When Summer Turns to Fall

I am now a 2nd year Ph.D. student. 😯 Boy did that first year fly by. And boy did the summer disappear.

Lesson learned: “summer break” does not really mean vacation. I travelled a ton and had amazing experiences, but each adventure held a very specific, usually research-related purpose. That holds its own sense of exhilaration, if not rest. I finally have a clearer sense of direction and trajectory for my life, and as part of that, I was able to spend my summer fleshing out some of my research in concrete ways.

Earlier this summer I shared my trip to Houston and NASA Space Center (which is hanging in there despite Harvey). Right after I got back to Denver, I had another first: my first Comic Con.

I was presenting on two panels at the Denver Comic Con. The first was part of the scholarly/lit track Page 23, where I gave a talk on HBO’s Westworld and Manifest Destiny. (I argue that the show ultimately acts as a critique of Manifest Destiny.)

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The second was on a fan panel celebrating Syfy’s show The Expanse. Each presentation was drastically different. My Westworld talk was much like a traditional academic conference presentation, though my audience included non-academic but passionate fans–making for some fantastic discussion. The fan panel…was so different! Fan panels are loosely structured and designed to engage one’s audience in a more general, yet still thoughtful and enthusiastic, conversation about why we collectively love the show (i.e. no formal, planned talks). By the end, everyone should have a deeper appreciation and love for the show. This panel was an absolute blast–us panelists got to interrupt each other, argue about characters, and hear new thoughts and insights from the audience. Plus the chair of our panel, Michael Pea, managed to get one of The Expanse actors, Cas Anvar, to record a personal greeting to our audience.

Then the very next day after DCC ended, Josh and I were back on a plane (actually three), headed to Cape Town, South Africa. I still consider Cape Town home, but this was my first time heading back. . . on a research grant. Essentially, I was “home” on a business trip. That was a bit surreal, and it included my first chance getting to drive on the other side of the road. (I only hit one unfortunate bird . . . well he hit me. Flew right into me on the highway and gave me quite a shock.) 

So why was I in South Africa? What kind of “research” was I doing?

Well, technically, I was really there to do pre-research. Since my dissertation will be centered on South African youth’s use of popular digital media, I really want to be in conversation with South African scholars doing similar work to my own. So I set out to meet with as many South African media & culture scholars as I could in three weeks. My trip took me to 3 cities and 3 universities: the University of Cape Town, Rhodes University in Grahamstown, and the University of Kwazulu-Natal in Durban.

I lost count of how many faculty and graduate students I met, and I still need to write up my report on what I did and learned. Returning to the US, I felt both inspired and overwhelmed. There is so much yet to be explored and studied, in regards to media, within South Africa. This affords me a wide frontier of possibilities but that simultaneously makes it much harder to narrow down specific projects. The good thing is that I’m only a 2nd year Ph.D, so I have time to figure things out. And now I have a network of incredible individuals to mentor and guide me. (Several of whom immediately took it upon themselves to assign me homework!) 

So right now I’m trying to diligently read everything to which I was pointed during my trip. And I am also trying to get my head back into the game that is fall semester. (Thank goodness for Labor Day.) I am teaching two recitations at CU Boulder for a course called “Conversation” about discourse & democracy and an online high school course on visual literacy called “I Spy”. I also have 3 graduate seminars on Global Media & Culture; Digital Games & Society; and Foundations of Critical Theory to keep me busy.

So there finally is my belated update. I had a couple important deadlines that I’ve been feverishly working to complete, so I had to temporarily demote High and Low on my list of priorities. Next few posts will switch back to the standard critique and analysis. Josh and I have been playing a few new video games this summer, and I’m looking forward to writing about both. See you all then.

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