That Time I Was Shushed and Asked to Leave an Experimental Film Screening

Some years ago, I helped organized the NYU Cinema Studies student conference, an annual event that started as a practice-run for the much larger Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference. Under my guidance, we expanded it from a single-day conference of about a dozen speakers to one where we had about a dozen panels, with close forty presentations, over two days.

One of my goals was to include as many students as possible to present and to have the faculty also contribute. Not only did we manage to get every single faculty member to either moderate or participate on a panel, we also included undergraduate students and even some graduate students from other departments, specifically some art historians from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. The IFA panel was controversial because the audience thought the papers were really bad. Was it sour grapes because someone outside our field encroaching on our turf? Or was it because, as novice film scholars, they were unfamiliar with the fundamental scholarship in our field? Whatever the reason, I distinctly remember someone—I won’t say who—told me an unforgettable nugget after the IFA panel:

This is why we don’t let art historians do film.

L’Anticoncept

On Friday night, I went with my friend, softball teammate and esteemed art historian Annie to a screening of Gil Wolman’s L’Anticoncept at Light Industry, one of my favorite microcinemas in New York. The screening was packed. Part of that was due to the rare opportunity to see this particular work and because the College Art Association conference held its annual meeting in New York this weekend, bringing all kinds of art historians into town. One of them was Kaira M. Cabañas, an expert on the Lettrist movement and the author of a new book that includes an extended passage on L’Anticoncept. I’m not an expert on Lettrism, but I do have a very rough idea about it: I wasn’t expecting a “night at the movies.”

L'Anticoncept at Light Industry

L’Anticoncept consists of a circular white image, alternating (or flickering) between complete white and complete black, projected onto a two-meter–wide white balloon. The white image fits exactly on the balloon that hangs from the ceiling. The work is historically significant because it anticipates the flicker films of Paul Sharits, someone who used single film frames and persistence of vision to fuck with viewers, by almost twenty years.

L'Anticoncept at Light Industry

Also, the form and rhythm of the narration is as much a part of the film as is the image. According to Light Industry’s screening notes:

L’anticoncept’s sound track begins with a voiceover that invokes the history of moving images. Part two presents TRITS, a Lettrist poem structured around a chorus and punctuated by the whistling, phonemes, and other sounds pronounced from four superimposed voices, seemingly all Wolman’s. In part three, the longest part of the sound track, Wolman reads a disjointed story that he authored. Here the voiceover’s incessant speech contributes in large measure to the experience of an aural assault. The sound track provides little respite (that is, few silences) from its verbal bursts and abrupt shifts in volume and pace. Finally, after a short “Post-scriptum,” the film ends with approximately three minutes and thirty seconds of superimposed mégapneumie, what Wolman elsewhere described as a poésie physique that is based on breath, rather than on the letter as with Isou, and that explored the use of “all human sounds.”

As interested and knowledgable I am about experimental film, Annie is writing her dissertation on screens. A moving-image work that uses a white balloon as a projection surface is right up her intellectual alley, but neither of us could figure out how to engage with this work. Maybe because we were sitting in the back of the room, and couldn’t hear Cabañas very well, we didn’t know why this work is important. Instead of explaining in accessible terms the meaning of the work, Cabañas read a passage from her book. As I’ve written before, one of my biggest peeves with academic presentations is hearing someone read their paper instead of, you know, watching someone present their work. There were some interesting bits of information from Cabañas’s introduction, like that the film was banned, but I would have like for her to “coach us” on how to watch this film.

L'Anticoncept at Light Industry

Another issue was the French-language soundtrack. To their credit, Light Industry distributed printed English-language copies of the narration, but since the room was dark, we couldn’t read the text unless one of us illuminated it with a phone. Moreover, attempting to read the text made it impossible to watch the image and its flickering. I understand that form is crucial for experimental works like this one, but it would have been nice to engage with the content, too.

L'Anticoncept at Light Industry

Thirty minutes into the ninety-minute screening, Annie and I couldn’t take it anymore. We stopped paying attention and started to observe the number of people sleeping, texting, and otherwise uncomfortably fidgeting in their seats. A few minutes later, I turned to her and suggested we leave. Right as I turned to Annie, who sitting to my right, a guy sitting to her right shushed us and firmly suggested, “I think you should leave.” I was offended for a split-second but then realized that if this guy is really into the screening, God bless him. We promptly and quietly headed for the door.

On our way out, we encountered another art historian who was also in town for CAA and also left the screening early. We spent the rest of the night swapping stories about art and academia over a few drinks. At first, I felt like a troglodyte for not only leaving a screening, which I never do, but also being asked by a patron to leave. However, when we confirmed each other’s reservations about the experience, I felt vindicated about what I learned many, many years ago from organizing the student conference.

The LIC Beer Crawl

Hyperlocal news website The LIC Post reports that the three nanobreweries in Long Island City are hosting a brewery crawl, complete with passports that visitors get stamped and submit for a raffle.

Rockaway Brewing Company (46-01 5th Street), Big Alice Brewing (8-08 43rd Road) and Transmitter Brewing (53-02 11th Street) are coming together to offer a brewery crawl during beer week, which runs from Feb. 20 to March 1.

It’s great to see these breweries, the “LIC Three” as I once called them, band together to make the neighborhood a more lively destination. Also, can I take credit for this idea?

The Beer-SIG

A few days ago, the New York Cycle Club opened registration for its spring programs, including the SIG and the STS. The programs are the crown jewels of the club. The volunteer leaders run an instructional series, known as a SIG, for novice cyclists on how to improve their riding skills and a separate training series, known as an STS, to help more experienced types get in shape for the season. As a “B” rider, I did the B-SIG back in 2008, and have done the B-STS over the last two years…and again this year. If you find this interesting and want to signup, you’re probably too late. They fill up fast.

In addition to each SIG and STS at A, B, and C levels, the club president has added a new-for-2015 R-STS series for randonneurs. If you know me, you know I like to ride my bike for long distances and extended periods of time, but randonneurs are a whole different breed. It’s one thing to ride for twelve hours, from dawn to dusk, but it’s another to ride a 300K for twenty hours, mostly in the dark. That’s not for me, even if the final ride in May is only 200 km, because I know I’ll be beating myself for not having done a 600K in August.

But do you know what would be more to my liking? A Beer-SIG!

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Although one club member led an “Autumn Leaves and Seasonal Hops” series, a Beer-SIG would probaby never happen as an official club series, but let’s make believe. It’s Friday the 13th; it’s a February day with a temperature of about 8° F outside; and tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I say “bleh” to all these things. Instead, let’s imagine some places we would ride our bikes, in warm or even hot weather, with the intent to visit brewery tap rooms within our region.

In no particular order, let’s consider…

  • Peekskill Brewing. As I’ve said before, it’s the new Nyack.
  • North River Hops and Brewery. I learned of these guys when they liked one of my photos on Instagram. Located in Wappinger Falls in Dutchess County, their brewery is a short ride to the New Hamburg Metro North Station, where I can say to three mysterious ladies.
  • Vault Brewing. This brewery is in the quaint town of Yardley, Pennsylvania in an old bank vault. It’s made for an excellent finishing point on the ride when I had a bad allergic reaction in October. It could also be a great lunch stop on the Cheesesteak Century because not only do they serve food, they serve a four-ounce pour for $2 to power you through the remaining thirty-five miles to Philadelphia.
  • Second Story Brewing. There’s a ton of places to choose in Philadelphia, but this one was great because it was big, they let us bring our bikes inside, and it was a short ride to SEPTA at Market East Jefferson Station.
  • Two Roads Brewing. We stopped here in November on club’s ride to New Haven, but it’s easy enough to make a ride that ends at this Statford, Connecticut–brewery. For one thing, the Metro North station is only about a mile away.
  • Crooked Ladder Brewery. Located in Riverhead, this was supposed to be the finishing point for the North Shore ride that I led in November. It’s easy enough to get home, if one doesn’t mind taking the 6:45 PM train home and getting back to NYC around 9:00 PM.
  • Greenport Harbor. One of my dream rides is a midseason Greenpoint-to-Greenport ride. It would be about 110 miles, and it would rule!
  • Blind Bat Brewery. This brewery is moving to Smithtown, Long Island from Centerport, and could be part of a short ride from Jamaica or a longer loop from Port Jefferson or something.
  • Captain Lawrence Brewing. Located in Elmsford, New York, it is sadly not near any train station, but it is about a mile or so away from junction of the North and South County Trails in Westchester County. From there, one can do a hilly five-mile ride to either Tarrytown or White Plains. Or one could head south on the trail and finish at the Bronx Brewery and take the 6 train home.

And these are just the ones that immediately come to mind.

In the meantime, I’ll have to content myself with an old fashioned and the fond expectancy of spring.

How I Almost Didn’t Obsess Over The Encyclopedie, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution

This week, teaching classes has yielded more than one introspective moment. Yesterday, I learned that I am an innovator/achiever, according to a very popular psychographic scale that I discussed in class. Today, I had an even deeper moment of reflection. I realized that the French Enlightenment did not, in fact, result in the French Revolution. Well, it did, but things got complicated along the way to the Bastille.

Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789.

Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789.

In last night’s Media Technologies class, I surveyed some developments of early print and their impact on their cultures. It’s a very broad topic, ranging from different kinds of papers—bamboo, parchment, and cloth—to the spread of literacy and vernacular languages throughout Europe. While we do cover Gutenberg, his movable-type printing press, and his Bible, I was most interested in covering the big revolutions that print enabled, such as:

  1. Protestant Reformation
  2. Renaissance
  3. Scientific Revolution
  4. French Enlightenment and Revolution
  5. American Revolution

Since I am not an expert in eighteenth-century France, I drew on what I remember learning in my high-school history classes and in my first-year Western civilization course at UCSB. In the course of my extended public-school education, I first learned about Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedie. I was fascinated because the writing and publishing of that multivolume encyclopedia represented an early attempt by Europeans to collect the world’s knowledge and was a foundational text in the French Enlightenment.

In the context of a media studies class, the Encyclopedie represents a key example of print media resulting in an intellectual revolution. I connected the French Enlightenment to the French Revolution because that’s what I remember from my public-school education, and it’s not far from the conventional wisdom. For example, the Wikipedia entry on “The Age of Enlightenment” reads, “some of these [Enlightenment] ideals proved influential and decisive in the course of the French Revolution, which began in 1789.” Similarly, Maurice Cranston writes in History Today,” in the unfolding of the Revolution, what was thought, what was said, and what was advocated, was expressed in terms and categories that came from political theorists of the Enlightenment.” Even the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Enlightenment” concurs with this common wisdom: “Enlightenment thought culminates historically in the political upheaval of the French Revolution.” Where print helped spread the ideas of the French Enlightenment, those political ideas would in turn spark the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century.

To supplement my summary of The Encyclopedie, I recommended that students listen to an episode of the BBC Radio 4 history series, In Our Time, on Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedie.

As I listened to the program after class last night, they discuss the role that the Encyclopedie, specifically, and the Enlightenment, in general, had on the French Revolution. It challenged my thinking about the simple, direct connection between the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

One of the panelists, Caroline Warman, says:

Certainly, the first stage—the 1789 stage—of the Revolution is the manifestation of Encyclopedie principles. It has to be… but then when it becomes and when it moves into the terror—when it becomes irrational, what will be called irrational—then I think it moves away from what we could ever call the Encyclopedie.

Host Melvyn Bragg then addresses the attack of the Encyclopedie during the Revolution, and Judith Hawley responds that “Diderot and d’Alembert would have been horrified by French Revolution. I don’t think they would have supported it all. They were horrified by violence.”

Even more surprising than learning that the Encyclopedie editors disapproved of The Revolution was how much it had turned against the ideals of the Enlightenment, Warman continues that the Revolution was “against reason. It was anti-intellectual elitism, too.” Warman recounts a story about one Encyclopedie contributor who “witnessed Robespierre’s parade [of terror], and this man reportedly dropped down dead in horror of what happened to Enlightenment ideas.” Not only that, but Warman concludes, “the Revolution killed scientists.”

So, it turns out that I was not completely right in linking the French Revolution to the French Enlightenment. While the early stages of the Revolution were informed by Enlightenment principles, it was, as these things usually are, more complicated than I had initially thought.

Stop Buying VALS

Earlier today, in my electronic media class, we discussed radio advertising. Specifically, we covered how radio stations develop formats to attract a segmented audience that specific advertisers are seeking. If you ever wondered why, in the blink of an eye, your favorite heavy metal station turned into a Spanish-language norteño station, it’s because the advertising market changed to accommodate one que habla español.

How advertisers segment audiences is something that I won’t pretend to have much expertise, mostly because I find it dull. I also don’t get excited about this because when I begin to talk about demographics, it seems familiar to most of my students. It doesn’t feel like I’m actually teaching. After all, who doesn’t know that age, ethnicity, gender, income and education level each determine what media you consume and how you spend your money?

Psychographics and VALS

In addition to demographics, there are psychographics. These measure less about what a listener is, such as a 38 year-old, non-white hispanic male, but instead what a listener believes. One proprietary psychographic methodology is VALS. Developed by SRI International, VALS is based on two very broad types of consumers: innovators and survivors. Within those categories are six other types related to ideals, achievement, and self-expression.

Usframework2014

Looking at the chart of VALS, I would imagine that I would not want to be perceived at the bottom of these categories. For example, look at how they describe Survivors:

Survivors live narrowly focused lives. Because they have few resources with which to cope, they often believe that the world is changing too quickly. They are comfortable with the familiar and are primarily concerned with safety and security. Because they must focus on meeting needs rather than fulfilling desires, Survivors do not show a strong primary motivation.

When I began to review each of these, I was in a self-deprecating mood and kept comparing myself to the lower rungs of the VALS scale, such as Believers and Strivers, but those didn’t seem to fit me.

An Innovator and an Achiever?!?

To get a more precise picture of my VALS type, I took the VALS survey and had some students take it, too. Some of them shared their results with me, and now, I’d like to share my results with you.

VALS™-Survey-Results-InnovatorAchiever-SBI.png

Apparently, my primary VALS type is an Innovator. Accordingly, that means that I am a “successful, sophisticated, take-charge [person] with high self-esteem” and with “abundant resources.” I am also the type of person who is “among the established and emerging leaders in business and government” but “continue to seek challenges.” My life is “characterized by variety,” and my “possessions and recreation reflect a cultivated taste for the finer things in life.”

They can’t be talking about me, right? This sounds like a pretty important person, and I’m as surprised as anyone.

What about my secondary type? Apparently, I’m an Achiever.

Motivated by the desire for achievement, Achievers have goal-oriented lifestyles and a deep commitment to career and family. Their social lives reflect this focus and are structured around family, their place of worship, and work.

“Goal-oriented?” I have probably written that on resumés because it sounds good, but here’s some “science” to prove that, I guess. What about having “a deep commitment to career and family?” That could describe someone like me, but since I have neither of those things, I’m not sure how it could be me.

What about consumer behavior? How do we Achievers like to spend our money?

With many wants and needs, Achievers are active in the consumer marketplace. Image is important to Achievers; they favor established, prestige products and services that demonstrate success to their peers. Because of their busy lives, they are often interested in a variety of time-saving devices.

That kinda sounds like me.

And it’s better than my usual, disparaging characterization of over-educated, underachiever.

Take the VALS Survey

Every Three Years

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a sweeping piece of legislation passed in 1998, prohibits the circumvention of copyright controls, known as Technological Protection Measures (TPM). The aim of this prohibition is to prevent users from defeating TPMs to infringe on copyright. There are various measures in place, especially as newer media technologies emerged since 2000, and cracking them is not only difficult, it is actually illegal, even if you don’t infringe on any specific copyrights.

Every three years, the Librarian of Congress decides which uses are non-infringing and permits specific exemptions to the anti-circumvention provision. I first became involved with this triennial review on the eve of the 2006 rule-making process. At the time, media scholars and teaching faculty were legally hamstrung in extracting short clips and screen captures from copy-protected DVDs for teaching film and television classes at a college or university level. DVDs offered a better source than a film print or a videocassette for two major reasons: efficiency and fidelity.

  1. DVDs offered a convenient package for us to extract clips and frame grabs. With a DVD, we would use a computer’s optical drive to extract clips. We could easily skip to a scene and take what we needed in a short amount of time. In the few times I took frame enlargements from a 16mm print, the process could take as little as a few days but would often take over a week. It would also be expensive because I had to buy 35mm film, pay to have it processed and printed. With a DVD, I could grab what I needed in a matter of minutes at almost no cost.
  2. DVDs offered higher fidelity than what was available on videocassette and on some film prints. Not only does a DVD offer many more lines of resolution than a videocassette or look better than a beat-up film print, extracting a clip or a frame is an entirely digital process. We don’t have to resort to an analog conversion and the attendant generation loss. The image would look as sharp as it did on the DVD.

Well-written laws need to respond to their current historical moment. For example, college and university faculty have received an exemption from TPM on DVDs since 2006 for making clips, but today, most of us look online first for videos.1 We need to expand the exemption to allow us to circumvent online video, as a public interest group, documentary filmmakers, librarians, and educators have all argued.

Moreover, the EFF (aka the “good guys”) have filed several briefs on behalf advocating for additional exemptions. Most of these exemptions account for emerging technologies that seemed fantastic fifteen years ago at the dawn of the millennium but are very real today. Some of the exemptions the EFF is seeking to secure include:

  • Accessing onboard computers on vehicles for research and repair.
  • Creating video remixes from locked videos on disks and from streaming sites to upload onto video sharing sites.
  • Jailbreaking phones and tablets.
  • Modifying video games so that they need not “phone home” to an authorization server when the server is offline.

While it is cumbersome to constantly reapply for these exemptions, it is important to continually update our laws. They should not only keep up with new emerging technologies, but also with our own ever-evolving culture.


  1. We may have been exempt before then, but I was a scofflaw in this regard in 2006. 

I’m No Longer an Over-Entitled Elite

Today is the last day of my elite status with Mileage Plus, or any other frequent flyer program for that matter. When United followed Delta in awarding elite status based on spending in addition to miles or segments flown, I stopped flying frequently since I knew I was never going to spend enough money to qualify… even for lowly silver status. I also was a little underemployed last year so I deliberately cut back on air travel.

I could not muster enough travel in 2014 to qualify even for Premier Silver.

Tomorrow, I join legions of ordinary travelers and other over-entitled elites, who earned elite status doing cheap mileage runs in February and October, and are now just general members of United’s frequent flyer program.

What do I lose now that I’m traveling in the back of the Snowpiercer?

  • No more priority boarding. Although it seems like everyone was in Group 2, this is going to sting the most because I always found room for my carry-on bag. Now I am going to be that guy who is gate checking it or shoving it in the overhead bin above some jerk in business class.
  • No more priority check-in or security line access. This was nice whenever I had an ex-JFK flight in the evening, when seemingly every other airline scheduled their flights, and the security line was jammed. But at LAX or SFO, almost everyone is an elite and only Global Services customers really see any shorter lines.
  • No more getting help during IRROPS. Elite status made a difference when something went wrong at the airport, such as flexible rebooking, free rooms, and a much shorter customer service line. I’m going to dread seeking help the next time something goes wrong.

The rest, I think, I can live without…

  • No more randomly getting PreCheck. This happened time-to-time but most frequently when I had a flight out of BUR, where there’s seemingly never a line for security. Ever!
  • No more free checked bag. It used to be two free bags for Silver/Premier/2P members, and three for Gold/Premier Executive/1P and higher.
  • No more complimentary Economy Plus seats at check-in. It used to be available at booking.
  • No more upgrades on domestic, non-PS flights. Since my most common routing was JFK-LAX, I almost never took advantage of these upgrades. And after the merger, I got upgraded exactly once: an improbable LGA-IAH with a companion two years ago. The rest of the time, I was always like #83 on the upgrade list between IAD and SFO. This guy, MON, J, always settled for a row-seven seat, which usually had more legroom than domestic first-class anyway.

But as with the other big change in my life, I’m now free to see what else is out there.

I’m sure I’ll find something to my liking.

The Case for an Email Appliance

Two things occurred to me a few weeks ago.

  1. I’ve been using email for 20 years.
  2. I’ve been using email for more than half my life.

I also learned that my birth is closer to World War II than it is to today. Or put another way: New Wave is chronologically closer to Big Band than it is to anything released today.

To most everyone I know, email is an intrinsic part of modern life, but it’s one that overwhelms us daily. As a result, there’s a lot of good advice for managing email. Back in “the day,” it used to be pretty easy to manage email when you had to sit at a computer, dial-in to a modem pool, connect to the “information superhighway“, and download your email to read it offline.1 It really was like checking a postal box: you did it on your time, only about once a day, and it didn’t overwhelm us.

But, of course, that’s not how we check email today. Email is always with us, and some of us are always on it. People in advertising and public relations, for example, seem to respond within nanoseconds to any message I send, and they get grumpy when I don’t reply for several minutes. That’s probably why the people I know in those fields seem perpetually burned out. Living and working that way would burn me out too because I get a decent volume of email. I would struggle to get any actual work done if I had to treat email like a telephone conversation without moments of silence. That’s why I turn off any notification alerts, push, and in some cases, even the unread-message badge in my mail client.

Fortunately, my work is of the nature where no one expects an immediate response over email. A few hours or even a day in responding is acceptable. Part of it is, I suspect, because in academic environments, stocked with aging faculty who refuse to retire, our institutional culture considers it a miracle that the old-school professors even check their email in the first place. A timely response is treated like a bonus.

That is why I’m advocating for a dedicated email appliance. I currently have four devices where I can check email, and at least one of those is always with me. Not only is the ability to check email always there, so is the temptation. And guess what? I check it constantly, even if I don’t have to. But if email were offloaded to a dedicated appliance or device, I would only check it when I had access to it.

Think about how you use an appliance or a single-purpose device. For example, you may own a dishwasher or a toenail clipper, and you probably use those regularly. But because you don’t have always those one-trick ponies with you, you’re not constantly washing your dishes or clipping your toenails (or at least you shouldn’t be). You wait to do those things, even if you have always have dishes to wash and regularly have a bothersome nail to clip. At the same, you probably don’t neglect the essential duties of washing dishes or trimming your nails. You just do it when you have the necessary tools and when it’s an opportune time. Email should be the same.

Getting an “email appliance” doesn’t require you to buy any new hardware, and you probably don’t even have to add or remove any software. All you have to do is treat email as something you do at a good place and certainly at the right time:

  • Is it time to write a paper? Shut down all your other apps, maybe turn off WiFI, and write.
  • Is it time for class? Shut down all your other apps, definitely turn off WiFI, and take notes.
  • Is it time to prepare a spreadsheet? Ingest your data and start writing some VLOOKUPs and SUMIFs.
  • Is it time to manage your task list? Yes, do that, and then get back to work.
  • Is it time to check email? Yes, go ahead. Quit all your other apps, do your email, and only do your email.

By putting email at the end of this list, I’m not suggesting that email should be last thing you do when you have nothing else to do. (Sitting a bar and drinking by yourself is the last thing you should do after you’ve exhausted all other responsibilities and possible activities.)2 Instead, think of email as a thing you do, like washing dishes and trimming your nails, not a thing you always do.


  1. Douglas Rushkoff, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, First Edition (New York: OR Books, 2010), 25–26. 
  2. Unless you’re expecting to meet someone. Or you are on vacation… because shirking your responsibilities is exactly what you should be doing. 

My Spring 2015 Classes at Queens College

The spring semester started yesterday at CUNY, and as luck would have it, it came just after a historic significant snowfall that receded in time for the first day of instruction. Also, as luck would have it, I teach two classes on Wednesday this semester at Queens College. This is a welcome relief from the past three semesters: I’ve either taught only one class or have had to make an hour-long, ten-mile slog on multiple days, at rush hour, and in peak-travel direction. It will be much more pleasant to have to only travel one day a week and at midday.

With the semester officially underway, I’m lifting my self-imposed embargo on publicizing the syllabi for my two Queens College classes.

Media Technologies

For the last five semesters, I’ve taught the evening section of this introductory course on the development of communications technologies. In it, we cover the technologies of writing and print, mass culture in the industrial age, electronic broadcast media, and, of course, digital media.

This semester, I changed the textbook from Crowley and Heyer’s Communication in History (retail price: $154.00) to Irving Fang’s Alphabet to Internet (retail price: $60). While the students should appreciate the economic relief, there is a significant trade-off in adopting the Fang textbook. Whereas the Crowley and Heyer book anthology is an collection of condensed writings on communication technologies, Fang writes a more traditional textbook. I usually prefer the former and to read a variety of different writings on a topic especially because it fascinates me how greatly scholarship can vary despite each author writing on the very same subject.

However, I sensed that most students weren’t reading the articles I assigned. With students enrolled in an evening section of an introductory course, almost all of whom are coming from day jobs and have pressing family responsibilities, it’s remarkable to me that they manage to attend class in the first place. Consequently, I have decided to lighten the weekly reading load by adopting a more condensed textbook, and I’ll use our class session to elaborate on each topic.

Media Criticism

To be honest, I always dreaded teaching this class. It used to be a 300-level class, and when I started teaching it, I upped the difficulty to meet my expectations for graduating students. I curated a collection of long, challenging readings; I assigned several writing assignments with a capstone; and I gave in-class exams with difficult essay questions. But after the first few weeks, I realized that I needed to do a lot of remedial work. Instead of having passionate in-class discussions about each reading, I had to teach students some fundamentals, such as how to outline an argument, how to compose a thesis statement, and the importance of opening each paragraph with a topic sentence. One semester, I even taught some research methods, such as searching catalogs and electronic journals, and I spent a whole week on citations and bibliographies. But I stopped doing that after one peer reviewer censured me for teaching so many nuts-and-bolts. After that critical evaluation, I became frustrated and gave up on figuring out how to teach this class. Thankfully, I was not asked to teach it again.

A few years have passed since I last taught the class, and both the class and I have changed in that time. Media Criticism has been reclassified as a 200-level class, presumably due to Pathways reform, and I am more experienced with teaching seminar-style courses, where I can let students talk. I’m now ready to retry teaching it as introductory media theory course: a course where we “criticize media criticism,” as I explained in class yesterday. This semester, instead of “curating” an overly ambitious collection of readings, I had the students buy one textbook, we’re comparing three or so readings each week based on themes that the anthology’s editor, Laurie Ouellette, presumably organized them and based on my own interests in media and cultural studies.

One of the reasons I chose Ouellette’s edited collection is because gender and race aren’t put into a “topical ghetto.” Instead, those are addressed in almost every reading throughout the book. When I explained to my students yesterday about the importance of “studying (or criticizing) media criticism,” I offered the following diatribe:

A few weeks ago, the Academy Awards nominated ten film actors and ten film actresses for best of the year. Not one of them is black, Latino, Asian, or any other American ethnic minority. Are you telling me that there’s not one such actor who was among the best last year, or was it that those in charge of making movies didn’t offer some one “different” an opportunity? Either way, as a country, we have failed when our most visible cultural form disregards our own people…those that make up this country.

It was a rare moment of seriousness for me, and I probably prattled on a bit longer than I should have. But I wanted to make a point about why it’s important for budding creative professionals to study theory. I attribute the representational failures of the commercial film and television industries, as evidenced by 2014’s films and the attendant nominations, to its anti-intellectualism. A little reading and critical thinking could do everyone some good.

You Have to Be “Cuckoo” to Pay Some Journal Processing Fees

Last February, I responded to a Guardian article on how computer generated papers were being accepted for academic conferences that charged a hefty fee. I argued that accepting “gobbledegook” is a predictable result of for-profit conferences—and journals (see below)—that are motivated to publish anything as long as the author pays a substantial “processing fee.” It is an affront to academic integrity.

This predatory practice is happening with predatory academic journals, too. Writing in Fast Company, Elizabeth Segran reports on Mark Shrime, a PhD student who made up an article and sent it to several “open-access” medical journals:

He did it using www.randomtextgenerator.com. The article is entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” and its authors are the venerable Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. The subtitle reads: “The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals.” Shrime submitted it to 37 journals over two weeks and, so far, 17 of them have accepted it.

However, the article has not yet been published. Why not?

They have not “published” it, but say they will as soon as Shrime pays the $500. This is often referred to as a “processing fee.” Shrime has no plans to pay them.

You really should read Shrime’s bogus article yourself. It’s worth a few laughs. I only got through the first page because much like QuickType (a.k.a. Auto-Complete), the sentences are grammatically correct but semantically meaningless. My head began to hurt.

But the article was not all just algorithmically composed nonsense. Shrime clearly had a sense of humor when he came up with the institutions that employ Messrs. LeBrain and Welles (who, by the way, have very similar voices). Azusa Atlantic appears to be a play on Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college near Pasadena, California. As for the Green Mountain Institute of Nutrition, I am going to guess that Shrimes was making himself a K-Cup coffee when inspiration struck.