April 28, 2005

Reflections on Student Readings

I really enjoyed reading my classmates' chosen readings for today. Each article made me think about something new and different related to Media Aesthetics, and it was interesting being able to see a glimpse of their presentations (and papers!).

Amanda's article, "Textual Memory: The Making of the Titanic's literary archive" by Peter Middleton and Time Woods offered some very intriguing insights on both James Cameron's film Titanic. Although I enjoyed the movie when I first watched it in middle school, I have yet to rewatch it or look at it with an eye more critical than a twelve-year-old's. This article, however, made me begin to see the different elements incorportated into the film. For instance, in his film, Cameron tried to ensure that "the 'emotional reality' of the past event was there as well as 'the one that was perfectly detailed, minute by minute, historically.'" I've never contemplated how important the balance between memory and history is, but without the memory, the history becomes cold and factual. Cameron would not be able to create a film about the Titanic with as much life as he did without incorporating the memories of Rose:

"Only the force of Rose's memories of the voyage that she survived without her lover, and the consequent absorptive power of the narrative of the voyage and the doomed love affair, which binds the otherwise tough, sceptical, technology-loving men of the crew to her every word, is capable of carrying them and us back in time to see the past reenacted."

Without the memories of Rose, the film may have technically been historically accurate, but the emotional tragedy of the event would have been lost upon the audience.

Denisha's article "Body Image and Advertising" was extremely disturbing to read. Although I'm not sure how reliable many of these statistics are, the author succeeded in convincing the reader that the media is solely responsible for how young females view their bodies. While I agree that the media's portrayal of the female body presents an often unrealistic ideal, there are also many other contributing factors. Another issue I had with this article is the small paragraph it devoted toward male body issues. Although a bigger stink may be made about how the media represents the female body, it is equally unfair to the men. Men are given extremely unrealistic ideals in terms of how their bodies should be sculpted; teenage boys concerned with their appearance are not only "more likely to think about or try smoking" or "twice as likely to experiment with tobacco," but are more likely to use steroids as a means of achieving that ideal.

Anne's chapter, "Architecture of the Senses: Neo-Baroque Entertainment Spectacles" from Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition was not what I had expected it to be. I never thought of architecture before in terms of its portrayal in movies, 3D films, and theme parks. I have always thought of these as separate mediums, not thinking that they could overlap:

"Entertainment forms like the Spiderman theme park attraction engage in such a complex and excessive level of interaction and remediation that it becomes increasingly difficult to untangle one media form from another. Does Spiderman, for example, belong to the realm of the cinema, television, computer technology, sculpture, architecture, the theater, the comic book, the animated series, or the theme park attraction?"

I was very excited when I read this section because it dealt with my own presentation. I am exploring how the television show Alias is represented in its different media forms: the origional TV show, the computer game, the video game, the young-adult prequel novels, the fan-fiction, the magazine, and the future comic book.

This leads me to my two articles: "Staking her Claim: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior" by Frances H. Early and "Complexity of Desire: Janeway/Chakotay Fan Fiction" by Victoria Somogyi. The first article deals with the warrior female attributes of the title character in the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The main character in Alias, Sydney Bristow, is very similar to Buffy in that she is the reluctant "Chosen One" who has to balance her evil-fighting life with her normal student life. Both women have men who are not nearly as powerful as they are, and both women have female nemeses who are just as strong as they are.

In my second article, it explores the reasons behind the popular heterosexual pairing of Janeway/Chakotay in a genre normally dominated by slash (male/male or female/female) fiction. After analyzing some of the Alias fan-fiction, I found that although there is some slash fiction (the majority of which is between Sydney and her Season 3 nemesis Lauren), most of the fan-fiction revolves around Sydney's relationships with her on again off again beau Vaughn, her father Jack, and her male nemesis Sark. Somogyi's article claims that the reason J/C fanfic is so popular is because Captain Janeway is such a dominant female character and Chakotay is a not as dominant male. I believe this is similarly true with Alias fanfic because Sydney, although vulnerable and overtly feminine, manages to be more intelligent than, faster than, stronger than, and a better shot than most of the men. This characterization holds true in most fanfics for she is often just as firey and strong, and holds her own against them men just as well as she does in the TV show. When fanfic authors do decide to make her character submissive, it is because she is rarely seen as such on the show, and it offers them an glimpse into the vulnerable side of her character that she tries so hard to keep hidden.

I also found the reading Dr. Jerz chose, "Aesthetic Judgements of the Natural Environment and Aesthetic Communication" from Aesthetics of the Natural Environment very interesting. In it, the author discusses the various ways we view the aestheticism of the environment around us, specifically nature. In this article, the author discusses whether or not all nature can be described as aesthetically good, and how we categorize and judge the aestheticism of both nature and our own urban and cultural environments. One quote in particular stuck out to me:

"A rural neighborhood, a city, a trash dump, or a garden all have a history, a complex relationship between parts, that we can come to appreciate. It is not clear why a history of human interference should require us to value an environment less"(199).

Throughout this article, the author cited critics who believed that nature was the supreme aesthetic, and that in "nature that is predominantly untouched by humans - nothing can ever be ugly" (198). Now there are many things that occur in nature that I believe are ugly, and there are many things in our human environment that I believe are beautiful. For instance, in my blog about the aesthetics of cityscapes I discuss how I believe New York City and its skyline to be absolutely beautiful.

While nature can create stunning and humbling beauty, it can also create many things that are not beautiful - for instance, death and decay. I don't agree with "positive aesthetics" who believe that "All virgin nature, in short, is essentially aesthetically good," because that implies that anything touched by humans is somehow flawed. While we have certainly had our fair share of destruction of beauty, we have also created many beautiful things that can certainly compare to the beauty nature creates.

Posted by JohannaDreyfuss at April 28, 2005 01:24 PM | TrackBack

Congrats again on landing a really great adjunct gig at a New York Literary Agency, Johanna!
-- Dr. A.

Posted by: Mike Arnzen at April 28, 2005 10:31 PM

Yes, congrats on your appointment, Johanna.

I'm glad you enjoyed the assignment as much as I did. Everyone in the class has put a lot of effort into the readings and the discussions, and I was very pleased with the quality of the readings chosen and with the class response to those readings.

I'm looking forward to more of your research on the aesthetic and mediating qualities of the Alias material you've been exploring.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at April 29, 2005 03:53 PM
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