Grad students present research at 5th annual Common Ground conference
Graduate students from The Media School, across campus and from outside IU virtually presented their research on media Friday and Saturday at the fifth annual Common Ground, the research conference hosted by the Media School Graduate Association.
The conference was organized by master’s student Narmeen Ijaz.
Peaks and Freaks: Approaching Floods as Mass Media Events
By Annie Aguiar
For the first keynote speech of the conference, professor Stephanie Kane from the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies shared research on how floods are shared as mass media events via local communication.
Kane studies the political ecology of water, and her presentation, “Peaks and Freaks: Approaching Floods as Mass Media Events,” focused on her work in an area of the Canadian province Manitoba near the Assiniboine River.
Her work included a discourse analysis of a 2014 press conference as Manitoba declared a state of emergency from flooding and a controlled breach — a planned flood to alleviate potential damage. Using a visual key of her own creation, Kane encoded the speech of the premier of Manitoba, an ex-military emergency manager and engineers in the press conference. Speech categories included information about the river’s past, the forecast, general uncertainty, discussing the known and what actions to take. Kane found that the engineers were given the bulk of the uncertainty, leaving the premier and the emergency manager mostly discussing action and the known.
Her analysis also included examining the treatment of floods in local news media reports, which tended to focus on smaller, human dramas in place of the larger geological context. The 2014 controlled breach angered local residents worried about damage to their property, as documented in the Winnipeg Sun. But, Kane said, this framing obscures the real story here.
Rivers change paths over time, after severe weather events or gradual movement shift the land and water. The Assiniboine’s path river may change one day as it has done in its geographic past after a flood or storm, which could displace residents and buildings on a much larger scale than a controlled breach. Kane asked: Isn’t that the real story?
“It’s about stretching the time spaces by which you’re conceptualizing these stories,” Kane said. “There are human dramas or these precise scientific things you can measure. This space in the middle, this sense of how we actually produce these forces that are leading to these effects, it seems to me maybe you can make stories about that.”
Framing Ideologies through Media: Legitimacy and Reconfigurations
By Meredith Struewing
In the first paper session of the conference, three Media School graduate students presented their research on framing, both literal and theoretical.
Doctoral candidate Lucia Cores Sarria studied how continuity cinematography affects the ways films are perceived, specifically in K-dramas, or South Korean television series. In her presentation, “The joy of overload: Intensified (dis)Continuity in K-dramas,” Sarria looked at the filmmaking continuity system, a system for composing and editing shots developed by classical Hollywood around the 1940s, which is achieved by keeping spatiotemporal coherence across shots and applying the 180-degree rule/30-degree rule. While this is the most common system to use when producing films or television, Sarria unveiled qualitative research which showed that “the continuity system is not the only standard used to achieve commercial success,” she said.
She concluded that K-dramas are successful because of their distinct visual style and use of intensified discontinuity practices such as off-center framing in reverse shots, violation of the 180-degree rule, temporal discontinuity such as lighting flashbacks and the replay of actions. Sarria believes that practicing discontinuity has a higher effect on attention impact, which could make viewers watch the film twice or more.
“Film form needs to be naturalistic to create an immersive experience,” she said.
Master’s student Cole Nelson presented his research on Correspondence, a newspaper established outside of Detroit in 1951 that was run by a group of radicals, intellectuals and laborers. His presentation, “Corresponding with the Revolution: ‘Correspondence’ and the Problematics of a Workers’ Newspaper” analyzed this newsletter-type publication.
Correspondence differed from other newspapers in that it told stories from the standpoint of the working class. It was immediately recognizable as a product of the working class.
“(Correspondence) allowed readers to circulate their own typed out thoughts and displayed experiences,” Nelson said.
The newspaper highlighted perspectives that were often ignored and formed a community in and by way of struggles.
Master’s student Osman Mohamed Osman presented an analysis of international news coverage in his presentation titled, “Media Framing of Westgate Mall Terror Attack: A Comparative Examination of News Frames Employed by U.S. and Kenyan Newspapers.” He researched how news coverage and media framing of the Westgate Mall terror attack varied between U.S. and Kenya news outlets.
“Examining the framing of one event can contribute to existing literature in media framing of terror in Africa and is an important aspect for media practitioners and policymakers to review,” Osman said.
He found that human interest was the most used media frame in Kenyan newspapers, with focus placed on victims and official sources. Contrary to that, Osman found that American newspapers used a conflict frame most often. Osman said that the U.S. role in conflicts, reliability on Western sources and episodic framing in the American press contributed to this trend.
Communicating Health Risks in a Glocalized World
By Annie Aguiar
Media School assistant professor Esi Thompson presented her research on communication about health risks in Ghana and Liberia in a keynote address at the conference, taking a global health lens made particularly relevant by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In her research, Thompson studied what happens when health risks become globalized and then glocalized, the result of processes where phenomena flow from place to place and become adapted to their new locality. With infectious diseases like Zika, Ebola and SARS, people in localities around the world are forced to quickly adapt to face these new threats, increased with the interconnectivity that living in a globalized world has wrought.
“I’m thinking now, and have been for a bit of time, what it looks like when the local community has to engage with a global phenomenon, and how they respond and communicate about it.”
Thompson said health risk communication may not consider the local, which would hinder community trust, engagement and well-being. For example, some localities in her study greatly opposed the traditional isolation model of quarantine, instead wishing to be kept as a family unit because the social setup typically dictates that disease is managed by family members caring for the sick relative.
But, it’s all regional. Another key point of Thompson’s talk was the idea that perceptions can greatly differ despite comparable geographic contexts, similar to how Americans have responded to COVID-19. Needs and attitudes can be different mere miles from each other, meaning that working within a community to adapt health communication is ideal to foster adoption of best practices, she said.
“If interventions are imposed on us, we feel they’re imposed on us,” she said.
Glocalized health communication also means people are taking what they’re seeing in the media and adapting it to their local health needs, as Thompson discussed with the 2014 example of Fatu Kekula. Kekula, then a 22-year-old nursing student in Liberia, nursed four members of her family through Ebola by herself. She didn’t get infected, after developing her own personal protective equipment from black plastic bags, gloves, a raincoat and a face mask.
Kekula was able to save three of her relatives from a disease with a 70% mortality rate. UNICEF heard her story and decided to begin teaching Kekula’s method to people who can’t afford personal protective gear in other areas affected by outbreaks. Thompson said Kekula’s story is a prime example of people adapting to the health risks around them, and how people have a lot of agency to mobilize for protection.
“The idea that UNICEF took up that approach and started teaching it is really insightful for us,” she said. “That there are lots of new interventions, ideas, approaches that can come out of situations.”
Transforming Cultures: Digital interfaces, Platformization and Community-building
By Annie Aguiar
Three graduate students presented research on platforms and digital interfaces, ranging from discussion of video game effects and physical devices to conceptualizing a collaborative and sustainable online space.
Kimberley Bianca, a media artist and doctoral student studying critical media practices at the University of Colorado Boulder, shared circuitBoard, her in-development “research assemblage and media art platform” providing a space for artists through an ecomaterialist lens, recognizing the labor and distribution inherent in media practices and their material impacts. She sees circuitBoard as a space for communities to work on issues together digitally.
“Rather than bringing people together to solve a problem, we can collaborate on possibilities with critical making,” she said.
Forrest Greenwood, a Media School doctoral candidate, discussed a specific video game platform in his presentation “Preserving the Nintendo DS,” adapted from the conclusion of his dissertation study of the popular 2000s handheld video game system Nintendo DS.
“How can we ensure that people will still be able to experience the DS system, going on into the future? As it turns out, that’s a very complicated question to ask,” Greenwood said.
The hardware of the DS is unique, with two screens, a touch screen, a microphone, two game cartridge slots, a stereo speaker and 2D and 3D graphics engines. About 2,000 original titles were released on the DS, not even counting amateur game development, meaning there’s a rich library of media to preserve going into the future.
Preservation of the DS hinges on high-concern areas such as batteries, with the ones in these consoles notorious for being explosive, and custom-created console chips existing on a limited supply, meaning there is a finite number of functioning DS consoles in the world, and eventually there may be none. Hardware aside, emulating the system on a computer is another useful preservation tool Greenwood discussed, but this eliminates the tactile experience of using the actual console.
Media School doctoral student Ken Rosenberg examined potential unique benefits of communication during shared remote activity in his presentation “Talking about chatting: What our Overcooked 2 experiment can tell us about studying online video game play.”
The work was conducted by the MEL Research Group at the Media School’s Institute for Communication Research and driven by research questions about how cooperative game play, conducted through the video game Overcooked 2, between partners would affect performance in subsequent puzzle tasks. The video game places players in a fast-paced miniature kitchen, juggling myriad cooking tasks and running around with a partner trying to fulfill all the incoming orders.
While they found that the voice chat occasionally acted as a hindrance, it still might foster better team performance in the long run. Rosenberg asked if the process of working and communicating with someone over voice chat for an extended period of time could potentially yield a better performance. Even though it was early on in that relationship in this experiment, he said it was exciting to see people make these social and behavioral negotiations in a remote environment through only voice and the game itself.
“Solving these puzzles, it was really interesting to hear the banter of ‘Yes you got it! No, flip it the other way, flip it upside down, I think? I don’t know, I’m so bad at this,’ all the social negotiation that’s going on in terms of expertise and instructions and role-play,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a measure of cooperation that goes beyond normal experimental measures.”
By Meredith Struewing
“Media Objects” displayed a trio of creative work from Media School graduate students.
Doctoral student Sean Purcell introduced a live-streamed demo of a video installation. “Terminal Imaginaries” is a “three-projector media art piece that uses found images sourced from medical textbooks, manuals and journals,” Purcell said. Each projector showcases a different kind or genre of image. Projector A shows images sourced from dermatology books while Projector B uses materials from various anatomical atlases. Projector C exhibits pictures of anatomical classes posing with their anatomized subject.
“Together, these projectors present a meditation on modern medicine’s visual culture,” Purcell said.
Doctoral student Caleb Allison screened his short film, “StalkHer,” a “psychological horror that explores subjectivity,” Allison said.
The film combines digital and super 8 film. Allison worked with celluloid film in his classes, and he wanted to create something that mixed the clean look of digital with the look of super 8 film. Super 8 film “can feel warm and nostalgic but also jagged with less detail and less clarity,” Allison said.
“StalkHer” is a film that explores identity and self-sabotage.
“This project has less to do with my own research interests and more of my newfound passion with narrative filmmaking,” Allison said.
The theme of self-identification also appeared in master’s student Khurram Nawaz Sheikh’s experimental film. Sheikh’s creation featured a Google Maps-like globe that zoomed in on specific places of the world, such as New York City, Connecticut and Pakistan, and then provided viewers with zoomed-in images of that destination, like a crowded side street. Sheikh’s objective was to understand the relationship between space and place, as well as the entanglements between local and global spaces and how they translate.
“As I went further with the project, there were questions with identity that sort of spoke to where I saw my experiential theme,” Sheikh said. “I realized that I was also trying to understand my identity as an international student.”
Politics of Representation: Experimental Cinema, Media Arts and Game Design
Three Media School graduate students shared their research on representation.
In “Remediating Medicine: Creative Historiographic Praxis and its Violence,” doctoral candidate Sean Purcell again introduced his video installation, “Terminal Imaginaries,” a three-projector media art piece that projects images from medical textbooks, manuals and journals. He reflected on the work in the context of the concept of the scholar practitioner — in this case in the area of art space research.
Purcell noted the dehumanizing nature of medical images, and reflected on whether his installation can negate the spectacularism of the images. He also discussed taste decisions he made, such as the removal of images of children and particularly racialized images, and the challenges he faced when making those decisions.
While he described “Terminal Imaginaries” as a rough draft for future projects he hopes to explore, he said he’s not entirely convinced of the potential for “creative approaches to knowledge making.” The main limitation, he said, is the need for capital.
“Unlike the unshakeable rhetorical authority proclaimed by the sciences, or the subjectively processed potentials afforded by the humanities, art space research is productively nebulous,” Purcell said. “It is performed, it is imperfect, and it is above all tactical.”
In “Onan in the Anger Archives: Exhibition, New American Cinema and the Japanese Avant-Garde, 1963-1969,” doctoral candidate Anthony Silvestri compared two erotic avant garde films: “Onan” by Japanese filmmaker Takahiko Iimura (1963) and “Fireworks” (1947) by American filmmaker Kenneth Anger.
The two films use similar tropes, Silvestri said, and when Anger created his archive at the Kinsey Institute, he donated a copy of “Onan” alongside “Scorpio Rising.” But the two films have never been considered alongside each other, Silvestri said.
This led to his research question.
“Just how was it that the works of Iimura and Anger became separated despite the fact that Anger seems to suggest the value of Iimura’s work to understanding his own?” Silvestri asked. “Why has the history of avant garde departed from what exists in the archive?”
By tracing the history of the public presentation of erotic films in the United States, Silvestri observed that Japanese films were not typically given as much screen time as American films.
In “Choose your gender: Exploring character creation and avatar choice for non-binary video game players,” doctoral student Xan Smith introduced an ongoing study on nonbinary avatar options.
“The presence of nonbinary characters is rare and largely unknown,” Smith said.
Smith explained that historically, video games have mostly represented men, though representation of women has increased over the last 20 years. However, female characters are usually hypersexualized, and most characters dress in stereotypically gendered clothing.
Smith showed an example from Elder Scrolls Online, where players could only choose male or female for gender. But other identifiers had multiple options — for example, a player could choose from several earlobe shapes.
Two games that are breaking out of the binary, Smith said, are Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which defaults to gender-neutral pronouns, and Sims 4, which offers custom gender settings. Still, both games ultimately require a binary choice, Smith said.
Research shows that players prefer to create characters that share their gender identity, Smith said. Smith’s research questions focus on how non-binary gender identity influences game choice and character creation, and how these options influence their experience and enjoyment.
Mapping the Global Conjuncture: Nationalism and Covid-19
By Chris Forrester
Ishan Ashutosh, assistant professor in IU’s Department of Geology, spoke on the state of global nationalist movements and the disruption of their presence in news cycles by the pandemic in Saturday’s keynote address, “Mapping the Global Conjuncture: Nationalism and Covid-19.”
Much of his lecture focused on the relationship between Hindu and white nationalist right-wing movements.
“I’m interested in the way in which COVID-19 is transforming the relationship that the South Asian diaspora has with the homeland,” Ashutosh said.
He cited the Howdy Modi and Namaste Trump events of 2019 and 2020 as an artifact of the “intricate coalescence of white and Hindu nationalism.” Hindu nationalist movements can be traced back to a 19th-century theory proliferated by the Nazis in the 1930s that white Europeans and the original Sanskrit speakers shared a common Aryan ancestor.
“Who indeed represents the true Aryan today: Hindus or whites?” Ashutosh asked.
He also discussed the state of right-wing media, through fascist scholarship circulated on nationalist forums such as Stormfront and an editorial on the George Floyd killing in “Organiser,” an Indian right-wing nationalist publication.
Commonly found and alluded to in both white and Hindu nationalist spaces are the writings of Savitri Devi, Ashutosh said. A French-born fascist of Greek descent, Devi’s melding of national socialism and Hindu nationalism aspired to spark a union in pursuit of Aryan supremacy.
In a much different context, publications like “Organiser” also proliferate and exemplify right-wing ideals. Ashutosh described the publication’s writings on George Floyd’s death and the ensuing anti-police protests that swept the United States last summer, which imply a tension between racialism and anarchy.
Ashutosh concluded his address with a discussion of COVID-19’s ties to the uptick in right-wing nationalist activity around the globe. In addition to changing the relationship between the South Asian diaspora and ideas of the homeland, the pandemic has also had a pointedly deadlier effect on communities of color and lower-income communities, he said.
Reconfiguring media ecologies: tech infrastructures and globalization
By Chris Forrester
Saturday’s “Reconfiguring Media Ecologies: Tech Infrastructures and Globalization” panel saw three discussions of the politics of technology and media within processes of creation and recreation.
Media School doctoral student Caleb Allison presented “Rediscovered, Restored, and Released: Milestone Film & Video’s Restorative Politics.” Milestone Films is an independent film distribution company founded in 1990. Its restoration projects and home video releases often place emphasis on overlooked or altogether neglected films by marginalized filmmakers.
Milestone’s output includes Kathleen Collins’ “Losing Ground” and Mikhail Kalatozov’s “I am Cuba.”
Through his presentation, Allison placed Milestone’s restoration ethos, which often includes transparency about the process of restoration and emphasis on crowdfunded projects, in conversation with broader theories of restoration in other art forms, as well as the film restoration projects of other companies.
A Grindhouse Video digital restoration of “Cannibal Holocaust,” Milestone’s crowdfunding restoration model, and The Criterion Collection’s extensively documented restoration of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” all carry different implications, Allison said.
Cole Stratton, a Media School doctoral candidate, presented “The Political Ecology of iPhone 5c Polycarbonate,” an excerpt of his larger dissertation project that reconceptualizes the smartphone as part of a cycle, rather than an object.
“It’s more productive to think about it as something that’s in motion, that’s really temporary,” he said.
His presentation explored the business and ecological aspects of Apple’s release of the iPhone 5C. It was conceived as a cheaper alternative to the higher-end 5S, released at the same time, to reverse a decline in consumer interest in expensive handhelds as other companies offered functional and less-expensive alternatives.
The 5C is made of a polycarbonate plastic full of additives dangerous to the human body and the environment, Stratton said. While Apple’s secrecy keeps the exact makeup of the material hush-hush, it likely contains flame retardants, colorants and other components that can disrupt the endocrine system, nervous system and more.
Bailey Troutman, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Boulder, shared her research interests and the beginnings of a larger project with her presentation, “Cooling the Cloud: Water Complexities of Internet Sustainability.”
Troutman’s interest in the environmental issues adjacent to technological advancements came from Eli Pariser’s 2011 book “The Filter Bubble,” where she learned about data farms. The building blocks of the internet as we know it, and the technology behind googling, streaming and even bitcoin, data farms require massive amounts of water to stay cool. And as such, their existence can leech an already limited resource from areas in need.
“The seemingly ethereal is actually quite material,” Troutman said.
Globalization and South Asia: Perspectives towards Transnational Media Flows
Three graduate students presented their research on media in South Asia.
In “Desi Diasporic Cultural Entrepreneurs: Trauma, Self-branding and Self-Empowerment in Social Media Spaces,” master’s student Mallika Khanna analyzed the work of a group of professionals she referred to as desi diasporic cultural entrepreneurs: South Asian content creators in North America such as Rupi Kaur, Fatimah Asghar, Fariha Róisín, Tarfia Faizullah, Alok Vaid-Menon and Tanais.
Khanna observed homogeneity in the kinds of content produced, including a proliferation of first-person essays and speaking out about trauma. Algorithms explain the homogeneity, she said, because they reward creators for producing the same kind of content. This leads to a pigeonholing of racial and ethnic identities, she said — the same kinds of narratives of what it means to be brown.
Christian M. James, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, presented “Baṛā Mazā Aye: Co-present Performance and Cultural Flow in North Indian Feminist Song,” an in-progress study on what a North Indian village’s folk songs tell us about globalization and communication.
He hypothesizes that communication technologies such as social and recorded media are rooted in co-presence, just as aurality, vocality and oral transmission are. He’ll conduct his research with the Jagori Rural Charitable Trust in the Kanga district of Himachal Pradesh in India.
Navdeep Sharma, MA’20, a graduate student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Dehli, presented “The Development Film in Post-Independence India: an Analysis of the Film Sponsorship Practices of three Transnational Agencies,” based on the master’s thesis he completed in The Media School.
He analyzed development films from post-independence India — propaganda documentaries sponsored by transnational agencies and the Indian government. In these films, Sharma observed that the newly independent government drew on colonial justifications, continuing the paternalistic legacy of telling the people how they must participate in nation building.
In “Entanglements of Local, Global and Regional Scales: Role of Film Talents Workshop for Cultural Diplomacy in Pakistan,” master’s student Khurram Nawaz Sheikh presented his ongoing thesis research on the impact of transnational film platforms on Pakistani film.
These platforms provide training and funding for filmmakers in Pakistan. His thesis researches their role as media spaces and the soft power they wield.