Summer is finally here. While many of us still have to keep “adulting” at our day jobs or other responsibilities, it does usually mean a little more time for leisure. The summer blockbuster is one American summer tradition. This year brings us Wonder Woman, Baywatch, The Mummy, Despicable Me 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and a number of other big budget, mostly mindless, “good fun” movies. Typically films released over the summer don’t generate much award interest; they’re provided to give our brains a break from the year–to help us relax.

But whether you are going to see a light summer blockbuster or an Oscar-nominated drama over Christmas, when you walk out of a movie, the first question asked by your companions is usually: So what did you think???!

How do you experience this question?
For me, usually my group has barely exited the auditorium when the question comes and I am still trying to readjust my eyes to the blaring fluorescent lights of the theater corridors—let alone figure out how to articulate my thoughts to this question. At that point, somebody else in the group will pipe up with how they feel and then their response usually shapes how the rest of the conversation goes.

If one person walks out exclaiming about how delightful the movie is, the entire group then has to recalibrate their opinion about the movie in relation to that first declared opinion. If you hated the movie, you might hesitate to express that and begin to question your own experience. Or perhaps you might respond with immediate shocked disbelief and a feisty discussion could ensue structured around the two most extreme perspectives.

Of course neither might happen and you might have a perfectly productive conversation, but I started to notice that I had social anxiety about the after-film dynamics. No doubt, this is probably because I am a filmmaker and thus really care about how I process each movie-watching experience.
So instead of feeding the anxiety, I channeled it into contemplating how people think about and talk about their movie experiences.

First, we tend to talk about “liking” or “not liking” a movie, but as Facebook has taught us, the act of “liking” can mean so many different things. What do you really mean when you say you liked Life of Pi? Are you talking about that feeling in your chest when you left the auditorium: the devastation; pure joy; heart-pounding adrenaline; apathy? Or are you trying to express that you thought the filmmakers did a masterful job of storytelling? Or maybe you are simply trying to communicate that you were glad you saw the movie and felt like it was money and time well-spent?

Maybe it is a little of all three?

Rather than trying to make the word “like” encompass all those different meanings, I would recommend we start using a collection of different verbs to talk about our movie experiences. Using a variety of verbs will allow us to speak more specifically about what we mean when we say we “like” a movie. I am going to propose three sets, including my suggestion of how the term “like” should be used, but I’d love to hear if you have other verb suggestions.

1) To Appreciate
This verb choice identifies your recognition of excellent filmmaking.
E.g. “I really appreciated the filmmakers’ use of color in Hero.
“The performances in The Perks of Being a Wallflower were incredible; they really captured the tone of high school, and I appreciated that about the film.”

2) To Enjoy
This verb choice identifies the level of pleasure you experienced while seeing the film.
E.g. “Mad Max: Fury Road was a blast! I enjoyed every minute of it.”
“Watching Lawrence of Arabia was an exhausting experience; I did not enjoy those three hours.”

3) To Like/To Love
Overall how would you rate this film? This is the hardest verb category to explain: it takes into consideration both how you objectively would rank the film and subjectively how you experienced it. This verb also provides space for moral/ethical judgement. The two verb choices (like/love) reflect the degree of how strong your opinion towards the film is. (Examples below.)

This last verb option builds upon the previous two. Sometimes you will instinctively know that you really liked a movie, but often you will need some time (whether 30 minutes or 3 years) before you decide how you comprehensively feel about that film. This form of “like” is the product of both thoughtful reflection and gut emotional reaction.

Just because you like a film, doesn’t mean you necessarily appreciated or enjoyed it as well. What do I mean by this? Here are some examples to illustrate:

  • “I really appreciated the attentiveness of the filmmakers in Forrest Gump, but I found the film to be tedious and boring. I wouldn’t say I hated it, but I definitely did not like it.”
    • Here the viewer is able to appreciate the film but not enjoy or like it.
  • Beverly Hills Chihuahua isn’t a great film in terms of story or technical prowess, but I still had a blast watching it because I love talking animals. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I liked the movie, but I certainly didn’t dislike it either!”
    • Here the viewer is able to separate out their enjoyment of the film from their perceived value of the film. In this scenario, the movie could be likened to a ride at an amusement park—good fun and not much else!
  • “Wow, Steven Spielberg really killed it with Schindler’s List. The performances were gut-wrenching, the cinematography was beautiful, and you could tell how intentional the directing was. I had a rough time getting through the full movie because the story was so depressing, but I am glad I watched it. That was a good movie.
    • Here, the viewer is able to appreciate and like the film even as they were not able to enjoy the movie due to the nature of its content. In these scenarios, it can be harder to use the word “like” (it can feel wrong to like a movie about the Holocaust), so other terms like “good” often get used even though they’re also vague.
  • “I think The Fountain is an absolutely stunning movie with incredible performances, and I really enjoyed watching it, but at the end of the day, I had serious concerns with the worldview portrayed and what I perceived as a problematic appropriation of Eastern spirituality.”
    • Here the viewer acknowledges a difference in how they experienced the film and their recognition of its cinematic quality with their personal beliefs about what the film was trying to do. The viewer appreciated and enjoyed it, but ultimately didn’t like it because of what they perceived it was doing.

As you can see, we don’t always actually use the words like/love/appreciate/enjoy when we talk about movies, but those different ideas are built into our conversations.

So to close, here are my tips for your next movie outing:

Social Guidelines for a Positive Post-Cinema Experience
1. Ask the group to wait to leave the theater till the end of the credits, so you have time to process through some of your thoughts and feelings about the film. (And to pay your respects to the many people who helped make the movie!)

2. Pick a public space like a coffee shop or restaurant to go and discuss the film afterwards as a group. Wait till you get there and are settled in with your drink/food orders before opening up the conversation.

3. Before asking if people liked the film, try teasing apart the above categories and discuss if and how each person was able to appreciate and enjoy the film.

4. After a productive conversation, let everyone reflect on how much (at that moment) they liked the film and would rate it. Remember this opinion might change later upon further reflection!

You can also use this process with movie nights at home. At first it might seem awkward and formulaic, but after practice, you’ll find yourself relaxing into a natural way of thinking and talking about movies!

Share your tips for watching movies with friends below, and pass this on to anyone you think might find it helpful! And of course, tell me how you have enjoyed, appreciated, liked, loved, or hated this year’s summer blockbusters.

Featured image captured by: Jake Hills

I’m writing this from my gate at LAX as I wait for my flight back to Denver. I’ve spent three frenetic weeks back in Southern California, mostly centered around my trip to the International Communication Association Conference in San Diego.
 
While a substantial portion of a professor’s job is to teach students, that is really only the tip of the iceberg—the most visible element to society. We can divide a professor’s responsibilities into three key areas: teaching, research, and academic service. The time spent on each area varies depending on the type of university employing that professor (research university, liberal arts college, etc.) and the status of the professor (adjunct/temporary appointment/assistant/associate/full, etc.). CU Boulder is a tier one research institution so research is an extremely significant aspect to the responsibilities of all our faculty. 
 
This emphasis, in turn, trickles down to us graduate students—especially since the job market in higher ed has become increasingly competitive. When future employers take a look at my CV, they will particularly look for teaching experience and publications (preferably in top academic journals).
 
Conferences are a platform to share research papers that you will subsequently submit for publication. They’re a great space to float ideas, get feedback and criticism, and then revise your work before offering it up to editorial scrutiny. They’re also a useful venue to meet other scholars doing work in one’s field, whether they be peers or seniors. 
 
 
The ICA conference, which I just attended, is probably the top gathering of communication and media scholars across the globe. It’s competitive; this year I believe the conference accepted around 45% of submissions. The sessions cover quite a range of subfields, from more comm-oriented fields like interpersonal communication and organizational communication to social science-oriented studies of media, such as those scholars studying media effects, to humanities-oriented studies of media, asking more philosophically or historically grounded questions about the nature of media and culture. At any given time over the five-day conference, you could select from around 20 different sessions. Then every evening there were receptions to attend, hosted by universities and ICA divisions either at the hotel or at restaurants in downtown SD.
 
Academic conferences are expensive to attend, so scholars usually only attend when they are presenting. That way you can often get your conference travel sponsored by your institution. I managed to get in this year, not because of my current research, but from building on some research I did while working at Biola and subsequently while studying at Claremont. I participated on a panel about MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, but I spoke specifically about the Minerva Schools, which are a Silicon Valley endeavor to supposedly revolutionize higher education. 
 

Instead, I argue that the Minerva Schools are primarily an effort to transform U.S. higher education into a high-return export while simultaneously raising some serious concerns about what we understand the role of the university to be in contemporary society. 
 

I encourage you to peruse their website and watch some of their videos, but pay careful attention to their rhetoric and the tangible implications of what they suggest. I’d love to hear your reactions, positive or negative. What do you like about what they offer, and what concerns you about their vision for education?

I now have a few (mostly) uninterrupted weeks with which to focus on my research.
 I have a busy summer, but I will be keeping you updated on my research trips, remaining conferences, and other related activities. Plus I’ll be sharing some thoughts from my current research projects, along with some other things about media and society that I’ve been contemplating. Here’s to a delightful change of pace!
 
 

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few hours swinging in my hammock by the creek in a local park. I spoke with my sister, read a book, tried to solve a NYT crossword puzzle. . . It was incredibly relaxing, especially as spring has arrived in full force to Boulder. Then I got in my car, synced up my phone to the speakers and drove home with Sia as my soundtrack. 

Driving home, I was struck by the range of mediation experiences that saturated my afternoon, especially the stark contrast between my experience of the world in the hammock versus my experience of the world from the driver’s seat. Let me quickly back up here and explain what I mean by mediation. I’m a media scholar, but what I mean by media is not limited merely to the news media or forms of entertainment media–the things people tend to associate with the term media. Rather I study this concept of mediation, the idea that our experiences of the world are always being mediated through tangible means. Our senses play a role in mediation. Our bodies themselves mediate our experiences. And then the objects we use and surround ourselves with also participate in mediation. This is mediation at its most fundamental level. News media and popular media are more complex and tertiary forms of mediation that are built and constructed upon these more basic ways of experiencing the world.

Leaving the park that afternoon.

Let me try to illustrate what I mean by returning to my afternoon. As I lay in my hammock, its gentle sway and the taut fabric underneath my back came between me and my experience of that area of the park. I experienced the park through my specific position and through my experience within that hammock. The young man across the creek from me, not more than a few hundred feet away, had a completely different experience of the park sitting on his blanket with firm ground under his body. Yet there undoubtedly were overlaps: we likely could both smell the keen scent of earthy spring after a weekend of rain. We could both hear the distant chortles of infant laughter. But perhaps my stranger had a history in the military and as a result his hearing attuned him to very different things to me. Perhaps he didn’t hear the laughter but instead heard a distant parent calling for their child, their frantic cries drifting on the wind. Or perhaps he wore a hearing aid, and his park didn’t sound nearly as full and robust as my park did.

This is what I mean by mediation at its most fundamental.

But, as I mentioned earlier, it was the contrast between my experience of the world from the hammock versus from the driver’s seat that struck me most. Since I moved to Boulder, I very rarely drive anymore. I take the bus to and from school every day. I walk to local shops and eateries. I walk down the big hill to my favorite coffee shop (Trident) to read and write. Even though I often listen to podcasts while I’m moving from point A to point B, the absence of a steering wheel and windshield has dramatically altered my experience of the world.

Without a steering wheel to grip tightly, I have less of a sense of control and power as I move through the world. Without the frame, I am more vulnerable to the world. As a woman, that sometimes makes me anxious when I’m walking home after nightfall, but for the most part, it has opened me up to the world in beautiful ways. On the bus, I meet fascinating fellow passengers and I get to cheerfully greet and thank the driver. I see people whose lives are dramatically different to mine, and I get to briefly imagine how their days might unfold unlike mine.

As I walk, I can stop to watch the now-skinny squirrels happily bounce along newly budding branches, or catch my raccoon neighbor sneakily eyeing me from behind his bush. As each iteration of spring has arrived, I haven’t just seen it—I’ve smelled it and heard it, as new blossoms release pungent fragrances and the birds emerge and call excitedly to each other. I make new dog friends everyday, and when it rains, I splash from puddle to puddle in my rainboots. (I lived in desert LA for too long…) In the winter, there is nothing more magical than trudging through soft, white ankle-deep snow in fleece-lined snow boots, woolen beanie and thick scarf as dainty flakes fall silently through the air. With every breath of crisp mountain air, I am reminded that my lungs are growing stronger at this altitude.

Without the mediation of the vehicle shell extending from my body, I am freed to relax and experience the world–to relinquish my desire for control and domination.

In today’s age, we talk a lot about the troublesome role that media like phones and computers have in our lives. We talk about digital fasts, and the need to slow down. We discuss how to develop more reflexive usage of devices in our lives and how to hold each other accountable.

Well this summer, I encourage you to take this a step further and think about your daily life in terms of mediation.

  • What mediates your experience of the world on a daily basis, whether digital or analog?
  • Through this form of mediation, what experiences of the world do you perhaps miss out on?
  • What alternatives to mediation might you consider?

Maybe start with the car, like I did. What would it look like to walk or take public transport for a few days a week? Even if you need your car to get to work, contemplate scheduling walks into your lunch break, after dinner, or first thing in the morning.

Let me know your experience or if you do any interesting mediation experiments. I’d love to share some other stories here on the blog.
You can always email me at rachel@highandlowblog.com, leave a comment below, or tweet @highandlowblog.

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