Telecom alumna, Dr. Amanda Lotz, talks TV and her interdisciplinary journey

By: Niki Fritz

According to Dr. Amanda Lotz, the plan wasn’t always academia. She started out as a communications major at DePauw University, interested in management. But after one truly awful internship in the cellular telecom industry, Lotz jokes she “was just horrified by the real world.” She was tossing around the idea of going to law school when a fellow student’s presentation on the impact of medical dramas changed her mind.

“A light bulb went off and I was like ‘Oh, that’s how you talk about TV.’ I applied to grad schools and got into [the Department of Telecommunications at IU],” Lotz says. “The first week of grad school I thought, ‘This is what undergrad would be like if people did the reading.’ I loved it.”

Lotz jokingly referred to her last year as a master’s student at Indiana University as the “year of the divorce.” In 1997, the year Lotz completed her MA, cultural studies faculty left Telecommunications.  But her own studies benefitted from the presence of both social scientific and critical studies faculty in the same department, as she got exposure to both research on industry practices and critical studies. She in particular got interested in gender related questions in course of her studies at IU, which led her to pursue her PhD at the University of Texas in the Department of Radio-Television-Film.

At Texas, Lotz combined feminist critical studies with TV industry practices, a difficult feat considering the constantly changing TV landscape around the turn of the century. While Lotz’s dissertation focused on textual analysis of female characters, right around the time she was finishing her PhD there was an explosion of new female characters such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After receiving her degree, Lotz spent time reframing her first book, which was based on her dissertation, called “Redesigning Women: Television after the Network Era.”

Lotz landed in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, where she took on her next big project, “The Television Will Be Revolutionized,” a book which questions the general notion that TV was dying and contemplates the post-network era.

After tenure, Lotz explains that she was able to put more time and energy into projects she wanted like writing a text book on media critique and having children. Eventually, Lotz returned to explore the other side of “Redesigning Women,” the changing role of men in television.

“When I finished writing ‘Redesigning Women,’ I knew I wanted to eventually write a book about men although I didn’t know what it would be about … ‘Cable Guys’ was a trudge. I would reinvent the book every summer when I would think about it,” Lotz explains of the writing process. “Finally I got ‘Cable Guys’ published and then it was time to redo ‘The Television Will Be Revolutionized.’”

Lotz also contributes to the popular press, writing for atenna.com and salon.com.

“You have to jump through enough hurdles to [write opinion pieces],” Lotz says. “For me part of it is the conversations in the field are a little navel gazing. Writing for popular press forced me to think about why this matters. In trying to translate these things to a broader audience, I am trying to participate in the cultural conversation.”

Lotz says for her it always comes back to the questions. She told me of the first time she met Dr. Annie Lang.  It was at the orientation for her incoming class, where Annie asked her “What questions do you want to ask?” Lotz admits that she was a bit intimidated and unsure of her answer.

“I answered something I’m sure but it has taken some time to figure out the answer. I’ve realize it is all about questions,” Lotz explains. “The method and the theory comes later, but the core of it is the questions. That is most fun part of this job.”

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.

The Refreshing Extra, Part II

By Mona Malacane

If you, by chance, missed the snazzy new fliers or the reminder email from Harmeet, there was the smell of fresh coffee and buzz of conversation to draw you into a standing-room crowd in Room 226 for the maiden Third Half.

The promise of superior coffee and non-routine refreshments – one of the signature changes from generic brown bags – was delivered in spades. The spread featured roasted and lightly salted almonds, fresh kale chips, skewers of grapes, olives, cherry tomatoes and cheese, and of course a hot cup of freshly brewed choice coffee (in the new Third Half mugs) from local barista Samuel Sveen. The pièce de résistance? A two-tiered double chocolate cake baked in the middle of the night by kitchen fairies, according to Betsi, and topped with a “1” candle. While saying a few words about the bright future of The Media School, Dean Shanahan lit the candle and guest speaker Kevin Coe blew it out.

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From cake to speech to blowing out the candle.

Moderator Andrew Weaver kicked off the session by sharing the thinking behind the Third Half. “For those who don’t know, the Third Half is … a rugby term for the period after the game where the teams gets together, go to the local pub, and drink, and engage in some lively conversation. This is our attempt to bring the Media School together in an intellectual environment, and hopefully spark some creative ideas and intellectual conversation.”

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Kevin Coe explaining a pivotal moment in the history of presidential religious references.

After all of the pomp and circumstance, Kevin took us on an interesting walk through America’s political history, speaking about how presidents have evoked religious references in speeches and the multifaceted ways in which these references have appeared and changed over time. The talk was followed by questions from respondents – Lori Henson (Indiana State University and IU alum), Mike Conway (Journalism, Media School), Betsi Grabe (Communication Science, Media School), Liz Elcessor (Cinema and Media Studies, Media School) – and about 35 minutes of Q & A from the brimful room.

The stimulating conversation on religion and politics could have easily continued for another 30 minutes but Andrew gracefully ended talk with a thanks to Kevin and a crowd-pleasing invitation to stick around. “The Third Half cannot be held by the bounds of time but I recognize that some of you do have schedules so if you can, I would please invite you to stay. We have some delicious cake back there and plenty of coffee, thank you to Kevin and thank you all for coming.”

Whether it was the fantastic cake, the superior coffee, or the impenetrable maze of chairs, many of presentation go-ers did linger for continued conversation – perhaps we can call this post-talk lingering the Fourth Half?

To listen to this inaugural Third Half presentation, please go here. Stay tuned to the grad blog for information about future Third Halfs.

Third Half – March 6, 2015

The Evolution of Religious Communication in American Politics from FDR to Obama
Kevin Coe, Department of Communications, University of Utah

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Religion and politics have always intersected in important ways in America, but in the past several decades have seen especially meaningful transformations in this relationship. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative analysis of hundreds of political texts, Professor Kevin Coe explains the nature, causes, and consequences of how politicians talk about religion.

The Third Half, the refreshing extra

By: Niki Fritz

coe_flyerYou may have seen the snazzy-looking flyers around the Radio-TV building beckoning you to a new event, something called the Third Half on March 6 (2:30 – 3:45, RTV 226). The flyers promise stimulating discussion on politics and religion with Media School Guest Speaker Kevin Coe of University of Utah. There is also the lure of “non-routine refreshments and superior coffee.”  The Third Half sounds promising, and yet I couldn’t help wondering what a rugby-reference could possibly have to do with an academic talk.

It turns out the name comes from one memorable brainstorming session, which included the brilliant minds of Norbert, Julien, Paul, Andrew, Betsi, and Harmeet.  The group wanted to move away from the standard brown bag, with all of its ritualistic predictability, and into something more “non-routine.”

In keeping with this new ethos, there was a desire to move away from the name brown bag and other tired words.

“We were looking for a name that encompasses the spirit we want to give to the new speaker series. We don’t want it to be another brown bag. We want to move away from the traditional speech which is followed by a few very polite questions,” Julien says.“We want it to be something much more participatory. We see this as a community building activity not just a talk where you sit while sipping on a soda pop. We want to make intellectual socialization a robust experience. We were trying to find a title that encapsulates all of that.”

It seemed quite a tall order for one name to encompass community, participation, socialization, and liveliness. To prompt out of the box thinking, the brainstormers began with a different type of word – “huddle.” The “huddle” gave way to “scrimmage” and eventually Julien hit on the Third Half.  It comes from rugby, a game he followed avidly as a fan of championship-winning California Golden Bears during his days at UC-Berkeley.  In the world of rugby the “third half” is the time after the two halves of the game when the two sides come together at a public house in the spirit of camaraderie.

The new Third Half mugs which will hold outstanding coffee or other non-routine refreshments

Third Half mugs for superior coffee.

Given our dry campus, our Third Half will bring together colleagues over coffee and other non-routine refreshments.  There are even new coffee mugs bearing the jazzy new Third Half signature, which was the artistic creation of Norbert. While the brainstorming was still in full swing, Norbert sketched the Third Half signature on his iPad.  The brainstormers loved it right away, as it captured the mood and energy in the room.  Teresa then brought that energy to the image for email announcements and the flyers that doubled up as mini-posters.

The hope of the brainstormers is that the Third Half will not only bring people together, but also ideas; that this extra inning will create flashpoints of synthesis, when the team becomes greater than the individual players and the whole becomes greater than the sum of parts.

As of time of print, this illustrious group of brainstormers were not willing to talk about how the Third Half will “play out” so-to-speak.  They say you will have to see for yourself on March 6th.  The grad blog will be able to offer more only after the first Third Half on March 6th.