Unorthodox Academia

Here’s a question: could the mediated essay be an underutilized opportunity to expand the scope of academia?

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Today we’re collaborating with the Eliza R. Snow Undergraduate Fellowship at BYU to give some final thoughts before we wrap up this series on the Humanities. Now, if you’ve hung around the show for very long you’ve probably noticed that we’re really interested in the formation of questions, themes, and innovations that materialize in the overlap between art and the realities of student life. But those discussions have always had an inherent assumption—that the functioning voice of the episode was that of a student within an academic institution. What happens if we removed that assumption? What if the individual speaking about interdisciplinarity, tradition, or pedestrian readings was neither matriculated student nor tenured professor? Could an agent external to and independent of the academic orthodoxy be allowed room to express similar thoughts and feelings?

To answer this, let’s turn to the growing enclave of content online and in new media (which for our uses here will narrowly refer to alternatives to traditional broadcast media) consisting primarily of video essays and podcast audio. Though the quality and breadth of these formats differs broadly in their numerous iterations, usually found on platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud, the video essay and the podcast are to me like mediated essays—collections of writings like any other—that are then expressed in media files, visual attachments, and sound clippings. And I find this phenomenon springing up through podcasters and creators fascinating in a couple different ways. 

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And we’re back, talking about the rise of the mediated essay. First, any podcast or video essay that takes on the qualities of a nonfiction, thesis driven essay, emulates my experience in real university classrooms. The channel description or show notes act like course objectives, explaining what the content is all about and trying to accomplish, and then the mediated essay goes on to demonstrate its author’s reflections on a subject, bringing in critical research, differing viewpoints, offering evidence of ulterior examples or the development of specific perspectives. Now obviously not every video essay is created equal, and you may have to learn to sit through some lower-quality content before you discover videos and podcasts that are really hitting the mark. I’ll give some links below for some favorites from my personal feed.

Second, these mediated essays are unlike my undergraduate classes in many ways. They bring together a wide diaspora of subjects, threading together ideas that bring attention to areas that we simply don’t seem to have enough time for in the orthodox of “the Academy.” Which is why I can really get behind the establishment of these mediated essays as potential academic work worthy of consideration. There is so much more that I want to learn about: the psychology of catharsis, schadenfreude, and morbid curiosity as captured in art; the moral implications of engaging with art that depicts amoral or immoral subject matter; in-depth history on the Philippines and the remarkably limited Filipino studies in the US; the relationship between a director or author and critical analysis within their field;  experiences where art has changed us, and so much more. For me, this is just the beginning of what the mediated essay can cover that structured classes may never have the space or accreditation to include in the near future. If you’d like to see an example that has been impactful for me personally, comment down below and I’ll respond with one of my favorite mediated essays.

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Thanks for staying until the end of the episode. To conclude, perhaps my affinity for design thinking principles is also motivating me to consider renovations available to the Ivory Tower—renovations that could bring scholars’ significant work closer to the accessible ground of popular culture. In many cases, we could see popular culture as a language that packages ideas in ways that people of different occupational dialects can use to communicate with each other. Mediated essays are especially apt for this kind of linguistic exchange, using references to movies, comic books, memes, gifs, and other digital speech to relay information and foster relationship with their viewers or listeners. Wouldn’t it be ideal for scholarship, criticism, and academia to have more integral connection with the public? Every now and then we get outliers who break into the mainstream cultural consciousness (Freud, Chomsky, Mulvey, etc.), but I would love to see the writers and thinkers whose work I admire make it as a reference in a video essay, or be an interview guest on a podcast. And practically speaking, it can be difficult to find literature on scholarly work when your connection to the arts is outside of an institution! Google Scholar helps a lot with overcoming this hurdle, but journals, databases, even hyperlinks on Twitter can often be locked behind a paywall or university credentials. But if the mediated essay is able to distribute that scholarship in an ad-supported model that comes at no cost, I find that appealing, valuable, and worthwhile.

 But maybe you think I’m off base here, so if it feels like I’m coming out of conceptual left field, please leave an incendiary comment about why I’m wrong and direct me to a better way of thinking.

I’m Garrett May, and you’ve been following the Humanities Center channel. Don’t forget to share if you liked the series, and until next time!..

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This post was written by Garrett May, Humanities Center Undergraduate Fellow.

Mediated Essay Recommendations:

Anthropocene Reviewed
The Nerdwriter
Entertain the Elk
Kaptain Kristain
PBS Idea Channel
Make Stuff

Art History
The Art Assignment

Philosophy Tube

The Royal Ocean Film Society
Every Frame a Painting
Just Write
Lessons from the Screenplay
Like Stories of Old
The Take
Now You See It
Patrick (H) Willems
Houston Productions
Folding Ideas
Lindsay Ellis
Pop Culture Detective

Music/Sound/Film Scores
Middle 8
Reasonably Sound

Video Games
Clean Prince Gaming

Comic Books
Nando v Movies

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