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Summer's here, and this peach caught my eye. Set on the blue ledge of my office, it became the perfect example of complementary colors.


When we're preparing a movie, we think about complementary colors, and all kinds of color combinations. I ask my students to do the same for their video projects.


Colors convey meaning, emotion, and genre. They are part of telling a visual story. For example, thrillers generally have deep, dark blacks and highly contrasting colors. Documentaries -- or movies that try to feel documentary-like -- use a color palette that is narrower. When I was producing Titus, the first film Julie Taymor directed, she didn't want the color green in the movie. Green conveys hope, and Julie didn't think Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus should feel hopeful.


We can ask our students: Do you want the colors to pop? Do you want your video to feel more monochromatic? Simply paying attention to colors, and using color as part of your design, can make a video feel much more professional.


Blue and orange are "complementary colors," and when you put them next to each other, as in this photo, they seem to vibrate. I found it striking to see such a powerful example of color-in-action right in front of me. You probably remember the color wheel. It has six colors arrayed around a white central circle. Red is opposite green; yellow is opposite purple; blue is opposite orange.


The color wheel isn't random. Those opposing colors are called "complementary" due to the physical nature of the human eye. If you stare at a blue wall for a long time and then look at a white wall, you will see an orange after-image. Why? Because the color receptors in your eye become tired looking at the blue wall, so they relax when you look at the white wall, and your brain "sees" that as orange for a few moments. That's why complementary colors are so powerful when you put them right next to each other.


But enough of the science. Colors are just one more way we can convey narrative and emotion. When we use them in our classroom work, suddenly, subconsciously, things feel richer and more purposeful. I got so swept away after I took this photo that, taking a cue from T. S. Eliot, I decided to eat the peach.

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Dan O'Hair is dean of the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information. He is the author of Real Communication, 3e, A Speaker's Guidebook, 6e, and A Pocket Guide to Public Speaking, 5e.


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


DO: I have students take slow, deep breaths just before speaking.  I also encourage them to become completely familiar with their introduction so that they can start off very well prepared.


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


DO: I love teaching public speaking because it gives me a chance to watch the dramatic improvement in student’s speaking skills over the course of the semester.  I also enjoy teaching interpersonal communication—the content is interesting and relevant to just about everything we do in life.


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


DO: Most instructors I have talked with think it is a really good idea to respect students for where they are in the first few days of class.  Some will be more confident and accomplished than others.  Being flexible with varying degrees of skills goes a long toward building trust with students.


Q: What are some of your research interests?


DO: I have studied how communication can be improved in hurricane warnings.  I have conducted a great deal of research on how physicians and patients can communication with one another more effectively.


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


DO: I am very interested in communication technology and social media, so I plan to develop and teach courses in those areas.


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


DO: First, financial costs are the biggest challenges I hear from students. Second, sometimes students have not developed the same expectations as their instructors.  This is an issue that can be worked out with better communication.


Q: What motivates you to continue teaching?


DO: I love my students; I love trying to make them laugh, and I love to challenge them to think differently.


On a personal note...

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


DO: I love playing golf, although I wish I was much better at it.  And, I love being with my family and especially my 2-year old granddaughter who never fails to challenge me.


Q: What are some of your hobbies?


DO: Reading, golf.


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


DO: Attorney.


Q: What was the last book you read?


DO: A historical biography about Hitler as a youth.


Q: What book has influenced you most?


DO: The books written by Carlos Castaneda about Native American mysticism.


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


DO: Spain and Italy.


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


DO: Classic rock; jazz.  My favorite group is Rush.


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


DO: How can I become wiser.


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


DO: I was an Eagle Scout at age 13.  Scouting was about the only thing I lived and breathed back then.



Douglas M. Fraleigh is a professor and chair of the Department of Communication at California State University, Fresno. He is the co-author of Speak Up: An Illustrated Guide to Public Speaking, 3e.


Q: What courses are you teaching this semester?

DF: I just finished two sections of public speaking for our Honors College this spring and I am teaching Persuasion to our majors this summer.

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

DF: Believe in yourself; I can't wait for you to share your ideas with our class.

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

DF: Freedom of Speech, because it is essential for society (and it was my favorite course as an undergraduate).

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

DF: Help and encourage students to apply the principles they are learning to the many free speech issues confronting society today.

Q: What are some of your research interests?

DF: Freedom of Speech, Argumentation, Public Advocacy.

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

DF: Evolutionary Psychology and Communication or Sports Communication.


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

DF: Balancing the greater academic workload that college entails with other life obligations (especially work).

Q: What motivates you to continue teaching? 

DF: I really enjoy going to class and working with our students and sharing my passion for the subjects that I teach.


On a personal note...

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

DF: Running (5k, 10k, half-marathons); spending time with my family (especially sporting events, plays, and our family fantasy football league); walking and hanging out with our dogs, Dawson and McCarthy; reading.

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

DF: Civil rights/civil liberties attorney.


Q: What was the last book you read?

DF: I'm reading Hamilton right now.  Can't wait to see the musical when it comes to Cali.

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

DF: The Andes.

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

DF: Alt Nation XM36.  Love the Hamilton Soundtrack too.


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

DF: I'm very interested in Evolutionary Psychology and I'm trying to incorporate it into my teaching more.


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

DF: I dance when students' phones go off in class.

Assistant Editor Will Stonefield  just wrote a blog post for Macmillan News on the future of public speaking. Check it out at the link below:

Online Presentations and the Future of Public Speaking


Mary Wiemann is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication at Santa Barbara City College. She is the author of Real Communication, 3e.


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

MW: The intro course because it excites students about the field and corrects their thinking that communication is just common sense.


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

MW: Be ready to have FUN with it—connect the course concepts to your own life and challenge the students to do the same.  Don’t be afraid to talk about the communication challenges we all face—becoming more competent communicators helps us deal with them and increases our satisfaction with interactions.


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

MW: Now that I have retired from teaching (I was also department chair for 8 years), I have trained to be a docent at a California mission; I have enjoyed learning about the early history of the Chumash, the establishments of 21 missions in California by the Spanish, and the darker period after Mexico won the war with Spain when many of the missions were trashed.  I love meeting people from all over the world (literally) who take my tours; I remember to engage them, welcome them and involve them in the tour (remember your public speaking advice!).  I also volunteer with a women’s organization that raises money to help people in the community—I’ve done speech training for them and written some press releases.  AND, I spend time with my two delightful grandsons!


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

MW: I thought about going to law school for a long time because I was always fascinated about the strength of language and the way witnesses' perceptions of an event differ. Lawyers also have to be good at observing nonverbal behaviors—in their questioning of potential jurors and in coaching their clients for court appearances.


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

MW: I have a farm in the Panhandle of Texas where we grow wheat and corn.  I say “we” but mean the great farmers who actually know what they are doing grow the crops; my “growing” skills are limited to my vegetable gardens in my back yard and the orchids I propagate inside.

If you’re interested in vocal patterns, communication trends, and gender issues, I encourage you to listen to this episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The podcast explores the changes in speech patterns in women, particularly focused on young women. It defines “vocal fry” and “upspeak,” giving examples of each. I was very familiar with upspeak, but before listening to this podcast, I wasn’t quite sure about “vocal fry.” It also explores the fact that some men have adopted these habits.

Terry Gross speaks with:

Jessica Gross, a journalist who’s faced criticism due to her voice and speaking style

Penny Eckert, a linguistics professor at Stanford

Susan Sankin, a speech pathologist in New York City


From Upspeak To Vocal Fry: Are We 'Policing' Young Women's Voices? : NPR


Take a listen. What do you think of these changes in vocal patterns? Have you noticed them in women and/or men? What do you think that using upspeak or vocal fry communicates about the speaker?



Language—the ability to assign words to objects and ideas. It’s something we take for granted, but it’s an amazing power if you sit down and really think about it. Language is central to the field of communication studies, and for good reason: It’s a big part of what makes us human. From Merriam-Webster (emphasis mine):



: the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other

: any one of the systems of human language that are used and understood by a particular group of people


As this entry shows, we tend to think of language as a uniquely human phenomenon. Sure, other animals like chimps and dolphins can communicate with each other to some extent, but they can’t have a lengthy debate about the meaning of life—and they definitely can’t write a 700-word blog post.


But is language really exclusive to humans? In 1950, mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing challenged that idea. (You might know him from the 2014 Oscar-winning film The Imitation Game, in which he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch.) Turing hypothesized that in the not-too-distant future, computers would develop such advanced linguistic skills that human judges, who see the computer typing on a screen, would be fooled into thinking that the computer is itself human. A computer that can trick people this way is said to pass the “Turing test.”


Turing thought a computer would pass his test as early as the year 2000. That hasn’t happened yet—but some computers have come close. In 2014, a chatbot named “Eugene Goostman” made headlines for allegedly passing the Turing test in one trial—but then failed spectacularly in subsequent trials with lines like, “No. Beep-beep. I am not a ma-chine. Blink-blink. I am hu-man. Click! Hu-man. Click! Hu... Damn.” (Yes, really. You can read the bot’s full interview with Business Insider here.)


So that was a bust. But in 2015, a different computer passed a variant of the test that has been called a “visual Turing test”. In this version, human participants couldn’t tell the difference between symbols “drawn” by the computer program and symbols drawn by humans. Meanwhile, even mass-market computers like Amazon’s Echo have become increasingly sophisticated at recognizing human verbal commands and speaking answers in reply, suggesting a degree of (albeit primitive) linguistic competence.


But my favorite case involves a poem-generating algorithm developed by programmer Zachary Schnoll. As a joke, Schnoll let his algorithm write several poems, which Schnoll then submitted to The Archive, the literary magazine at Duke University. He was amazed when the magazine actually published one:


A home transformed by the lightning

the balanced alcoves smother

this insatiable earth of a planet, Earth.

They attacked it with mechanical horns

because they love you, love, in fire and wind.

You say, what is the time waiting for in its spring?

I tell you it is waiting for your branch that flows,

because you are a sweet-smelling diamond architecture

that does not know why it grows.


As far as nature-minded poetry goes, this isn't exactly Henry David Thoreau—but it's also not bad, considering it was written by a computer. Nobody noticed anything amiss until Schnoll revealed the true author on his blog, four years after the poem's original publication. Does this algorithmically-generated poem count as a true pass of the Turing test? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it’s fascinating.


While true artificial intelligence isn’t here yet, its theoretical implications for communication studies are huge. Humans probably won’t be alone in the language club forever. A computer convincingly passing the Turing test is more likely a matter of when than if. Maybe in twenty years, interpersonal communication textbooks will include case studies about how to respond when you learn that your pen pal is really an AI. Until then, we can only wait and see.

Yesterday was a momentous day for the National Weather Service. On May 11, 2016, more than 146 years after it began communicating with the American people, the National Weather Service has officially stopped yelling at us. That’s right, you will now begin to receive your forecasts in sentence case rather than the antiquated all caps, or yelling case.


Raining Sideways.gif



So how did the convention of using capital letters for emphasis begin, and when did those same letters start getting such a bad rap? An article on the subject (and there are many; apparently the Internet has VERY strong feelings about the caps lock) suggests that the history of using uppercase letters dates all the way back to the Roman Empire, when pompous emperors used the proverbial caps lock to brag about their accomplishments through inscriptions on monuments. But not all capital letters have their roots in bragging, yelling, or otherwise unpleasant outlets of communication. Jump ahead a few millennia to the age of modern weather forecasting, as mentioned above, during which teleprinters revolutionized the transmission of weather reports. These teleprinters, which were basically a typewriter-telephone hybrid, were only capable of transmitting uppercase letters. Through the years, of course, technology has changed, but traditions kept the uppercase forecasts en vogue for the next half century or so.


Though particulars like letter case, punctuation, etc. had become fairly well regulated by publishers throughout the 20th century, the unregulated nature of the Internet added a deeper level of complexity to the conventions of writing. Additionally, while variations in font such as bold and italics can easily convey emphasis on a printed sheet, those styles can sometimes get lost on lower resolution screens. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, though, and Internet users explored solutions for their emphasizing needs. According to Internet user Dave Decot in 1984:


There seem to be some conventions developing in the use of various emphasizers. There are three kinds of emphasis in use, in order of popularity:

1) using CAPITAL LETTERS to make words look “louder”,

2) using *asterisks* to put sparklers around emphasized words, and

3) s p a c i n g words o u t, possibly accompanied by 1) or 2).


Of course, convention number 1 has stuck and has left the caps lock haters hating for decades.


So what is a modern society of digital savvy communicators to do to combat the tyranny of the caps lock? If you’re Google or IBM, you can just do away with the caps lock key entirely and pretend like it never existed. If you’re brave, like Sian S. Rathore  or Kashmir Hill, you can try your own caps lock experiment and see how long it takes the Internet to start arriving with the pitchforks. Just be careful not to lose your job over it like this healthcare worker from New Zealand. But if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll just keep on reading the Internet yelling, and try not to judge the caps lock users too harshly.

I recently read Gloria Steinem’s fantastic memoir, My Life on the Road, published in late 2015. Gloria recounts her decades filled with extensive traveling--there are many years in which she’s not home for more than eight days at a time.


Throughout the book, Gloria shares her belief in the power of communication that is in-person, non-hierarchical, and honest. From the first chapter, she notes her travels as showing her this necessity, in order to find out what’s really going on in the country:


“I discovered something I might never otherwise have learned: people in the same room understand and empathize with each other in a way that isn’t possible on the page or screen.”


Gloria learned about the power of listening and specifically talking circles from a trip to India in her twenties:


“It was the first time I witnessed the ancient and modern magic of groups in which anyone may speak in turn, everyone must listen, and consensus is more important than time. I had no idea that such talking circles had been a common form of governance for most of human history, from the Kwei and San in southern Africa, the ancestors of us all, to the First Nations on my own continent, where layers of such circles turned into the Iroquois Confederacy, the oldest continuous democracy in the world. Talking circles once existed in Europe, too, before floods, famines, and patriarchal rule replaced them with hierarchy, priests, and kings. I didn’t even know, as we sat in Ramnad, that a wave of talking circles and “testifying” was going on in black churches of my own country and igniting the civil rights movement. I certainly didn’t guess that, a decade later, I would see consciousness-raising groups, women’s talking circles, giving birth to the feminist movement.”


When beginning to speak in front of audiences, Gloria suffered debilitating stage fright. She partnered with another speaker and friend in order to overcome this, and learned other ways to combat her anxiety:


“Since we had been successful one on one, Dorothy suggested we speak to audiences as a team. Then we could each talk about our different but parallel experiences, and she could take over if I froze or flagged. Right away we discovered that a white woman and a black woman speaking together attracted far more diverse audiences than either one of us would have done on our own. I also found that if I confessed my fear of public speaking, audiences were not only tolerant but sympathetic. Public opinion polls showed that many people fear public speaking even more than death. I had company.”


Eventually, Gloria became comfortable in front of audiences. She continued to speak (and still does) at college campuses, which only affirmed her view of the importance of speaking to an audience face-to-face:


“If there is one thing that these campus visits have affirmed for me, it’s that the miraculous but impersonal Internet is not enough. As in the abolitionist and suffragist era, when there were only six hundred or so colleges with a hundred students each—and itinerant organizers like the Grimké sisters, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth traveled to speak in town halls, granges, churches, and campgrounds—nothing can replace being in the same space.”


Clearly, Gloria’s years on the road taught her many lessons about the most powerful and effective forms of communication. I’ll end with a quote that sums up all of this communication wisdom:


“If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live. If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye.”

Adam Leipzig smaller.jpg


Adam Leipzig is an entrepreneur, filmmaker, producer, publisher, and the author of Filmmaking in Action and Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers. He is the COO of CreativeFuture, a non-profit organization advocating for the creative community. He is also the CEO of Entertainment Media Partners, which provides informed guidance for independent media companies, financiers, and producers, and is the publisher of Cultural Weekly. Adam teaches at Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, in the Executive Education program of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and in UCLA's Professional Producing Program. He has overseen more than 25 movies as producer, executive, or distributor, including March of the Penguins; Dead Poets Society; Titus; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; Amreeka; and The Story of the Weeping Camel. Adam served as president of National Geographic Films and as senior vice president at Walt Disney Studios, and in each of those positions was responsible for the movie industry's most profitable film of the year.

You’re both a filmmaker and an educator. What are your favorite courses to teach, and how do your Hollywood experiences inform your teaching?

I enjoy teaching marketing and distribution because it sounds so dry, but it is really exciting. The class brings in their laptops every day. We burrow into databases and learn how to reverse-engineer trailers, one-sheets and distribution patterns. They teach themselves. In this way, we discover how to demystify Hollywood really operates. Everything I do is informed by my Hollywood experience because that's the world I come from and students love practical as-it-really-happens information.


You also have a lot of experience as a public speaker outside of the classroom, including a talk for TEDx. How does teaching compare to, say, delivering a keynote address to an industry audience?

Well, teaching is interactive. In fact, when you're teaching, the more the students participate and do the work themselves, the better the learning outcomes. When I give a keynote, I'm pretty much doing the work.


What advice to you have for instructors who teach filmmaking and production courses?

The film and production educators I have met are so smart and committed, they could probably give me advice!


What do you think are some of the biggest challenges students interested in filmmaking and video production face?

1. Have higher standards -- your work can always be better. 2. Get over the idea that you want to be a director. The world does not need a zillion more directors, and there are more than 200 other fabulous creative jobs in film and media. 3. Only 20% of the jobs in film and media are in Los Angeles or New York. Most of the jobs are elsewhere in the nation, and not in traditional movies or TV.


What inspired you to get into the world of instructional/educational publishing with Inside Track and Filmmaking in Action?

At a certain point in your life, you just want to share information. I have been down all these roads before. I see the next generation of independent filmmakers in the rear-view mirror, and I would like to give them a faster track to knowledge and success.


How does your work as CEO of Entertainment Media Partners inform your work as an educator? Or vice versa?

Entertainment Media Partners keeps me in the day-to-day of film and media. I stay current and I'm always learning new things.


You have a pretty busy schedule. Do you get a chance to go out to the movies much? Have you seen anything you really loved lately?

Last night I watched a Korean noir-action movie called The Divine Move on Netflix. Terrific movie that’s way better than its title. Kept me up ‘til three in the morning. I am paying for it today.


What was the last book you read?

Speculative Relationships, Volume 2, by Tyrell Cannon.


What are some of your hobbies outside the film industry?

Bike riding. Love it.


What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you? Your “fun fact,” in other words.

I'm a really good cook. Want to come over for dinner?

Campbell hed shot.jpgRichard Campbell, Professor and Chair of the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is the author of Macmillan’s Media & Culture, Media Essentials, and Media in Society. He is also the author of “60 Minutes” and the News: A Mythology for Middle America (1991) and coauthor of Cracked Coverage: Television News, the Anti-Cocaine Crusade, and the Reagan Legacy (1994). Campbell has written for numerous publications, including Columbia Journalism Review, Journal of Communication, and Media Studies Journal, and he is on the editorial boards of Critical Studies in Mass Communication and Television Quarterly. He also serves on the board of directors for Cincinnati Public Radio. He holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and has also taught at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Mount Mary College, the University of Michigan, and Middle Tennessee State University.


Q: What courses are you teaching this semester?  

RC: JRN 101 -- a team taught course writing/JRN history course with 75 students (and 10 undergraduate assistants)


Q: What has been your favorite course to teach?

RC: Honors section of Intro to Media -- with my textbook!


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

RC: Let students lead the discussion on social media.  They know more than I do...and I learn a few things. They are also more critically perceptive about the pluses and minuses of Facebook and Twitter when they are in charge of the conversation.


Q: What are some of your research interests?

RC: Most recent article was about the rise of partisanship in the media and how it's driven by the economic interests of news outlets.


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

RC: In partnership with Dept. of Statistics, we are developing a new course, News & Numbers, that will count as a quantitative literacy requirement in our college.


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

RC: Too many choices and too many distractions with social media.


Q: What motivates you to continue teaching? 

RC: Keeps me young...and I really like being around smart young people.


On a personal note...


Q. How do you take your coffee? 

RC: With a little cream.


Q. What newspaper(s) do you read? Print or digital?

RC: Mostly read in print -- get the NY Times daily and also Dayton Daily News. Occasionally read the Cincinnati Enquirer, although its small tabloid format (thanks, Gannett!) is a turnoff... and hard on my eyes.


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

RC: Reading, watching TV, playing golf, walking our dogs, visiting our 2-year old grandson in Ann Arbor.


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

RC: I started out as a high school English teacher and coach (basketball and track) in Milwaukee but I wanted to be a TV critic for a newspaper.


Q. What’s your favorite TV show or movie of the year so far?

RC: TV -- Catastrophe, a smart comedy on Amazon; Movies -- a tie between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Spotlight (which really gave good journalism a shot in the arm).


Q: What was the last book you read?

RC: Louise Penny's A Fatal Grace.


Q: What book has influenced you most?

RC: To Kill a Mockingbird when I was young; Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman when I was an undergrad; and Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as a grad student.


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

RC: My Pandora rotation in the shuffle mode includes 50s rock and roll, Janice Joplin, The Band, Levon Helm, Fats Waller, Gene Krupa, Django Reinhardt, John Mellencamp, Simon & Garfunkel, Mumford & Sons, Adele, CCR, The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, among others.  


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

RC: Scotland


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

RC: Two things: that I once had the Fab Five all in the same class (of 400) at Michigan (and rightly predicted after that the downfall of U of M's men's basketball program)...and that I do a podcast called Stats+Stories with the dept. of statistics chair at Miami.

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.