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Last Film Friday, I talked about using clips or even single frames from movies to teach film – the way that a single shot can crystallize a particular aspect of a particular movie. Part of the reason this is done, of course, is to reproduce the sight of movies online or on the printed page. But I think it’s important to stress that even in their best, most edifying or electrifying forms, these excerpts don’t communicate the same thing as seeing a movie in the dark, on a big (or biggish) screen, with a bunch of strangers. As a part-time movie critic, I’ve even found this true outside of “real” paying audiences. Though some types of movies (comedy and horror, most often) play best to a less stuffy crowd, the simple math of dark plus screen plus strangers can still add up to a noticeably different experience than the one you got at home, or on a phone, or in a two-minute excerpt that distills a movie’s thesis into a particular evocative sequence.


Take for example the movie Green Room, which is going into wider release this weekend for a final pre-summer push. I saw it with a bunch of other critics (and, okay, one friend, who I brought with me) at a press screening a few weeks ago, and I felt like I’d been put through a wringer in the best way. The movie starts as an indie-rock slice of life, following a punk band on a DIY tour in the Pacific Northwest. After one gig goes bust, they schedule a make-up at what turns out to be a skinhead bar. They want to just play their songs, get paid, and get the hell out, but one of the band members stumbles into a scene of violence, and the club owners insist that they “wait” there for the police to come. You may infer, as the band members do, that perhaps the police aren’t coming to save them, and Green Room eventually turns into a sort of siege film, populated by people who have never, ever been in a siege before.


There are certainly particular shots and sequences in Green Room that play particularly well, and that I remember now. But excerpting them wouldn’t capture the movie’s cumulative power – the escalating tension of the first half and the sustained tension of most of the rest of it. I was sitting there in the relative sterility of a screening room, alongside other hardened critics, and I was damn near sweating. I’m sure streaming the movie will do a fine job showing off how well-made and engrossing it is, but I can’t imagine it feeling more visceral than it did up there on the big screen.


Sometimes that collective experience can redeem, or at least enhance, even a nightmarish experience. Which is to say: Earlier this week, I went to a press screening of the movie Mother’s Day. It is the spiritual successor to director Garry Marshall’s romantic comedies Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, so you kind of know what you’re getting into. Except you kind of don’t, because I foolishly assumed that this paean to moms might, at very least, not be any worse than its predecessors (then again, I also foolishly assumed this movie would actually be about characters’ relationships with their mothers, while in fact it’s mostly about the absence of mothers from various situations).


Mother’s Day is a comedy, I guess, although considering Marshall’s handle on the composition and delivery of jokes, it might as well be science fiction (at one point, he soft-pedals a pratfall, seemingly afraid that having someone in a comedy actually fall down might be too hurtful). But that led to an unusual experience at a screening room. Critics are usually relatively quiet, especially during deadly-terrible comedies with few discernible laughs. So really, the amount of laughter that Mother’s Day generated was pretty remarkable, and all the more so for being unintentional. It’s hard to make a comedy so bad it’s funny, but Garry Marshall has done it, and a roomful of critics confirmed it.


One of the reasons we often keep quiet in press screenings is basic common courtesy, but like a dysfunctional family meltdown at brunch, Mother’s Day obliterated any sense of decorum. As the movie’s inane attempts at comedy (llama reaction shots) and drama (book-signing author: “Who should I make it out to?” Secret daughter: “Your daughter!”) accumulated, the laughter grew louder and more open. The stranger sitting next to me and I exchanged glances more than once, as if to say: Is this really happening? The simultaneous admission that we were all (or anyway, most; I don’t want to speak for everyone there) mortified, confused, and irritated by this movie actually gave the screening a smidge of something utterly lacking in the movie itself: joy. It was a strangely joyful experience. While I wouldn’t want other critics snidely guffawing through a movie most people hated but I happened to love (and there are plenty), our mutual derision was, in the end, a more effective (and amusing) form of communication than this movie itself. This couldn’t be conveyed in a single shot, or even a clip of the moment where a character says “it’s a karaoke machine!” twice in about five minutes. Sometimes, even if it’s just a movie, even if it’s just a terrible movie, you have to be there.

In a somewhat ironic interview for the twentieth-century television series Open Mind, media theorist Neil Postman laments television’s role in degrading public discourse. During their conversation, Postman's interviewer cites critics of Postman's theories and points to inconsistencies in his argument, but ultimately acknowledges that Postman does not take a Luddite stance toward television; he turns out to be quite prophetic. While television was the dominant medium of Postman's day, his claim that “all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment” (3) easily translates to our current era where the Internet is the medium dictating culture. Postman’s idea is most exemplified by the 2016 presidential election—almost eerily so—and Donald Trump’s rise to the Republican nomination: it is probable that this has been due exclusively to Trump’s bold theatrics at the center of public discourse. The Internet of 2016 has allowed the public to be entertained by and connected with  all the presidential candidates in ways that do not require the intellectual rigor for which Postman grieves.


Postman's 1985 text Amusing Ourselves to Death translates to our current political arena when he first argues that former president William Taft would not have been able to win a presidential election in contemporary times because of his “multi-chinned, three-hundred-pound” (7) appearance. In Postman’s view of 1980s America, the television not only allowed for public discourse to occur primarily through visual imagery, it necessitated it. Politicians’ visual communication overwhelmed their speech, a shift which “dramatically and irreversibly changed the content and meaning of public discourse” (8). The Internet has caused a congruent change today, and like the television once did, it reigns as “command center of culture."  Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been enabled by the speed and quantity of communication that the Internet necessitates, both visual and written. Once a laughing matter, the entrepreneur and reality TV star rose in the polls rather quickly due to the attention he received for bullying his competitors on their looks (Carly Fiorina), low-energy level (Jeb Bush), and sweating (Marco Rubio). Provocative statements on his intended plans for the presidency garnered even more attention (banning Muslims from entering the country, closing mosques, building a wall at the Mexican border, etc.), and while Trump’s candidacy may seem silly to some, his insistent promise to “Make America Great Again” has resonated with many. With video clips, articles, photos, tweets and other social media posts, the Internet has proliferated Donald Trump’s presence in public discourse so that the possibility of a literal entertainer becoming president is feasible.


But the Internet not only works for Trump: the nature of the Internet grants Americans deeper access to the lives of presidential candidates, and gives candidates various platforms to express themselves, or in Postman’s words, engage in a “performing art” (5). One of the most amusing instances of this “dangerous nonsense” (16) occurred in February 2016, when an inordinate amount of news coverage was given to Marco Rubio when he cracked his tooth while eating a Twix bar. In an attempt at humor, Rubio stated he was old and the Twix bar was frozen, but a US News article stated that, “The reception of this self-deprecating humor wasn't exactly red-hot, though the crowd could be heard chuckling a bit” (Dicker). Rubio’s ability to entertain took a blow, and furthered the opinion of those who “considered [him] a robot.” In a more general sense, social media gives candidates the venue to ‘perform;’ the various profiles they can build on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are places where they (or rather, their staff) can display more personal moments from their lives. Hillary Clinton’s Instagram account, for example, participates in pop culture trends when on Thursdays the account sometimes posts old photos of Bill and Hillary with the hashtag “TBT” (Throwback Thursday). Seeing the number of people who ‘like’ the photos show how many people Hillary has entertained by her post, and therefore how many people are devoted to her campaign. Examples like these abound for all candidates.


Near the end of Chapter 1 of Amusing Ourselves, Postman writes, “in every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself” (14). So what is the “idea” for the Internet? The Internet reveals what people seek most: connection. With a medium that allows people to connect easily with each other, American citizens not only want, but also demand the same kind of connection with politicians. It is a place where they can access information about presidential candidates while simultaneously making their voice heard to presidential candidates. This is a shift in the meaning of democracy. And as Postman says on Open Mind, “therein lies the rub,” or the epistemic truth: The political candidate who can use the Internet as a medium to entertain citizens and connect with them is the one who Americans citizens are going to want to be their president—even if the ‘establishment’ disagrees.



Works Cited

Ashikmlakonja. “Neil Postman Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death Part I, Dec. 1985.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 18 December 2011. Web. 6 March 2016.


Ashikmlakonja. “Neil Postman Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death Part II, Jan. 1986.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 18 December 2011. Web. 6 March 2016.


Dicker, Rachel. "Marco Rubio Chipped His Tooth on a Twix Bar: And he brought it up at a rally in South Carolina." U.S. News and World Report. U.S News and World Report. 12 February 2016. Web. 6 March 2016.


Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death. New York: Viking Penguin, 1985. Print.

JoshGunn.pngJoshua Gunn is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Affiliate Faculty in Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of the forthcoming public speaking text, Speech Craft. 

Photo courtesy of Joshua Gunn








Q: What advice do you give your students who have public speaking anxiety or general communication apprehension?

JG: In popular culture, we tend to think about public speaking – and communication in general – as a kind of performance that one does well or poorly. I think this image of communication is really intimidating and puts too much pressure on folks. If we think about communicating with others as an attempt to build relationships – an attempt to celebrate the community – speaking can feel much less daunting. Practice, of course, helps a ton too. So my advice is to re-imagine what speaking to others is really about and then to practice it.


Q: How do you prepare for a speech?

JG: The very first things I need to know when preparing for a speech are (1) where I’m speaking; and (2) who will be in the audience. I ask questions of the person who asked me to speak to get a better sense of the room, the technology that I can use, and the size and demographics of the audience. When I can imagine the audience in my head, I have a much easier time going through a speech and thinking about what examples might be appealing or off-putting, what outfit to wear, what technology I can use, and so on. Now, it’s often the case that I’m asked to speak when the host has no idea what the room I’m speaking in will look like. When that happens, I try to sneak a peek of the room on a day before the speech or a few hours before my speaking engagement. 

Having a mental image of the speaking space and possible audience helps me visualize success and adapt to my audience. I often make a mini-movie in my head of my future speaking engagement and the audience I’m speaking to. This movie always goes well. I envision succeeding. That really does help me when I actually speak.  

Q: Have you ever experienced a bout of severe speech anxiety? If so, how did you deal with it?

JG: I almost always have speech anxiety when I speak. I’m least anxious speaking mid-semester during teaching because (a) I do it every day; and (b) I know my students by then. But when I teach the first week of class, I get nervous. I think speech anxiety is actually a good thing because it makes you more attentive and sensitive to the speaking situation, your audience’s needs, and so on.

I recently had severe anxiety when I was guest speaking at a university. I was really nervous because two good friends, two very respected faculty members, came to the speech. I got so nervous because I wanted to impress them. I remember that I got short of breath.

I knew at the moment that it was speech anxiety, and as I talked, my breathing became more labored. I remember I stopped in the middle of my speech, smiled, and said to the audience, “I’m sorry, I believe I’m coming down with something. If you’ll pardon me just a moment.” I took a drink of water and then calmly began my speech again. I finished the speech fine, and as it turned out, I did come down with a cold the next day. But to be honest, I just needed to pause and gather my wits as the wave of anxiety came over me. Just pardoning myself, taking a moment, and getting some water made a big difference. Today I suspect that no one remembers my little “break” during that speech. 


Q: Have you ever spoken to an audience that was not receptive? How did you handle the situation?

JG: Yes, and more often than you might think. I speak a lot as a part of my job, and most audiences are very receptive. The toughest audiences are usually comprised of faculty from academic departments who have assembled to watch me deliver an “academic job talk,” which is a speech professors give to other professors about their research, as part of a job interview. Because audiences at this kind of speech are responsible for hiring what may be a life-long colleague, the stakes are much higher than a regular academic speech.

During a recent “job talk” at a big public university, my audience was not receptive – and worse, there wasn’t much I could do. I could tell during my speech that many of the audience members weren’t enjoying it. I tried to compensate by smiling more, telling a couple more jokes than I had planned, and acting goofier (“hamming it up”) when telling the jokes. After the speech was over, I could tell it hadn’t been received well based on the feeling in the room and the faces of the audience.

It was during the Q&A for this failed speech that I was able to recover. I was asked a series of hard questions about my speech. I listened actively to the questions and then paraphrased them back to each questioner to make sure I understood each question; then I answered the questions as thoughtfully and with as much good cheer as I could muster. A friend in the audience told me later that the Q&A went very well and that my answers to their questions were better than my speech!

I think the moral of my story here is this: The reception of a speech is not limited to the speech itself. A speaker can influence how a speech is perceived, understood, and remembered before and after a speech. Speakers should remember that the speech itself may be the “main course,” but often the side dishes and desserts are what win over hearts and minds. Sometimes you can even give a “bad” speech and still get your message across to an audience effectively, as I did.


Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge students face now when they enter college?

JG: Students have trouble thinking critically and writing well, but that’s not because they don’t want to do those things. Today, secondary education is geared toward taking exams. Although higher education has its fair share of exams, upper-division courses challenge students to think for themselves and “outside the box.” I find that my students are often surprised when I tell them they can write about anything they want to in some assignments.


Q: What motivates you to continue teaching?

JG: I’m always motivated when students are learning and engaged, and especially when they seem visibly excited about course material. An earnest note from a student about the value of a lesson or course really goes a long way with me. I’m also encouraged when students laugh at my terrible jokes. If they’re laughing at my terrible jokes, it usually means they’re finding the material that is not “a joke” worthy of their attention.



On a personal note...


Q: How do you spend your time when you're not teaching?

JG: I really enjoy cooking and gardening. I also love to see live music when I can.


Q: If you hadn't pursued a career in higher education, what career path do you think you would have chosen?

JG: I was headed to law school to be a civil rights attorney and advocate before I discovered the academy, so I imagine I would have pursed that. If I decide to embark on a new career path, I’d be interested in training to be a psychotherapist or counselor of some kind. 


Q: What was the last book you read?

JG: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I’m currently reading His Master’s Voice by StanisÅ‚aw Lem.


Q: What book has influenced you most?

JG: The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater.

Q: Where is one place you want to travel to, but have never been?

JG: Too many! Scotland is on the top of my list, though.


Q: What is something you want to learn in the next year (Communication-related or otherwise)?

JG: How to achieve this mysterious thing called “work-life balance.”


Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

JG: I’m obsessed with sloths.

Followers of the nebulous, broad-based collective known as “Film Twitter,” as well as social-media-savvy film fans in general, might be aware of the Twitter account known as One Perfect Shot. The concept is simple enough, and will be familiar to anyone who’s used a film textbook: The authors take individual frames they think are particularly iconic, emblematic, or just plain beautifully composed, and tweet them out to their followers.


This account has inspired a mostly-abandoned parody account and I’m sure that if you look hard enough, you can find a more detailed takedown essay, presumably based on the idea that film is more than the sum of its static frames, and that using screen grabs robs movies of a crucial component and maybe turns them into dorm-room posters.


In other words, I’m sure that takedown exists and this is not that takedown.


Though if it were a takedown I would use this frame to encapsulate it:




(Honestly, I would use this one to encapsulate as many situations as I could get away with.)


Anyway, even though this isn't a takedown, I do understand those objections – and while I hesitate to add “better than most,” I will say that editing film books at Macmillan has made me particularly aware of both the delights and challenges of choosing “one perfect shot.”


It is, I admit, one of my favorite parts of my job. Of course, it’s not solely my job – in fact, in most cases, when we pull together the visual program for our books, our superhumanly talented film authors have particular movies, scenes, or even shots in mind to use for examples. But I do sometimes find myself in the position of “getting” those shots (which is to say, taking a screenshot of a particular frame), or occasionally suggesting a particular moment that might be worth highlighting in the book. And it’s a lot of fun! I also write a column for The A.V. Club called Together Again, and whenever possible I try to use frames for my visuals there, so I’m not relying on stills (which are often much higher resolution, but are not actually exact shots from the film in question) to get my point across.


VC 12.1 - Moonrise Kingdom.jpg

As much fun as it is to try finding frames from a movie that perfectly encapsulate one of its ideas or visual qualities, though, there are limitations on this method. Most notably: in movies, the camera often, well, moves. Not always, and not always a lot; some directors rely far more on cutting than on camera movements. But in most movies, the camera tracks or pans or pushes in or pulls out, and those movements tell you things about the story, the characters, or the filmmaker. One Perfect Shot captures a certain type of shot very well. But still images by definition can’t tell the whole story with moving pictures. This can make visual aids in teaching film trickier to use, especially when instructors don’t want to screen an entire film (or even haul out the projector or DVD player for such a short segment).


We’re starting to get closer to an age where examples of great or important shots will move like, you know, movies. Our LaunchPad for the newest edition of The Film Experience has actual film clips – short excerpts from actual feature films that better illustrate some of the concepts (particularly involving cinematography and sound) than single or even multiple frames ever could. One Perfect Shot has started to incorporate videos and video essays into its repertoire; I guess that’s still the optimal social platform, because Vine videos are too short (though maybe Instagram videos could work?). There’s also Every Frame a Painting, a video essay series with a lot of instructional value, and less in-depth but still fun compilation videos like this one. Film teachers will have to continue piecing together solutions, at least until we all watch holographic film clips inside of our eyelids. (Holographic eyelid clips are not yet available in the print edition of The Film Experience.) We'd love to hear more from film instructors about how they keep the movement in moving pictures.


In a win for the LGBTQ community, Merriam-Webster's announced on April 20 the addition of two new words to its unabridged dictionary: cisgender and genderqueer. LGBTQ rights activists have long been working to educate the general population on the meaning of these words and increase sensitivity toward those who identify as such, and the move from Merriam-Webster's is a unique step forward.


But why, exactly? Of course, the most immediate response to this question is that dictionary additions and modifications reflect our evolving language -- and by extension, our evolving culture.


Yet it is this and so much more. Additions to our dictionaries have even greater value in an era of digital media and participatory culture. Social media and digital communication grant the general population the ability to create and distribute new language usage with ease - a peek at will show one of the most organized forms of this. When it is this easy for people to modify the English language, what power does a dictionary have? It may often seem like a bygone relic, a sturdy symbol of the print era - of "old media." While it may very well be, its desire to adopt the new language proliferating through the general population reveals not only an attempt to reflect evolving culture, but also a much larger gesture of an older culture encouraging cultural progress toward a new one.


For rights activists, especially those in the LGBTQ community, the dictionary has been and will continue to be a quiet heavyweight toward change.


For more information on Merriam-Webster's additions, click here.

Huntington Beach NSM 2016.jpg

Steven McCornack is a Professor and Public Speaking Coordinator in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is the author of Reflect & Relate, 4e, Choices & Connections, 1e, and Interpersonal Communication & You, 1e.

Photo courtesy of Steve McCornack





Q: What courses are you teaching this semester?

SM:I’m teaching two sections of our CMST101 class, which is Introduction to Public Speaking; and CMST110, which is Introduction to Interpersonal Communication and Close Relationships.


Q: What advice do you give your students who have public speaking anxiety or general communication apprehension?

SM: I take a three-pronged approach regarding anxiety and self-presentation across contexts. First, I stress that there is no such thing as the “non-nervous speaker” – EVERYONE is a “nervous speaker”!  I mean, I’m nervous as all get-out on the first day of class!  Second, I teach them about the nature of physiological arousal underlying “speaking anxiety” – specifically, the ANS, sympathetic nervous system discharge, the corresponding physiological and subjective symptoms that accompany such discharge (and that they can expect to feel whenever they’re in an arousing context), and the evolutionary-adaptive roots of this arousal.  If students UNDERSTAND and EXPECT how their bodies will react, they then can learn how to constructively MANAGE such reactions. Third, I teach them a host of mind-body relaxation techniques (borrowed from my years of meditation and Yoga teaching) for successfully managing such arousal, including attentional focus upon a breath point, 1:2 ratio breathing, and muscular tense and release coupled with breath control.

      All of this relates to three levels of anxiety and speaking competence that I emphasize from the first day forward.  The first level is where most people live their lives: the level at which they are wholly beholden to whatever their bodies do in reaction to situations; and where nervous arousal impairs self-presentational performance.  The second level is where you learn to expect and manage elevated arousal in a way that doesn’t allow you to appear nervous to an audience.  The highest level of competence – one rarely achieved in an introductory class – is where you learn to CHANNEL this arousal constructively into your presentational energy – making you look “intense” and “charismatic” and “compelling” as a speaker.


Q: What has been your favorite course to teach and why?

SM: Oh, far and away my fave class is my course on interpersonal communication and close relationships!  Students are SO hungry for trustworthy information related to building and maintaining close friendship, family, and romantic relationships – information that will help them deal with the myriad challenges that arise in such involvements. This class is a means for providing them with knowledge that has the potential to transform their lives in marked, positive ways.


Q: What advice do you have for other instructors who teach this course?

SM: Go all in.  Don’t hold back.  Meaning: make it personal, don’t be afraid to get to know your students, and reveal yourself in your teaching – as long as the class doesn’t become a vehicle for personal exhibitionism.  For goodness sake, the class is INTER PERSONAL – it should be intensely INTERactive, and deeply PERSONAL!


Q: What are some of your research interests?

SM: I’m known in the field as a “deception guy,” and that’s pretty much true.  I’m probably best known for the McCornack-Parks Model (which mapped the relationship between intimacy and detection accuracy), the concept of “Truth-bias” (a term which Mac Parks and I coined, back in the day), the Probing Effect (which documented that “probed” liars are more likely to be judged as honest), Information Manipulation Theory, and Information Manipulation Theory II (both of which examine the ways people play with information so as to mislead others; as well as the cognitive speech production underpinnings of such information control).  So yeah, my principal interest is in deception; specifically, the cognitive mechanics underlying deceptive discourse production.


Q: If you could create (and teach) a brand new course for your department, what would it be?

SM: A course on Pragmatics: the study of language meaning rooted in usage within particular contexts (ala the content in Chapter 7 of Reflect & Relate, and Chapter 5 of Choices & Connections).  I really dig how people use spoken discourse to spontaneously create meanings within contexts, and communication students really should be familiar with John Austin and John Searle’s Speech Act Theory, Grice’s Theory of Conversational Implicature, Dale Spender’s writings on sexism in language, and Erving Goffman’s essay on Facework (to name just a few classic works in this domain).


Q: What do you think is one of the biggest challenges students face now when they enter college?

SM: I’m not one who buys into the whole “generational gulf” argument, whereby each generation looks down at the generation below and bemoans how “fundamentally different” they are. I mean, I listen to my age-peers (i.e., individuals who, like me, went to college in the 1980’s) express shock over the “hookup culture” of our current students, and I’m like, “Wait, don’t YOU remember what YOU did when YOU were in college!?”  And they’re always like, “Uh, yeah, but THAT was DIFFERENT.” Yeah, right.

      Accordingly, I think the biggest challenges students face now are pretty much the same as they always were: Who the heck am I?  Why am I here on this Earth?  What’s my purpose?  What’s my calling?  Where does my passion really lie?  What will make me truly happy?  Our job as faculty is (in part) helping to facilitate students being able to (eventually) answer these questions.

      Of course, there ARE huge differences between people of my generation and the students of today, most notably, the hyper-connected way in which they live their lives through technology. But if you look at WHAT students are doing with their technology, it’s pretty much the same as it always was: who is doing what with whom, and why.  


Q: What motivates you to continue teaching?

SM: Unquenchable and enduring passion regarding the transformative nature of communication knowledge. Learning about this stuff completely changed my life.  I want to pass that legacy on to others.

     Over the years, I’ve had numerous students counsel on course evaluations, “Don’t ever lose your passion!” I always find such entreaties irksome. Why?  How could I EVER lose my passion for this?  How could someone NOT be passionate about this material!?  It is SO cool!  And to see how your teaching positively impacts students – Oh man, I get excited just THINKING about it, as I’m writing this!!!     


On a personal note...

Q: How do you spend your time when you're not teaching?

SM: When I’m not teaching, I’m generally working on research (e.g., designing studies, collecting and analyzing data), working collaboratively in a mentorship fashion with students, and writing.  I love both research-related writing (e.g., journal articles and reviews) and textbook writing.  I suppose it’s self-indulgent of me to want to do both, but the writing styles and corresponding bandwidths are SO different, that I like the challenges and variation that each provides – and I don’t think I’d ever be happy just doing one and not the other.


Q: What are some of your hobbies?

SM: Oh man, here we go.  My single biggest personal passion (other than my family) is MUSIC.  Relatedly, my top long-term hobby is high-end audio.  I listen to digital audio as background music (e.g., streaming on my laptop, as I write this), but if I’m going to listen FOR REAL – that is, sit and listen to music for an hour, uninterrupted, as a focal activity – it HAS to be analog.  My current front end is a Well-Tempered Amadeus GT turntable with a Grado Statement cartridge, running into an Audible Illusions M3B tubed preamp, an SMcC Audio DNA-225 amplifier, and Aerial 7B speakers.  Everyone and anyone who enjoys music owes it to themselves to invest in a decent listening system – just make sure you that you’re spinning vinyl up front, and have vacuum tubes somewhere in the system chain! 

      Other personal passions include martial arts (I’ve studied and taught various forms of Karate and self-defense for more than 30 years), Yoga (I’ve taught beginning and advanced classes for the last 15 years, and currently teach here at the UAB Rec Center), Kona coffee, Single-malt Scotch (especially the “Islay” malts, which are known for their intense smoke and peat flavors), mechanical watches (I’ve been slowly building a collection of Swiss mechanicals over the last 20 years), and target pistol shooting.


Q: If you hadn't pursued a career in higher education, what career path do you think you would have chosen?

SM: Musician.  I played keyboards and drums in bands for years – everything from prog rock (back in the day) to hard-core punk (10 years ago).  My most recent band – Stooge City Liberation Front – still has live tracks available on MySpace, if you can believe it! Just Google “Myspace Stooge City” and there we are! (I played drums).  Stooge City was comprised of a bunch of faculty and grad students, and we would have kept going if our bass player, Jayson, hadn’t have had the bad form to finish his doctorate and get a real job as a professor!  For shame! 


Q: What was the last book you read?

SM: I’m always reading multiple books, so it’s tough to say what the “last” book is.  I recently re-read Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child (which I excerpted in Reflect & Relate 4e).  Excerpts from most of my fave books end up in MY books; such as Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body (also in Reflect & Relate), and Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (which was in R&R 3e).  My fave fiction book ever has to be Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.  I’m also a HUGE H.P. Lovecraft fan: stories such as The Thing on the Doorstep; The Colour out of Space; The Shadow over Innsmouth; etc.  In terms of non-fiction, all-time faves which are almost always somewhere near my nightstand include Leakey’s The Sixth Extinction, Gleick’s Chaos, Festinger and Schachter’s When Prophecy Fails, and Dave Cullen’s Columbine.     


Q: What book has influenced you most?

SM: The Majjhima Nikaya.  I read Sutta from it every night, and never travel without it.


Q: Where is one place you want to travel to, but have never been?

SM: Thailand, so I can see the temples first-hand, and hang with Theravada monks – especially those of the “Forest” tradition.


Q: When you sit down to listen to music, which artists or genres do you go to most?

SM: My tastes are ALL over the place.  Albums and artists that are pretty much in constant rotation on my turntable are (in no apparent order): Radiohead (fave band of all), FKA Twigs, Death Cab for Cutie, Rush, Sufjan Stevens, Beatles, Arcade Fire, Yes, Little Dragon, Supertramp, Phantogram, Purity Ring, Pink Floyd, Sade, Santana, Genesis, Divinyls, Elton John, Pretenders, Kate Bush, Sex Pistols, Annie Lennox, Smashing Pumpkins, Jimi Hendrix, Beach House, DIIV, Tori Amos, King Crimson, Sundays, Soundgarden, Sinead O’Connor, Missing Persons, Sarah McLachlan, Tool, Megadeth, Cocteau Twins, Helmet, Paw, Quicksand, AC/DC, McCartney & Wings, The Police, Steely Dan, Crosby Stills Nash, Alice in Chains, and Paw.

      Of course, I also dig classical, my fave of all being Tchaikovsky, but I also trend toward Italian baroque (e.g., Corelli, Vivaldi) as well as more contemporary (e.g., Arvo Part, Copland, Bernstein).


Q: What is something you want to learn in the next year (Communication-related or otherwise)?

SM: My wife and research collaborator Dr. Kelly Morrison and I are sitting on a ton of data from a study we did before we moved down here to UAB.  The study examines the relationship between increases in situational complexity (the number of competing goals someone faces in a context) and the propensity to lie. We did a lab study in which we had people, in real time, respond to complicated situations by saying out loud what they would say, if they actually were in that context.  Now that I’m settled in at UAB, I badly want to dig into that data, and find out what the heck is going on within it!


Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you (i.e. What's your "fun fact"?)?

SM: That I’m a college dropout, who only eventually became a professor because I got hit by a train.

     My first year of college I was every professors’ nightmare.  I was “that kid” who never turned things in on time, and always had a (fictitious) story for why.  I basically was lost; and only went to college because of parental expectations. So after my first year, I dropped out and drove tractor-trailer rigs full time (after attending truck-driving school, and getting licensed for combination driving in the State of Washington).  I would still be truck-driving today, if it wasn’t for the fact that I got hit by a train. The train knocked me out of my truck – and out of my job.  In the aftermath, I realized that trucking really WASN’T the life for me, and I went back to school – and never questioned that decision again.