Keynote speaker to discuss comedy and environment

Mallory Kutnick, Campus Reporter

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Robin Murray, an author and English professor, will present the keynote speech for the English Studies Conference at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Coleman Auditorium.

Murray is the coordinator for Eastern’s film studies minor and co-wrote five books about movies and nature with retired communication studies professor Joe Heumann.

Murray’s speech, “What’s So Funny About Eco-Disaster?,” will address what eco-disaster comedy films such as Disney-Pixar’s “WALL-E” say about public opinion on environmental issues.

Murray said she believes the genre’s existence to be a good sign, because making light of such issues highlights society’s awareness of them.

“It’s a sign that…the issue itself maybe has been embraced enough by the public that it’s acceptable when it transforms into something more comic,” Murray said.

With wider, more eccentric casts of characters than the more intense “2012” or “WALL-E,” the main characters of eco-disaster comedies do not need the skills to survive on their own. Murray said they have fewer roles to play on their own and can therefore depend on others.

She said this gives the protagonists the chance to be clumsier and less serious than those of “The Day after Tomorrow” or “Noah.”

Murray also provided examples of comedic documentaries, namely “How to Boil a Frog.” Much like the myth of a frog being boiled alive, she said, nobody notices subtle changes in their environment until it is too late.

Fern Kory, the co-chair for the English Studies Conference Committee, said she considers the committee lucky to have international experts like Murray working for Eastern and so readily available to speak.

“I expect the keynote to be very interesting,” Kory said. “Dr. Murray knows what she’s talking about.”

“What’s So Funny About Eco-Disaster?” will follow four hours of panels focusing on the work of the English department’s students, staff and alumni.

“We want to highlight the work done by faculty, because that is sometimes invisible to students,” Kory said.

The conference, which kicked off Tuesday with a book raffle, will feature readings, posters and presentations along with a new medium: video essays, which add music and visuals to essay readings.

Murray and Heumann’s latest book, “Monstrous Nature: Environment and Horror on the Big Screen,” focuses on monster films such as “Godzilla” and how they highlight the impacts that humans can have on the environment. They have also written about environmental issues in animation, western films and other popular movies and genres.

Mallory Kutnick can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]