Rebecca G. Agee
Understanding Media Studies, CRN 6760
Professor Shannon Mattern
October 1, 2008
I come into the media studies program with a desire to further my intellectual and educational experiences in film analysis and film history. I have always had a strong interest in classic films and film lore. The parallel histories of film and 20th century western culture—how they reflect, influence and ‘feed-off’ of each other—I find fascinating. At about the same time the advent of cinema was happening, the natural, rugged state of the American frontier was at its ebb.The conquering of the West included the disenfranchisement of the Native-American and the destruction of its culture. The age represented the height of western imperialism and western industrialization in full swing. D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation–along with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows and P.T. Barnum’s famous museum and exhibits–reflect how stereotypes, prejudice and contemporary hegemonic notions were often source material for entertainment of the period. Later, the technological advancements which made film possible also contributed towards the realizations of radio and television–and later, VCR/DVD players, personal computers, the internet and the ‘gaming’/cell phone industries.
The counter-culture of the sixties along with the civil rights and second-wave feminists’ movement were both propelled by and reflected in Western cinema.
Early in my undergraduate career I majored in English literature as well as in journalism. Eventually, my major developed into communications—with a special emphasis on rhetoric, speech analysis and criticism. I chose to minor in history—which I love—especially that of the Edwardian period, 20th century culture and of course, film history.
As I expressed in my class posts, the symbol of the moon as communicated, used and interpreted throughout literature, folklore, mythology and film is of particular interest to me. In song, painting and fairy tale, the romance and mystery surrounding the lunar image has captivated human kind since its earliest oral traditions. The 1969 lunar landing surely has altered or dissipated the moon’s illusionary, mystical qualities—as well as its primal significance. How and to what degree real moon science has impacted various cultures would be a beguiling study.
Another area of significance for me is the history of anarchy: How the media reported, reflected and helped shape the image of such anarchists and events as the Haymarket affair, the Molly Maguires, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Baader-Meinhof group, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), the San Francisco “Preparedness Day” bombing, etc. The interplay that occurs between media as public voice and media as tool of anarchy I find exceptionally alluring. Another facet of media as fourth estate that I am interested in would involve an analysis of such Depression-era demagogs as Father Charles Coughlin and Louisiana Governor/Senator Huey Long—and to a lesser degree, socialist Eugene Debs and evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.
I am also intrigued by the period between the two world wars–the “Jazz Era”with its expatriate writers/artists/filmmakers, displaced soldiers, German popular culture (especially the Expressionists films) and rampant disillusion and parallel growth of subculture and re-emergence of American populism (as exemplified by the figures above).
As far as my scholarly strengths and weaknesses are concerned, I work best using the qualitative approach. I have enormous respect for the quantitative method—I can appreciate the value of strict science and the weight–as significant evidence—it offers; however, my thinking and working processes function more in line with the qualitative form of research. Further, I come from the literary/humanities educational sphere; however, having worked as a supplemental instructor in political science as an undergrad, I can fully appreciate the elements of social science found within the study of media and communications.
I believe my strengths are my ability to focus, and my genuine curiosity in–and reverence for—the study of film history and in particular, its relation to 20th century culture. My weaknesses include a need for more language concision. A mentor of mine, a journalism professor and cynical, ‘crusty’ newspaperman—was always reminding me, “Brevity is the soul of wit” (Ham. 2.2.86-92).
Other weaknesses are anxiety—(over) worrying about my work and scholarly accomplishments, as well as a lack of computer savvy—which I hope my graduate school production courses will help to alleviate.
Another one of my mentors—the head of the communications department at my undergrad school—led me to embrace the art of speech craft and how to utilize a critical eye in the Aristotelian tradition. I have always been stirred and enthused by great speeches and orators such as Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Churchill—as well as by the words of such characters as Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch (1962) and Henry Fonda’s Tom Joad (1940).
Particularly influential or inspirational people or works include: Journalist Adela Rogers St. John—friend and employee of W.R. Hearst, and who covered everything from the Scopes Monkey Trial to the Patty Hearst Trial; critic and reporter Dorothy Kilgallen; film-makers Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Fritz Lang, Hitchcock; television writers Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky; writers and wits H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde and Robert Benchley; the films To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Citizen Kane (1941), Mildred Pierce (1945), All About Eve (1950), and Annie Hall (1977); authors Harper Lee, Capote, Steinbeck (The audacity to portray ‘another’ America), Dickens, Twain, Dreiser; playwrights Tennessee Williams (Revelations of yet another dimension of the human story and behavior that had never been captured in popular culture), Inge, Neil Simon. Actors Montgomery Clift, Orson Welles (Originality–the passionate and pioneering film artist personified), James Dean, Gene Wilder, Woody Allen, Bette Davis, Anna Magnani (The beauty of passion uncontained; working within the shadowland borders of rationality/irrationality), Thelma Ritter, Brando, Sidney Poitier, Lemmon, Matthau, Sandy Dennis, Shirley Booth (Both Ritter and Booth fill a unique, artistic vacuum. They epitomize the excellence that can be achieved by purposely crafting the role of ‘every woman’—the wisdom, sensitivity and humour that the trite phrase ‘character actor’ fails to accurately describe)Newman (RIP), Tracy and Hepburn—and the other Hepburn, Audrey.
I have also been mesmerized by mysteries, such as those surrounding Houdini; Amelia Earhart; Jack the Ripper; the Lindbergh kidnapping, Lizzie Borden, Jimmy Hoffa and those involving political assassinations—i.e. Lincoln, both Kennedys, Arch Duke Ferdinand of Austria, etc.
My research/study methods form somewhat of a pattern: Something strikes and inspires me, and I start very loose preliminary research. If I feel there is more to explore or have developed some questions, I mull it around in my mind—along with different, possible strategies or approaches—until I ‘land’ on an aspect with which I can work. Next, I conduct research via reference tools that include media/communication databases, real/cyberspace university libraries, both academic and non-academic periodicals and journals, appropriate books/texts, experiments, interviews—whatever avenues are best-suited for the study of a given research topic or subject.
During my research—I take notes and write down reflections and ideas as they occur. Further, sometimes I just sit and think of options—and this I do anywhere—especially in the meditative environment of the bathtub or right before falling asleep at night. I am typically not one to consciously carry a notebook or any device for copying down ideas—but I will jump out of bed and write down a key thought or point.
What I would love to gain from the media studies program is a focusing and fine-tuning, if you will, of my ambitions and areas of interest. My goal is to become a media scholar and professor—with a strong background/basis of media and cultural history—and with the ability to transfer that knowledge to others and hopefully—to inspire and spark their interests. I do lack credit or knowledge as a teacher—my only experience thus far has been the aforementioned time as supplemental instructor—and a semester of tutoring in anatomy; therefore, I more than welcome any experience I can gain teaching or leading in a physical or virtual classroom. Finally, I want to be able to enhance my skills in the production side of media studies—by becoming more proficient on the computer and with other media tools and devices.
Allen, W. (Director). (1977). Annie Hall. [Motion picture]. United States: United
Curtiz, M. (Director). (1945). Mildred Pierce. [Motion picture]. United States: Warner
Edwards, B. (Director). (1961). Breakfast at Tiffany’s. [Motion picture]. United
Ford, J. (Director). (1940). The Grapes of Wrath. [Motion picture]. United States:
Mankiewicz, J. (Director). (1951). All About Eve. [Motion picture]. United States:
Twentieth- Century Fox.
Mulligan, R. (Director). (1962). To Kill a Mockingbird. [Motion picture]. United
Shakespeare, W. (1603). Hamlet. (B.A. Mowat & Werstine, Eds.) New York:
Washington Square-Pocket, 1992.
Welles, O. (Director). (1941). Citizen Kane. [Motion picture]. United States: RKO.