Watch TV for a summer? And get paid? Might sound like a couch potato write-off, but for five Mentored Advanced Project students, watching TV was only the start. “We got teased a bit in the beginning because people thought we were just watching television”, said Zoe Schein ’12, “but I promise, it was completely legitimate.”
Schein, Liana Eisman ’13, Elliot Karl ’12, Clara Montague ’13, and Amanda Stromquist ’12 all devoted their summers to critiquing contemporary U.S. television shows using queer and feminist theory. Mentored by Astrid Henry, associate professor and chair of Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies, students prepared in-depth analyses of The L Word, True Blood, Queer as Folk, Glee, and Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Framed like a graduate-level seminar, students met to discuss Television Studies literature for the first three weeks. As the summer progressed, they shared developments in their research and critiqued each other’s writing. By the end, all had written conference and journal-level articles.
“I actually learned a lot about obscenity law,” said Schein, who studied The “L” Word. “It’s so subjective. It is designed to enforce what is ‘OK sexuality’ and what is ‘scary or bad sexuality.’”
In mid-October, all but Eisman, who was abroad, presented their research to a full lecture hall surrounded by engaged fellow students, professors, and some proud parents.
Henry, who has written about Sex and the City, Cold Case, and Mad Men, not only provided intellectual insight, but also regularly had students over to her house for TV-watching and snacks. “Working with Astrid was privilege. She helped foster an experience that was intellectually challenging and stimulating and really fun at the same time,” Karl said. Stromquist added, “She is a good listener and pushes you hard in your writing — but in a good way. She’s very supportive.”
Of working with her fellow television scholars, Schein said, “I have never had a group of people put together externally have so much in common. We’re very different people and different personalities but the five of us were somehow a fluid unit.” Eisman agreed. “I appreciated our group dynamic so much. It was never competitive or embarrassing as we were editing each other’s papers.”