Tag Archives: media studies

Batman as a Metaphor of America

Conservative/Liberal Hero Confronting an Ever-changing Menace

Dr. Giuseppe Sacco brings his expertise in international politics and its relationship with cinema to campus.

Many a college kid is familiar with Batman and Joker, the superhero and supervillain; not so many with Batman and Joker, super cultural symbols of American politics.

And yet, that is precisely the argument Dr. Giuseppe Sacco, editor-in-chief of The European Journal of International Affairs and professor of political science at the University of Rome, La Sapienza, presented to students this past Monday, February 10 at a speech called “Batman as a Metaphor of America: a Conservative/Liberal Hero Confronting an Ever-changing Menace.”

Sacco, who published a book in Italian about the political significance of Batman and Joker in all eight American Batman films — “Batman & the Joker: the Face and the Mask of America” (“Volti e Maschere dell’America”) — paralleled the ever-changing villains of the Batman movies (from Prince Daka to the Joker to Poison Ivy to Two Face) to personifications of the changing obstacles in American politics at the time the movies were made (from political corruption to environmental protection to theories of social good.)

He also analyzed Batman as a symbol of American heroism, and moreover, a symbol of the conservative and liberal divide in American politics.

“I’m not a movie critic,” Sacco said, “but I’ve seldom seen in a movie such deep political meaning.”

In the 1997 film “Batman & Robin,” Batman (George Clooney) faces two villains: Dr. Victor Fries/Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzzeneger) and Poison Ivy/Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman). Sacco explained that Mr. Freeze, as a villain who stakes hold ups in effort to finance a search for a medicinal cure for his terminally ill wife, represents science as a social responsibility; while, Poison Ivy, as a villain who makes all plants either poisonous or carnivorous so that they may protect themselves from man, represents environmental responsibility.

At the time this film was made, Former President Bill Clinton was leading America in a time of very little war, said Sacco. “So the main concerns in American culture could be the environment, the revolt of nature, and science,” he said. “By choosing to help Mr. Freeze with a cure for his wife, but not Poison Ivy, Batman chooses to save the scientist, the medicine, but does not help the environment.”

“The way Batman acts towards the environment is very conservative,” said Sacco, continuing, “but the way he acts towards social science and medicine, very liberal. This is politically significant because it personifies the divide in American thought in this American superhero.”

Clarissa Marchia, a sophomore media studies student, attended the event for class. “It’s cool [Sacco] related something a lot of teens know about to something on a larger scale like politics,” she said.

“It’s important that we, as young people, are able to see these parallels between film and what’s going on in the government because reality is often reflected in the media we take in,” said Stephanie Castaneda, a senior media studies major.

Sacco will be presenting the speech for a second time today, Thursday February 13, in Kalmanovitz. For event details, contact Krislyn Tanka at ktanaka2@usfca.edu or 415-422-2802. 

Intro to Media Studies students evaluated each others’ projects and took note of the media theories they have been studying this semester. (Photo by Professor John Higgins)

Media Studies Students Unplug

Students found themselves helpless without their cell phones, music, and Internet access for a Digital Detox project assigned in a media studies class. The students of “MS-100: Intro to Media Studies” filled McLaren Hall last Wednesday to showcase their creative reports on the 24-hour experiment. It required students to abstain from the use of all digital media for one whole day.

Students portrayed their experience through short films, comics, collages, short stories, and other creative mediums. The projects were displayed in the conference room of McLaren Hall, where fellow Dons and faculty were welcomed to view students’ reports on their Digital Detox.

After going 24 hours without digital media, students involved in the project became more aware of how dependent — even addicted — they are to technology. They addressed the many needs and desires that media fulfills in their daily lives. Much of the project content covered topics such as sensory overload and overall disconnection with society.  “I liked it a lot; it was fun. I think the project allows for a lot of reflection,” media studies student Chris Osborn said.

According to USF media studies professor Dr. John Higgins, the project has been conducted in the media studies department for two years. “Even now, I’ll unplug sometimes,” he said.

While the majority of the class said that going a day without digital media was aggravating, all agreed that the experience was eye-opening. Today’s society has become so dependent on electronic devices that it is difficult to imagine life without them.

“We’re in the middle of taking past projects and putting them into the Gleeson Library,” Dr. Higgins added. You can view students’ projects in the archives. Maybe their stories will inspire you to take on the challenge of a full-day digital detox.

USF to Co-Host Media Conference on Making a More Democratic Media

“The Point is to Change It” 

     Do you care about the war in the Middle East? About solving America’s high unemployment rates and rising student debts? About bringing a positive change to our increasingly fragile environment? Then you should attend The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored Conference 2013, says Media Studies Professor Dorothy Kidd.

“We all know that there’s a number of urgent global crises,” said Kidd, later adding, “however it’s almost impossible to solve any of these problems without a more democratic media that better represents everyone and their needs, [and] not just the status quo of the 1%.”

The USF-sponsored conference, entitled “The Point is to Change It: Media Democracy and Democratic Media in Action,” brings together researchers, academics, and media justice activists from across the world to speak in over forty panels and six multi-media presentations on the importance and methods behind creating a more democratic media.

Kidd will be presenting at the conference this weekend, along with other USF faculty and students. Also presenting are keynote speakers Daniel Ellsberg (independent writer and activist) and Davey D (hip-hop historian and Host of Hard Knock Radio on KPFA/Pacifica Radio) on Friday evening.

All USF students, faculty and staff are invited to attend all panels, multi-media presentations and Friday evening keynotes for free.

Panelists will investigate the pressing problems of corporate and government-controlled media; showcase the best of independent, alternative media; and share their latest methods in media education.

Students will benefit from the panels that bring up subjects students deal with everyday, from social media to online piracy, from immigration to news reporting or gender violence, said Kidd.

Also in the conference program — a USF student panel discussing media democracy at USF, an interactive mash-up performance from students at St. Lawrence University, and a stand-up comedy performance about media criticism by Ron Placone.

“There’s an urgent need to discuss how to make a more democratic media. Every day we hear more revelations about U.S. government spying on citizens and allies; and how the big Silicon Valley media corporations are also surveying us intensively, in order to send us even more advertising junk. There’s several panels on both of those problems.”

Attend the event for free this weekend November 1-3, 2013 at USF’s Fromm Hall and other Hilltop Campus Locations. For further information, contact Professor Dorothy Kidd (kiddd@usfca.edu) or go to: http://udcconference.org/

Rodney Ascher’s “Room 237” has been screened at both Cannes and Sundance Film Festival in 2012. (Courtesy of IFC Films)

Now Showing: ‘Room 237’

USF Professor Daniel Plotnick discusses his screening event of Rodney Ascher’s film

    Documentarian and director Rodney Ascher plans to visit USF on Oct. 18 to present a screening of his latest movie, “Room 237.” The film, which made a successful theatrical premiere last year, revolves around Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and its perceived meanings. “Room 237” consists of clips from other Kubrick films and voice-over interviews with passionate Kubrick enthusiasts. While many view “The Shining” as a simple horror/thriller flick, Ascher’s documentary aims to shed light on the possible conspiracy theories that result from the typically enigmatic Kubrick film.

I recently had the pleasure of discussing the film with Professor Daniel Plotnick of the media studies department, who is hosting the screening event on campus.

Foghorn: What is “Room 237”?

Plotnick: “Room 237” is a documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” and it’s one of those films that people are quite obsessed about. Rodney interviewed five people that are totally obsessed with “The Shining” that have all these interpretations of how to analyze the film and the secret messages embedded within the film. Like there’s one person who thinks that if you look at the film carefully, it proves that Kubrick faked the moon landing. There’s someone else who says it’s a commentary on how the Americans took the country away from the Native Americans. So the film is really about the people that get obsessed with any particular text. He uses lots of clips from “The Shining” and other bits from film history to visually construct the argument. And you never see the interviewees; you just hear them.

Foghorn: So the film focuses more on “The Shining” as an art film more so than a thriller or horror.

Plotnick: Yeah, and it’s got this whole postmodern edge — because even if Kubrick didn’t intend for it to be seen this way, this is how people are reading into it. And so it’s really a question of art and how we interpret a piece of art, and does the intentionality of the artist even make a difference or is it really just about how the audience receives it?

Foghorn: Does the film talk about Stephen King’s motives, or does it mostly focus on Kubrick?

Plotnick: It mostly focuses on the film. There are definitely moments where “Room 237” talks about the adaptation and how it did things to piss Stephen King off — but then again, this is a person’s interpretation and them ascribing motives to Kubrick. Like, “the color of the car is not the color of the car in the book,” or something like that.

Foghorn: How did you get involved?

Plotnick: Rodney is an old friend of mine, and he’s been a part of the underground film scene for years — and he’s originally from Miami, but he’s lived in San Francisco for a while where we became better friends. He lives in L.A. now, and he’s just someone who’s been making really great, fun films. And this film had great reviews: It made a theatrical release, and hopefully it’ll get nominated for an Academy Award. It’s been definitely one of the bigger box office documentaries of the year.

Foghorn: Would you say that watching [“The Shining”] again gave you this motivation to really delve into “Room 237” when watching it?

Plotnick: Yeah, absolutely. And part of the thing that “Room 237” riffs on is that “The Shining” came out during the dawn of home VCRs. Like, let’s say you were watching “A Clockwork Orange” for example, when it came out — and the only time you’d be able to see it again would be if it showed again in the theaters. So people didn’t study movies back then as closely as they did post the advent of the VCR. Once the VCR came out, you could watch “The Shining” over and over again. People of your generation grew up with DVDs, so there were movies that you probably had when you were a kid that you could watch a hundred times, which is a totally different experience if you grew up in the 60s or 70s.  Now, there was “The Shining” that people could get obsessed about because they could watch it over and over again. And I think part of Rodney’s reasoning for picking “The Shining” is that it coincides with that advent of the VCR, and people could read into it like text. Like, “the positioning of Calumet cans in ‘The Shining’ proves things that Kubrick is trying to do!” If you just watched it once in the theater, you wouldn’t pick something like that up.

Foghorn: I feel like with Kubrick’s movies, he definitely goes all out in everything.

Plotnick: Yes, he’s really meticulous. And one of the things that gets brought up in the film is that, because Kubrick is such a meticulous filmmaker, everything the audience sees is there for a reason. That can of Calumet is there because Kubrick put it there; it isn’t there by chance. So therefore, what does he mean by that placement of that object by that object in that frame at that moment in the film? I think that’s another reason why people get obsessed over something like “The Shining” rather than something that’s more of a pop hit: because of the idea that this filmmaker is in total control.

Foghorn: Have you brought up “Room 237” or “The Shining” in any of your classes?

Plotnick: I often show a lot of Kubrick clips in my class to talk about cinematography, so there will be times when I’ll show something from “The Shining” — but it’s not a film that I spend a lot of time looking at or talking about, because I had just recently seen the film again. To me, it was always that I love Kubrick, but “The Shining” was always way down on my list.

Foghorn: Do you have any closing words about “Room 237”?

Plotnick: I think it’s now out officially, and you can watch it through iTunes or rent it online. I would check it out, and I would check out “The Shining,” and I would come to the screening next week because Rodney is someone that’s done a lot of cool, animated stuff — and he’s someone that’s super fun. He’s gonna show a lot of clips, and he’s gonna break down the film, and I think it’ll be a pretty exciting opportunity.

The screening of “Room 237” with the director Rodney Ascher will be on Friday, Oct. 18, 11:45 a.m. – 1:45 p.m., in Fromm Hall 115 (Berman Room).

Students are invited to send their rememberances of Dr. Goodwin to his son James.

Andrew Goodwin, Media Professor and a Founder of Media Studies at USF, Dies in Fire

Students & Faculty Have the  Opportunity to Offer their Memories

Students are invited to send their rememberances of Dr. Goodwin to his son James.  (Photo: USF Website)

Students are invited to send their rememberances of Dr. Goodwin to his son James.
(Photo: USF Website)

Professor Andrew Goodwin, a professor of media studies, died last Tuesday, September 10 in an apartment fire in Berkeley, as University Ministry Director Julia Dowd reported to students and faculty in an e-mail later that day.

Former students and co-workers have expressed their sadness about Dr. Goodwin’s passing through the University of San Francisco Media Studies Alumni Group on Facebook.

Dr. Goodwin was one of the founders of the media studies program at USF, and in the US, according to Professor Bernadette Barker-Plummer, who sent a message to members of the Facebook group. Dr. Goodwin’s involvement with the media studies department and with USF’s radio station KUSF played an important role in his time at USF.


 Remembering Goodwin

The media studies department is calling for colleagues, students, and friends of Dr. Goodwin’s to send a memory or a photo to his son, James Goodwin. If you would like to offer your thoughts, you can email Lydia Fedulow (fedulow@usfca.edu) or Barker-Plummer (barkerplum@usfca.edu) with a short remembrance.    

Tenth Human Rights Film Festival This Week

This coming Thursday through Saturday, the University of San Francisco will host its 10th annual Human Rights Film Festival.

This year’s event will feature a host of film screenings, participation from human rights organizations, and question and answer sessions with filmmakers and directors. As the name suggests, the festival will be themed around film and its capacity to explore human rights abuses occurring in a multitude of situations and circumstances. However, this year a special focus will be given to themes relating to protest, dissent, and civic action in light of increased global political activism during this past year. Accordingly, twelve films will be shown to raise awareness about various human rights abuses.

Susana Kaiser, Media Studies professor and chair of the Latin American Studies department, has played an integral role in the organization of the Human Rights Film Festival.

One of her courses, Human Rights & Film (MS 350), requires students to analyze documentaries and narrative films from a perspective keen to violations of fundamental human liberties. Yet students in the course are taught that watching a film on human rights abuse is only the first step in solving the problem. Community discussions and analysis are central to developing a deeper understanding of the issues.

Kaiser’s students have also been actively engaged in preparation for the festival. They designed the flyers and posters for the event and will be working as ushers and greeters.

Professor Kaiser hopes the Human Rights Film Festival will inspire activism and further interest amongst students, participants, and organizations across the Bay Area through the art of film.

This year’s event will feature a screening of the film “Better This World” and a subsequent question and answer session with director Katie Galloway. Students and participants are invited to engage in meaningful conversation with the filmmaker and question the prevalence of human rights abuses in the United States.
Continuing a four year tradition, the Human Rights Film Festival will open with screenings of short films created by University of San Francisco students!
The 10th Annual Human Rights Film Festival will run from Thursday, March 29th to Saturday, March 31st and will be held in the University of San Francisco’s School of Education Building (2350 Turk Boulevard, between Annapolis Terrace and Tamalpais Terrace).

This event is free and open to the public!

Noah Starr is a student in the Human Rights and Film class participating in the organization of the Human Rights film festival.