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March 2001, Week 2


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 11 Mar 2001 15:53:17 -0500
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Timothy Shary <[log in to unmask]>
TEXT/PLAIN (68 lines)
Hello everyone—

        I did not plan on joining the textbook debate, but the last few
missives have compelled me, especially the teen angle that has been
introduced.  Please bear with me as I get this out…

First, what some people are getting at in this debate is an issue that has
plagued film studies since it emerged in the academy: its perceived lack
of intellectual legitimacy, and how we might validate it through our
curriculum development.  Assigning difficult texts, talking in jargon, and
screening demanding films is not the way to gain that legitimacy, at least
not at the introductory level.  As we all know, the vast majority of
students who take Intro to Film classes think that it's going to be
"Flicks for Kicks"--they are stunned to learn that there is a high level
of sophistication to what we do, and regardless of what textbook we use,
it's our job to celebrate that sophistication and try to make more
students respect it.

Personally, I agree with the sentiment that most new students are turned
off to Bordwell & Thompson and are more effectively "welcomed" into the
field with the lighter work of Giannetti, Phillips, et al.  Those who
decide to pursue film studies then adapt to B&T and other "deeper" texts
quite well, and those who just take a film class out of curiosity can
still be shown the seriousness of the field through the knowledge imparted
by their professor rather than a dense and potentially intimidating

        And since the last two messages brought up the topic, consider
that the teen film genre is one of the most ridiculed of our field, and
yet it has great educational value and relevance for our students.  I
happen to know of the ridicule since I wrote my dissertation on the topic
and have encountered the ignorant attitude of a few (certainly only a few,
although it seems a crucial few) scholars who scoff at my research.  I’d
like to think that I’m joining the "quest for legitimacy" by publishing a
scholarly book on teen films with U. Texas Press next year ("Generation
Multiplex"), which will join a tiny handful of serious studies on this
large and important genre.

        I have taught three courses on teen films at two different
schools, from introductory to advanced levels, and while again the
students tend to enter with the notion that they’re just going to have a
blast goofing on sex comedies, they soon take seriously the range of film
studies issues teen films represent: genre theory, social representation,
industry trends, marketing, ratings, film history, etc.  I know that some
students still take these courses for "kicks," yet I find that the teen
film is a very effective way of meeting students on their level, of making
the material matter more to them, and of still demonstrating the
sophistication of the field.  (My course plan is soon being published in
the Journal of Film and Video.)

        Think of it all this way: the reason why film studies is not taken
seriously by so many other fields is because it is so young.  The same
applies to teens themselves, and has applied for thousands of years.
Those of us who teach film have an obligation to bring young people into
the field in a way that does not compromise our intelligence yet does not
alienate the very population that will inherit-- and sustain-- the future
of the field.  We can be better teachers to new scholars by working to
understand their experiences as we convey our understanding of film
studies.  We can do that at the Intro level through using more accessible
textbooks and films, to which we can bring great insight.  And we can do
that by studying and teaching some films about young people.

        Tim Shary

Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite