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On Being Anti-Racist (Or Attempting To, Anyway)

The other day, in the context of talking about my pop culture analysis writing and the cultural work I endeavor to do by generating writing in the first place, I described my approach as “anti-racist,” and a colleague asked me what I meant by that. In thinking through my response in the moment (these kinds of questions can sometimes make the lunchtime work-chat experience uncomfortable), I realized I haven’t ever written an articulation of my thoughts. Hence the writing of this post.

When I describe myself or any facet of my work as anti-racist, I’m informed by Ibram X Kendi’s writing on anti-racism, the idea being that it’s not enough to be non-racist, that to truly dismantle unjust systems, one must be actively and intentionally anti-racist, which is to say, one must be constantly reckoning and renegotiating the must acknowlege the ways in which they are complicit in an unjust system and reckon with experiences where one has been benefitted by or harmed by said unjust systems.

And attempting to be anti-racist is perhaps best understood as just that, an ever-ongoing and never-ending attempt. It’s not a Get Out Of Jail free card to being racist. To be anti-racist is to make a constant practice of existential reckoning: reckoning with how institutionalized inequity impacts our lives, reckoning with whether (more like, to what extent) such institutions help or harm us en masse, reckoning the social hierarchies to which we inadvertently belong, based on feature or conditions we don’t control…it’s about recognizing and (re)negotiating the ways in which we all are individuals but are also part of systems much larger than any of ourselves, and that these systems uphold white supremacy. It’s about the daily decision to work towards dismantling whtite supremacy.

Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Dr. Lauren Wadsworth address this in their book Did That Just Happen? Beyond ‘Diversity’–Creating and Sustaining Inclusive Organizations as they discuss the importance of diversity in workplace teams. The secret to diverse teams, they say, “is not being perfect–never making mistakes, or knowing the ‘complete’ list of right or wrong words to utter and avoid…it is important to create and encourage workforce and academic cultures that directly acknowledge the increased complexity of diverse environments.” The work isn’t something you can check off a list and then be done for good. It’s something you work at with every decision you make every single day, both big ones and small ones.

The definition of being “antiracist” alway changing, as are the political and sociocultural circumstances into which we usefully or uselessly try to define terms like antiracist. So if that colleague were to ask me tomorrow, my answer might be different. And maybe no two people’s answers align perfectly. As Pinder-Amaker and Wadsworth go on to say, “know that you are going to keep making mistakes. This is inevitable…Recognize that the goal isn’t perfection. Rather, a commitment to continual self-interrogation and effort is what’s required.” While we may be individual actors, we do have some power within institutions. As I have argued elsewhere, “you can either be part of the system in a way that challenges and improves that system, or you can just be part of the system.

More specifically, I do a lot of this reckoning every time we do a round of hiring, every time we as process a scholarship application, every time we write a grant, every time we hold an event. And I’m proud to work with a team who also regularly engage in this kind of reckoning, as it undoubtedly makes everyone stronger to hold space for each other this way.

You can buy “Did That Just Happen?” by Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Dr. Lauren Wadsworth here.

You can buy “How to Raise an Antiracist” by Ibram X Kendi here.

Allow me to reintroduce myself…

First time posting in almost five years! Yikes. Again. In the days following my recent Buffy talk at the Adriance Library, I’ve found myself wanting to update my website, but as I’ve written about before, I always struggle to describe my “brand,” my unique niche in the ecosystem of media education, art education, community impact, media production, academic film and televisual studies, non-profit management…it’s just always been difficult to encapsulate myself and the sheer breadth of everything I do in a succinct turn of phrase. And the admission of intentionality behind consciously constructing one’s brand identity has just always triggered my imposter syndrome to kick in. Not to mention that I’ve developed all sorts of complexes around motherhood and identity, as I’ve had a wonderful child since the last time I posted who is adorable and precocious and to whom I happily so many of my waking hours, it’s just made it hard to be productive academically or engaged with social media. By the time I get an hour to myself, I’m exhausted and can’t think straight. But if an exhausted hour is all I can get, I’m trying to get done what I can in that hour. Hence me using naptime to try and get this update post out there!

In updating my resume recently with a couple of recent public speaking engagements, it struck me that maybe my brand can be gleaned from the titles of the five public speaking engagements I’ve done recently (all in the past three weeks, no less):

The Monster Metaphor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Arts, Access, and Excellence: Creation and Community in Poughkeepsie with The Art Effect

Digital Media Production for English Language Arts Teachers

Animated Expression: Digital Animation for Social Justice Storytelling

Mid-Hudson Regional Child Care Advocacy Hour

So there, you’ve got the nonprofit angle, the media education angle, the academic angle, the empowering pedagogue angle…and the Buffy scholar angle. And though it’s been an exhausting few weeks, it’s also been incredibly inspiring to get to work alongside so many wonderful humans.

The Monster Metaphor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  In this talk, I used Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a lens through which audiences can understand how using supernatural allegories to understand and interrogate social issues can function as a tool for hope in hard times, even as it runs the risk of reinvesting in the monstrous conditions it aims to escape!

Video of the entire talk is available here!

Arts, Access, and Excellence: Creation and Community in Poughkeepsie with The Art Effect: How can the arts empower and uplift communities struggling with poverty? In this presentation, The Art Effect’s Director of Programs Mary Ellen Iatropoulos discusses how arts-based workforce development programs can provide a pathway out of poverty, from helping youth obtain their first paying jobs in the arts, to increasing first-generation students’ access to college, to developing a Youth Arts Empowerment Zone that helps to sustainably revitalize Main Street Poughkeepsie.

Digital Media Production for English Language Arts Teachers: in this professional development session, 9 ELA teachers from Poughkeepsie High School received a three-hour training in turning literary assignments into digital media production assignments. Teachers learned two project-based learning methods: Google Websites Character Studies and Flexier Video Book Reports. It was fun to see teachers get excited as they began to realize the possibilities of using digital production technology for offering students ways to perform their understanding and demonstrate their learning. One teacher had the idea of adapting the traditional charatcer study assignment to become about creating “dating profile” websites for characters. She created an example, “Hold Holden Close,” an imaginary dating profile for The Catcher in The Rye‘s Holden Caulfield. Other teachers got excited about adapting persuasive essays into persuasive video essays.

Animated Expression: Digital Animation for Social Justice Storytelling: In this workshop at the 2023 Multicultural Education Conference, I led attendees through applying the Open Minds To Equality (Schniedewind and Davidson, 2011) four-step framework for teaching social justice to the project of producing digitally animated shorts in diverse learning contexts. This workshop was really fun, with teachers and high school students alike in the audience. I based this workshop around my past experiences implementing digital animation residencies at Poughkeepsie High School and Wappingers Junior High School, and by the end of our 90-minute session, every attendee had used FlipAClip to create a short animated sequence as well as concrete lesson plans for using animation in any educational setting to empower learners of all ages, for social-emotional learning, for challenging identity-based stereotyping, and for social justice storytelling.

Mid-Hudson Regional Child Care Advocacy Hour: I had the pleasure of emceeing this political advocacy event, during which two hundred+ parents, child care providers, non-profit directors, and business owners appealed to elected officials to lobby for expanding child care funding. I could have sworn I got some screenshots of me hosting the meeting and facilitating the discussion, but it looks like all I managed to get was this…

I don’t remember what the above was in response to, exactly, but am grateful for the opportunity to get to speak out on child care, which I’ve some to understand is a fundamental aspect of the way our society works, but is criminally under appreciated in general terms and specifically to the NYS budget, undervalued.

And thankfully, the inimitable Kathy Halas remembered to record the entire event and get it up on YouTube! Please enjoy, if you are so inclined…

What a whirlwind. I’m grateful for this lazy Sunday afternoon, grateful I got to write this while my child napped, and yet, more grateful still to hear her stirring in the next room. Until next time, friends, take care of each other out there.

What I Actually Do 

So, what do you do?

On the surface, the question seems simple enough. Standard opener for casual conversation. Simple questions carry complexities, though, and even though I’m expecting it, even though it’s been asked of me a million times, I somehow always struggle to answer.

This past week in particular I’ve found myself frequently faced with this situation of needing to succinctly sum myself up. Several new folks have joined the team at The Art Effect, and the question’s come up with them. In addition, I just got back from a three-day conference in Houston, a gathering convened by the Fund for Shared Insight to bring together the hundreds of non-profit grantees who, via receipt of the grant award, are embedding into their organizations the practice of listening in a simple but systematic and rigorous way that builds participant experience and expertise into the structuring of operations. In other words, the grant helps use make sure client input is valued and prioritized when we make decisions as an organization, an intentional action of equity that helps shift the dynamic from transactional to transformative. It was a fabulously informative and heart-warming few days of community building amongst the non-profit grantees, and given all the networking time built in, I again found myself being asked (and struggling to answer), over and over again–

And what do you do?

Part of the issue is time. I wear so many hats that it takes time just to list out the general departments and programs I supervise. In these kinds of situations, I usually answer at first with my job title — Director of Education and Experience — and in some cases, it clicks. If I’m met by a puzzled expression, I can always list off some of my various job description responsibilities: ensure cross-departmental programmatic success, manage relationships with schools and community program partners, provide input on curriculum and ensure programmatic evaluation being conducted in accordance with funding terms…

Even then, for many, these descriptions remain abstract. When I say I ensure and manage relationships and provide input, it can be hard to envision what that actually entails on a daily basis. It can feel like just words, lip-service lacking the weight of the real substance of the work (which is the satisfying and exhausting part).

What do I do? Well, here’s a breakdown.

First, I’m the primary coordinator on conducting the work involved in the aforementioned Listen for Good grant. I designed the L4G survey campaign for the overall organization, as well as co-designed with program directors mini-surveys to collect segmented feedback on program-specific issues. I oversaw implementation of the survey, getting the message out to program participants, and upon closing the survey once we got 160 responses, I analyzed the data and met with program directors to discuss turning feedback fats and trends into actionable next steps for implementing as program changes. I’m currently creating materials and an outreach plan for closing the loop with all of our audiences, and I’m excited about what we heard and how we can put this feedback to very productive use.

I’m also acting Faculty Director for D-LIT, a digital literacy smartphone summer camp for middle-school students in Poughkeepsie. After co-teaching a semester-long fieldwork class on teens and iPhones in conjunction with Vassar College’s Urban Education Initiative, we’re taking our research and implementing it in this intensive summer program that will revolve around critical and creative use of smartphones. My duties include reviewing student and counselor apps, structuring intern and counselor work, creating task delegation schedules, synthesizing class research into set of best practices which we will implement in a two-week intensive this summer.

I supervise the Spark Studios program. Spark Studios is probably the most innovative project I’m managing. For years, when we held after-school programs for teenagers, many of the youth we serve were in the position of needing to choose between doing our program or getting after-school jobs. We lost several students to jobs at places like McDonald’s, Target, and other service and retail industry jobs. And that’s real. If your family needs you to pull in a paycheck, suddenly after-school arts and media training programs seem like luxuries.

I wanted to disrupt this cycle, to make it so that youth in Poughkeepsie didn’t have to choose between gaining the benefits our program has to offer and helping to support their families.

I am happy to say that this spring, our Spark Studios program employed 12 teens as filmmakers, grips, boom operators, script writers, production managers, and more. They functioned as an entrepreneurial video production house to take on commercial work from paying clients. I am so proud of the work they’ve been doing and how well the program is working so far.

One Spark Studios project has had me researching/playing with 360° filmmaking technology and overseeing our students in creating a VR film promoting the City of Poughkeepsie as a tourist destination, to be used with a publicity campaign the Walkway Over the Hudson will be running.


And I also supervise the MADLab program: MADLabSummer2018Flyer_Final

The MADLab (Media, Arts, & Design Lab) is an arts career exploration and job skills training program that addresses the needs of Poughkeepsie youth ages 14-17 facing multiple barriers to employment. The Art Effect will be working with Scenic Hudson on the Fall Kill Community Outdoor Art Installations project, which will be the primary project of its 2018 summer youth employment session of MADLab.

Through the Fall Kill Community Outdoor Art Installation project, MADLab youth will work to pull trash from the Fallkill Creek at two sites (N. Cherry St behind PUF and Pershing Ave), design original sculpture art using repurposed Fall Kill trash, and create the art/urban design installations at each site to be unveiled in an exhibition grand opening at the end of the summer.

Not to mention, I handle scheduling and staffing fall classes and programs, scheduling and staffing auxiliary/offsite workshops, writing for and hosting our weekly youth-produced radio show Radio Uprising, both teaching professional development workshops (most recently, NYSATA) AND overseeing the organization’s internship program… it’s a lot.

My goal is for the organization to grow such that each of the above responsibilities could become their own respective individual full-time positions, possibly even departments… if we’re looking that far down the road. For now, perhaps when asked “what do you do?” I should just start telling people I’m a juggler.





Re-Thinking Innovation: The Art Effect at Remix NYC

Back in March, several colleagues and I attended Remix NYC, thanks to generous support from the Wave Farm Foundation.

What a wonderful time we had at the Remix NYC Summit on Culture, Creativity and Technology! Two days packed full of thought-provoking speakers, stimulating conversations with colleagues old and new, and some of the coolest venue spaces NYC has to offer.

Both days were attended by The Art Effect’s Director of Education and Experience (aka me) and our Spark Studios Program Coordinator Paul Thompson. Joining us on Thursday was Experience Program Assistant and Teaching Artist Sarah Taylor, and rounding out the team on Friday was our Media/Art/Design Lab coordinator David Wong.

Despite our varying job titles and workloads, every single one of us found invaluable insights and solid strategies to take away for innovating and improving on our own programs. In particular, several recurring themes from across the conference struck us and stuck with us.

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During her presentation, Julia Kaganskiy, Director of New Inc (New Museum’s art & tech incubator) mentioned the phrase “constant beta,” and it really resonated. Being in a state of constant beta means approaching your work as being in development, existing in a constant state of testing things out and evaluating how well implementation went with an eye towards making changes for improvement next time. In an age of constant change where technology evolves on a daily basis, such flexibility and adaptability is crucial to keeping competitive. Using the same business model year in, year out will no longer hold the same promise of security. Instead, embracing “constant beta” means entering a mutually beneficial adaptive relationship with customers or clients, where supply changes in response to demand.  So much is changing and being re-shaped, we have to embrace being in constant beta in order to survive and thrive.

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Another recurring theme was the idea of “creative disruption,” or the idea that in order to truly innovate, you need to stop your habits (or years-old strategies) and insert some totally new method, idea, or approach into things, in order to break free of the confines of routine and find views and vantage points you just couldn’t see while you were keeping your head down.

The Art Effect endeavors to be as innovative as possible, but innovation means change and evolution, so if there are things we’ve been doing the same old way for years and years, if we want to be innovative, we’ve got to rethink things and disrupt ourselves to see how innovations would help us improve.

We witnessed dozens of examples of truly innovative work, some of which is being done by The Lowline, an organization using NASA technology to harness the power of the sun and bring rays of sunshine underground to create parks out of abandoned subterranean spaces.

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Another issue repeatedly addressed by speakers and conference-goers alike? The centrality of storytelling to all creative enterprises, whether they be commercial or non-profit. People aren’t drawn to facts and figures, we learned, so much as they are drawn to stories. And within the stories, if an entrepreneur is truly listening, one can discover new opportunities by paying attention to “pain points.” For example, this is Winston:

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Winston lives near the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, and heard dozens of concert-goers describe how inconvenient and annoying it was that Barclay required paper printouts of tickets to scan. For someone visiting from out of town, this requirement could mean doubling back and re-traveling miles and miles to find a printer. Hearing about this “pain point” over and over, it occurred to Winston that there was an opportunity there. He began bringing a portable printer and standing near the admissions line at Barclay, offering to print people’s tickets out for them… for a price. It’s this kind of responsiveness to people’s stories, this method of really listening and identifying the parts of the story involving inconvenience and annoyance, that enables people like Winston to capitalize on opportunities others may not see.

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Ultimately, The Art Effect staff came away from Remix NYC with a renewed sense of optimism about our own work, how to invigorate our staff and inspire our students while integrating truly innovative forms of creative entrepreneurship into all of our programs, as well as the importance of grasping the story of our work and why our work matters. Emily Best of Seed & Spark told an anecdote during her presentation on Thursday about her moment of revelation when she told her father all about the exciting work she was doing, only to hear her father respond “so you’re changing the world… so what? Who cares?” The line got a hearty laugh from the audience, possibly become the room was full of folks so close to the cutting edge that the meaning or mission of their work isn’t always immediately apparent or accessible, or at the very least difficult to communicate to the average person. And that was Emily Best’s point exactly: while we’re doing all of this incredible work, if we want our messages to reach people it’s extremely important to parlay our innovations into terms and stories easily understood by those we’re trying to reach. We have to understand what we actually mean when we say we’re doing good work and changing the world, and we’ve got to be ready to respond in case someone asks us “so what?”

For The Art Effect, the “so what?” should be straightforward–particularly after attending Remix NYC. Arts empower communities, and we help facilitate that growth and transformation. Our programs offer youth skills practice, arts exploration, and college/career opportunities they otherwise may not have gotten, and to the students we serve, it makes all the difference in the world. And while we were so glad and grateful we got to be a part of such an incredible few days, innovation is not something that is attained once and then permanently possessed, like trophy on a shelf. Innovation is a CONSTANT process, and we’ve got to keep fueling those fires on a daily basis. The past few months have seen several innovative initiatives being put into place, as well as shown several “pain point” places where we are in urgent need of creative disruption.

What are those initiatives and pain points? Well, that’s a post for another day.

2017 Papers, Projects, and Passions

This morning I sat down to write an update prior to Slayage 2018, the biannual international convention of the Whedon Studies Association, at which I will be delivering a keynote and which is rapidly approaching at a panic-inducing pace.

I realized the last draft post I’d saved was an announcement for the Calls for Papers for two NeMLA sessions I (co)organized….. last year, in 2017. And looking further back, much to my chagrin, I realized that the last time I updated this site BEFORE that was about a year ago, when I was announcing my panels for NeMLA 2016!

If you taste something funny, just might be ’cause I let this site go stale.

My excuse for the delay in updates is none too juicy, either.  I’ve been too busy living life–or, I should say, too exhausted from living a busy life–to be writing about it. I admire those who can lead busy, engaged lives and write daily, or even weekly, updates. But I’m not one of them. Not yet, anyway. My whole life I’ve been a side-writer, daily doing something else and occasionally writing in frantic, late-night bits of impassioned panic. While it has its own kind of magic, writing that way is physically and emotionally draining, and that’s something I want to change.

So, with that in mind, c’mon, Mare, write! (right?)

Since this was originally meant to be an early 2017 update on my professional projects, I’ll preserve the language from back then.

Here’s what’s happening in my corner of the world:

Race in Whedon book

At long last, the edited anthology I’ve been working on has been published, and it’s won an award for Best Book in Whedon studies! Joss Whedon and Race: Critical Essays contains 15 essays on of race, ethnic identity, and Otherness in the works of Joss Whedon, and is available for purchase here. My co-editor (the wonderful Dr. Lowery A. Woodall III) and I are grateful for the hard work years-long efforts of all of our contributors, and for everything this process has taught us about coordinating copyright agreements, communicating requests for revision, clarifying our own vision for the book, and contributing to the vibrant scholarly community that is the Whedon Studies Association.

Official back-of-the-book blurb:

Joss Whedon is known for exploring philosophical and political questions through socially progressive narratives in his films, television shows and comics. Whedon’s works offer critique of racial stereotypes, sometimes repudiating them, sometimes reinforcing them (sometimes both at once). Joss Whedon and Race: Critical Essays explores his representations of racial power dynamics between individuals and institutions and how the Whedonverse constructs race, ethnicity, and nationality relationships.


Slayage 2016

If you follow me on social media, you’ll surely have seen by now the slew of photos/videos I posted from something called EuroSlayage. The Slayage 2016 conference, held in Kingston-on-Thames, UK, proved to be yet another momentous occasion for me, a real highlight of my life, as I saw old friends and made new ones, got to co-present with one of my academic idols (the amazing Lorna Jowett), and was given the honor of receiving a second Mr. Pointy Award for an essay published in 2015.

This essay forms the basis for one of my two aforementioned NeMLA 2017 panels.

Call For Papers!

On UPenn:

Superheroes and (Dis)Ability

Transmedia Storytelling: Questioning Canon


Superheroes and (Dis)Ability

Transmedia Storytelling: Questioning Canon


Negative Space, Narrative Subjugation

Ms. Marvel Chapter for “Can The SubAltern Be A Superhero?” (anthology edited by Rafael Cordero and Derek McGrath)

I’m really excited for this book project. My work so far has included conducting close readings of Books 1-11 and scouring fansites and message boards for evidence as to how these texts were received and understood.

If you’re interested, the abstract follows below.

Negative Space, Narrative Subjugation, and Paradoxical Representations of Empowerment in Ms. Marvel

What happens when the disempowered acquire superpowers? The question resonates throughout Ms. Marvel, as Kamala Khan, nerdy, daydreaming high-school student, imagines herself within superhero stories in order to escape discrimination at school and overbearing parents at home. When she suddenly acquires her own super powers, she negotiates their acquisition as a metaphor for political empowerment. At first, the fact that a teenage Muslim-American girl engages and navigates Western models of superhero empowerment seems a subversive and politically radical enterprise. Given the Marvel canon’s overwhelming focus on superpowered characters who already inhabit privileged bodies (straight/white/cis men), Kamala initially seems a revolutionary character. However, when viewed through Post-Colonialism and Critical Visuality Studies frameworks, the politics of Ms. Marvel’s visual composition reveals a paradox of representational empowerment. As Kamala Khan engages Western constructs of visual superhero narratives, certain subversive elements are mitigated by the teleological white supremacy of these constructs; for instance, when her powers first emerge, Kamala becomes a white, blond woman, and Kamala’s first quest involves her rescuing a popular classmate who embodies white privilege (thereby reinforcing a status quo which marginalizes Kamala’s non-superpowered identity).

This chapter explores the possibilities and the problematic politics of visual composition and narrative empowerment by considering how Ms. Marvel features the marriage of aesthetics and ethics through negative space and narrative subjugation to inform and deepen our understandings of racial representation in media’s affect on the real world. Building on critical visuality theorists Richard Dyer, Nicholas Mirzoeff and Scott McLoud to conduct a historically-contextualized visual explication of specific key panels (abetted by Post-Colonialists Guyatri Spivack and Chandra Mohanty), I ultimately argue that the extant issues of Ms. Marvel demonstrates a paradox wherein engagement of Western constructs of narrative empowerment reinforce the very institutionalized inequalities they elsewhere successfully destabilize.


Prepping to Teach New Tech: When Media Literacy Grandparents Get on Snapchat

Freshly invigorated from the very inspiring 12th Northeast Media Literacy Conference, I tried today to turn my mind towards Snapchat.

I attended an enjoyable and informative workshop taught by Prof. Adam Chiara on the ins and outs of using Snapchat to teach news media literacy. As Chiara advocated for its potential as teaching tool, I found myself inspired, as I’m currently advising a team of teaching artists who are implementing a program called Media Magic: Real vs. Fake News* and one of our client’s requests is to create daily short videos containing snippets of informational/digital literacy tips, insights, and illustrations (if you’re asking “why would a media education program be working for  a client?”then you should read this). Chiaro was very convincing in telling us all that educators stand to benefit from embracing, learning to navigate, and even teaching with Snapchat, since it functions as a news source for so many young people. As I took in the wisdom of his words, I began to daydream about what it would look like to for the Media Magic teens to be distributing these daily videos via Snapchat.

Specifically, I want to know how to use it myself. I wanted to experience it as a vehicle for creation. I wanted to dig deep into its functions and rhythms, to embrace the technology’s particular potential for creativity and storytelling–immediacy and ephemerality, the ultimate in-the-moment mode of messaging, launched by the generation who coined the phrase FOMO.

If I sound a bit romantic about it, it’s because I’m covering for the sheer panic I felt when trying it out for the first time and having NO idea what to do with it.

I’d heard people say “Snapchat is nothing like Facebook and Twitter” but I was still unprepared for the mental confusion I experienced when I downloaded the app, clicked the ghost in the little yellow box, and found my eyes swimming in unfamiliar shapes and colors that, surprise surprise, looked nothing like Twitter or Facebook.On both those platforms, as you likely know, you log in, you see a top-to-bottom (more or less) chronological feed from fellow users, you see a text box beckoning your own contributions –“What’s on your mind? it asks, inviting”– which proudly crowns the ever-updating pile of posts.

But signing into Snapchat, I didn’t know which buttons did what. I wasn’t seeing a feed, things weren’t where I thought they’d be, I couldn’t get a grasp of which swipe movements accomplished which actions. I stumbled and clunked as I tried to navigate it. I grumbled in frustration. I had some admittedly farcical thoughts about those dang kids and their new-fangled technology.

Which is funny, really, because just a few days ago, the Northeast Media Literacy Conference (NMLC) opened with a session entitled “Media Literacy Grandparents.” The sharp and eloquent Renee Hobbes moderated a discussion amongst emerging Media Studies scholars, each of whom described their roots in the subject and named some metaphorical “grandparents;” folks whose work had a heavy impact at an early age, whose media work shaped their own passions and talents. Some panelists named mentors or advisors they knew personally, and others named famous scholars like Marshall McLuhan, Paulo Freire, Adorno, Kristeva, Mulvey, etc.. The audience was then asked to write down their media literacy grandparents on sheets of paper provided, and tack them to a large “wall of inspiration.”


One of my teaching artists wrote down my name, and while I felt joy in realizing how much he had learned from me, I was also amused at the thought of being in any category with “grandparent” in the title (I’m only 33, for pete’s sake). I do work with a team of mostly 20-somethings, though, so if they look up to me I’m all for it. The honor in being named is the worthier part of the puzzle for sure, so I took the compliment.

I thought back to my “grandparent” status when using Snapchat.  My fingers were uselessly swiping at the screen, and it occurred to me that I must look to others right now the way my mom looked to me when she first got a cellphone–completely confounded, utterly helpless, pitiable, even. Grandma on Snapchat, indeed. I recalled that Chiara said Snapchat is intentionally counter-intuitive and user-UNfriendly. Its users want it to be a secret world that’s hard to access. Allow me to tell them, they are succeeding on that front.

I’m still playing with it, and I’m beginning to get some of it. Mostly what I’m getting is how different the production process is when it comes to Snapchat. Typically, at Spark Media Project, when we teach the production process, we’re using a camera/lights/sound set-up, the kind of production where you set up a shot and shoot it, then remove the SD card, plug it into a computer, organize the files, drag them over into an Adobe Premiere project to edit them… the process takes awhile.

Yet if I’m asking students to produce via Snapchat, what I’m asking them to do is envision a visual scene, shoot this individual scene, then post it. If they want to do a succession of scenes, they’ve got to think it through in a very linear way to shoot each one individually, then download their story for the day. It’s got to happen fast, rapid fire-motion of having the idea and then doing the idea as soon as it’s imagined. This speed, on TOP of the counter-intuitive production tools layout. Students get a lot of credit for so quickly becoming fluent in this interactive digital language.

I guess once you get into the swing of it, it becomes routine. For now, though, thinking through the differences between making content for Snapchat and making a more traditional video is forcing me to bend my brain in new ways, which I always enjoy img_1629precisely because it puts me in a situation my students know all too well — the role of being a learner taking the first steps. We’ll see how it goes! Until then, check out my horrifying “taste test,” and if you’re on Snapchat, feel free to follow along with me and Spark students– @Spark_pkny and @metamare.



*I initially designed this program in December, prior to the “fake news” maelstrom surrounding Trump’s incipient presidency, and I’ve since realized (due in no small part to my time at NMLC) that  “real vs fake” rhetorical constructions reduce the issue to an oversimplified binary when its actually more a continuum of credibility, perspective, and bias. It’s likely that we’re going to encounter a lot of statements that contain bits of truth but are connected in a false narrative, or are based on interpretations of the truth that make sense from one perspective but can also be construed as nonsensical, and so on, and so on. Being that I’m generally a fan of destabilizing binaries, I wish I’d named it something else, but too late now.

A Look At Life Lately

Every update on my website, it seems, is fated to begin with a similar sentiment.

“It’s been a while since my last update, I’ve been so busy…”

The thought occurs that posting nothing on my website for almost a year may give the opposite impression.

Rest assured though, dear readers, I’ve been up to a great many things. So many, in fact, that when I get home from work for the day or when I have an extra hour on a weekend, I want to spend it resting and recuperating rather than writing about what it is that’s been exhausting me.

And while I’m exhausted, I’m also enthused and inspired! Let me tell you all about my many projects at present.

  • I’m proofing and indexing my soon-to-be-published collection Joss Whedon and Race: Critical Essays. My co-editor Lowery A. Woodall III and I have been working on this for five years, and it’s going to be such a relief when it finally comes out! For more information, click here:

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  • Also on my docket at Spark Media Project: managing our internship program (we have 10 interns this semester…so far!), overseeing the implementation of our FRAME programs as well as our DROP Studios programs, handling media education contracts with the Adriance Library and Family Service’s Office of Sexual Violence Prevention… I’m getting to collaborate with many wonderful people on producing media products that critically engage with our society and speak truth to power. I’ll be posting more about specifics soon. For now, though, you should check out this amazing documentary created by last year’s DROP TV youth producers. We just learned it’s been accepted to the Tower of Youth Film Festival, and we couldn’t be prouder! Watch it here!

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  • I’m seeking proposals for two NeMLA 2017 sessions. One is a panel session entitled “Questioning Canon: Transmedia Storytelling in 21st-Century Pop Culture Narratives.” Here’s the abstract:

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The other is a roundtable session entitled Superheroes and (Dis)Ability. Here’s the abstract for that one:

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-1-42-13-pmPotential panelists must sign into the NeMLA system to submit their abstracts to one or both panels. To log in, to create an account, and to get more info on what that entails, go here. The deadline is September 30th, and I’m very open to discussing abstracts and their suitability to the topic prior to submission, so drop me a line if you’re interested!

  • I’m working on a chapter for the forthcoming anthology Can the Subaltern Be A Superhero? The Politics of Non-Hegemonic Superheroism. My chapter explores the interdependence of aesthetics and politics in the recent Ms. Marvel comic series featuring Kamala Khan, and is tentatively entitled: “Negative Space and Narrative Subjugation: The Paradox of Representing Empowerment in Ms. Marvel.” It’s been a fascinating research project so far, and now comes the time for turning notes into prose. Or, as I like to call it… the hard part.

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There’s a lot on the docket, a lot of strands in the ol’ duder’s head (to quote The Big Lebowski), but I’m grateful to be involved in so many interesting projects that mean so much to me.


CFPs for NeMLA 2016 Sessions

Calling all scholars of Film/TV/Literature/Comics!

The deadline for all abstracts to be submitted for the March 2016 meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association is coming up this Wednesday 9/30.

Along with my colleague Derek S. McGrath, I’m co-organizing two sessions for NeMLA 2016:

The Monster In The House: Domestic Ideology in Superhero Narratives 

(Panel Session)

In worlds full of superhuman heroes, mythological imaginary creatures and battle narratives of epic scope, what is the role of the domestic? This panel session seeks proposals investigating the ways in which domestic spaces function within superhero narratives as sites of union and/or conflict between the human, the subhuman, and the superhuman. How do teenage vigilantes like those in Runaways construct unconventional homes? How do familial/community obligations inspire the Hell’s Kitchen resident Daredevil to defend his hometown? How have heterogeneous, even internally combative, groups like the X-Men and the Justice League been imagined as odd couple household scenarios? How have extraterrestrials such as Superman used domestic ideology to make sense of their self-appointed mission to protect their adopted homes, and how may domestic ideology help us make sense of reading these characters’ stories as allegories of immigrants’ experiences?

This session seeks proposals that explore how domestic ideology informs and functions within superhero stories, as well as how humanity and the human are depicted in the context of domestic spaces within superhero narratives.

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The “Black Widow babygate” plot thread in Avengers: Age of Ultron, for instance, is ripe for exploration through the lens of the literary domestic.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe As Literature

(Roundtable Session)

From co-organizer Derek S. McGrath:

This roundtable seeks to consider ways of analyzing the Marvel Cinematic Universe (films including Iron ManCaptain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy, among others, as well as television series including Agents of SHIELDAgent Carter, and Daredevil) films and television series as literature. We are equally interested in proposals that focus on one specific film and ones that consider multiple films. And we welcome submissions from various schools of literary and media theory. In addition to points that we outline in our call for papers above, submitted abstracts may consider:

  • Strategies for incorporating individual films and television episodes in course syllabi—or even courses based around just the Cinematic Universe
  • The films’ structures as analogous to much earlier 1930s and 1940s superhero film serials
  • The significance of revisions made in adapting the comics for film, whether changing characters’ backstories or adjustments in visual narrative between comic book panels and film screens
  • Differences in storytelling practices between the films and the television series
  • Challenges when adapting the original Marvel Comics due to rights disputes between Disney and Sony, Fox, and other studios that have led to the exclusion of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and up until now Spider-man
  • Diversity or lack thereof among the characters, cast, and crew for the films and television series

Submissions for both CFPs are due this Wednesday, September 30. Abstracts must be submitted online at, with a free CFP List NeMLA account.

If you have any questions, please email and

Outstanding Graduate Award!

Hello, Internet! It’s been awhile since my last update. I’ve been busy finishing up my MPS degree, managing four separate 21st Century Learning Community programs, advising team of nine teachers, teaching my own middle-school filmmaking classes, overseeing CMP’s Media Magic, Radio Uprising and Media Monsters programs . . .the list goes on and on. But as I always say, it’s better to be busy than the other thing!

Last December, I received the most exhilarating news. I’d been selected as the Fall 2013 Outstanding Graduate for the SUNY New Paltz Department of Education in the Humanistic/Multicultural MPS graduate degree program. Winning this award was particularly poignant for me, I’ve been working on my two Master’s degrees (while working full-time!) for a grand total of 12 semesters/7 years. I came to New Paltz in 2007, and at the end of my long journey, it’s incredibly gratifying to be recognized for my my hard work and efforts (and, I’m just going to say it, ENDURANCE). I’m honored and delighted, and it’s a perfect way to end my grad school career. For now. 😉

Here I am at the award ceremony, with Dean Michael Rosenberg of SUNY New Paltz’s School of Education.


Upcoming Conference Presentations

I’ve got several conference presentations coming up. Hope to see you there!

Teaching the Hudson Valley – Hyde Park, NY

August 1st 10:45 am Dyson Room

Presenter: “Learning From The Streets: Critical Media Literacy and the Common Core”


NeMLA 2014 – Harrisburg, PA

April 3rd – 6th, 2014

Panel Chair: “Vexing Gender in 19th-Century American Women’s Writing”

Presenter: “Laughing and Crying Behind Her Mask: Sentimental Code-Switching in Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall”