Author: Deidre Bullard, C’13
The question: “Oh, so, you watch movies all day? That’s cool.”
My answer? Yes, my friends, I watch movies all day.
As this is my first interaction with Frankly Penn readers out there, I should highlight this most important aspect of my temporal existence: I watch movies all day. As a cinema studies major, I proudly do nothing else. No food, water, running, reading, talking, laughing, living like a Philadelphian. What of the parties, the networking, the social aspect of colleges? Toss it out the window like a pumpkin in the hands of a frat boy on Halloween night. And taking part in Penn’s traditions, living up to the expectation that I carry on the pursuit of truth through scholarly inquiry? No interest. The $53,000/year (and rising) price tag of this education has privileged me to near isolation in those smelly cloth chairs contained in that dark theatre, save for the awkward, pimpled usher waiting impatiently for me to leave as the credits roll. My honors thesis? Depends entirely on watching the stars of The Help take home some Oscars. Heck, I might even get my graduate degree if I participate in illegal gambling by voting on the side.
I kid you, of course. You must be thinking to yourself, “What an obnoxious and self-indulging introduction for a new blogger!” I’m not one to argue when I’m wrong: you’re right. But my sarcasm stems not from any qualms with you. I honestly could never count the amount of times that I encounter this question. On a campus where pre-med and business majors claim dominance over the student body, such objections are understandable, but still insulting. To find someone who thinks I am wasting my degree by watching movies all day–which, by the way, I do not–suggests that I am incapable of recognizing a wealthy intellectual experience when I see it. But I am not blind. I watch movies, after all.
Society often doesn’t think much of its entertainment mediums, and we tend to separate the exhausting task of intellectual thought from activities of recreation. It’s as if speculating on how entertainment loses life and meaning when a lens is held up to it. As one who signs up for film classes well beyond the requirements of my major, I can tell you that the focal points of cinema studies mediates the entertainment value of a film with its cultural value. Indeed, the two are intertwined: we cannot understand how or why audiences love “Glee” or High School Musical without knowing what is going on in the world currently.
Take, for example, those classes offered by visiting faculty, which I am extremely privileged to take. “The Ethics of Horror Film,” taught by Mia Mask of Vassar College, emphasizes heavily the political and social upheaval underlying popular horror films. We read The Exorcist as a representation of second-wave feminism, as well as the anxiety of religious skepticism. Invasion of the Body Snatchers reveals the tumultuous political environment of McCarthyism and the Red Scare. This class is not only a comfortable environment in which I can talk about Hitchcock as an auteur who focused much on psychoanalytic theory (enter obnoxious cinephile joke here), but also a space in which we can confront our fear of monsters and killers in the movies, all the while recognizing why our culture permits them to frighten us.
If analyzing society is becoming my specialty, then I’m allowed to ask the following: in a society full of technology, why does the video game repeatedly demand our controversial obsession, whether through sheer hatred or admiration? Taught by Professor Alexander Galloway, a professor at New York University, the class “Game Space” theorizes on why our fascination with the virtual has transformed both the interaction and evolution between man and machine. No aspect of our lives remain untouched from the virtual phenomenon: the corporate board room, the narcissistic nature of Facebook and social networking programs, the all-too real world of the battlefield, and even the capture-surveillance model of the toll booth camera.
But this shift would not be possible, were it not for our manipulation of technology itself. In “Theories on Cinematic Spectacle” with Scott Bukatman from Stanford University, we explore the various ways a camera and its operator influences what we see on screen. Here we focus on the spectator participating in his own manipulation as he contacts a film of spectacle. Is this the working class forcibly participating in his own oppression? Or does cinema, like the video game, signal a subconscious, unfulfilled need for equilibrium and utopia? If the latter, then I have basis to argue that films like Star Wars, Avatar, and other big-budget, explosion-filled adventure films not only please a desire we cannot express, but also follow the tradition of cinema’s exhibition from its creation in the 1890’s.
During my time at Penn, I’ve experienced something of an academic multiple-personality disorder, switching my major from Biology/Genetics to Communications, and finally to Cinema Studies. In no way could I express more happiness with that decision. As shown by these few of many rich topics I have encountered at Penn, my education defines diversity and multidisciplinary at their best. Seldom do I feel so rewarded, when I turn away from the screen and return to the world outside.