Revising and diagraming the melting pot myth.

This project started back in 2006, when I first became interested in Ugly Betty. I am currently re-writing an essay that looks at Ugly Betty as a story of undocumented immigration. My main contention is that the stories about immigrants to the United States are usually shaped by the myth of the melting pot. Namely, immigrants are the huddled masses, who come to the U.S.A. in search of opportunity. However, before they can reap the full benefits that the U.S.A. has to offer, they must undergo a rite of passage (see Van Gennep and/or Turner). Ideally, the passage leads to gradual assimilation, as immigrants adopt American ways and shed their own customs. If they assimilate fully, immigrants incorporated into the receiving community and granted rights. If they fail, they are doomed to an eternity in liminality. I came up with this diagram to explain the narrative structure of the melting pot myth.

original mP

Click to enlarge.

Since I’m dealing with undocumented immigration, though, this structure doesn’t fit. Undocumented immigrants cannot be fully incorporated into the receiving community because they have committed a transgression against the receiving community. Territory, once settled and demarcated, is considered sacred (see Van Gennep). Therefore, I came up with a different diagram that offers two alternatives, one leading to incorporation, and the other one leading back to a status that I am calling liminal residence (you reside in the receiving country, but lack the rights of the native born or naturalized).

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Thoughts? please leave a comment.

An entry from my research diary.

I wrote this post to model what a research diary entry could look like, for my Latin American Media course. It’s a little rough, but I wanted to set an informal tone because I thought that if I did that, students would be more inclined to write freely. I wrote about the research diary in a previous post.

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A day in the life of Dr. Medina (or how I learned to love Kony 2012)

Let me start by saying this… I decided to write the Kony parody essay because I was very annoyed by Kony 2012. I kept reading all of these really negative reviews about the video’s assumptions of orientalism and white man’s burdenHowever, I didn’t want to spend months of my time trying to examine orientalism in Kony 2012. I wanted something different, so after giving it some thought, I realized that I was really interested in parody. More specifically, I thought I could make the argument that parody through YouTube is an example of participatory culture. So I figured I’d educate myself on both parody and participatory culture, in order to come up with the literature review for the project. I got done writing that sometime in June, and I also selected the videos at around the same time.

Now that selection was challenging. I didn’t realize that so many people mislabel things as parody. I mean, if you use an academic definition of parody, which is what I did, many of the videos that claim to parody Kony 2012 are just making fun of it. It’s not the same thing. A parody intends to mimic elements of the original, often in an exaggerated manner TO MAKE FUN OF IT. No mimicry? no parody. Furthermore, parody is really a critical art form (Bakhtin says so!). Parodists can point out the flaws in an argument. That, in itself, is a form of socio-cultural critique, and that’s what drew me to this project.

Anyway, I ended up with a list of selection parameters, which may sound totally arbitrary, but they helped me immensely. As far as I know, there’s no “how to pick YouTube videos” magical guide out there. Nope, you have to figure that out on your own, so I said I’d only look at videos uploaded in April, that could be considered user-generated content. The videos also had to have over 1000 views, and they had to fit the definition of parody I am using. I also decided to look only at content with intelligible audio, as I found that several videos that fit the above mentioned criteria, weren’t useful at all because I could not understand the narration. Also, as a safety precaution, I downloaded all the source material to my laptop. I did not want to run the risk of videos “disappearing,” and if that were to happen, I’d probably have to re-think whether or not to keep them in the sample. I thought I’d cross that bridge if I got to it.

And I did. It happened in two ways. First, I had selected a video called Yoda 2012. It was perfect, except for one thing. It was not user-generated content. As it turned out, it was produced by The Poke, which  a British version of The Onion. Another YouTuber cut out the final credits of the video, and then posted it as their own. I had already taken extensive notes about it, but I had to drop it, and that wasn’t the only instance of wasted work. I also had a video called Giovanni 2012. This one was most definitely user generated. However, when I revisited my sample after a few weeks off, it had been made private. I had a downloaded copy of it, but I decided that it would be unethical to use it. The person who created it had reasons to retrieve it from public view, and I wasn’t about to ask why, or just take advantage of the fact that I had a copy, so that was that.

After these two experiences, I went back to my original selection parameters. I decided to keep April as my reference month for the publication, but I added that the videos had to come from accounts in good standing. Whomever posted the recut Yoda 2012 video had their account suspended, and that’s how I ended up realizing that it was recut. I am very glad that I did.

I have now been working on and off on the essay for a few weeks.  I have a whole first draft completed, and my thinking has somewhat changed. As I was looking into YouTube, I realized that there’s more to parodies on the site than criticism. These videos are also being produced within a commercial platform that provides incentives to individuals who are willing to host advertisement on their videos. It’s an issue that appeals to my darker, political economy side, and I’m in the process of exploring it more fully.

More to that later.

Mentoring with blogs

I began experimenting with blogs in 2005, as a way to promote collaborative writing in the classroom. I have to say that my first experience was a case of unbridled enthusiasm for technology, but I was utterly unprepared for what would happen. I had bought into the notion of the digital native, that mythical creature that is practically born with a silver keyboard in his or her hand, and that can seamlessly float from one technology to the next. Needless to say that this experience taught me a lot about how people think about and use technology. It’s not as simple as people like Marc Prensky make it sound.

My first attempt was in a remedial writing class. I was an adjunct, teaching at Ave Maria College of the Americas (now Ave Maria University – Latin American Campus) in San Marcos, Nicaragua. I wanted a way for students to post quick responses to simple questions, so that they could practice their grammar and spelling. What I did not expect was that my students would get bogged down by the technology, which became a distraction that took attention away from the true goal of the assignment. I never tried it again with that course, even though I taught it every semester I was at AMCA.

My next foray went slightly better. In fact, I started this blog because of it. I modeled my blogging assignment after Danielle Stern’s portfolio assignment, a version of which can be found here.  I also decided that if I was going to use a blog to mentor students as they made sense of course content, I should be writing as well. I started producing mini-essays, which used multi-media examples to illustrate course content. All of them are filed in the “class notes” category of this blog.

There are problems with this approach, though. You have to be very selective with the videos you include, because even though blogs make it possible for us to write with multimedia, we have no control over YouTube. Copyrighted content might be perfect to illustrate a point, but it is also likely to disappear. So now, I’m actually thinking about going back and cleaning house. The other issue to think about is the public nature of blogs. I may choose to make my writing public, but my students’ privacy needs to be protected. At a minimum, they should have a choice in the matter. That said, it is easier to protect student privacy when everyone is contributing a “centralized class blog,” rather than using the “hub-and-spoke” model (see Mark Semple’s post). I can create the blog as a private space when it’s centralized, but I can’t guarantee that in the “hub-and-spoke.”

That leads me to my current thinking about blogs. Part of it was inspired by Mark Semple’s entry on Professor Hacker. The other part came from reading about research diaries. First, I really liked the idea of creating different roles for students, which is something that Semple discusses. I find that it is a good way of giving them experience in different types of writing.  I adopted Semple’s roles (first reader, respondent, searcher), divided the class into teams, and created a posting schedule for them. I also created a rubric for the assignment, all of which can be accessed here.

I also became interested in using a research diary . The benefits diaries have been extensively documented, especially in terms of their value for the professional development of teachers (e.g., Jarvis, 1992). However, diaries can fulfill similar functions for researchers. They are a tool for reflection (Borg, 2001; Janesick, 1998). Borg specifically discusses several advantages of research diaries. They establish a record of project development, document past ideas and their subsequent evolution, help organize procedures, and document decision-making (p. 171). As I envisioned it, the diaries would also support collaboration among students.  They were expected to read and comment on their peers entries, and were encouraged to share sources, insights, and tips.

In terms of classroom management, the diaries helped me keep track of what students were doing, which allowed me to step in at the appropriate times, rather than waiting for their project’s conclusion.  The assignment description is available here. Since the assignment is still ongoing, I can only offer some preliminary thoughts as to its assessment:

1. Making the diaries into a relatively low-stakes assignment made a difference. Students contributed very detailed entries.

2. Modeling portions of the research process and sharing my own experiences as a researcher may have also been beneficial. It set the tone for the blog, and it may have reduced the level of stress that comes with assignments in general.

3. Students used the comments feature of the blog to brainstorm, provide feedback, and share resources. Peer reviewing has been ongoing, judging from what they have documented on the blog, and also by what they have expressed to me during office hours.

I am still trying to find ways to improve these blogging assignments, and I am thinking of adding some kind of an exit interview  if I decide to repeat this project. As it stands, their final reflection is a built-in tangible assessment of the experience, but I feel short interviews would be very beneficial for me, as the person who designed this assignment.

Anyway… work in progress.

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Works cited:

Borg, S. (2001). The research journal: A tool for promoting and understanding researcher development. Language Teaching Research. 5(2), pp 156-177.

Janesick, V. (1998). Journal writing as a qualitative research technique: History, issues, and reflections. Qualitative Inquiry. 5(4), pp. 505-524.

Jarvis, J. (1992). Using diaries for teacher reflection on in-service courses. ELT Journal . 46(2), pp. 133-143

Betty notes: The final countdown approaches, and other notes on lit reviews.

Last week, I visited Trinity University and had the opportunity to share some of my dissertation findings with their Media Audiences class. I talked about Ugly Betty, and how illegal immigration was handled during the first and second seasons of the show. Sadly, ABC will be airing the very last episode on Wednesday.

Here are the slides for the presentation.

I had planned to say a few words on the art and craft of the literature review, but ended up not doing so. Instead, I unearthed a short lit review that I wrote in 2006, when I first began my doctoral program at Ohio University. I did a few minor revisions, and added some lessons I’ve learned in the past four years. Here’s the full document.

Cheers!

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Bye Bye Betty. “So long, and thank you for the fish” (ahem, dissertation)

Today’s top story, at least until Obama takes the stage for his first State of the Union Address, is the unveiling of Apple’s iPad, an unfortunate name choice, but it’s Apple, so who cares! Still, I will remember January 27, 2010 as the day when ABC finally canceled Ugly Betty. Yup… it happened. I had been expecting it for months, ever since they moved it to Fridays and then switched it to Thursdays. And the thing is that even though I’m writing my dissertation about Ugly Betty, I’m not sad at all. I mean, maybe I should be, because Betty and I have been through a lot, but I’m not.

The show started off big. It was the most watched new comedy of the 06-07 season. I got drawn into it because it brought together topics I’m really interested in: immigration and its myths, identity construction, and the political economy of television.

By studying Betty, I’ve learned about myths. In fact, I’ve spent too much time familiarizing myself with the myths of American immigration, getting some historical perspective, and becoming, let’s say, a little more philosophical. Now, it has come to the point where, to explain my views about Betty as, essentially, a reproduction of the myth of the melting pot, I feel the need to quote Machiavelli, Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Cassirer, and even Plato. And I’ve been asked “what does any of that have to do with Ugly Betty?” All I can say is that, in my mind, it does. In my mind, I see Betty as the little immigrant girl that could because she assimilated, and isn’t that what immigrants are told to do? Isn’t that what Emma Lazarus hoped for? Even Frederick Jackson Turner, who is not someone you think about when you ponder American immigration, believed that immigrants had to assimilate, to go through a crucible of sorts, before they emerged on the other side as full-fledged Americans.

But that was only the first season. After that, the myth faded away. It was better to focus on Betty’s love life, or lack-thereof. Romance fit the schedule a lot better. After all, Betty was opening for Meredith and McDreamy, and block programming is all about keeping it consistent.

When that happened, Betty lost me as a fan. She still had me as a researcher, but my loyalties went elsewhere, to Fringe, and to NCIS, where at least I didn’t feel sold out as much. I still watched, reluctantly, until I just could not stomach it anymore.

Now ABC is saying it wants to give fans a proper send off. They’ll probably have her marry. That’s how original Betty La Fea ended, after all, and it would be fitting for the American Betty to follow suit.

So long Betty, and thank you for the dissertation.

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