referenced Michael Chrichton and the level of research required to make his premises seem plausible.

“I want to do it right, and I just don’t have the time for that right now,” Michelle said. She’s been working on this one, when she can, for about three years.

“What generally happens,” Michelle said, “is that I sit down to try and write, become distracted and later, when I’m trying to go to sleep, I start getting rapid thoughts and I rush to my computer.” Three-hour, late-night writing binges are rare – only a couple per month.

On the other hand, as Shannon knows, it’s stolen time when you become a grad student.

“Now, it’s mostly only when I get ideas,” Shannon said. “I tend to do this in the way I do most things. Ideas come in the middle of the night, or while I’m at work, or somewhere when I can do absolutely nothing about it – so it’s quickly sent emails, and notes posted from my phone, and scraps of paper get tucked into places, to be absorbed into the bible.”

The back of ‘the bible,’ Shannon’s binder of notes and drafts for her story, “Orb of Obbclasioscstis.”

Shannon has been working on her story, “Orb of Obbclasioscstis,” for fifteen years.

“It is literally the longest relationship that I’ve had in my life,” Shannon said, “and it’s not been very kind or reciprocal.” She began working on the concept at age eleven.

The setting of Shannon’s story involves a fantasy-like dystopian future, with a society that once had magic but – because of a shadow-like force – the monarchy was destroyed and only a few denizens still have magic powers. The main character, a fairy named Fay, is met with fear and bigotry, so she leaves the remnants of the kingdom to forge her own.

“She’s not an anti-hero,” Shannon explained. “There’s no happy ending, no change in the protagonist. She’s still going to be alone.” Fay experiences unrequited love and fails to solve her personal issues; people die. “It’s a black fairy tale,” she said. “I wanted to play with the convention of the hero’s journey, to explore what happens when things occur, but don’t really change.”

Shannon cites the Goosebumps books as her inspiration, while Michelle tries to keep in mind the works of popular authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

“I don’t want to lose that element of childishness in writing,” Michelle said. “Especially in grad school, everything can become so dry. The time in my life when I was most inspired was when I was  a lot younger – and so I would like to target those people, or even people our age, but in a way that captures that playful essence.”

Both Shannon and Michelle have found small yet significant ways of keeping their dreams alive amidst the toil of grad school and other obligations.

Part of what keeps things fresh for Michelle is also a piece of advice she would like to give to our cohort: find a new place to sit down each writing session. Since she was an IU undergrad, as well, Michelle has had plenty of time to explore our campus and find her favorite nooks, including the Law library, the Fine Arts building, and “even places that aren’t really for writing,” she said. “It really helps the creative process – find someplace pretty.”

Also, to stay focused, Michelle has gutted her old laptop. It can’t surf the web, it can’t play games. All that’s loaded on the system is a copy of Word and a pile of drafts.

If you want more advice on how to write stories or how to preserve writing projects through grad school, talk to Michelle or Shannon.