Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Coming out

Over the last few years I've come to the realisation that I'm not what I thought I was. Sometimes I guess it just takes a while for it to sink in that perhaps you've only been acting in a certain way because that's what was expected of you.

But what if all you are ever exposed to are thoughts & theories that keep reinforcing those notions, never exposing you to anything different, never sharing ideas that may challenge your perception of what is 'right' and 'normal'?

I was one of those people. I followed a certain path because it seemed logical, because it was a natural fit with what I knew of the world, and of my place within society. It could be expected, given my background, my experience and my professional life, that I would follow the path laid out before me... one thing leading on naturally to the next, in a logical sequence.

But life's not like that.
I'm not like that.

I should know that by now, as I've been living in this skin for nearly 40 years... surely this should not come as a surprise, to me at least. Can I even pinpoint the exact moment that I decided to stop pretending otherwise, to allow myself to stand up and be counted as part of this group? I mean, there's no real incentive to do so (despite the rumours, there are no toaster ovens on offer), and in fact, opening up in this manner often causes people to question your sanity, your intelligence, your purpose in life, and whether or not it (or you) will ever really make a difference to the world.

But I feel that the time is right, and that if people like me don't speak up, then we run the risk of becoming totally invisible, to the point of extinction.

Ah-heh-hemmm... here goes:

Hi, my name's Kris, and I'm a Cultural Studies MA student at Canterbury University.

I teach at the NZ Broadcasting School, I have a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting Communication (Radio) from CPIT, and a Bachelor of Arts (honours, 1st class) in Media and Communication from UC. I have nearly 15 years experience in the media industry, have run my own audio production company for 12 years, and have made two radio documentaries for Radio NZ National's Spectrum programme.

You might think - as did I - that a Master's degree in Media and Communication would be a natural fit, a logical extension to this process, a perfect complement to the experience gained thus far and the subject area in which I teach.

When I started my university education in late 2008, my eventual goal was an MA. When I enrolled as an Honours student in 2010, I did so in the Media and Communication programme. Even though two of the three undergraduate papers that I took to warm up the grey matter were Cultural Studies papers, I didn't stop to question the direction I was heading in. You see, each of my Cultural Studies papers have been accidents. Joyous, rewarding, and extremely beneficial, but every single one was chosen for completely random reasons.

In 2008, while driving to TRN for a voicing session, I heard a discussion on rdu about a UC summer school paper on the history of NZ popular music. Sounds like fun, count me in.

In 2009, I decided that if I was doing one university paper, I might as well do two. There was one on cultural politics and activism that looked interesting, so I took that for fun.

In 2011, when the earthquakes turned my world upside down and my year back to front, I had to pick two second semester Honours papers to replace the first semester ones I withdrew from. So I chose one on alternative/independent media from the Media/Comms dept, and one on globalisation & new technologies which was a cross-coded Cultural Studies/Geography paper.

In my CULT401 class, I looked at the media use and communication methods of Canterbury residents over the quakes of 2010-2011. In COMS407, I looked at how aspects of the local music and entertainment scene have been affected since the earthquakes started. So, I kinda COMS'd my CULT class and CULT'd my COMS class.

The only reason I was able to take the Cultural Studies paper in 2011 was that the Sociology paper on mediated sports I took in 2010 was cross-coded as a Media/Comms paper, and therefore not counted as outside my major. Cross-coding is where a paper is offered by a lecturer in one department but is considered equally relevant to another, and is allocated a code for each course. This means students in a cross-coded class may be enrolled in different programmes but will attend the same lectures and complete the same coursework. For example, some American Studies papers are cross-coded as English or History. Kinda like code-sharing on airlines but without the drab inflight food.

In a cross-coded course not only you are exposed to theories and scholars you may not have encountered before (& isn't that the point of going to uni?), but the backgrounds, viewpoints and experience of the different students enable new ways of appreciating the subject and material under consideration. Without a doubt, these cross-coded courses have many positives that go beyond giving students a wider choice  - the synergies created by the mix of students and perspectives is beneficial to all who take part.

The current 'proposal for change' that has been put forward by UC would not only see the end of the Cultural Studies programme, but also the American Studies department and the Theatre & Film Studies department. It is not only the students directly enrolled in these courses/programmes/departments that stand to suffer, it is also the many others who are enrolled in cross-coded papers currently offered by staff whose positions are now under threat. These papers go across more degree programmes than the three named in the change document, and affect many more than the relatively small EFTS numbers (equivalent full-time students) quoted in the UC press releases.

Removing these programmes/departments and the 'drain' of the associated staff salaries not only restricts choice for current & future students, it reduces the likelihood of future 'happy accidents' like the ones I've experienced. The sort of opportunities that stem from people being able to follow their interests and engage with students and lecturers from other disciplines, broadening their outlook and challenging their own assumptions about life, the universe, and everything.

Thanks to the Cultural Studies papers I've taken so far, I have a much better understanding of why popular culture matters. Why it isn't actually a ridiculous idea to look for meaning in pop music - whether it's the songs played at sports matches or the music written after a disaster. I'm not saying that I have all the answers yet, but I've got a better idea of the questions... and that's what I plan to spend the next couple of years working on - the intersection of local music and disaster, a seismic songbook of some kind.

Because somewhere along the way to completing my BA in Media & Communication I discovered that I was actually a Cultural Studies student with a Media/Comms background. Except that, rather than spending my time trying to figure out what's important about my proposed line of research, I find myself having to defend my entire programme of study. Not just 'why does popular music matter' but 'why is Cultural Studies even worth a damn'?

I've heard that the 'buzzwords' currently associated with the University of Canterbury are 'earthquakes' and 'engineering'. Funny thing is, the earthquakes didn't just affect land and buildings, they affected people too.

Who will study the social impacts? It won't be the geologists.
Who will research the framing used by media outlets? Not the engineers.
Who will write and perform the plays that not only document what's happened, but help people deal with the massive changes to our lives & landscape? It's unlikely to be anyone from the science fraternity, and if this proposal goes ahead, it's unlikely to be UC Arts students/staff either.

There is a line of humour that goes something like this:
The Science graduate asks, "Why does it work?"
The Engineering graduate asks, "How does it work?"
The Accounting graduate asks, "How much will it cost?"
The Arts graduate asks, "Do you want fries with that?"

It's an old joke, and one that I may have even found funny... before I became an Arts student. It seems we haven't really moved on much since Muldoon's Culture Tax - a version of the above 'graduate' joke was recently posted in the 'support the Arts at UC' Facebook group late one night. However, the response was delivered the next morning:

The Science graduate says, "Hey look! Liquefaction, that comes from the earthquake"
The Engineering graduate says, "Crap, our buildings fell down, better check nothing else will. Whoops, there goes that one we green-stickered, killing 110 people"
The Accounting graduate asks, "How much will it cost?" - some things never change
The Arts graduate filled the gaps and brought hope
(hat-tip Morgan H)

This change proposal is short-sighted (so is the govt's reaction), and it is not only the students at UC who will end up short-changed if it goes ahead. We will all suffer.

Melodramatic? C'mon, I'm a thespian at heart, what did you expect??

And in line with the totally serious spirit with which I try to approach life in general, and which will no doubt emerge while I'm writing up my vitally important academic research on the role and response of music in the wake of disaster, I'll leave the final words on this subject to The Knobz.

No comments:

Post a Comment