Oct. 19, 2018 — Steven Maye

Please join us on Friday, October 19, 2018 at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311 for the next meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop. We are delighted to have Steven Maye, PhD candidate in English at the University of Chicago. He will be presenting an article in-progress titled “The Cold Cold Open: Residues of Container Shipping in The X-Files and Later Television Dramas.”

Steven’s paper is available for download here.

Please email either Gary [gkafer@uchicago.edu] or Cooper [cooperlong@uchicago.edu] for the password.

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you!

Yours in Mass Cult,

Gary and Cooper


The Cold Cold Open: Residues of Container Shipping in The X-Files and Later Television Dramas

The place of The X-Files within the genealogy of complex television should be understood through its innovative use of the pre-credit sequence or “cold open,” which points to a new availability of space in American culture. These cold opens foreground an affect of unknowing that the series links to international logistical networks, which radically transformed the global distribution of labor in the 1990s. While most accounts of narrative complexity focus on disjunctions in time, The X-Files demonstrates the importance of space in these same television narratives, and in doing so suggests the political and historical content of narrative complexity.

Steven Maye is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Chicago.

Oct. 5, 2018 – Nicholas Baer

Please join us on Friday, October 5, 2018 at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311 for the first meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop for the 2018-19 academic year. We are delighted to have Nicholas Baer, Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities and Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago. He will be presenting an article in-progress titled “Aesthetic Perfection in Film Theory and Criticism: A Brief Conceptual History.”

Nicholas’s paper is available for download here.

Please email either Gary [gkafer@uchicago.edu] or Cooper [cooperlong@uchicago.edu] for the password.

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you!

Yours in Mass Cult,

Gary and Cooper


Aesthetic Perfection in Film Theory and Criticism: A Brief Conceptual History

As Hito Steyerl has observed, the concept of perfection has enormous currency in today’s digital economy, where the high-resolution image functions as a commodity fetish. While Steyerl defends the “imperfect” or “poor” moving image as an antidote to hegemonic media structures, I demonstrate that perfection itself has hardly been stable or unequivocal in its meanings across the history of film theory and criticism. Offering a brief conceptual history, I argue that cinema challenged classical conceptions of aesthetic perfection and contributed to a modernist redefinition of the term for the age of industrial technologies. Furthermore, I highlight formal affinities between the process of filmmaking and the psychoanalytic account of perfectionism, whereby the uncompromising director becomes the figure of the perfectionist par excellence.

Nicholas Baer is Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities and Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago. His monograph-in-progress, Cinema and the Crisis of Historicism, places films of the Weimar Republic in conversation with the “crisis of historicism” that was widely diagnosed by Central European intellectuals in the interwar period. Baer co-edited The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory, 1907–1933 (University of California Press, 2016), which won the Limina Award for the Best International Film Studies Book and the SCMS Award of Distinction for Best Edited Collection. He is also the co-editor of Unwatchable (Rutgers University Press, 2019), which offers multidisciplinary approaches to the vast array of troubling images that circulate in global visual culture. A regular columnist for Film Quarterly, Baer has published on film and media, critical theory, and intellectual history in numerous journals and edited volumes, and his writings have been translated into Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, and Italian.

 

May 18, 2018 – Tien-Tien Jong

Please join us on FridayMay 18th at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311 for the last meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop for the 2017-18 academic year. We are delighted to have Tien-Tien Jong, a PhD student in the Department of Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Chicago. She will be presenting a paper-in-progress titled “Practice, Torture, and the Perfect Performance: Representations of Artistic Achievement in Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014) and Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010).”

Tien-Tien’s paper is available for download here.

Please email either Jenisha [jenisha@uchicago.edu] or Panpan [panpan@uchicago.edu] for the password.

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you!

Yours in Mass Cult,

Jenisha and Panpan


Practice, Torture, and the Perfect Performance: Representations of Artistic Achievement in Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014) and Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014) and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) are two recent examples of films about musicianship and dance which focus signs of artistic achievement on the tortured site of the performer’s own body. The protagonists of both films—teenage drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) in Whiplash and prima ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) in Black Swan—push their physical and mental well-being to points of rupture and exhaustion in the pursuit of “perfect” performances, and both films take uneasy stances towards these ambitions, alternately portraying them as heroic and beautiful, or selfish and monstrous. The model for the “perfect” performance in these genres always precedes the individual performer who will interpret the part, and it is always a model which the performer is meant to tirelessly chase after during rehearsal time. The contradiction lies in this pursuit—while the measure of greatness is clearly defined in these forms and can thus (at least theoretically) be recognized as such once it is achieved, the form also contains the impossibility of its own fulfillment, for the “perfection” in these models is a mechanical rather than human ambition. Whiplash and Black Swan both raise the question of what the role of human action is in the performance of a work of art, understood differently as the “humanness of art or desired lack thereof.” What meaningful interventions can a human performer make onto the overdetermined forms (classical ballet, conservatory music) in which a standard for excellence pre-exists the performer? What are the goals for improvisation and interpretation in these restricted contexts, and what are the merits of a controlled performer versus a performer who can “let loose” on stage?

Tien-Tien Jong is a PhD student in the Department of Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Chicago. She holds a BA in Film & Media Studies from Dartmouth College, where she wrote a thesis entitled “This Waking Dream We Call Human Life: Ballet, Opera and the Unconscious in Musical Film.” Her research interests include melodrama, dance films and musicals, non-fiction and essay films, and the history of automatons.

May 4, 2018 – Nadine Chan

Dear All,

Please join us on Friday, May 4th at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311 for the next meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop. This time, we welcome Nadine Chan, Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows and Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. She will be presenting a chapter in her monograph-in-progress. The chapter is titled “Disciplining Filmic Vagrancies: Venereal Disease Propaganda and the Emergent Governance of an Unruly Medium.”

Allyson Nadia Field, Associate Professor in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, will serve as the discussant.

Nadine’s chapter is available for download here.

Please email either Jenisha [jenisha@uchicago.edu] or Panpan [panpan@uchicago.edu] for the password.

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you!

Yours in Mass Cult,

Jenisha and Panpan


Disciplining Filmic Vagrancies:

Venereal Disease Propaganda and the Emergent Governance of an Unruly Medium

In the early 1920s, the British Social Hygiene Council began circulating educational films on venereal disease prevention among Britain’s colonies and protectorates. Upon learning that these films featured scenes of tawdry European women cavorting with lusty sailors, colonial officials panicked over the damage that could be potentially done to “white” prestige in the colonies. Concerned about the illicit pleasures that colonial audiences were taking from the screening of educational films, cinema theaters and screening spaces become racially parsed sites of discipline. Debates about who could and could not attend sexual hygiene screenings were extended to questions about the nature of the Asian spectator and the ways in which this enigmatic figure engaged with the relatively new medium of film. Moreover, the moral outrage over this “venereal disease film scandal” led to the establishment of comprehensive censorship laws in the British colonies that were predicated on moral grounds. In this paper, explores how slippery cinemas and unruly spectatorships resulted in the governance of the cinematic event as a site of colonial discipline. As the filmic medium itself underwent scrutiny, imperial officials conceived of a unique colonial spectator whose perceived filmic (il)literacies justified new regulatory measures which determined how educational cinema would be produced, distributed, and exhibited in the British empire in the decades to follow.

Nadine Chan is a Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows and Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Her articles have been published in Cinema Journal, Studies in Documentary Film, and Spectator. Chan’s manuscript-in-progress examines colonial educational film in British Malaya and Singapore through the framework of cinematic “unruliness.”

April 13, 2018 – Tyler Schroeder

Please join us this Friday, April 13th at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311 for Mass Culture Workshop’s second Spring Quarter meeting. This time, we welcome Tyler Schroeder, PhD Candidate in Cinema and Media Studies. Tyler will be presenting a work-in-progress toward a dissertation chapter, entitled “Public Hygiene Instruction: Producing and Circulating Films and Bodies in Interwar Germany.”

The paper is available for download here.

Please email either Jenisha [jenisha@uchicago.edu] or Panpan [panpan@uchicago.edu] for the password.

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you!

Yours in Mass Cult,

Panpan and Jenisha