Listening to Pod People

We’ve had an exceptionally strong line-up of speakers through the Comparative Media Studies Colloquium series this term. If you haven’t already subscribed to our podcast series, you might want to check out some of the podcasts which have recently gone live on our site. Taken collectively, these podcasts reflect the interdisciplinary character of the CMS colloquium series, featuring speakers here involved in performance studies, science-technology-and-society studies, journalism, and the history of the book. You can check here for forthcoming events.

Playing with Stuff: The Material World in Performance

This presentation / lecture / infomercial examines the nature and implications of object performance both as a global cultural tradition and as a contemporary medium that dominates our culture. While performing objects traditionally include puppets, masks, icons, and other “things”, the more recent innovations of film, television, and the internet can also be seen as aspects of our need to play with stuff. In all cases, the central dynamic of this form involves a focus on the material world instead of humans. The talk will be accompanied by images from 20th-century avant-garde film and performance work. John Bell began his performance work with Bread and Puppet Theater, after which he earned a Ph.D. in theater history at Columbia University. He is a founding member of the award-winning Great Small Works theater company of Brooklyn, a fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, and Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut. This spring he will be directing a “Living Newspaper”-style production about the politics of global healthcare with MIT students. His latest book, American Puppet Modernism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), examines particular moments of puppet, mask, and object theater in the United States over the past 150 years. He is a trombonist with the Somerville-based Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, and organizer of the upcoming October 12th HONK! Festival Parade from Davis Square to Harvard Square.

The Campaign and the Media 1

MIT Communications Forum LogoHow have American news media responded to this historic presidential campaign? Is it true, as many have suggested, that the influence of newspapers and television has declined in the digital era? Have the media become more partisan and polarized? More preoccupied with polls and campaign strategy than with substantive issues? Has the coverage by traditional media been qualitatively different from that by online news sources? In this first of two forums on the campaign and the media, noted journalists Tom Rosenstiel, who directs the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington D.C., Ellen Goodman, a syndicated columnist, and John Carroll, a local reporter and media critic who teaches at Boston University, offer report cards on the current state of American political journalism.

Co-sponsored by the Center for Future Civic Media and the Technology and Culture Forum

Submarine Media: Sounding the Sea with Cyborg Anthropology

This presentation delivers a first-person anthropological report on a dive to the seafloor in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s three-person submersible, Alvin. Meditating on the sounds rather that the sights of the dive, Helmreich explores multiple meanings of immersion: as a descent into liquid, an absorption in activity, and the all-encompassing entry of an anthropologist into a cultural medium. Tuning in to the rhythms of Alvin as a submarine cyborg, he shows how interior and exterior soundscapes create a sense of immersion, and he argues that torquing media theory to include water as a medium can make explicit the technical structures and social practices of sounding, hearing, and listening that support senses — scientific, everyday, and anthropological — of embodied sonic presence. Stefan Helmreich is an anthropologist who studies life scientists, from those who engage in the computer modeling of living things (Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World, University of California Press, 1998) to those who work in deep-sea environments (Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas, University of California Press, 2009). He is particularly interested in the limits of “life” as an analytical category for contemporary biology

Communications Forum: Books and Libraries in the Digital Age with Robert Darnton

A pioneering scholar of the Enlightenment and of the history of the book, Robert Darnton is the director of the University Library and the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor at Harvard. A former Rhodes Scholar and MacArthur Fellow, his books include The Business of the Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopedie, The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History, and The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Prerevolutionary France. He has written extensively on the impact of digital technologies on the culture of print and on the responsibilities of libraries in the computer age.

In this Forum, Darnton discussed and took questions about the emergence of the discipline of the history of the book, the future of books and reading, and his own vision of the ways in which new and old media can reinforce each other, strengthening and transforming the world of learning.