Honors Presentations



Phone Eats First: An Investigation of Femininity Represented in Instagram Posts of Food

This paper provides an analysis of women’s online identity curation through Instagram posts involving food, and how those posts can both perpetuate and subvert traditional notions of femininity. This hints at the double standards that still exist for women despite the seemingly democratizing nature of social media, which I argue prevent any post from truly subverting these patriarchal values. First, I examine existing research which I’ve separated into three different categories: Femininity and Food, Femininity and Social Media, and Food and Social Media, and I explain my understanding of femininity as a concept based on these texts. Then using my working definition, I perform a textual analysis on two contrasting Instagram posts of food, both of which were posted by women. I recognize elements of the posts that read as feminine as well as those which appear to contradict traditional gender roles. I then conducted a focus group with individuals who identify as female and regularly use Instagram to understand the perspectives of women who interact with these types of posts. I showed them the same photos that I already analyzed in my textual analysis to see what they noticed comparatively to the conclusions I drew. This is not meant to be a representative sample or to produce any concrete data, but rather allows for a discussion about Instagram in a setting that mimics the interactive and community-based platform. My research is significant because having a better understanding of identity creation is essential to interacting critically with the media we produce and consume, and identity will always be intertwined with cultural artifacts such as food.


Lighting for Blackness: The Aesthetic Style of Pariah and Moonlight

This thesis intervenes in the field and scholarship of race, media, and representation which is overwhelmingly focused on who is seen on screen and how these groups of people are portrayed. Considering how Black people actually look on screen, I explore the the racist and problematic origins of film cinematography (lighting) through an investigation of film technology, practices, and major events/ examples that exemplify the bias against Black performers. This, along with an aesthetic exploration of Pariah and Moonlight’s cinematography, establishes an analysis of the historical relationship between cinematography and whiteness/blackness, and the ways in which two cinematographers, Bradford Young and James Laxton, are challenging that history. I argue that Pariah and Moonlight explore a dreamlike aesthetic that calls attention to the relationship between Black character and film lighting. This aesthetic dialogues with and refracts historical conditions that guide how filmmakers light and film Black people. Pariah and Moonlight’s aesthetic departs from traditional, urban realist cinematography employed for Black coming of age stories. The cinematography of these films offer representations of blackness that are complex, nuanced and specific to the narrative, not just the genre.


The Intersection of Dance and Athletics: Gender Representations in the 'Under Armour' Campaign

This research takes a close look at gender representations in media campaigns. Specifically, representations of athletes and ballet dancers are analyzed. In 2014, athletic wear company, Under Armour, introduced American Ballet Theatre principal dancer, Misty Copeland to their advertising and branding materials, in order to expand their market audience to more women. This study questions the way in which this brand has intersected ideas of athletics and ballet, and therefore has intersected concepts of masculinity and femininity. This research hypothesizes that audiences’ perception of ballet, and therefore of femininity, have shifted as a result of the way Copeland is portrayed and understood in Under Armour commercials. After recruiting Muhlenberg College varsity athletes and members of the college’s dance department to participate in two focus group sessions, one comprised of athletes and one comprised of dancers, findings support the hypothesis of this research. Participants of both groups agreed that their original notions of femininity were challenged after seeing Copeland in the Under Armour commercials. The other significant conclusion of this research reinforces the idea that femininity is a much more complex concept compared to the concept of masculinity, which has a more stable definition.


From Matcha Crème Brûlée to a Virtual Road Trip: The Emergence of Japan and America’s Hybridized Cultural Style

Want a taste of Japan, America? Twenty years ago sushi restaurants were considered novel, and now Japanese sushi has become common—and available with cream-cheese. Want a taste of America, Japan? Now you can have your hamburger—and with a side of rice instead of a bun. But if you are craving more of that American or Japanese “Cool,” then instead of consuming food you can consume media: movies, TV shows, and video games, where the “Cool” of American and Japan gets hybridized to allow for your consumption of not just one, but multiple virtual products at once.

I explore and piece together the term “hybridized cultural style,” which discusses how each culture gets re-contextualized into a fantasy setting that is put into a media package to be sold off for the profit of the international wallet. I use the videogame Final Fantasy XV as a roadmap to explore the hybridized landscapes, hybridized people, hybridized food, and hybridized product placement, linking the hybridization of this virtual fantasy world to the emerging hybridization of non-media products in “reality.”

This is a critical look into how our wants create a shared fictional culture between countries that has arisen out of ideals, yet still carries with it our contextualized biases. It is an exploration into how something as seemingly simplistic as desire can shape the economic market and change international perceptions of race and culture.


Virtual Reality Accessibility: Moving from Consumers to Producers in Education

This research was an exploration of VR as an educational tool. Specifically, two discourses were tracked and contextualized - the VR industry and scholarship, to identify themes and points of friction between the two conversations. This resulted in finding a gap in literature on the phenomenon of multi-faceted nature of accessibility in VR, and exclusionary rhetoric that exists in scholarly text. This gap demonstrates an inquiry that needed to be explored - how can VR be used effectively as an educational tool? Through exploring that inquiry, the research resulted in a more nuanced understanding of the roles of VR affordances in relation to accessibility, specifically the importance of all facets of accessibility: financial, technological, disabled access, and providing access for students to be producers of content in VR. This research is a call for educators to acknowledge these facets while shining light on what exactly is “successful” VR. Successful VR is accessible VR.


Emojis, Unicode, and User Communities: A Successful Model for Intercultural Communication (SMIC) in Digital Spaces

The original set of emojis were created with invariably yellow or light-toned color options, leaving much of the human population unrepresented. Therefore, the shift toward emoji diversity has allowed people the ability to share an emoji that looks like them. However, the release of the Unicode 8.0 emoji diversity update in 2015 has continued to elicit ongoing criticisms that claim that the very essence of the emoji as a category does not afford equal representation for members of marginalized identities. This criticism reveals the significance of the emoji in conversations about race and representation, and Unicode’s responses to the criticism illuminate a unique vision for the embodiment of a cooperative relationship between the public and the companies that serve it. Despite this uniquely successful narrative, the relationship among these three parties is vastly under-explored in scholarly discourse, as is the one between emojis and race. In our contemporary moment, which bleeds with racial injustice and the seemingly endless violence it produces, questions of who and what contributes to that violence are particularly urgent. And yet, attempts to answer those questions often fail to consider the role of digital communication in general and of the emoji in particular. My research looks at this relationship between technological outputs like emojis, Unicode, and user communities to produce a working model toward successful intercultural communication in digital spaces. By performing a study of this relationship to examine how technology reflects, shapes, and combats societal injustices, my research assists in ascertaining how technology can innovate and produce spaces of liberation for marginalized groups rather than continuing to reify oppressive racial hierarchies.


Keeping Up with the Kardashians through Hate- Watching: Negotiating Gender and Success

This research examines the reasons why people engage with the Kardashians by exploring a practice called hate-watching. Hate-watching is a relatively new term and has not been studied much throughout academic literature. Hate-watching is a practice that includes words like pleasure, frustration, and undeserving, but a practice that does not have one concrete definition. To gain a better understanding of hate-watching, the theories of (1) postfeminism, (2) neoliberalism, (3) gender success, (4) anti-fandom and (5) uses and gratifactions guide this research. This research hypothesizes that people who do not like and/or hate the Kardashians continue to engage with them to make a critical statement about how the Kardashians have become successful women, which leads to a larger critique on gender success. A mixed methodology of a textual analysis and focus groups was used. The findings of the focus groups did not support the hypothesis of this research, which was guided by the textual analysis. Participants did not claim to dislike or hate the Kardashians, but instead, participants either liked/loved or felt indifferent towards the Kardashians. This finding is significant, for it leads to an altered way of thinking about hate- watching: critical engagement does not need to stem from hate.


Distortions of Time in and Around the Cult Film Wet Hot American Summer

This paper looks at the ways the film Wet Hot American Summer disrupts the notions of cult cinema in the way that the film distorts normative time and space. The non-normative temporality in both in the film, Wet Hot American Summer, and how the film became a cult phenomenon, is what makes the film a cult classic. Using Jack Halberstam’s theory on queer temporality, this paper looks into how the film itself disrupts heteronormative time through its camp aesthetic, genre distortion, and temporality shifts. The paper then goes into arguing that the journey to the popularity of the film, resulting in a Netflix spin-off of the film, complicates the cult status of the film while also reaffirming the queer temporality surrounding the show. This paper uses film analysis to look at specific examples of how the film disrupts normative time, along with theory on cult audience support, and specific examples of how the fans of the film have reclaimed the Wet Hot American Summer narrative for their own reinterpretation. Queer temporality adds to the definition of cult cinema because the distortions in time cult films are what make bad films so bad that they are good.


Blood on the Arena: Competitiveness and Violence in Battle Royale Games

Parents often face the dilemma of whether to allow their children consume a certain media product, like a movie or a game, because the contents in those media products may not be appropriate for their children’s age range. When it comes to digital games, the level of violence a game contains often becomes a key factor influencing the parents’ decisions. This paper examines two of the most popular digital games in 2018 based on player numbers, namely Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, as they are marketed towards audiences of different age groups. Fortnite, with its colorful and cartoonish graphic style and exclusion of on-screen displays of blood, is generally perceived to be suitable for a younger, teenage audience, while PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is viewed as a more violent game given its more photorealistic and gritty graphic quality that shows blood when a player is hit. This paper examines the broad topic of violence in digital games and names three main types of violence that may be present and experienced by the player. By using those three main categories of violence in analyzing the two games in question, this paper shows that, in terms of the effects of digital game violence on the player’s aggressive traits, an aspect of digital game violence that parents and the public are genuinely concerned with, the two games are no different from each other.


Commercialized Images of the "Balanchine Ballerina"

The New York City Ballet’s (NYCB) visual campaign for their 2018-2019 performance season seems to be attempting to redefine the image of the delicate, sylph-like, pink tutu ballerina, that has long lived within the imaginations of American audiences. With its triumphant “training montage,” the campaign frames the figure of the professional ballerina as a professional athlete. The campaign emphasizes the dancers’ dedication to the technical skills, strength, and endurance training behind their craft. The tagline of the campaign, “First Comes Sweat, Then Comes Beauty” are the words of the late George Balanchine. Balanchine, regarded as the “father” of American ballet, and one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century, founded the New York City Ballet, and acted as its director.

George Balanchine cultivated the “Balanchine ballerina”; an archetype of the ideal American ballerina and a cultural icon of femininity. With her long limbs, lean legs, thin physique, and fashion model beauty, the “Balanchine ballerina” embodies American cultural ideals of feminine beauty. With her physical strength, speed, and precision, the “Balanchine ballerina” is also celebrated for her technical prowess as a modern ballet dynamo. This complex duality of the “Balanchine ballerina” is emblematic of the feminist and anti-feminist themes entangled within postfeminist media culture. Therefore, in presenting the “Balanchine ballerina” within the space of feminine contradiction; strong and athletic, yet delicate and feminine, this campaign illustrates how postfeminism intersects with modern advertising discourse, and the advertising practices of the NYCB.


Music Recommendation Algorithms: Discovering Weekly or Discovering Weakly?

This thesis analyzes and assesses the cultural impact and economic viability that the top music streaming platforms have on the consumption and discovery of music, with a specific focus on recommendation algorithms. Through the support of scholarly and journalistic research, as well as my own user experience, I evaluate the known constructs that fuel algorithmic recommendations, but also make educated inferences about the variables concealed from public knowledge. By examining the challenges faced by music recommendation systems, this thesis highlights the significance of providing the novel, yet relevant recommendations expected of users, while also providing the wide-ranging, yet representative recommendations necessary to stimulate diversity and creativity within society. The major challenges discussed include the subjective organization of songs and genres within a platform’s interface, the misrepresentation of songs and artists within genre-based playlists, the use of user actions (skips, likes, dislikes, passive listening, drifting, etc.) as an assertion of one’s likes and dislikes, as well as the manipulation of hit-producing market trends.

Unlike any other scholarly research, I then execute a “walk- through” experiment, which uniquely tracks a new user experience through the cognizant application of user actions and directly assesses the factors that challenge successful music recommendation. I created two new user profiles on the streaming platforms popularly used for the purpose of discovery, Spotify and SoundCloud, listened to an equal representation of all genre categories within each platform, and then compared the genre, release year, artist status, and content promotion gathered from my listening history to the algorithmically-generated songs listed in my ‘Discover Weekly’ and ‘SoundCloud Weekly’ playlists. This method of research specifically highlights the influence that music streaming platforms have not only as tastemakers, but more importantly, as gatekeepers of cultural information, shaping the perceived value and relevance of artists and genres through recommendation. The results from this experiment demonstrate that the recommendation algorithms that power these discovery playlists intrinsically facilitate the perpetuation of a star-driven, “winner-take-all” marketplace, where new, popular, trendy, music is favored, despite how diverse of a selection the music being listened to is.