Artists, Public Servants & Production Assistants

Artists, Public Servants and Production Assistants:

A Disciplinary History of Media Producers in the American Academy.

Media studies holds a conflicted position in the liberal arts which is a part of a discursive tension over vocationalism in the academy which has been building since the beginning of the 20th century. The amount of professional and vocational emphasis in the academy has accelerated in the post-WWII era as more and more children of the middle and lower classes entered higher education of some sort.[1] Vocational training, with its emphasis upon experiential and ‘real world’ education has been influencing the discourse of American education and class systems from at very least the turn of the 20th century and the onset of progressive educational discourses.

The education of media workers is a delicate ideological task—if you have worked in media programs which educate both scholars and makers, you have probably experienced young people coming to you for advice about working in an industry which you know to be cut-throat, close to impossible to enter, and generally organized around a highly class-based set of connections and networks. Additionally, you are also probably aware that labor protections for media workers within the industry —particularly those participating in this new technology environment—are eroding beyond recognition as reality programming and union-busting dominate the labor policies of Hollywood. Depending upon your disciplinary background, you are likely to tell slightly different stories about why students should pursue these majors despite their risks. A film studies professor is likely to highlight the value of art for arts’ sake, and the ways that understanding film language will give you a deeper understanding of yourself and the world. A communication professor may be more likely to discuss democracy and public media and how important protecting these are when using media analysis skills in some other, more lucrative profession. How have these different disciplinary narratives about the labor of media framed practical programs that ultimately impact workers’ subject and class designations? How have some of the basic ideological frameworks by which media educators socialize their students (and are themselves socialized) served as a backdrop to training workers in media industries? In particular, how have historically different disciplines—film studies and communication, in particular—diverged along class specific divisions of labor and how are they currently converging in order to train new media workers as these divisions are reinvented. This paper addresses a historical overview of the diverging disciplinary practices of film studies and communication in order to understand some of the class and subject positions framed within the historical and contemporary discourses of the education of media makers in higher education.

[1] Ackerman, James (1973) The Arts in Higher Education, in Content and Context: Essays on College Education, edited by Carl Kaysen, Laurence R. Veysey, and Carnegie Commission on Higher Education (New York; McGraw Hill)

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