Assistant Professor, University of Iowa

Recent Posts

Forbes Series on Entrepreneurship in Kibera

Forbes Series on Entrepreneurship in Kibera

The past few months, I’ve been busy finishing my dissertation and doing little else. Now that my committee is reading the goods and deciding my fate (I defend next week), I wanted to draw attention to an interesting series of posts about Kibera on Forbes.com. […]

A History of Kibera

A History of Kibera

Before I first visited Kibera in 2008, I started tracking down books, newspaper articles, and journal articles to learn more about Kibera’s history. During this search, I found a couple of real gems. For instance, Timothy Parson’s article “Kibra is Our Blood” offers an excellent […]

American Remakes of British Television

American Remakes of British Television

American Remakes of British Television: Transformations and Mistranslations DePaul University Assistant Professor Paul Booth and I just published the chapter “Translating the Hyperreal (Or How The Office Came to America, Made Us Laugh, and Tricked Us into Accepting Hegemonic Bureaucracy)” in the new book American Remakes of British Television: Transformations and Mistranslations edited by Carlen Lavigne and Heather Marcovitch. In the chapter, we use Baudrillard to examine the American remake of The Office.

Here’s an abstract:

The Office stands as one of the most popular “translations” of a British television show to an American audience. The British Office garnered scores of awards during its two-year run; the American Office is currently one of the most popular sitcoms on American television and a key component of NBC’s Thursday night lineup. Many elements of the original series were adopted by the remake with only minor alterations. Both use similar styles of humor: an uneasy, passive-aggressive and sometimes horrifyingly uncomfortable (albeit often realistic) awkwardness of many of the characters. Additionally, both shows follow the exploits of a socially awkward boss, a subservient and obsequious second-in-command, and a good-natured office “drone” who becomes, in a roundabout way, the audience’s hero. Further, both shows employ a “documentary” style of shooting, so that the characters are aware of the TV crew, and the cameras become characters in their own right.

Yet, tellingly, the translation of the show from British to American also creates significant differences. Specifically, we use a reading of Baudrillard’s simulacra to investigate how the British version consciously uses the documentary-style to produce a distinctly hyperreal office, something that is lost in the American remake. At the same time, we argue that the character of Dwight in the American version embodies Baudrillard’s Disneyland, a fantastical exaggeration meant to hide the fantasy of the real. Because Dwight is set up as the extreme bureaucratic archetype, the more mundane bureaucracy of the rest of the office workers becomes normalized. Finally, by comparing the relationships between Gareth and Tim in the British version and Dwight and Jim in the American, we argue that the American The Office actually reinforces its hegemonic bureaucracy, effectively negating any of the subversiveness of the British version.

Same-Same in Mathare

Same-Same in Mathare

I was doing some dissertation reading today (as I do everyday) when I came across the following passage: The people of Mathare are neither looking for handouts nor threatening the social and political order of their society. Instead, they are seeking control over their own […]

CFP: Globalization and Popular Culture (2011 Midwest Popular Culture Association)

CFP: Globalization and Popular Culture (2011 Midwest Popular Culture Association)

Call for Papers: GLOBALIZATION AND POPULAR CULTURE 2011 Midwest Popular Culture Association Conference Friday-Sunday, October 14-16, 2011 Milwaukee, WI Hilton Milwaukee City Center www.mpcaaca.org Deadline: April 30, 2011 We invite papers/panels that explore theoretical, empirical, and methodological approaches to the study of popular culture on […]

Fieldnote Fun

Fieldnote Fun

I’m knee-deep in fieldnotes at the moment, so I thought I’d share a fun excerpt. This comes from the second day of a video training I did with an organization. I’ve made some minor edits for clarity and anonymity.

Last time I said they should think about some things they would like to learn in editing and tell me today. Some things from the first day were how to show multiple videos on top of each other at the same time (ex. by lowering the top layer’s opacity), or how do you show multiple videos separate from each other at the same time like they do in 24. Today, Mike asked how to add photo sound effects like I had in my video about Kibera. Then, the questions started getting a bit more bizarre. Tony, in particular, had a bunch of questions based on stuff he had seen in music videos. One thing he asked was about a music video where it made toy cars look like real cars, and he wanted to know how to do that in editing. Then he said he saw a music video where there were beams of light that went in front of the video. Then he asked how editors make someone look like a zombie. Then he asked if there was a way to make it look like the ring he was wearing had a glare on it so that it was shining in the screen. Someone else then asked if it was possible to cut someone out of a video like you would do in Photoshop. Later in the training, I was showing how you can speed up footage by taking a video of someone running and changing the speed. Someone then asked if I could make this person fly. No, no I cannot.

Before You Transcribe That Interview…

Before You Transcribe That Interview…

Thankfully, I am almost done transcribing all of my dissertation interviews. While the transcription process helps me get intimately familiar with my “data,” it is also a time-consuming, repetitive, and some-what unpleasant task. It makes my neck cramp, my shoulders tighten up, and my vision […]

Communication, Culture and Human Rights in Africa

Communication, Culture and Human Rights in Africa

I have a chapter in the just-published book Communication, Culture, and Human Rights in Africa (Bala A. Musa and Jerry Domotaub, editors). My chapter is called “Media Activism, Youth Culture and Human Rights Campaigns for the MTV Generation,” and it looks at the organization Invisible […]

“I Completely Agree With Everything You Said”

“I Completely Agree With Everything You Said”

Let me first start off by saying this…I have been extremely fortunate throughout my teaching career at University of Wisconsin-Madison. My students have been bright, thoughtful, articulate, and engaged. UW is an outstanding public institution, and it owes much of its greatness to its students. (And the J-School has a big horn to toot as well.)

That being said, this semester I’ve started to notice a troubling trend. In the course I teach, students are required to present speeches on assigned readings. After each speech, I would call on other students to give impromptu responses to these speeches. Overall, my students have done a nice job with this assignment.

But after a while I started to notice something. Many of the speeches, and most of the responses, included some variation of the following phrase: “I completely agree with everything you/he/she/the author said.” The first time I heard this, I didn’t think much of it. After it popped up a few more times, I was somewhat confused. And then it became a cliche. And I became concerned.

It’s one thing to agree, but to “completely agree” with “everything” someone said? Surely, there was something you disagreed with. Surely, your experiences and values provide you with a new angle that hasn’t yet been considered. While I’m happy to play devil’s advocate in class, I’m more concerned about the possibility that my students tend toward complete agreement in their daily lives.

Now, I don’t want to sound like an old curmudgeon who doesn’t understand “kids these days.” When I was a young undergraduate, I thought much the same way. Fresh out of high school, I was familiar with reading textbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. That’s where information was found. It was my job to consume it, became a better person for it, and then move on to the next chunk of information. So when I was assigned a reading in class, I assumed it was because what the author had to say was “right.” Why else would the professor assign it?

A few years ago, I ended up with an examination copy of a textbook called Everything’s an Argument. While I don’t think I will ever teach a class where I will use it, I love the concept. It makes claims like “People walk, talk, and breathe persuasion very much as they breathe the air: everything is a potential argument” (p. v) and advises its readers to “Take no claim at face value, examine all evidence thoroughly, and study the implications of your own and others’ beliefs” (p. 24).

Now, I think most students understand argumentation. They know how to write a thesis and how to provide relevant information as evidence. But I think they need to recognize they are surrounded by persuasion in varying forms and degrees, and they need to learn to be more skeptical of these arguments.

All this points to a need for greater media literacy. For one, learning to critically disagree with media content is particularly important considering the tremendous growth in partisan media in the U.S. At the same time, traditional forms of “objective” media are also born out of competing agendas and individual persuasions. And as proponents of critical media literacy argue, industry biases and routines continually shape media content. Media critics like Jack Shafer routinely show us it’s both OK and valuable to disagree with “traditional” media. Students need to recognize that.

From a teaching standpoint, I’ve been thinking about new assignments that could help encourage critical disagreement. One idea is to require students to write rebuttals to course readings. In the rebuttals, students would need to identify the author’s core argument, assess the evidence offered, and provide a well supported counterargument.

Another idea would be to get students to disagree with me. I’ve known professors who present course lectures as structured arguments. I could offer several of these over the course of the semester and require students to turn in written counterarguments where they challenge my claims and evidence and then incorporate outside research and original examples to support their positions.

Critical disagreement is an invaluable tool for surviving college, let alone life. Students need to learn this early on if they are to grow into critically engaged producers and consumers of media.

Then again, maybe my students were lazily picking up on a course catchphrase, and I am overreacting. Maybe I’m following the same faulty logic as bogus trend stories.

Maybe you disagree with all or some of what I’ve said. In fact, I hope you do.

Overloaded Faculty in East Africa

Overloaded Faculty in East Africa

The latest Journal of International and Intercultural Communication is out with an interesting article that looks at the factors that contribute to a lack of research and publication activities by scholars working at universities in East Africa. In “Research and Publication by Communication Faculty in […]