The little liberal arts college that I call home has made a name for itself for its extensive study-abroad programs. A significant majority of our students spend at least a semester abroad, and nearly all of them use their passports as part of an academic experience during their undergraduate career. Students are required to fulfill a “Global Connections” requirement before graduation, which is defined as “a sustained cross-cultural experience.” Something that the University calls “ID courses” are one way students can fulfill the Global Connections requirement without spending a full semester abroad.
When I found out that the Office of International Affairs had approved my partner’s proposal for an ID Course called “Americans in Paris,” I was excited for her. She had previously assisted on a Freshman “Spring Preview” course that traveled to Paris, and was keen to design a course of her own that focused on the American expatriates …
A friend of mine posted this cartoon from The New Yorker’s caption contest on Facebook the other day, accompanied by the comment: “Holy shit! They finally did it! And yes, I submitted ‘My wife is a slut.'”
This struck me as weird, because a) It’s sort of an unremarkable cartoon b) I had no idea this friend cared about New Yorker caption contests (I thought that was just Roger Ebert?) and c) the incongruous ‘shock’ misogyny coming from him.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about The Beastie Boys lately, and not because they’ve been one of my favorite bands (Licensed to Ill was one of the first two albums I purchased with my own money–six year old Mikey Dwyer picked it up on cassette from a Massachusetts record store in early 1987, along with the soundtrack to Top Gun). And it’s not just because the run-up to their latest album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, has utilized new media services and transmedia promotion with a sophistication and savviness not ordinarily associated with the major record labels. And it’s not because the album is, by the way, totally fresh. I mean, it is because of those things, and there are lots of worthwhile reads on those subjects. But it’s also because the promotion for this album has also featured the Beastie Boys seeking to reflect on, and finally redefine, their 1980s stardom, and perhaps offer a new vision of the 1980s as a whole.
One year ago today, I had given up hope.
Every Sunday in the summer of 2009 my partner and I went to a small donut shop in East Syracuse, ordered two donuts, and took a booth in the corner. Millworkers came in to buy coffee and lotto tickets. We worked on research statements and teaching philosophies. In late September we hung a map of the United States on the wall of our Syracuse apartment, and began to stick a pin in the map for every appropriate job listing we could find. By November there were 90 pins stuck in the map, color coded for tenure-track, visiting, and post-doc positions that each of us had applied to.
The October issue of PMLA, the official publication of the Modern Language Association, was among my favorite reads of the year. The special issue on “Literary Criticism for the Twenty-First Century,” however, has held top-of-the-coffee-table status for three strong months now. One of the reasons why, aside from the general quality of the scholarship, is what Jonathan Culler calls in the introductory essay “a motif of return.” One of my major research areas is the function of nostalgia–the much-maligned practice of mournfully looking backward that, in my work, I argue can be utilized for diverse and overlapping purposes. Far from being ahistorical, I argue elsewhere, nostalgia tells us about our affective relationships, which are always historical relationships.
It’s perhaps natural that literary studies would get a little nostalgic. Literature and literary scholarship are fascinated with the past. The discipline itself is derived from the tradition of the scribes charged with cataloging the history of their society. Consider its titanic figures–Homer, Shakespeare, Balzac, Hegel, Marx, Twain, Dickinson, Ellison — even literary studies after the age of critical theory has found itself ever drawn to the past. This is, of course, a great strength. One of literary studies’ primary functions is to retain, reexamine, and recontextualize the culture of past societies, and it utilizes its past to think through problems of the present. Retrospection does not equal regression, and many of the best works of criticism, critical theory, and literary analysis have profited from looking back over past historical developments (Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic), past texts (Fiedler’s “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!”) or past figures (Holly Jackson’s work on Emma Dunham Kelley) . As such, the motif of return that Culler notes in his introduction comes as no real surprise.
But, I found myself wondering while reading the issue, what about media studies? For all of literary studies’ interest in its past, looking backward is much more taboo in the realm of media studies. A special issue of Screen or Cinema Journal subtitled “The Future of Media Studies” would, I’d wager, feature much less retrospection. Whether it is the discussion on social media networks, panels at the recent Society for Cinema and Media Studies convention, or job listings for new professorships, the emphasis in media studies certainly does not seem to lay in silent cinema, the industrial history of radio, or music archivists, but rather sexy fields like new media and digital humanities. This is, after all, the same attitude that has allows so much of film and television history to go unarchived, and reflected in something so basic as the Facebook News Feed or Twitter Stream, which updates constantly but allows little easy access to past records.
So how might we think about “the future of media studies”? Frankly, I’m not sure. David Gauntlett has issued a brave attempt here, though I think the 1.0 vs 2.0 dichotomy is one that breaks down under close scrutiny, and truly, one can hardly consider 2.0 to represent “the future” when it actually more closely approximates “the present” or perhaps even “the 1990s” (and, as one of the 1990s primary advocates, I say that without malice).