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

March 30th, 2018 – James Leo Cahill

Dear All,

We invite you to join us on Friday, March 30th at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311 as Mass Culture Workshop is proud to host James Leo Cahill, Associate Professor in Cinema Studies Institute and Department of French at the University of Toronto; he will discuss “On the Plurality of Worlds: Jacques Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle’s Silent World,” a work in progress that will become part of his next book.

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 at the opening workshop this quarter!

May you feel the spring,

Jenisha and Panpan


On the Plurality of Worlds: Jacques Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle’s Silent World

If cinematic media may be understood to have a Copernican potential, whereby they may be used as instruments of scientific discovery and displacement of anthropocentric perspectives, how does such a potential change how one conceives of the world or even constructs—or for the historian reconstructs—new ones?

Drawing from archival research and contemporaneous film criticism and theory (Bazin, Thévenot, Agel, Epstein), philosophy (Merleau-Ponty), and anti-colonialist critique (Césaire), this talk traces how filmmakers in metropolitan France began to address these questions through the re-emergence of a cinema of exploration in the late 1940s and 1950s. These films were produced at the very moment when the question of the world as conceived by the traditions of French humanism and its universalist aspirations were called into question by crises of wartime collaboration, the persistence of colonialism, and coca-colonization (the ascendant American economic and cultural hegemony). Such films participate in these discourses at a sensuous level, while also offering historians unexpected documents for writing a very different history of cinema. Focusing in particular on Jacques Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle’s Le Monde du Silence (The Silent World, 1956), the most popular and aesthetically ambitious production of this cycle of exploration films, I read these films for the plurality of worlds they simultaneously archived and imagined, and call for a protocol of research and reading that sounds such material for a tendentiously anti-imperialist, anti-anthropocentric concept for the writing a natural history of the cinema.

James Leo Cahill is Associate Professor  Cinema Studies Institute and Department of French at the University of Toronto, and an editor of Discourse: journal for theoretical studies in media and culture. His writing on cinema and media history and theory has appeared in Discourse, Empedocles, Framework, Journal of Visual Culture, Kunstforum International, Spectator and the edited anthologies Screening Nature: Cinema Beyond the Human (Palgrave), Animal Life and the Moving Image (BFI), The New Silent Cinema (AFI), and Martin Arnold: Gross Anatomies. His monograph Cinema’s Copernican Vocation: Zoological Surrealism and the Early Films of Jean Painlevé is forthcoming in autumn 2018 from the University of Minnesota Press and he is presently co-editing with Luca Caminati Cinema and Exploration: Essays on An Adventurous Film Practice for the American Film Institute series.

March 9th, 2018 – Mini-SCMS Conference

Dear All,

Please join us this Friday, March 9th at 10.30 am in Cobb 311 for the final Winter Quarter meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop. This week Mass Culture Workshop is proud to host a mini-SCMS conference, for CMS students who will be presenting their papers at the upcoming SCMS conference. The schedule of presentations is as below:

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Aurore Spiers, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”: The 1923 French Ban of The Birth of a Nation and the African American Myth of Color-blind France

Ritika Kaushik, Truth, Historiography and Documentary Strategy: Shohei Imamura’s A Man Vanishes

Amy Skjerseth, Sounding out of Time: Audio-visual Inscriptions of Feminine and Nonhuman Subjectivity in The Wall/Die Wand (2012)

Nicole Morse, Meanwhile, Later, A Little Earlier: Digital Queer Archival Possibilities through Shea Couleé’s Lipstick City (2016)
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There will be no pre-circulated papers.
Lunch will be provided. So bring your appetite.

Looking forward to seeing you all there.

Yours in Mass Cult,
Jenisha and Panpan

Feb 16th, 2018 – Allyson Field

Dear All,

After a short hiatus, the Mass Culture Workshop is back for our fourth meeting of the quarter, which will take place this Friday, Feb 16th at 11:00 AM in Cobb 311. This week we’re proud to host Allyson Field, Associate Professor in Cinema and Media Studies; she will discuss “African American Kiss Films, Minstrelsy, and Early Cinema: An Investigation in Two Parts.”

The paper is available for download here.

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

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you!

Yours in Mass Cult,

Panpan and Jenisha