Intro to Media Studies, Round Two

I’m preparing to launch my next two media studies series later this week. Over the next month or so, I’ll be posting several items on the blog each week to guide you through two different courses of exploration. I hope you’ll join me.

The first series is called “Teens in the Twenty-Teens,” where we’ll be looking at some of the more interesting young adult (YA) or teen movies released during the last five years. This first series makes great family viewing. While the movies sometimes deal with challenging themes, they’re all rated PG and would certainly be appropriate for kids as young as 12 or 13.

The second series is called “Modern Trends in Horror Movies.” Like the title suggests, we’re watching grittier and more disturbing films. Although I’ve picked films that would be considered “elevated horror” (a contested term), the themes and content of these films are meant for people aged 17 and over.

If you haven’t yet signed up for either of these series, I’d encourage you to do so. My email address is listed below. You’ll get weekly updates from me, links to additional materials such as YouTube videos where I talk about the films, and invitations to the Zoom chats I plan to host to discuss these films. Note that I won’t sign up anybody under 17 for the horror series without parental permission.

All that said, you’re under no obligation to sign up, send in answers to my discussion questions, or anything else. Lurkers are welcome. So, if you just want to read my posts and watch the movies on your own, then by all means you should feel free to do that. These series are just about sharing the love of learning, the enthusiasm for cinema, and the joy of having lively discussions about these films, which I consider “texts” that are rich for analysis.

Basically, a “text” is any sort of movie, novel, short story, poem, play, song, video game, etc. Any “text” contains a wealth of information, not only about the content or message that the author (or filmmaker) intends it to express, but also a whole host of additional meanings that may or may not be “intentional” but that are still available for us to interpret and discuss. Sometimes things that are seemingly “unintentional” can open up the most interesting angles. Like people, texts tend to reveal less about themselves in “what they say” and more about themselves by “how they say” it.

We want to dig deep into these movies we’re watching. That means, we need to pay close attention to even the littlest details in order to pick up on all the elements we can use to interpret these movies. We can develop better and more interesting interpretations of these movies by noticing and discussing things at the level of particular word choices in the dialogue, facial expressions or body movements of the actors, camera angles, camera movement, what’s included in the camera’s frame of vision (and what’s not included), details of set or costume design, the sounds we hear that are supposed to be part of the world of the movie, and the sounds or music we hear that are meant for the audience but not supposed to be interpreted as part of the characters’ experience.

These elements and many others all combine to make up the language of film (or any visual medium). Of course, most of us have grown up staring at screens, so we probably all feel pretty fluent in the language of visual media. And in fact we are.

However, just as native speakers of English, perfectly fluent as they are, still benefit from taking English classes, so do watchers of movies (and television and so on) benefit from engaging in media studies. Thinking about how media conveys its messages makes us better, more critical, more independent, and more savvy consumers of that media.

Besides, watching movies is fun. And it’s even more fun to watch with a critical eye, knowing what you’re seeing and developing your interpretations. That’s the joy of media studies.

Okay, I’m going to stop here. I got a Ph.D. in “textual theory,” so as you might imagine, I could go on all day. We’ve got five whole weeks to talk about this stuff. I don’t want to bore you before we even start.

In a few days, I’ll be posting introductions and discussion questions for the first movies in these new series. If you feel inspired, sign up. Even if you don’t want to sign up, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at chuckcarusophd@gmail.com

Published by Chuck Caruso

writer of dark fiction (crime, horror & western noir), literary & textual scholar (american gothic, noir, po-co, sf), and cultural critic

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