Pornography, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” the aesthetic of Nintendo games and Sacha Baron Cohen are just a few of the topics slated for discussion in an upcoming film conference: “Eye Candy.”
Organized by the class of second-year graduate students in Yale’s Film and Media Studies program, “Eye Candy” aims to examine the cultural impact of film and digital media in the modern world. Taking place in the Whitney Humanities Center, the conference begins tonight and will end on Sunday. Over the course of the weekend, 20 academics — many of whom are visiting from peer institutions such as Brown and New York University — will share their research in one of five panel discussions. These panels are titled “Auteurs and their Visual Universe,” “New(ish) Media,” “Insatiable Appetites?”, “Capitalism Across Genres” and “Border Crossings.”
“We’re hoping to straddle the divide between the humanities and social sciences and really dig into the political aspects of consuming media,” said Masha Shpolberg GRD ’19, one of the five conference organizers.
Shpolberg and her co-organizers said they hope the opening event of the conference, a keynote address titled “The Cops and the Commons: Life, Love and Value After Ferguson,” will reflect the conference’s goal of examining the political implications of modern media forms. They added that they selected Nicholas Mirzoeff, a professor of Media, Culture and Communication at NYU, as the keynote speaker because of his prominence in the field of Media Studies.
Mirzoeff said that in his address, he hopes to “raise the stakes” of how students and academics study media, adding that he wanted to inspire awareness, understanding, participation, conversation and persistence among conference attendees as they contemplate the role of media in political issues. He noted that he especially wants media scholars at the university level to be engaged in such discussions.
“Universities are no longer places where we can pretend not to be part of social movements of our time,” he said.
Swagato Chakravorty GRD ’19, another conference co-organizer, pointed out that “media studies” can often be confused with fields like journalism or linguistics because of the term’s vague definition. He said he thinks it is important to better specify the topics that fall under disciplines such as Film Studies, noting that current modes of viewing film have strayed from traditional filmstrips and moved into the digital. The conference will aim to address this concern, Chakravorty added.
Mirzoeff said he believes that the current influx of digital media forms in everyday life is of profound historical significance.
“Just as when books were first printed in late 15th early 16th century, nobody could have some of the uses of print culture that we now think of as normal … no one has a serious sense of what this social and technological change is going to mean in the long term,” Mirzoeff said.
In addition to the panels and speakers, a screening of the 1966 Czech film “Daisies” will take place tonight. Conference co-organizer Ila Tyagi GRD ’19, whose master’s thesis in American Studies traced patterns of women’s eating behavior in film, said “Daisies” differs drastically from American film. She explained that it is almost impossible to find an American film that includes women eating unless the woman is pregnant, is eating in the context of sexual foreplay, or has been starving for an extended period of time. “Daisies,” Tyagi explained, features two teenage girls eating an extravagant feast and then having a food fight.
Shpolberg noted that the director of “Daisies,” Vera Chytilová, made and released it during Czechoslovakia’s communist era and was consequently forbidden to make films in her country for nine years. Shpolberg lauded the film’s political commentary as well as its ability to simultaneously attack consumerism and communism.
Conference co-organizer Regina Karl GRD ’19 said she was particularly looking forward to Film and Media Studies professor Ronald Gregg’s closing remarks for the weekend, titled “Eye Candy XXX: Endless Eroticism and Interactivity in Post-Porn New Media.”
Karl said she thinks that although discussing pornography in an academic context can make people uncomfortable, it provides a wealth of observable and compelling information on media consumption.
“Pornography can really show us how we perceive of the ‘right to look,’ and how we can sometimes abuse it, or need it, or have an urge for it,” Karl said. “But we’re not just going to talk about things that your eyes might want to look at.”
The Film and Media Studies program will co-host another conference at the end of the month on French post-war cinema and culture.