Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Always already in Ellen Rooney's Network

Atillo/Ryan and I decided to examine the MCM department as a site of power. MCM is spatially split between three buildings: the main office building on George St., the garage, and the production building on Thayer. Only the production building fully contains its classes; the office building is only used for sections (although we could very much be wrong, neither of us has ever seen anything besides sections and meetings in the building's sole classroom). The garage remains mysterious, locked to all outsiders yet offering tempting glimpses inwards towards a sole room marked 101 (whether there's a 102, we do not know) and old film reels (empty at the moment). Only one door remains unlocked: that of the building on George St.

This is, in fact, the sole point of uncontrolled access, a point through which the flow of bodies inwards is unregulated (sort of; the building locks overnight). (As a brief side note: to all those unfamiliar with sneaking into places yr not supposed to be on campus, doors do not lock from the inside; just make sure you don't exit out a fire door, and yr good) Once inside, the first thing visible is a list of offices with the words MCM DEPARTMENT above. Only last names and numbers appear, offering an index of members. CHUN, for example, is 209. Clearly, if you are not on this index, you should not be in the field denoted by the number (we were thinking about writing this post from Chun's room just to prove our point, but decided against it).

As soon as you enter the lobby, a bilboard on the right catches yr eye. The symbols clearly denoting the scope and field of the MCM department are presented here; large letters (oddly humorous) declare "MCM," and a number of posters attached to the billboard declare performances, presentations, and lectures being given by MCM professors and affiliates. On the left is a board containing posters presenting the same type of information relative to other departments, perhaps sympathetic to MCM's goal in life. Theater, English, and Comp. Lit. all present information here, offering a way to situate MCM in the grid of power relations running through Brown.

Perhaps some MCM history would be appropriate at this point. Way back when the MCM department was still the Semiotics department, Semiotics decided they should add some Film production courses. They hired Leslie Thornton, and quickly asked the University for a building to place various film equipment within, and funding to buy equipment. They got a condemned house slightly off campus and a single Bolex camera+Steinbeck editing table. Leslie was afraid the massive Steinbeck would fall through the floor. After a few accidents and awkward moments (including when a rather famous person came to survey the department his daughter was learning Film production from), the department finally negotiated for the garage of the George St. building. Shit wasn't going to fall through the floor, but it wasn't exactly ideal either; there's not a lot of space there. Eventually, the MCM department got the Thayer building, after long struggles during which it became painfully clear that the Brown administration did not realize the quality of artistry that went down at Brown*. This struggle came to a head with the Creative Arts Center, which has survived the recession only because it's been almost entirely funded by the fund-raising of a particular Theater professor and complementing funds from other departments.

This demonstrates this outward connection better than anything; the MCM department appears stable from within, the building is constructed to present a certain concrete-ness, but it is always under pressure from outside; it constantly fights for funding, space, etc., attempting to carry out its life-functions against the pressures of other departments, making alliances where necessary and helpful. Even within the department, these pressures make themselves manifest; once the department has the funds, professors must divide them up, leading to internal conflicts. These internal conflicts are certainly rarer than external conflicts, but still exist.

One way in which these conflicts are stabilized (at least to the external viewer entering inwards) is by controlling methods of access. By constructing the space into which a newcomer enters to perform a certain meaning (as the billboards in the lobby or the filmic-postcards in the basement do), MCM means to stabilize itself, assert its own reality. To those in the department, these various signs serve as connection: they represent the thing that connects them. It inhabits the space it is given, mapping out access and power within until time makes it seem like it was always so. Yet obviously, this attempt doesn't really work so hot; nothing on the billboards or in the basement would suggest a study of new media. And yet, here we are, in an MCM course on the theory of that very topic. Perhaps if there was one of Derrida's ironic portraits pasted in the lobby, we might find some sign to connect into, but no- the immediate signs offer us no connection.

Moving onwards spatially, we find two things of interest: the rotating syllabus-shelf and a row of sheets taped to the wall. A look through the syllabus-shelf reveals our course; this is the first location we find affirmation of our class' existence and connection. Directly as well; syllabi for all the courses can be found here, again offering an index of MCM (once compiled, of course).

The sheets are much more interesting; they list off section times and names of those in a section. This is forced consumption; students in an MCM course are suddenly consumed by the department, their very name finding itself onto the walls of the building. They must make their way into the building (into the department) to find the time their name corresponds to, then return at that time for (required) section.

The message on the picture above (created, then documented in the production building) could have easily been inscribed on the subject of the next photo, MCM's department chair, Dr. Ellen Rooney.

The spatial relations of MCM's main building point to an adherence to the structure(s) of centralized power. As department chair, a term which in itself, bases authority on spatial representations of heirarchy: Rooney is the only person with a direct entrance/exit to MCM, she is the only person with a direct door to the outside world. All others, must exit and enter through special mediated channels (halls of the building, which can easily be seen purely as spatial displacement because their goal is only to lead to other rooms).
The door on the left is Chair Rooney's privileged out/in to the MCM community.

However, this centralized role of Rooney is challenged by the her relationship to other network, such as that of the English department. Thus, the recognized center of one community (MCM) can be seen as merely a constituent member of another community (English).

Groupemes are Atilio and Ryan Lester

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