In the previous two sections of this provisional Trump-era film studies syllabus, I have grouped together films that examine two key thematic aspects of Donald Trump as a political phenomenon: first, how populism has been expressed and critiqued through Hollywood film; and second, how the commercialization of television and other news media has affected and contaminated political perceptions in advanced capitalist societies. In this section, the films I’ve assembled provide various perspectives on fascism: as we witness what seems to be the resurgence of a global fascist movement from the far right, it pays to examine not only how American cinema has represented earlier forms of fascism, but also how it resides close to the surface in some of our most popular entertainments. Continue reading
As the second thematic section of my work-in-progress post-election film studies syllabus, I have selected a few films that engage with the ongoing commercialization of media. Already a huge problem for the democratic process in all capitalist countries, the growing involvement of capital in journalism and the news media proved to be especially lethal when a sociopathic reality TV star decided to run for president. Trump’s outrageous campaign rallies were far more entertaining than any other political speeches, and there’s no telling how strongly the constant exposure he received from cable news outlets like CNN contributed to his popularity. And when these networks finally tried to pull a “sorry not sorry,” the momentum had been established, the genie was out of the bottle, and the advertisers’ money was in the bank. Continue reading
Struggling as I’ve been in these first few days after Trump’s election to do something –anything!– constructive, I started seeking out films that I felt might offer some insight, inspiration, or critical reflection of a world that has suddenly gone from challenging to terrifying. Starting (predictably) with some movies about the civil rights movement, I then started thinking about movies that resonated with other aspects of our current predicament, and ended up posting a list of about a dozen films on Facebook as a “recommended movie list.” Before long, other people’s additions started rolling in, as did further ideas of my own. Finally, one friend’s suggestion to work out this list as “a more formal syllabus” was all the encouragement I needed to sit down and spend an evening expanding that original list into a thematically organized film program. So here is a first version of part I, on Populism and Politics. Continue reading
For reasons unknown, my longtime Facebook friend and all-around terrific human being Frank Kelleter invited me to Berlin for the international conference on Popular Seriality, an academic event that ended a long-running project funded by the German Research Foundation. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a specialist on seriality, I guess I also wouldn’t say I’m not a specialist on the topic. And since a whole bunch of awesome folks, some of whom I know from other contexts, were also part of the impressive line-up, I was happy (and more than a little flattered) to accept.
Since the invitation had been to be part of the closing panel, reflecting on the conference rather than really contributing to it, I felt lucky not to have to prepare a presentation in advance. But as the conference progressed, I soon realized how fiendishly difficult it really was to say something –anything!– in five minutes or less (!!!) about a three-day conference that ranged from gender studies to 3D-printing and from graphic novels to porn parodies. So I spent the last half of the conference frantically putting together a short talk that said something about what the event had been like for me as a newcomer, together with some broader generalizations on the politics of serialization. Here it is. Continue reading
Sure, we’ve all bought into the ‘New Golden Age of TV’ rhetoric that has come to surround the past 15 years of prestige drama, esp. on premium cable channels like HBO. Yet television, which in my experience at least was mostly associated with leisure and relaxation, has never felt so much like work. Keeping up with all the shows your friends, colleagues, and social media assure you is ‘unmissable’ has become very close to a full-time job, especially when you include all the great writing that’s being done on the topic. Besides forming a kind of renaissance of artistic production, our TV landscape more than anything else expresses the logic of immaterial labor and ubiquitous biopolitics, forming a most enjoyable distraction from the material reality of crisis capitalism.
It was my great pleasure to appear as a guest on the new episode of Dutch podcast Onder Mediadoctoren (‘Amongst Media Doctors’), where the topic was binge-watching. This monthly program brings together Dutch media scholars reflecting on contemporary topics that range from reality TV to the relationship between sports and politics. Host Linda Duits preferred the term ‘marathon-watching,’ but since I have less of a problem with pathologizing fan behavior (including my own), I feel pretty comfortable with the inherent ‘unsavoriness’ of the binge-watcher. Together with TV scholar Vincent Crone and political commentator Chris Aalberts, we had a great discussion on the current state of serialized TV drama, discussing changing patterns of viewership, shifting media hierarchies, and the way digitization has created what I describe as an ‘On-Demand Generation.’ Listen to the discussion if you understand Dutch, or if you simply want to amuse yourself by the hilariousness of hearing me speak such an obviously silly-sounding language.
A few weeks back, I decided to force myself into production mode for my book Tales of Empire, the manuscript of which is due in October. My semester being as busy as it is with teaching, other writing and editing jobs, public lectures, and another book to get done before August, my strategy was similar to the way I got my dissertation done: a daily minimum production of 500 words or more. Only this time, I decide to be a bit harder on myself, and make it a seven-days-a-week commitment, with no exceptions. I kept this up for fifteen consecutive days, resulting in nearly 10,000 words of rough but probably usable material now ‘in the bag,’ so to speak. Using the hashtag #500wordsormore, I even made it something of a public event, finding support from some others who face the same productivity dilemmas every day.
Having reached the point where I felt I’d made a lot of progress but had also exhausted the ideas I had ready for now, I took the past week off to focus on reading, grading, and thinking some more about structure, tone, and direction. But as of tomorrow, I’m back on the wagon, churning out words on the page that will in any case lead me somewhere. My motto for this gonzo approach used to be Truman Capote’s famous quip about Kerouac: “It isn’t writing at all; it’s typing.” But the other day I came across this quotation by poet Robert Hass, which sums it up even better: