Professors connect literature, film to social issues

Stephanie Dominguez, Contributing Writer

English professors are using their ongoing book projects to address subjects as diverse as ecology and reproductive justice.

Robin Murray, coordinator of the film studies minor, is currently working on a book project called “Ecocinema in the City,” with Routledge Press.

Murray said at times, humor in comics and films about eco-disasters gets the message across better because it highlights important issues without being too serious.

Murray mentioned a couple films that can educate people more on eco-disasters. In “How to Boil a Frog,” there are five easy steps to take action to change our world and bring awareness to these issues, Murray said.

It can also be depicted through exaggeration, she said, as in the film “Spiders,” where toxic waste in New York City causes spiders to increase dramatically in size and take over the city.

English professor Melissa Ames is currently working on a project involving gender portrayals in the media and television.

She looks at feminist media study and post-9/11 television, especially how trauma has been represented in television and how it reflects cultural anxieties.

“It looks at how reality TV rose at that time as escapism,” Ames said. “It also looks at how we suddenly had to laugh through our news because it was too scary.”

Her study focuses on events from the last two decades, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, anxieties about gender issues and how people view TV differently.

Ames said the best part of working on a project is training people to pay attention and think critically about all the text they consume every day.

“We do it mindlessly. We don’t always pay attention to the rap lyrics or the reality TV shows we’re watching,” Ames said.

Ames said she hopes her students can see how identity is accounted for and how pop culture affects it when looking at her work.

English professor Tim Engles has been working on several writing projects, including a book study on “white male nostalgia” in novels by six American and Canadian authors.

Engles said he struggles with procrastination and getting his initial ideas down into a coherent form.

“It’s satisfying to be past the hard work of the earlier writing stages,” Engles said. “And to see that I have something solid that looks like it will eventually make a solid contribution to the field that it will join.”

Engles said good writing is hard work, and going through drafts of a project takes time. He said even experienced writers often deal with terrible writing at first, but in the end, solid writing can feel very rewarding.

This issue is that nostalgic versions of history gloss over grotesque realities in both the past and the present, Engles said.

He said this bolsters ongoing white-male collective dominance.

When it comes to students’ own projects, Engles said it is important to get started early.

“Maintain faith in your abilities — feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing at first is okay,” Engles said.

Jeannie Ludlow, English professor and coordinator of the women’s studies program, is currently working on a book project on reproductive justice with abortion.

Ludlow said reproductive justice is a newer approach to thinking about abortion, birth control and parenting by looking at it through a human rights perspective.

“The old-fashioned pro-choice line was, ‘We always have to fight for abortion,’” Ludlow said. “Reproductive justice says, ‘Well, yeah, but there’s a whole lot of other stuff we have to fight for too.’”

Some of this includes letting people have the kind of birth they want when having a baby, being treated well at clinics and being respected as a mother.

Ludlow said women of color brought up the broader issue of reproductive justice issues in the ’90s and early 2000s, when they realized they were being ignored.

The book project looks at fiction like novels, short-stories and poems written in that time frame by women of color that deal with reproductive justice issues, Ludlow said.

“Just like anything else, we make a mistake when we think we can understand somebody and evaluate something about them just based on one bit of information about them,” Ludlow said.

Ludlow said she wants people to understand all kinds of people have abortions, and there is not just one story.

“The stories I hear are of hardship, and resilience, and defiance, and joy, and anger, and it’s because life is so complicated and amazing,” Ludlow said. “So that’s what I want people to get from my work.”


Stephanie Dominguez can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].