Television

Dissertation Progress Report #2 (and more)

It’s been a little bit over a month since my last update, and where am I now?

Well, I’m inching closer to being able to have a full first draft of Chapter One, but I’m not there yet. When I first charted out my schedule for the summer a few months ago, I’d hoped to have the draft done by August 1st. I realized about halfway through the summer that that probably wouldn’t happen, so I’ve recaliberated the schedule accordingly. On one hand, I’m a little bit annoyed about not having met the goal I set, but on the other, I’m not really trying to dwell on that. I just want to keep it moving. I do think I’ll have a draft in a few weeks, which will dovetail into the beginning of the school year (more on that momentarily).

Remember how I was researching Beauty and the Beast(s) before? Now I’m on Battlestar Galactica(s). I’d never watched them previously (I know, I know), but I’m a big ol’ nerd (I think I’m actually becoming more nerdy as I get older haha), so this is right in my wheelhouse.

Incidentally, now that folks know I’m working on remakes, I get tags from friends every time there’s new articles about them (#MyBrand). Shout out to y’all for helping with my research!

(I’m not adding anymore shows than what I already have allotted though. Because if I did, at the rate remakes are being churned out, I’d never finish.)

As the semester looms closer, I’ve been thinking more about how I’ll try to stay productive at this stage. I’m completely done with course work, and I’m past all of the various checkboxes except the dissertation itself. There are things that I’ve been doing for years now, such as scheduling everything on my Google Calendar, that I think will continue to be helpful going forward. And I’ve been setting goals for daily writing that I’ve been able to meet fairly well. But I also wanted to see if adding something else into the mix would be helpful. So I got a Passion Planner. It’s been years since I’ve had a real planner, but I used them all throughout high school and undergrad. Though I do rely heavily on GCal, I think that using both will both help to remind of what’s coming up as well as force me to be intentional in thinking about and planning for the tasks that are ahead. I looked at a lot of different planners before I made my purchase, but I really like how the Passion Planner encourages you to identify goals, break them up into smaller tasks, and embed those tasks into your schedule.

Speaking of schedules, I found out I’m teaching Intro to Film this fall. At my university, the way this works is there’s a prof who does the lecture two days a week, and the grad students teach discussion sections one day a week. I’ve taught this class before, and I’m looking forward to doing it again with some definite tweaks to what I did previously. It’s a little bit wild to think about since it hasn’t been that long since I last taught the class, but I know my pedagogical beliefs and goals have changed significantly since then. I do find it a bit strange to teach this way though because I’ve almost always been the Instructor of Record. One perk with this arrangement is that I have to do a lot less planning, and I grade less often, which should be a good thing as I continue to work on the dissertation. But when I do have to grade, it’s a lot more papers because we’re given more students in this arrangement, and I never feel like I have enough time with the students since I only get them once a week. Tradeoffs. Nevertheless, it’s a film class, and there are few things I enjoy more than being able to talk to students about film, TV, and pop culture, so it should be a good time 🙂

Dissertation Progress Report #1

It’s officially been a month since I started working on my dissertation, and things are chugging along about as well as could be expected. I’ve had to tweak my research schedule a few times as I try to sort out the best times in which I can be productive, and luckily, I’ve been able to manage that without getting majorly burned out (so far).

One thing I changed was the expectation to write for a couple hours each day. I’m still writing on each day that I’m doing research, but I’ve found that the writing I’m doing right now generally comes pouring out in 15-30 minute bursts. I’m not editing any of the writing right now, which is saving me all sorts of stress I’m sure (haha), and only a portion of it will likely be useful in the actual chapter. But I’ve got almost 7000 words thus far, and I feel like I’m setting myself up for a pretty good starting place when I switch to just writing in a few weeks.

Last week, I had my first major breakthrough(?) moment in the process. I was just writing the same way I had been for weeks when an idea poured out of me that I hadn’t considered previously. I’ve been thinking about that idea for days now, and it makes so much sense to me, but I’m not sure I would have necessarily thought of it if I hadn’t been writing so freely. But now I think it’s going to be a significant element of my first chapter. It actually kinda excited me, which is a thing that I’m hoping happens more often in this writing process.

Remember how I was watching the 1980s Beauty and the Beast when I last posted? Well, now I’m watching this:

Beauty and the Beast 2012 image

The CW brand is strong in this one.

You might notice that the “Beast” looks less…well…beast-y. This one of many changes that occurs in the remake that produces interesting results. Unlike most of the other shows I’m writing about, I’d never watched either of these before, so while I knew they were in the vein of what I wanted to consider, I didn’t know where they would take me. But so far? So good.

Dissertation Baby Steps

Thus far, I’ve primarily used this space for writing about my teaching, and while that’s likely to remain the overall focus, the semester ended a few weeks ago. I’m not currently teaching. Rather than let the blog languish for the summer (which is a sure recipe for forgetting about it entirely haha), I’m instead going to try to write at least a few blog posts about what I’m working on this summer, which is, of course, the dissertation.

Corey Matthews, running and screaming, as he was often prone to doing.

Boy Meets World is a gift.

My prospectus for my dissertation was actually approved just before Spring Break, but I knew myself well enough to know that diving into the project at the end of the semester was probably not the best life choice. So I waited until I was done with all of the end of semester tasks as well as done with an institute that I worked for after the semester was over.

And now, here I am. I started working at the beginning of this week. I’d spent a lot of time prior to this week reading through various blogs, books, and social media posts that provide guidance on the dissertation process. I’ve never been a scout, but I’m nothing if not one who attempts to be prepared. As is always the case, some of the advice is in conflict, not only with my personal style, but also with other existing advice. But I’m often still willing to give things a shot, such as when I spent the first part of this year getting up earlier, so that I could get into writing, more or less as the first thing in my day (I maintained this for a while, and the logic of it is very clear, but I don’t think I’m well-suited to sustain it).

So here are the main things I’ve been doing thus far:

  • I made a general timeline for how long it’ll take me to complete the dissertation, broken down by how long I intend to spend on each section. Once I started doing this, I realized that it’s more complicated than I had expected, but I tried to account for as much as I could, and I made sure there was plenty of leeway time for when I presumably get burned out and for revisions and such. My goal is to finish before (*DJ Khaled voice*) THEY stop giving me money, so ya know, planning ahead is important.
  • I made a schedule for the summer with planned viewing/writing/research times. This is something that I’ve been doing for a couple of years now, but I think it’s even more crucial this summer, so that I actually stay on task.
  • I’ve been starting each day before I begin work with a short freewrite on my plans for the day, how I’m progressing, how I’m feeling, etc. I believe this was a tip I picked up from Joan Bolker’s Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. So far, I like this because it makes me pause and think, and I also return and add more after I’m finished for the day because, ya know, reflection is useful.
  • I’ve been “writing the dissertation” every day. For approximately 30 mins-1 hour. With no editing or revision, and with minimal sense of organization. I know that a lot of what I’m writing right now will probably not be usable in the final chapter draft (or even the first real draft), but it’s been useful to get things written down.

I’ve already tweaked some of the details a few times this week. For example, I modified the time I allotted to writing once I got a sense of how that was working for me after a few days. I made changes to some of the questions I was trying to answer in my research when I realized that some of them are unanswerable at this point in the process. I believe in flexibility, especially in a process like this. If something’s not working for you, and it’s something you can reasonably change, then I say, “change it.”

So that’s the gist of where I am right now. Mostly (extremely cautiously) optimistic. Ultimately, I’m getting to research and write about a topic that I really enjoy, which is pretty awesome.

(The topic is TV remakes)

(No, I did not watch that Dirty Dancing remake because I’m not *that* much of a glutton for punishment)

Image is a picture of Linda Hamilton & Ron Pearlman from the 1987 version of Beauty and the Beast

Though I’m currently spending a lot of time watching this, so I’m not quite sure if you should trust my judgment 🙂

Interlude

The past two weeks have been…a lot…which is perhaps putting it mildly. I find it a little bit difficult to concentrate on any of the things I’m supposed to be concentrating on (research, writing, teaching, etc) when the current state of the world is basically

dumpsterfire-600x356

Dumpster Fire

Nevertheless, we carry on. It helps to have truly supportive friends and family. I know I’m not alone in what I’m feeling, and most of the folks I know are out in these streets (literally) trying to make the world better. That gives me strength. My students give me motivation. My research gives me peace (this may be a weird thing to say, but I research TV, and there are few things I enjoy more than being able to spend quality time with my TV). I’ve also been reading a lot more this semester. I try to get in at least 5 hours per week. All of this reading is outside of whatever reading I’m doing for teaching and research (though some of it is academic in nature). I’m currently working on Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which is a heavy read (both literally and figuratively) but also a great read and extremely informative.

I guess I don’t have a lot to say about teaching today. The class is still going well. I love hearing my students’ ideas and responses in relation to the documentaries we’re watching. Last week, for example, we had an expansive conversation on the heels of watching The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975, and it seemed like the documentary really spoke to some of them (perhaps more than some of the other documentaries we’ve watched this semester). Some of them expressed to me how much they didn’t know about the subject before watching, which wasn’t necessarily surprising to me and which also reaffirmed my confidence in the films I’ve selected for the rest of the semester.

On the upside of everything, it’s Friday, and ya gotta get down on Friday, right? (shout out to Rebecca Black)

P.S. By “get down,” I mostly mean sleep.

Step By Step

One of the readings my students had to complete this week was the introduction to Tonny Krijnen and Sofie Van Bauwel’s Gender and Media: Representing, Producing, Consuming. I assigned this reading served a couple different purposes. For one thing, given that I’m teaching a documentary class, I want them to be thinking about how media works, how it influences culture and is influenced by culture, etc. Additionally, one of the questions that we’re grappling with this semester is “What does it mean to represent?” In any media class that I’m teaching, this would always be a point of interest, but for this particular class, given the documentary’s general presumed status as “authentic,” “true,” and “real,” it’s a question that I want them to really take into consideration.

The other purpose that I had in choosing this reading is also tied to the issue of representation. My section of this course is focused on Crime, Justice, and Power, and as such, the documentaries that we’re viewing are often dealing with pretty heavy issues. As we’re grappling with those issues, I want them to consider who and/or what is being represented, how they’re being represented, what affects those representations, etc. Gender is one of the many spheres in which we’ll be considering these matters. And thus, this reading, which is only about 10 pages long, provided them with an accessible crash course in the theory and history of gender studies with a few relevant examples.

I’m always a little bit wary of how things like this are going to go over, especially in classes that aren’t marked as like CLASS ABOUT GENDER. Despite the trepidation, I’ve been lucky enough to have positive results in most cases, and this time was one of those positive experiences. Along with completing the reading, students also had to turn in what I call “Critical Reading Responses.” They only have to do this for a handful of readings in this class (from a student perspective, I always found it weary and tedious when we had to write a response paper for every single reading, and I do not wish to inflict that upon myself or my students). I pulled from several different response essay assignments that I saw on the internet in creating the assignment. The gist is that they’re reading closely and carefully and then writing a responses that clearly demonstrates their understanding of the text and ability to analyze while including some key components, such as a quote that stood out to them, a new concept that they were introduced to in the reading, etc.

Thus far, they’ve only done this assignment once, so I can’t speak to how well it will always work, but I was really pleased by what they turned in for this reading. They conveyed a willingness to engage with the material in ways that might not always be expected. Additionally, they were very forthcoming about their familiarity (or lack thereof) with the material. Despite what folks might think about the internet making all of these topics common knowledge, I found that many of my students expressed unfamiliarity with the ideas that gender and sex are different, that gender is a continuum, that gender is performative, etc. But even though they were unfamiliar, they were open to learning and intrigued by the prospects. And even when they sometimes expressed disagreement with certain points from the reading, they were still pretty open to the possibilities.

Now I pretty much always think my students are the best students in the world because I’m highkey biased, but I don’t think they’re unicorns. I think that we can bring new and important concepts to students and have them be received. I also think that sometimes these things will fall flat, and we have to know that, to quote Pink, “Sometimes it be’s like that” (shout out to the year 2000). But we keep trying because it’s important, and I don’t think there’s been a day in recent memory that crystallized that more clearly for me than today. As Maya Angelou would advise, I know better, so I’m doing better, and I hope you all are too ✌🏾

(P.S. If you read the title of this entry, and started singing the Step by Step theme song, we should probably be best friends)

Endings

A few weeks ago, the semester wrapped up at my university. Our schedule was often broken up by a variety of holidays in those final class meetings (and at least one wayward fire alarm), but my students persevered, worked extremely hard, and produced some great transmedia projects. On the last day of class, we held a showcase in which I’d invited various people from the department to come check out the projects. And lest one thinks I’m biased about the awesomeness of my students because they’re my students, the feedback was markedly positive. Admittedly, there were definitely moments when I was unsure what the end results of this project might look like, but those kids rose to the occasion, and I’m definitely going to miss them after spending a great semester together talking about television and digital media. For anybody interested in seeing some of their work, you can click here, here, and here (heads up: as is often the case with transmedia, some of these sites include hidden things that you have to find as the user).

As 2016 comes to a bitter (B-I-T-T-E-R) end, and despite having such a great semester, I can’t help but be ready for this year to be over (though I’m not especially optimistic that next year will be any better). That being said, as we barrel toward the rapture end of the year, I’m inclined to reflect on the actual good things that happened this year. So here’s a semi-comprehensive list:

  • I fulfilled some childhood dreams by going to see WWE Raw.
  • I successfully participated in a hot sauce eating contest (LIKE A BOSS).
  • I got to go to Seattle for the first time.
  • I got to meet Aja Monet.
  • I finished course work.
  • My husband and I celebrated 6 years together (2 of which we’ve been married for).
  • I went to Wisconsin for an awesome wedding with some great friends.
  • My life was blessed by getting to see Queen Bey in concert again.
  • My adorable godson was born.
  • I got to watch #BlackGirlMagic run roughshod over the Olympics.
  • I went to Florida for another awesome wedding with some other great friends.
  • An adorable new baby cousin was born.
  • I got better at organization and planning (though this is still a work in progress).
  • Relatedly, I passed my comprehensive exams.
  • I got accepted to present at SCMS next year.
  • I affirmed my commitment to pedagogy.
  • I continued to grow in my understanding and embodiment of both scholarship and activism.
  • I finally got the chance to play video games again (shout out to Mafia 3).
  • Beyonce, Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, the Hamilton Mixtape, and Bruno Mars all gave me music for survival.
  • Movies like Deadpool, Moonlight, Almost Christmas, Loving, Rogue One, Zootopia, Civil War, Ghostbusters, and Moana kept me at the movie theaters semi-regularly.
  • In addition to all the shows that I already loved, new shows like Pitch, Queen Sugar, Greenleaf, Insecure, and Wynonna Earp made me really happy (this part of the list is not comprehensive at all, but I have to stop somewhere lol).
  • I got to eat a LOT of fantastic food.
  • I became closer to some of the relatively newer friends in my life, and let go of some things/people that weren’t enriching my life.

Alright, that’s it for this year (*fingers crossed*). See y’all next year when I’ll be back to talk about the documentary class I’m teaching ✌🏾

What’s a Few Weeks Between Blog Posts?

Heyyyyyy so you know how you write things on your agenda, but you keep forgetting to actually do them (like say, “update your blog”)? That’s been me for the past few weeks. This was partially spurred on by going out of town for a wedding and also by the fact that I’m neck deep in reading for my exams, which are coming up in a few weeks (*falls out*). Nevertheless, I have returned from the depths of notetaking despair for an update.

When I last posted, students were exploring the many ways in which Netflix, and streaming in general, have influenced television. This included a deep dive into binge watching, which my students were mostly in favor of (and I found this particularly interesting because while they supported that particular innovation, they were almost entirely not in favor in live tweeting *kanyeshrug*).

Our focus has shifted since then to fandom and participatory culture. In particular, we took up the topic of representation in media and how fan creations often attempt to remedy perceived lacks in representation or poor representations. This conversation produced some of the most spirited interest this semester, which naturally appealed to me given my own scholarly interests in media representations. If we had more class time, I’d definitely want to delve in further (something to think about if I end up teaching this class again).

However, much of our time over the past two weeks has necessarily been devoted to podcasts. This is because my students’ next big project is a short podcast creation of their own. In keeping with our recent fandom theme, the podcasts have to be about television shows. This week has been entirely workshop time, which I think is especially important to have for assignments like this in case students have questions. It’s been interesting to watch (most of) them work solidly for almost 80 full minutes at a time. I’ve had students do in class writing assignments in the past and found it difficult to get them to focus for extended periods of time, but for this project, that hasn’t really been an issue. Speaking from personal experience, I think there’s something about working with audio and video projects that brings out the inner perfectionist (at least for me) and can make a person want to put in more work than what might happen with a writing assignment.

I had been worried that there’d be a significant technological learning curve (even though we did have one in class tutorial day with Audacity), but so far that hasn’t seemed to be the case. In fact, I’d say there were far more questions about using Twitter and Storify earlier in the semester than there have been about this project. They turn in their podcasts next week, and I’m very excited to hear what they’ve produced.