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Cinema in Color

Christina Masuda
International and Multicultural Education,
School of Education, University of San Francisco,
San Francisco, USA
cymasuda@dons.usfca.edu

Yih Ren
International and Multicultural Education,
School of Education, University of San Francisco,
San Francisco, USA
 yren27@dons.usfca.edu

White Balance: How Hollywood Shaped Colorblind Ideology and Undermined Civil Rights by Justine Gomer, The University of North Carolina Press, 2020, 268 pp., $22.99 (Kindle), ISBN 1469655802

The 100 Greatest Superhero Films and TV Shows by Zachary Ingle and David M. Sutera, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2022, 309 pp., $42.5 (Kindle) ISBN 153811450X

Introduction

In the United States, news, television programs, films, and other forms of technologically advanced media play a huge role not only in our everyday social life, but also in legitimizing history, influencing identity formulation, and determining the meaning of democratic or undemocratic actions. Further, popular culture is ubiquitous in different creative media platforms. It concerns the most immediate and contemporary aspects of social life, which hold the capacity to bring people together and form distinct memories and discourses (Delaney, 2015). Hence, media is a powerful pedagogical force, shaping people’s understanding of the world (Giroux, 2009).

Superhero movies are consumed internationally despite regional censorship and pushbacks. With half of the top 10 highest box-office grossing movies of all time featuring superheroes or comic characters (All Time Worldwide Box Office, 2021), it is hard to imagine such movies carrying no meaning. For example, in the book the 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows, one of the authors, Sutera, anticipated 35 years to finally see the Avengers developed from the comic books to the big screen. The anticipation was not merely for nostalgia but, by the author’s own words, the “ultimate wish-fulfillment” (p. 1) for a man whose inner child had a superhero dream. The hysteria and excitement for these movies and characters are shared by countless comic book readers in almost every corner of the world.

When wish fulfillment as escapism into fantastical realms is achieved, cinema must also perform a new feat – the delivery of our current truth. Yet, popular culture has much to atone for in the way of portraying non-dominant cultures in America. For example, American filmmaker Edward Zwick, when asked about his 1989 war drama, Glory, sidestepped questions about a period piece meant to uplift the Black men of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Rather he seemingly focused solely through the eyes of the White commanding officer. He answered the question by stating, “It is hugely difficult in any society, Black or White, to come up with legitimate heroes” (as cited in Gomer, 2020).

This book review starts with a summary of each book being reviewed, and then discusses  two themes concerning the presence of neoliberalism in media as well as the effects of stereotypes and colorblindness within American pop culture. Lastly, the review article concludes with questions  about neoliberalism, racialization for readers, as well as queries of  how we can use the texts as pedagogical tools to further the discussion in classrooms.

White Balance:  How Hollywood Shaped Colorblind Ideology and Undermined Civil Rights

Justin Gomer’s White Balance:  How Hollywood Shaped Colorblind Ideology and Undermined Civil Rightscastigates Hollywood for failing to distance itself from the racist political underpinnings of American democracy, a democracy warped by ambiguously racist agendas, decidedly exclusive legislation, and a long, drawn-out war on contentious words most notably the term, colorblindness, which Gomer contends remains at the heart of differences in racial ideology. According to Gomer (2020), colorblindness is part and parcel of popular culture and the ways in which motion pictures markedly paint who the victims and victors of timely and significant cultural happenings are. The trends reveal that in order to appease largely White majority audiences, the White experience is and remains central to any narrative even if it is a narrative meant to uplift traditionally marginalized, non-White experiences. Motion pictures became a place of refuge for White moviegoers to see themselves as either people who were wrongfully disenfranchised by the American Civil Rights Movement or conversely, people who are key to the success of the disenfranchised.

The cinematic experience of many moviegoers is in fact colored by the politics and ideology of the American zeitgeist of the time, and motion pictures have  the capacity to either reinforce, or conversely, reframe what audiences perceive appropriate on-screen representations  to look like. The way complex topics such as social welfare, affirmative action, and America’s war on drugs are visually represented share common threads of disconcerting connections. A reasonable question therefore emerges regarding the intricacies necessary to birth a movie:  What is Hollywood’s role within the larger context of American ideology? Justin Gomer’s text focuses on the ways in which various genres of American cinema  were  created with unmistakable coherence to U.S. policy throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

The book’s chapters are divided by critical United States Supreme Court cases following the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and each chapter is also connected with two to three different movies that emerged shortly after the passing of such federal legislation. Additionally, each chapter focuses on one particular topic such as:  prejudice and anti-statism in Chapter 1, African American representation in Chapter 2, coherence of colorblind ideology in Chapter 3, the rise of Reagan’s War on Drugs in Chapter 4, White ethos in Chapter 5, and hegemonic repercussions in Chapter 6. Gomer lambasts the colorblind hegemony that officially took hold during the intense period of general anti-statism which swept the nation in the 1970s (Gomer, 2020, p. 16). Moreover, what was intensifying with each subsequent decade was Hollywood’s unnecessary influence on largely White majority audiences and the ways in which White Americans felt trapped by the suffocating presence of Neoliberalist agendas and policies (Gomer, 2020, p. 3-4). Gomer considers the need for outlier perspectives from historically marginalized, underrepresented, and largely invisible groups of people both behind and in front of the camera. The effect of such outlier perspectives would help mitigate the undeniable proof of Hollywood’s carefully constructed and phony colorblind past. Ultimately, historically silenced and non-White professionals within cinema would be able to tell and retell stories not driven by what Gomer calls, “an ethos of colorblind white heroism” (Gomer, 2020, p. 4).

The 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows

 The 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows (Ingle & Sutera, 2022) documents films and TV shows featuring superheroes and comic book characters from the mid-1930s to the present. The text illustrates how imaginary stories and visionary settings can connect with reality and affect change in our lives. The writers state that superhero movies and TVshows have embraced a genre hybridity that exposes and extends symbols and meanings in different discourses; and they disagree with what critics generally think of superhero films, like Martin Scorsese’s viral amusement park theory. The introductory chapter gives a brief yet inclusive history of superhero films and TV shows from the early short serials exclusive in theaters, to the era of television proliferation that made live-action superhero movies a prime creation, and finally to the current worldwide blockbusters with their advanced technology, economic-driven focus, and political proclamations. It took generations for iconographic elements and narrative styles to be developed and for an understanding of the superhero hybrid genre to be reformulated.

The four stages involved in  forming a genre are described in the introductory chapter: experiment, classic, refinement, and self-reflective. The experiment stage is based on prior knowledge and expectations, and the classic state is one where an equilibrium is reached and is  mutually understood by filmmakers and filmgoers. As part of the refinement stage, storytelling, style, and other cultural forms are expanded, as in Nolan’s re-vision of Gotham City and Ang Lee’s reinterpretation of Hulk (p.6), while the final stage, the self-reflective stage, is a return to experimenting with unknown things. Unfortunately, this book is not organized in such a manner; rather, the authors chose an alphabetical approach for honoring each film’s distinctive merits. As a result, they do not advocate hierarchical ranking systems (e.g., popularity, box office success), but we believe their listing makes it harder for readers to observe the evolution of superhero movies as a genre. A hundred superhero programs are chosen and evaluated based on their narrative quality, aesthetics, box-office success, historical significance, and social impact.

This book is not only a form of information and entertainment; it is a way for readers to rethink and engage with the facilitation of their own transformation and social change. Topics explored include racial stereotypes in the chapter on Angel (p. 25) and Superman Paramount Cartoons (p. 236), assimilation and immigration in the chapter on Sanjay’s super team (p. 207), and feminism and White exceptionalism in the chapter on Capitan Marvel (p. 257). Although the book could be more inclusive in the selections and elaborate more on topics such as racial balance and representational policies in the entertainment industry, we think that this book is a valuable read for people who are fans of this genre or interested in using it as a pedagogical tool in classrooms.

Neoliberalism and Media Influence

As Harvey (2007) argues, neoliberalism has become a hegemonic lens to appropriating and maximizing human actions in the domain of the market. Both of our books weigh in on neoliberalism and identity politics when discussing the significance of the media in shaping our common sense and attitudes. To Gomer (2020), there is a clear need to study the historical legacy of neoliberalism from its emergence to its continued onslaught on susceptible American moviegoers and eventual distillation into mainstream media.

Gomer suggests that when one traces neoliberal ideology along with that of the origins of American capitalism, it is no wonder that neoliberalism paired off with, “the colorblind language of the free market to reinforce White supremacy” (2020, p. 62). “What made Hollywood particularly suited to neoliberal hegemony was the rise of the cult of individualism in the late 1970s” (Gomer, 2020, p. 99). Individual rights over the rights of groups helped to distill the logic of neoliberalism by determining and providing suggestions for change to all individuals who felt forgotten or unseen during America’s socio-cultural revolution of civil rights in the decade prior. As Gomer elucidates, neoliberalism’s “creed – that government inhibits freedom, be it in the market or in the classroom” spoke directly to White Americans who grappled with the zero-sum sense that communities of color were systematically silencing the experiences of White communities (2020, p. 63).

Indeed, neoliberalism has made an impact on the relationships between the state and its people. Its emphasis on individual responsibilities has led people to engage in self-criticism and self-censorship rather than desiring social change. Discussing the movie V for Vendetta, in The 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows, Ingle and Sutera examine similarities between the reality the movie portrays and what we are facing now. They write, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people” (p. 261). The government in the movie seeks to create a homogenous world where the “undesirables” are either ostracized or hold a position where their failures and difficulties are created by no one but themselves. The only way for them to strip off this powerless position is to conform to the dominant moral order, become the “desirables,” and be grateful about what one has while not demanding anythingmore.

This results in individuals adapting to the dominant model rather than society expanding its capacity and bringing about social change. Foucault (1977, 1988) called it neoliberal technology of the self, with individuals taking responsibility for their own change as being a part of the neoliberalist normalization process. A number of superhero movies and television shows discussed in this book explore the theme of some groups or behaviors being deemed abnormal through systematic stigmatization. Some examples include stereotypical Japanese and African imagery in Superman Paramount Cartoons (p. 237); the assimilation of immigrants and undervaluing of their’ cultures in Sanjay’s Super Team (p. 208); and the persistence of racism in Watchmen (p. 270).

In White Balance, Gomer also highlights the ways in which individuals from certain minority groups eventually succumb to assimilation as was seen in the 1976 boxing movie Rocky (2020, p. 61). Titular character Rocky Balboa, also known by his nickname, “The Italian Stallion,” must face-off with the arrogant Apollo Creed. Creed is Balboa’s adversary not simply because he is a Black man. Creed is Balboa’s adversary because he is a member of a minority group depicted as wholly unappreciative of what little he was allowed to achieve. In short, Creed’s gusto and affinity for optics is meant to emphasize Rocky’s humility and need to win the fight against individuals who assimilate into the American melting pot but do so on terms not laid out by White people. Conversely, Rocky fights for justice, the same justice that White moviegoers believed was unfairly stripped from them during the 1970s civil rights battles (Gomer, p. 76). Hegemonic forces needed to see Rocky Balboa fight and win for a nation still grappling with public school integration and affirmative action.

Stereotypes and Colorblindness

It was Lippmann (1922) who initially defined stereotypes as a picture inside one’s head that is shaped by culture and also determines how we acquire and perceive information. Media is a place filled with stereotypes and manipulated images and representations. In regard to colorblindness, sometimes, cinematic media specifically goes so far as to produce new ways of viewing colorblindness via entirely new genres focused on such themes as White feminine saviorism of dark-skinned individuals who reside in urban and impoverished settings. Ultimately, Black and Latinx individuals remain relegated as secondary characters portrayed as needing the help of White affluent influence or are simply present on screen as a nod to diversity.

For example, Ingle and Sutera note that despite the inclusion of an African American character in the television show, Angel, to diversify the cast, that character’s hypermasculinity and fluency in hip-pop conformed to established media representations of Black identity (p. 25). Most superheroes are White, wealthy, righteous, and have a muscular body that is considered conventionally attractive. On the other hand, the authors also point out that the concept of stereotyping is indeed rejected in some superhero movies and television shows. Hence, Black Panther was a message thatexposed the oppression of people of color worldwide, and its exploration of Afrofuturism, Black fugitivity, and global success with multiple Oscar nominations brought the topic of racialization into mainstream culture and discussion (p. 76). Moreover, Deadpool 2 challenged the concept of body image (Deadpool’s scarring caused by cancer and mutation) and the male gender bias in general Hollywood superhero media (p.116). As Lovell (1983) states, great stories and characters must reflect complexity and detail derived from a creator’s observation and interpretation of social reality and connect with social movements.

Much is made about colorblind ideology in American society, and the ways in which colorblindness remains as pervasive as ever in the modern era. On a fundamental level, colorblindness supported the covert ways of Hollywood and its collective attempt to espouse White supremacy and anti-blackness in the 1980s and 1990s (Gomer, p. 5). Most Americans were won over by colorblindness and voted as such in statewide initiatives such as the California Civil Rights Initiative which recentered the focal points of racial and social injustice on the backs of White Californians and essentially gave legal credence to the colloquial term “reverse discrimination” (p. 73).

Since reverse discrimination gained its lawful support in the political domain, it was time for Hollywood to capitalize on the concept in the socio-cultural domain by explicitly promoting antiblackness in cinema. In so doing, White male stand-alone characters such as Rocky Balboa in the 1982 movie, Rocky III, were positioned as the new minority group in America (p. 107). This refashioning of the White male American as the minority in need of help found ardent support from the Reagan Administration doing much in the way of establishing the main foe to be a specific type of Black man: hypermasculine, originating from urban neighborhoods, and a direct threat to the virtues of White women (p. 103).

Education Connection and Conclusion

Gomer’s White Balance (2020) and Ingle and Sutera’s The 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows (2021)could be used in the American public K-12 classroom to study elements of literature. Both texts partially rely on the reader’s foundational understanding of the tools used to analyze film. One way of supporting new learning is by pairing new learning with what students have already learned. In this case, a comparison between elements of literature and elements of cinema would allow for a deeper exploration of thematic content that might be otherwise solely relegated to one form of media rather than another.

Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) offers a way of studying what she deems “multicultural literacy” in her work, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Essentially, there are three main ways to digest and consume media – in Bishop’s scholarship, the media in question is literature assigned in the classroom. Most often, students are exposed to content in the form of windows so they might see and study worlds of fact or fiction. Sometimes, the windows offered are moveable and large enough for students to become members of the worlds they read about and are accordingly more like sliding glass doors than windows.

What is more, the glass from such windows might even function as mirrors, creating a reflection where students and their various lived experiences are authentically represented in the content of study (1990, p. 1). White Balance andThe 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows could be a perfect pairing for providing the space and opportunity for students to watch, appreciate, and critique cinema as engaged scholars of Bishop’s multicultural literacy.  Students could be prompted to push back against watching movies for the sole purpose of mindless entertainment or escapism, and, instead, connect scholarly research to that of their own renderings of what makes cinema authentically and accurately multicultural and inclusive.

The media continues to play a major role in our political and cultural lives, and a critique of its impact and possibilities can allow us to become more aware of its agenda, attention, and the normalization process connected to it. These two books, Gomer’s White Balance in particular, embody a pedagogy that criticizes media control and clean-cut comprehension of complex social events, and promotes engagement for problematization, critical consciousness, and utopian hope (Freire & Soler-Gallart, 1970; Lorde & Gay, 2020). Lastly, it is also our hope for students to be able to transform texts, interact with our discourse, and shape personal, interpersonal, and social actions for change and transformation.

Author Bios

Christina Masuda is an Ed.D. student in the International & Multicultural Education program at the University of San Francisco. She is a current English teacher in the Fremont Union High School District of the South Bay Area. Research and scholarship focused on community-engaged activism as well as queer leadership and organization within secondary education are some of her main areas of interest.

Yih Ren is an Ed. D. student in International and Multicultural Education program with a concentration in language and culture at the University of San Francisco. He has published several works in language education and SLA. His primary research interests include identity and language acquisition and performing in the Asian diaspora community, social justice education, and second language teacher’s education.

References

All Time Worldwide Box Office. (2021). The Numbers. https://www.the-numbers.com/box-office-records/worldwide/all-movies/cumulative/all-time

Bishop, R. S. (1990). Multicultural literacy: Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Reading is Fundamental. http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/multicultural/mirrors-windows-and-sliding-glass-doors.htm

Delaney, T. (2015, April/May). Pop Culture: An overview. Philosophy Now. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

Duff, P. (2002). The discursive co-construction of knowledge, identity, and difference: An ethnography of communication in the high school mainstream. Applied Linguistics 23, 289–322

Foucault, M.  (1977). Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Pantheon Books.

Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the Self.  University of Massachusetts Press.

Freire, P., & Soler-Gallart, M. (2000). Cultural Action for Freedom. Harvard Educational Review.

Giroux, H. (2009). Youth in a Suspect Society. Palgrave Macmillan.

Harvey, D. (2007). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press.

Lorde, A., & Clarke, C. (2007). Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Reprint ed.). Crossing Press.

Lippmann, W. (1922). The world outside and the pictures in our heads. Public Opinion, 4, 1-22.

Lovell, T. (1983).  Pictures of Reality: Aesthetics, Politics, Pleasure. British Film Institute.

Lorde, A., & Gay, R. (2020). The Selected Works of Audre Lorde (1st ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.

Review of The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You About College Teaching, by David Gooblar

Review of The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You About College Teaching, by David Gooblar

Gooblar, David. (2019). The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You About College Teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
272 pages, Hardcover, $29.95

Tyler Sheldon
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA., USA
tyrsheldon@gmail.com

In his new book The Missing Course, David Gooblar writes toward college teachers and administrators alike when he asserts that a more student-centered learning environment is far more effective than a lecture-based classroom. Applied active learning, he asserts, is crucial to student success. Unlike much recent pedagogy scholarship, which contends that a lecture-based classroom is standard for a reason (time-honored “effectiveness,” efficiency, routine), Gooblar favors an engaged and immersive experiential style of teaching. He argues that “[i]n the not-too-distant future, it is now imaginable that researchers will refuse to study lectures as a mode of teaching because to do so would be an unethical imposition on the poor students who have to suffer through them.” He emphasizes this point by noting that some pedagogy scholars are already beginning to agree, and (like him) are treating the experiential model as a foregone conclusion, moving from “the active learning versus lecturing question and focus[ing] instead on determining what kinds of active learning work best” (p. 15). Continue Reading →

Reading Hong Kong in a New Light: Anna Tso’s Hong Kong Stories

Holly H. Y. Chung
The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
hollychung@hsu.edu.hk

 

Book 1: Culinary Charades
Alpha Academic Press, 2017. ISBN: 978-1948210010

Book 2: The Summer of 1997
Alpha Academic Press, 2017. ISBN: 978-1948210027

Book 3: Unforgettable Neighbours
Alpha Academic Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-1948210034

Book 4: Taming Babel
Alpha Academic Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-1948210041

Book 5: Herstory
Alpha Academic Press, 2019. ISBN:978-1948210058 Continue Reading →

Embracing the Darkness: A Review of Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’s The Dark Fantastic (2019)

Book Review: Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth. The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games. New York University Press, 2019. 225 pgs., $28.00.

Julia Watts
The University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN, USA
jwatts4@vols.utk.edu

When Ebony Elizabeth Thomas was a child, her mother told her, “There is no magic.” As a black girl, Thomas was expected to know and accept reality. For her, there were no fairies or princesses or mermaids; there were no white knights on equally white horses. These fantasies were for white people who had nothing better to do than escape into the imaginary worlds created by and for them. Thomas was taught that magical stories were not for black readers, and she, like the speaker in one of Nikki Giovanni’s (1970) most famous poems,” “…learned/black people aren’t/suppose to dream” (lines 3-4). Continue Reading →

Taking Back the ‘F’ Word: A Book Review of The (other)F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, edited by Angie Manfredi

Laura Davis
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville, TN, USA
ldavi129@vols.utk.edu

Manfredi, Angie (Editor). The (other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce. Amulet Books, 2019. 224 pgs., $18.99.

“Your body is perfect. Yes, yours. Exactly the way it is, right now in this second.”

In The (other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, editor Angie Manfredi brings together thirty voices, from middle grades and young adult authors to fat influencers and pioneers, to provide young adult readers with differing modes of storytelling – personal essays, poetry, and visual art – to celebrate the “fat” body. Across the anthology, authors and illustrators from diverse backgrounds convey their experiences with fat bodies. The variety of concepts throughout the anthology celebrate the uniqueness of the human body and champion owning all aspects of identity. With Bill Maher proposing “fat-shaming doesn’t need to end, it needs a comeback,” books like Manfredi’s push back against fat-shaming and encourage those who are fat to “realize there’s nothing wrong with being fat” (p. 1). Continue Reading →

Review of Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens

Debbie Olson, PhD
Missouri Valley College
Marshall, MO
olsond@moval.edu

Pimpare, Stephen. Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down and Out on the Silver Screen. Oxford University Press, 2017. 376 pgs., $34.95.

Stephen Pimpare’s Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens is a unique jaunt through Hollywood films that feature society’s most marginalized and maligned, the homeless and the poor. Pimpare, PhD, is a senior Lecturer in American politics and public policy at the University of New Hampshire and has authored two previous books on poverty and political policy. And while Pimpare carefully acknowledges he is not a film scholar, his insightful examination of the way film (re)presents the poor and homeless is a valuable addition to both political science and cinema scholarship. Overall, Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens is a perceptive look at the intersections of popular imagery and public policy. Continue Reading →

Groupthink in the Cave: A New Perspective on The Matrix

Kelly Salsbery
Stephen F. Austin State University
Nacogdoches TX USA
ksalsbery@sfasu.edu

Anne Collins Smith
Stephen F. Austin State University
Nacogdoches TX USA
acsmith@sfasu.edu

Abstract

While analyses of the movie The Matrix abound, the authors propose a new perspective, particularly useful in the current polarized political milieu in the US. The Matrix provides an excellent example of the phenomenon known as “groupthink,” and a pedagogically helpful way to address it. It is especially significant that the hero of the movie, with whom students identify, has to struggle to overcome groupthink within himself.

Keywords: The Matrix, The Wachowskis, groupthink, Plato, Manuel Velasquez, Irving Janis

Continue Reading →

Engaging Interdisciplinary Conversations

Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN, USA
nshpylov@iu.edu

Timothy D. Saeed
Northern Vermont University
Lyndon, VT, USA
timothy.saeed@northernvermont.edu

Petermann, Emily. The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction. Camden House, 2014. $85.   

The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction was first published in 2014 by Camden House. This year the book appears in its paperback edition, with Boydell & Brewer. As its author Emily Petermann notes elsewhere, the new edition contains no drastic changes: a paperback version of the book seems to be an opportunity to remind the audience of the acuteness of interdisciplinary links that literature may inspire and strengthen. However, it responds to the changes of the environment shaped by interdisciplinary dialogues. Conflating at least two fields—literature and music—The Musical Novelpotentially contributes to the ongoing conversation regarding teaching across disciplines. Continue Reading →

Connecting the Disconnected: Pedagogy Goes Digital Native

Kurt Depner
New Mexico State University – Dona Ana
Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA
kudepner@nmsu.edu

 

I remember the first time I encountered Twitter–everyone’s favorite, love-it-or-hate-it microblogging miasma. I dismissed it as many do; it was too callous, too “mainstream,” too much about #twerking and not enough about #OnlineLearning.  Then a few years back, I was teaching a composition course when word came in that a tornado had just swept through Joplin, Missouri, where many of my spouse’s family lived.  Immediately, we stopped class to pause and reflect, looking for any sources that could give us information about loved ones.  The traditional narratives of local news and The Weather Channel told us nothing.  Then some students pointed out that people living there were #LiveTweeting video of the tornado’s destructive path, complete with videos of what used to be the south side of the city, now a stream of rubble and destruction.  In this brief and sobering moment, my students and I collectively realized that online education, even through the seeming banality of Twitter, was real and profound.  And like all tools, Twitter was more than a steady stream of Miley’s latest shenanigans; it had powerful pedagogical implications as well. Continue Reading →

Film Review: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing: Whedon, Branagh, and the Anxiety of Influence

Jessica Maerz
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona, USA
jmaerz@email.arizona.edu

Long before he was the internationally famous head of a major Hollywood superhero franchise, Joss Whedon was a beloved writer/director of cult TV shows, boasting a dedicated following of fanatics who parsed his every quirky turn of phrase.  In the 1990s, when Whedon was building his fanbase with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kenneth Branagh was at the height of his dominance as a mainstream interpreter of screen Shakespeare, thanks to the series of adaptations that he inaugurated with 1989’s Henry V.  While Shakespeare plays like Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth have received multiple big-screen adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing has received only two: Kenneth Branagh’s own in 1993, and Joss Whedon’s, exactly twenty years later.  This essay examines Whedon’s adaptation through the lens of Branagh’s, noting the many conceptual, stylistic, and industrial similarities that unite them—for despite Whedon’s insistence that Branagh’s Much Ado did not provide him with an adaptational roadmap, the films demonstrate striking similarities in context and content that can’t be simply explained by their shared source text. Continue Reading →