The following is the bulk of the presentation I will be giving this Friday, October 11th, at the Midwest Popular Culture Association conference in St. Louis. For all of you (which is the majority of the world) who cannot be there to hear the presentation, I give you what it is all about — my first full study testing my minutia reception studies method.
“Making sense of the American superhero film:
Critical engagement and cinematic entanglement”
Today I am presenting the first full fledged study to utilize a method I have been developing to measure a film spectator’s engagement with a film on a moment-by-moment basis. I call it the “minutia reception method”, and I hope that when applied it can help us understand how people make sense of a film – what they draw on to interpret the film, what they focus on in the film, and what is their overall impression of the film. I employed this method as part of a larger study; this part focuses on how people engaged with American superhero films. The analysis I am presenting here seeks to understand how their making sense of these films involved becoming entangled in it whilst simultaneously or alternatively being critical of it – and how the one does not preclude the other from occurring.
[What follows is a 2007 paper I wrote for a graduate level course on film studies. It was this paper that started me thinking about what I’ve come to term minutia reception studies. I’ve edited the paper for length, and I’ve included a picture of the reception worksheets my brother filled out as part of this “study”. The full paper can be found here. I hope to be able to start doing more research on this topic soon, starting with a paper using part of the Virtual Worlds Entertainment project to do so.]
Since the arrival and construction of the “new” media, it seems that the variety of disciplines that have at some point in their history theorized and researched the relationship between human beings and works of fiction and nonfiction are converging. However, from social sciences and the humanities there still fall two different dimensions that dissect the fields on how they approach the study of the person-text relationship. The first dimension carries the active-passive debate. While few see the person as always active or always passive, the variation along this dimension still serves to separate research. The second dimension carries the implied-actual debate; simply stated, this dimension concerns the extent to which research focuses on the reader as implied by the text versus the actual reader who exists external to the text.
The purpose of this essay is not to further differentiate how these dimensions are at work in the variety of disciplines studying the reader-text engagement. This essay takes such distinctions as the current state of affairs and operates instead from a particular position on both dimensions to further an argument about the reader-text relationship when the focus of the research is the spectator-film engagement. I shall stake my claim on being further into the always active and actual reader approaches, which places me in a camp surrounded by “uses and gratifications” media scholars, information scientists, cognitive scientists, new media scholars, and cultural studies scholars. It is from this position that I shall argue for the need to understand the actual reader engaging with the film text in order to expand the ways in which this engagement can impact overall reception of the text. My thesis will be supported by a preliminary empirical study that is also intended to promote a possible means for studying moment-by-moment spectator-film engagement in order to see the process of reading and its relation to overall reception.
Back in 2007, I attended Comic-Con. At the time, I presented a paper on comics adaptations into films and the roles of “true believers” at the Comics Arts Conference. However, it was while I was at that venerable convention, surrounded by the fans and true believers Hollywood was hoping to capture (their energy, their money, their time) by making these adaptations, that I really pondered the ideas I was espousing in the presentation.
What follows are my thoughts on these ideas from then. I write them down as I am transcribing from my notebook to a source of more, in all honesty, security and longevity. And because I want to get myself into the habit of writing my thoughts on the research process down as they come to me. So to get into the habit for the future, I turn to remembering what I’ve done in the past.
And so, it began…