“Call Me Maybe”: The Telephone as Multimedia (MS4111.01)

Maia Nichols

From pop songs like “You Used to Call Me on My Cell Phone” (Hotline Bling) to “Call Me Maybe,” and from our contemporary uses, it’s clear that the telephone has become so much more than a phone. In this course, we will study the telephone as an interdisciplinary device with a long history and divergent uses in order to learn key topics in media studies that also apply to many other technologies and phenomena. We’ll begin with Alexander Graham Bell’s collaborations with Helen Keller to develop the telephone, which we’ll analyze through disability and multisensory studies, key methods that extend to later uses of the phone as an accessible tool, from the video phone for sign language media to apps for visual impairment. Continuing with this rhetoric of embodiment and media, we will explore cases studies of gender and race, from early telephone operators to later cases of call centres, prison communication, and code-switching (as in Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You). We will also track the use of phones in horror and suspense films as a neoliberal beacon of increasing isolation and individualization. From examining the phone as a tool of representation, we will zoom out to questions of infrastructure, interface, and mediation, from geolocation and environmental impacts to apps, voice assistants, surveillance, and AR uses—from Pokémon Go to Apple Vision Pro.


Learning Outcomes:
By the end of the course, students will be able to:
- Comprehend crucial concepts in media studies, from infrastructure and environmental studies to disability and sound studies, and be able to apply to them other media.
- Conduct cultural histories with their own chosen media objects.
- Be able to reinforce continuities between often-divided categories, such as the analog and digital, old and new, and aesthetics and effects.
- Take seriously what contemporary phenomena like popular music, music videos, advertisements, and social media consumption teach us about media, power, and society, through their vernacular rhetoric, imagery, sound, and more.
- Students will engage in interactive assignments such as: playing an AR phone game and discussing the experience; finding a cell tower in their area and making a map; closely reading scenes of call centres; they will expand one of these mini assignments into a multimodal final project.



Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: Previous work in media studies and/or permission of the instructor. Interested students should email Paul Voice: pvoice@bennington.edu.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
Th 1:40PM - 5:20PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 16
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: 4000 , All courses , Faculty Update , Four Credit , Fully In-Person , Media Studies , Updates
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