Author: Terry Newman

The Culture War in Communication Studies

There have been more infamous civil wars within higher education, but perhaps none more ironic: In September, the National Communication Association (NCA) shut down the discussion feature on its Communication, Research and Theory Network Listserv: These scholars are experts at communication, apparently—just not with each other. The controversies that led to the decision were of the (by now) predictable sort—an argument about what kind of language should be used to discuss immigrants who enter the United States illegally, intertwined with concerns about the racial composition of the NCA’s (virtually all-white) membership. But the underlying tensions had long been developing within the communications field—as I learned back in May, when I attended a pre-conference entitled #CommunicationSoWhite: Discipline, Scholarship, And The Media at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as part of the larger 2019 International Communications Association conference. The sub-conference was organized by professors Eve Ng, Alfred L. Martin, Jr., and Khadijah Costley White, who’d taken inspiration from a 2018 article of the same name appearing in the Journal of Communication. Communication studies is a broad field, …

The Deadly Boredom of ‘A Meaningless Life’

Remember when the scariest kid in your neighborhood was the football jock who terrorized the high school with his minions in tow, and got bailed out by his rich parents when he went too far? Or it was the gothic malcontent with the switchblade and the swagger. Either way, what made these high-status alphas so terrifying was that they came at you in numbers. They travelled in packs. This has been our narrative, in the stories we tell—from Henry Bowers in Stephen King’s It, to Biff Tannen in Back to the Future, to Billy Hargrove in Stranger Things, central-casting bullies attracted followers. They belonged. As any grade eight schoolgirl who’s been bullied off Instagram can attest, this stereotype still holds. But when it comes to the most dangerous and sociopathic actors, the opposite is true. All three of the young mass shooters who terrorized the United States in recent nationally reported scenes of carnage—Connor Betts in Dayton, Ohio; Patrick Crusius in El Paso, Texas; and Santino William Legan in Gilroy, California—acted alone. The old image …

In the Culture Wars, Be a Sancho Panza, Not a Don Quixote

“Look there, friend Sancho, and behold thirty or forty outrageous giants, with whom, I intend to engage in battle, and put every one of them to death…for, it is a meritorious warfare, and serviceable both to God and man, to extirpate such a wicked race from the face of the Earth.” “What giants do you mean?” said Sancho Panza. “Those you see yonder,” replied his master, “with vast extended arms; some of which are two leagues long.” “I would your worship would take notice,” replied Sancho, “that those you see yonder are no giants, but wind-mills; and what seem arms to you, are sails; which being turned with the wind, make the mill-stone work.” “It seems very plain,” said the knight, “that you are but a novice in adventures.” Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 novel The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote de La Mancha is about a middle-aged nobleman who spends his leisure time reading tales of knight-errantry. Well-bound tomes of epic romance cover his library walls. Chivalrous quests of valiant knights vanquishing evil foes invade his …

Through the Looking Glass at Concordia University

It was in a class called Representations of Minorities in Documentary Film, the last elective I needed to receive my BA at Concordia University in Montreal, that I first realized something was very wrong. The class had just watched Sound and Fury, a 2000 Oscar-nominated documentary about deaf culture. The film follows a 6-year-old deaf girl named Heather and her family (several members of whom also are deaf) as they go back and forth on the issue of cochlear implants, a then-new technology that allows some deaf people to hear. Heather wants cochlear implants so she can talk to people and hear lions. Her mother, too, opts for the implants. But when she discovers the implant will not be as effective for her, she changes her mind, and, without consulting her daughter, decrees that neither of them will be undergoing the procedure. After the film ended, our professor asked students for their thoughts. When called on, I said that parents should try to make their children’s lives easier. If I remember my words correctly, I …