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 starting point. “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 analyzing and critiquing contemporary U.S. television shows using queer and feminist theory. In this group MAP mentored by Astrid Henry, associate professor and chair of Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies, students studied outside of the traditional realm of the classroom, doing in-depth analyses of The L Word, True Blood, Queer as Folk, Glee, and Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Framed in a graduate-level seminar style, students met to discuss Television Studies literature for the first three weeks. As the summer progressed, they shared developments in their chosen research areas; and as the writing process developed, they critiqued each other’s writing exercises and drafts. By the end of the summer, all had written conference and journal-level articles and learned some pretty cool things.
“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 is currently abroad, presented their research to a full lecture hall surrounded by engaged fellow students, professors, and some proud parents.
Turning the more traditionally solitary act of academic writing into a collaborative process was the greatest asset of this group MAP, both for professor and fellow-student mentorship. Close mentorship is a hallmark of the MAP program but was especially integral to this group.
Professor Henry’s name puts a glow on all five student faces. Henry, who has written about Sex and the City and is currently writing about the television shows Cold Case and Mad Men, not only provided intellectual insight, but also emotional support during the summer; she regularly had her students over to her house for TV-watching and snacks. “Working with Astrid was truly a 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.”
The students hope to present their work at academic conferences later in the year; Eisman will present her research on campus in spring 2012.
Titles of the papers presented at the mid-October event:
• “Diggin’ the Dancing King: The Event of Showtime’s Queer as Folk and its Reification of Hegemonic Masculinity” by Elliot Karl
• “Gleefully Gay: Queerness and America’s Favorite TV Musical” by Clara Montague
• “Speaking The ‘L’ Word: Self-Reflexivity and Lesbian Televisual Representation on Showtime’s Hit Series” by Zoe Schein
• “Cracking The Egg's Shell: A Theory of Animé and Its Revolutionary Potential” by Amanda Stromquist
Presenting in spring:
• “Raising the Stakes: True Blood’s Revival of the Vampire Trope in Response to Contemporary American Identity Politics” by Liana Eisman
By Mona Ghadiri ’11