At the 2011 Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference in New Orleans, I participated in the workshop “Generations of Media Studies.” Here, several established, senior scholars in the field discussed their career trajectories. They talked about the various shifts in their research interests, watershed moments in their teaching experiences, and what it was like to influence cohort after cohort of graduate students. As the most junior person presenting (by far), my own contribution was pointedly more forward looking than retrospective. I stressed how the political economy of higher education has shifted in a way that makes having a long, storied career—with plenty of support for research and ample energy for teaching—a luxury and privilege that fewer media academics will get to enjoy in the years ahead. As the labor market for media scholars increasingly moves toward contract appointments, and even tenure-track jobs now involve a substantial decrease in the perks long associated with them (e.g., research money, sabbatical time), I emphasized that a career in academia looks a lot different for those of us who are just embarking on the path. My presentation was structured by a certain worry about what lies ahead—not just for the field but also for the academy as a whole. When I blogged about that conference for the SCMS website, I wrote about presenting at this workshop. Because I presented last, and was ultimately asked to participate because I was (am) so junior, I called the experience one of “bringing up the rear with the bad news.”
When Cinema Journal’s editor invited me to put an “In Focus” section together featuring “new voices” in the field of film and media studies, I thought about my role in that workshop as the young naysayer. I worried about personal essays from early-career academics signifying as a chorus of wailing, whining violins. If employment anxiety and professional malaise have always been realities in academic life, it seems that the current scarcity in, and increasing corporatization of, higher education has made these characteristics far more [End Page 121] palpable in recent years. But I needn’t have worried. While the pages ahead feature a considerable amount of apprehension and concern, what I think comes across louder is the enthusiasm this group shares for intellectual pursuits, as well as the joy they feel in being able to study and teach for a living, and the camaraderie they share with friends and mentors in the field.
If the intimate nature of this section is a departure from the writing typically found on these pages, I hope that it is a welcome one. In assembling the list of contributors, my goal was depth and breadth: people from a variety of different subdisciplines, from an array of different institutions. Here you will find essays on film history, new media, television criticism, reception analysis, critical race scholarship, and queer theory. The contributors also embody a diverse cross section of locations: major universities, liberal arts colleges, urban schools, rural institutions, international research institutes, and so on. Another goal I had in putting this section together was to mirror the increasingly global reach of SCMS as an organization. Thus, the essays feature scholars whose teaching, research interests, and current home institutions are located far and wide. As a group, we have also attempted to create some dialogue across the pieces so that the assortment of viewpoints assembled here is united by a tone that is as conversational as it is introspective. Essays of this sort are a risky prospect. Writing them is fraught with all kinds of concerns about authors “saying too much” or “being overly presumptuous.” For this reason, I want to publicly thank the contributors for agreeing to be part of this section. It is to their credit as scholars and writers that the pieces veer away from solipsism and navel-gazing and toward incisiveness and generosity—even as their mode of articulation is personal and affective.
Typically, the kinds of insights shared here circulate informally—thoughts and impressions that bubble up in conversations among peers and, maybe, on blogs and Internet message boards. My hope is that the discourse...