The Effect of Television Stars on Movie Box Office Returns

Effects of Female Portrayal in Action Movie Posters on Movie Success

In this study, I am interested in finding out if there is a relationship between the placement of a sexualized female on an action movie poster and the movie’s box office. In addition, I wanted to know if having an unsexualized female on the poster will have a similar effect.

Effects of Female Portrayal in Action Movie Posters on Movie Success

Effects of Star Popularity on Movie Gross

Communications P1

1st Paper Assignment Submission for COMM 240

My submission for the first paper assignment for Professor Messaris' COMM 240 class. My paper, in short, is a statistical analysis of the effect that basing a film's plot and/or characters on a novel, comic book, musical, or play has on total box office sales.

The paper can be found by clicking the link below: 

 The Effects of Literary, Graphic Novel, or Musical Bases on Movie Box Office Totals 

Battle Simulation Experiment

 

 

For my final project for COMM 562, I conducted an experiment in developing a battle simulation system. The inspiration for this project came from reading and learning about software such as MASSIVE, an incredible scalable system for crowd simulation which is used to generate large crowd and battle scenes in movies such as Lord of the Rings, Inception, and Avatar. As movies and games continue to create scenes and environments with larger numbers of characters, it is increasingly more difficult to animate and control all of them by hand. Because of this, using a system that can dynamically control the units through algorithms and still produce realistic behavior is necessary, and is rapidly becoming a popular technique. In my project, I wanted to try and recreate such a system on a smaller scale, and experiment with how many units I could simulate.

 

For my project, I modified an existing framework for behavior animations to simulate basic behaviors from a battle environment. The characters are split into two groups, and each individual unit contains an algorithm that specifies certain features. Each unit will exhibit behavior similar to those seen in a battle. For example, if a unit is being attacked and is not currently attacking another unit, it will turn to attack its opponent. Also, if a unit is low on health, it will run away from its attacker and the battle in an escape attempt, returning momentarily in pursuit of a different opponent. In many instances where there are a large number of units present in the simulation, a unit may not be able to physically reach its target in order to attack. Therefore, it will choose another target closer to its location to begin attacking and not remain idle.

 

All of these behaviors combine to give some emergent patterns that are also realistic. One behavior I noticed was the tendency for units to gang up when attacking an opponent. Another was units flanking around the sides of a group in order to attack enemies in the back of the group. The initial charge and attack also simulates reality, where the front line takes the most damage and casualties. As the battle continues, the groups slowly disperse and integrate.

 

I conducted multiple different tests with different units to see how large of a simulation I could run. I initially expected to run a simulation with a few hundred units, because the code is not incredibly complicated. However, when I had more than 50 units on screen at once the simulation began to visibly lag. I expect this could be from the complexity of the character models and their associated animations. Although this limitation was a slight disappointment, I am still relatively pleased with the results.

 

I have compiled a video showing a battle between two, 18, and 50 units, which can be found here. Note that when a unit’s health reaches zero, it freezes and can no longer take action. The animation also immediately pauses, hence the units scattered all over the field in various state of attack when the battle ends.

 

The behavior code was written in C++, the character scripts in C#, and the environment constructed and simulated using the Unity game engine.

Jian Feng & Qing Sun: Visual Illusions

This is a joint project by Jian Feng and Qing Sun.

We carried out a survey about visual illusions based on the game we are making. We compiled our work to a voice video. Below is the link to the video.

http://vimeo.com/33459077

We also attached the script for the video as a reference.

Thank you very much!

 

Visual Illusions

Hello this is Jian Feng and Qing Sun.

Out final project is about “visual illusions” in games, especially illusions on smoothness and speed.

For this purpose we created ten video clips from the game we are making. The game is called “STEER ‘n’ SLIDE”, in which the player is sliding in an endless tunnel. Based on the video clips we carried out a survey to see how it delivers an illusion of smoothness and speed. For all of the control experiments, the tunnel is moving at the same speed, and the tunnel’s geometries and meshes are exactly the same. The only thing we modified is the tunnel’s texture in each of the ten video clips.

Up to now 63 people have taken the survey and below shows the survey results.

In the first three videos we do survey about how to create a smooth and convenient illusion.
1. We add a triangle at each of the four corners of the texture, which cover the sharp angle between the mesh polygons. This works well to create a smoother illusion with the same polygonal geometry.

2. Sometimes when the avatar or the environment is spinning, the player may feel dizzy. This test shows that concentrating on objects far away could help reduce the dizzy feeling.

3. We also want to know if smoothness helps. Apparently, for most people, the smoothed round tunnel feels much better than the polygonal tunnel.

In the other videos we focus on the sense of speed.
4. In this video clip the parallel lines in the right tunnel are stronger and darker than those in the left one, which actually decrease the sense of speed according to the result. From this we assume that the perpendicular lines are more significant to generate the sense of speed, and since the stronger parallel lines relatively weaken the visual effect of the perpendicular lines, the right tunnel seems to move slower. We prove our assumption in the next few clips.

5. So in the fifth clip we strengthened the perpendicular lines instead, and the result shows that more people agree that the one with stronger perpendicular lines is moving faster. However, there are still 32% of people thinking in the other way. So this might not be the most important factor.

6. Then what about density? We double the density of the parallel lines. Yeah, more people think the tunnel with more parallel lines moves faster. But again, we could only cheat 43% people’s eyes.

7. Well, if we increase the density of the perpendicular lines, nearly all of the responses agree it is faster. So with more perpendicular references, it could easily make us feel we are moving faster than we actually do.

8. Are there other factors? We attached a relatively realistic texture to the meshes. To our disappointment, people still think the simpler tunnel moves faster. We found out this is because the simpler texture has a relatively blurry effect, which may help increase the sense of speed.

9. So we added a blurry effect to the same texture and it works! Most people agree that the blurred one is at higher speed. In addition, because the left tunnel, which should be without any blur, is still moving with some “resolution loss” blurry effect since we uploaded it to a website(Vimeo), we believe that the difference would be much apparent if the tester watched the original video.

10. And, of course, we still remember that we were shown two car racing videos where the cameras were located above or at the bottom of the car at class. So we also carried out a survey about the camera’s location. From the responses, apparently, the lower the camera is, the faster we feel.

Conclusion and Examples
<span style=%

Privacy, Irony & ‘The Social Network’

The Social Network (dir. David Fincher, 2010) about the origins of the vastly popular social network site Facebook opens nationwide today. In this blog entry, I want to comment on the suggestions of sexism that the film brings to light surrounding Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his website, which I believe has a connection to his professed desire for greater revelation of personal data online. We also have to reckon with Mark Zuckerberg’s apparent failure to anticipate the public explosion of his own personal life, despite his philosophy of openness.

Photo by Merrick Morton – © 2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.Former friends Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), far left, and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), second from right, share a happier moment in The Social Network (2010). Photo by Merrick Morton – © 2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Since I am launching a qualitative study of Facebook privacy among college seniors entering the job market as my dissertation, I will approach the movie from a privacy standpoint, and an employment standpoint. The New Yorker recently interviewed Zuckerberg in anticipation of the release of TSN (Vargas, 2010), giving him an opportunity to make a counter-point. Vargas noted that Zuckerberg is “an over-sharer in an age of over-sharing,” but this all ties in with his business model of information revelation for Facebook, which he hopes will one day replace Google as the primary way to perform searches online. Yet watchdog groups like the ACLU and EPIC have repeatedly raised objections to Facebook’s sweeping privacy changes.

All that hype surrounding Facebook is a response to “shifting notions of privacy,” writes Vargas, which conveniently align with Zuckerberg’s personal philosophy (as well as his business interests). The central irony of the film, then, is that (perhaps too obviously) Mark Zuckerberg has fallen victim to the same push for transparency that he championed. First, he has fallen prey to what social network researcher danah boyd from Microsoft Research in New England referred to as a “context collision” (2006) of formerly distinct social worlds. (Only in Mark Zuckerberg’s case this is a context collision of epic proportions!) He has also fallen prey to a kind of informal background check called “grassroots surveillance” or “peer-monitoring” (Tufekci, 2008) on a massive scale, but we will get to that.

For college seniors entering the job market, such collisions can be problematic. The authors of one study, for example, suggested university students and job applicants ask themselves the following about their social network behaviors: “Am I loading information that I want the world to see? Is this really a picture that shows me in the best light? What impression would another person have of me if he or she went through my site?” Essentially: heed the warnings of HR personnel and only post what will pass the “grandma test” (Roberts & Roach, 2009: 111-13).

There are scenes in this film (such as the one in which Mark Zuckerberg and co-founder and ex-friend Eduardo Saverin are having sex in consecutive bathroom stalls) that we can imagine Mark Zuckerberg would not want his grandmother seeing, let alone half a billion ‘friends.’ But Zuckerberg does not need to worry about this, except of course, like Tiger Woods, that it could possibly tarnish his schoolboy brand image. (Then again, a neo-noir depiction of him as a sympathetic anti-hero can’t hurt his value all that much.)

For the rest of us personal privacy online is on the line. To reiterate arguments made by watchdog groups and scholars, the blurring of personal and professional on Facebook is not exactly fair since peer-pressure requires people to participate and most people do not have the time to focus on the minutiae of privacy. Even New Yorker reporter Vargas had a bone to pick with Zuckerberg, confronting the Facebook CEO with the fact that he had his sexuality thrust into the public eye of family and friends when the NewsFeed launched 2006. Zuckerberg responded with a blank stare.

I am thinking of one scene in particular in TSN, though, that casts the accusations of sexism in high relief. Eduardo traces an “algorithm” on a dorm room window after Mark begs him for it. This will ostensibly allow the program Facemash (a predecessor of Facebook that got Mark Zuckerberg in trouble with the Harvard administration, gaining him notoriety on campus) to hierarchically rank women in terms of attractiveness. This image is juxtaposed with the shuttling of young women to a Harvard Final Club.

Author Ben Mezrich, upon whose book The Accidental Billionaires (2009) TSN is based, describes the “Fuck Truck” as “a vanlike bus that traveled between the Harvard campus and a half dozen of the nearby all-girl schools” mainly on weekends (Mezrich, 72). Keeping in mind that this is a fiction, an embellishment, the juxtaposition of the “algorithm” and the “Fuck Truck” is still perhaps the most luridly post-industrial scene in the film, exposing a technologically deterministic face of contemporary dating through social networking. That’s not all. As a critique (made all the more poignant by the ambient score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) it does bring to light two systemic problems (let’s call them biases) with Facebook which are, again, entangled with the personal gibes against anti-hero Mark Zuckerberg.

Point number one: payback for transparency is a bitch. The film critiques inherently sexist, perhaps even misogynistic elements of otherwise ‘neutral’ information architecture.

Cohen and Regan Shade (2008) analyzed the results of focus groups conducted with women in four Canadian cities in June 2007 with a total of 64 participants ages 14-24. The discussion focused on privacy and gender on Facebook. In particular they focused on some of the more troubling aspects of SNS for girls, “particularly gender-based commodification processes latent in Web 2.0 applications” that may limit girls’ use of SNS like Facebook because they have an awareness of proprietary issues of posted content. The focus groups revealed strategies for coping with privacy on Facebook, yet many trusted the site’s privacy settings, and viewed limiting these as the best way to deal with Facebook privacy.

Cohen and Reagan-Shade concluded it should not be surprising that the women in these groups feel disempowered to represent themselves in personally meaningful ways, considering that Facebook’s business model is based on aggregating large amounts of data and monetizing it by selling it to third parties. They also rightly point out that the new technologies of social media and the media scaremongering that they produce are, in some respects, founded in a fundamental imbalance in, on the one hand, largely male construction and ownership, and, on the other, hysteria over the bodies of young females (case in point: MySpace circa 2006). Considering all this, the ‘Fuck Truck’ scene is not only the creepiest sequence in the film, but an allusion to surveillance, biopower and the re-inscription of 20th century white male entitlement for the 21st. What would Donna Haraway (1989) conclude?

Second, and more broadly, according to Hill (2009), leaving FB is justified because it is not only voyeuristic (lends itself to lurking), but “inhuman” in the sense of Lyotard (2004). This is because it so efficiently commoditizes people, not only as potential mates or employees, but in the larger scale of things, rendering individuals as data for marketers. This is the other inherent bias, that of a consumer society. And, as numerous scholars have shown young people are not particularly well informed about how marketers can use their information obtained online. For example, Hoofnagle, et al. (2010) conclude that young people do in fact care about privacy even “while they participate in an online reality that is optimized to increase their revelation of personal data” (20).

Perhaps, similar to what Ridley Scott sought to render in a Blackhawk helicopter, Fincher (Fight Club 1999; Se7en, 1995) envisions the inception of Facebook as a technology of predation. According to Vargas, writer Aaron Sorkin (of “West Wing” fame) minced no words about disliking social media. In neo-luddite fashion, he told Vargas that he dislikes the blogosphere and social media. “I’ve heard of Facebook, in the same way I’ve heard of a carburetor,” he said. “But if I opened the hood of my car I wouldn’t know how to find it.” TSN is an ironic title because it is about the socially awkward creators. (Unfortunately, after his interview with Vargas, Zuckerberg, a big “West Wing” fan, dropped the program from his Facebook likes and interests.) Yet Zuckerberg remains a likeable anti-hero in the film (see the final line of the film: “You’re not an asshole Mark; you’re just trying so hard to be one.”), if only due to the excellent performance of Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, 2009; Adventureland, 2009).

Here’s a final word of advice for any soon-to-be college grads: just because your profile is set to “UPENN only” or “friends of friends” does not guarantee the security of your information before potential employers. Your interviewer or potential employer may not have access to your profile, but perhaps one of their employees is a fellow alumnus and he or she can be obliged to surf onto your profile (Brandenberg, 2008). Tufekci (2008) also seemed to think that one of the more realistic (and potentially harmful) effects of social network services (SNS) for college grads would be pre-emptive filtering out of top positions before they even have a chance to be involved in some sort of ‘scandal.’

But the harmful effects of SNS go beyond filtering. “Grassroots surveillance” or “peer monitoring” (Tufekci, 2008) are what really got Mark Zuckerberg. Young people (always concerned with one another’s business) now have information on friendships and relationships at the click of a mouse. As students are compelled to publically articulate personal networks, SNS have a tendency to collapse the multiple identities promised by the early web into a uniform identity that panders to “multiple audiences, audiences that might have been separate in the past. As we leave behind the 20th century, it is almost as if we have come full circle back to the village where everyone potentially knows your business” (35). (Think the glitter graphics of MySpace versus the neat, blue-and-white interface of the standard Facebook page.)

Mark Zuckerberg could have considered the implications of his own “context collisions” and “peer-monitoring” more thoroughly, reading between the lines to perceive the possibility of inferences drawn outside the formal system of IT architectures. Thanks, Facebook, for new levels of paranoia.;)

References

boyd, d. (2006). Friends, Friendsters and Top 8: Writing Community into Being on Social Network Sites, First Monday 11(12), URL (consulted 25 September 2007): http://www.firstmonday.org/issue11_12/boyd/index.html

Brandenburg, C. (2008). The Newest Way to Screen Job Applicants: A Social Networker’s Nightmare. Federal Communications Law Journal, 60(3), 597-626. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

Cohen, Nicole S. and Shade, Leslie Regan. (2008). Gendering Facebook: Privacy and commidification.Feminist Media Studies,8 (2),210-214.

Hoofnagle, C., King, J., Li, S. & Turow, J. (2010). “How different are young adults from older adults when it comes to information privacy attitudes & policies?” Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. Retrieved on 4/19/10 from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1589864  

Mezrich, B. (2009). The Accidental Billionaires. New York: Doubleday.

Roberts, S., & Roach, T. (2009). SOCIAL NETWORKING WEB SITES AND HUMAN RESOURCE PERSONNEL: SUGGESTIONS FOR JOB SEARCHES. Business Communication Quarterly, 72(1), 110-114. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

Tufekci, Z. (2008). Can You See Me Now? Audience and Disclosure Regulation in Online Social Network Sites. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 28(1), 20-36. doi:10.1177/0270467607311484.

Vargas, J.A. (2010). “The Face of Facebook,” The New Yorker, September 20. Retrieved 10/1 from: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/09/20/100920fa_fact_vargas?currentPage=6#ixzz10kBbqyf7

‘The Social Network’ and the Dark Side of Social Networking

I left The Social Network typing a quick review into my Facebook app, which, soon after, my Blackberry requested I update. As my phone installed and rebooted a friend called me about an event I’d posted earlier to the site; apparently we had too many RSVPs. While preparing to type this, my phone bleeped as friends posted comments on my two-sentence review. From the theater to my phone and computer, Facebook ruled my screen.

The Social Network is nothing if not timely, in the end a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the blogs are buzzing, a curse because expectations are high. Spoofs of its earnest trailer abound online — see: YouTube, Twitter, MySpace. Facebook’s valuation continues to rise despite controversies over its policies, and millions of people use and talk about it. A marketer couldn’t dream of a better time to release this film.

For these reasons, I expected to hate The Social Network, marketed as an epic – okay, melodramatic – parable of the new media decade. I’ve been won over. The Social Network is poised to be this generation’s response to Wall Street, a timely, preachy zeitgeist story of excess and intrigue, built around a delicious antihero.

Media and the Making of Scientists

This image is reproduced from Rudolph Zallinger's massive 110-foot mural, The Age of Reptiles, completed in 1947 at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University. A paleontologist, who had encountered images of the mural in a children's book, described visiting the original site for the first time as an undergraduate: "These were the images that I’d grown up with in the children’s book and that I’d known for ten years. I almost wept. They were so beautiful. I'd had no idea that they existed in any other form, other than the book."

On August 11, I defended my Ph.D. Dissertation, “Media and the Making of Scientists.” This dissertation explored how scientists and science students respond, as viewers, to fictional, visual media about science. Drawing on interview data, I considered how scientists think about fictional images of science in relation to their own career paths from childhood onwards. I was especially interested in the possibility that entertainment media can inspire young people to learn more about science.

Such inspiration is badly needed, as schools are failing to provide it. Science education in the United States is in a state of crisis. Many educators worry about the performance of U.S. students compared to students from other countries, and studies repeatedly find low levels of science literacy in the U.S. The shortage of qualified science and math teachers exacerbates the problem. This bleak situation exists during a boom in the popularity of science-oriented television shows and science fiction movies. How might entertainment media play a role in helping young people engage with science, or in promoting broader science literacy in civil society? To grapple with these questions, I interviewed a total of fifty scientists and students interested in science careers, representing a variety of scientific fields and demographic backgrounds, and with varying levels of interest in science fiction.

Most respondents described becoming attracted to the sciences at a young age, and many were able to identify specific sources for this interest, such as a parent who was a scientist or doctor, a particular book, a media image, or a trip to the planetarium. The fact that interest in the sciences begins early in life demonstrates a potentially important role for fictional media in the process of inspiration, perhaps especially for children without access to real-life scientists in their homes and communities. One key aspect to the appeal of fiction about science is how scientists are portrayed as characters. Scientists from groups traditionally under-represented in the sciences often sought out fictional characters with whom they could identify, and viewers from all backgrounds preferred realistic, well-rounded characters to the extreme stereotypes of mad scientists or dorky geniuses.

Genre is another aspect of appeal. Some respondents identified a specific role for science fiction: conveying a sense of wonder. Visual media, in particular, introduce viewers to the beauty of science. Special effects provide viewers with the opportunity to see how extinct animals might have moved or how humans might live in space. Advocates of informal science learning initiatives suggest that fictional media can be used as a tool for teaching science content. The potential of entertainment media to provide a sense of wonder is a powerful aspect of its potential to inspire the next generation of scientists.

UHURA’S LEGACY: Media Images and Diversity in STEM Careers

What was really great about Star Trek when I was growing up as a little girl is not only did they have Lt. Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols as a technical officer […] At the same time, they had this crew that was composed of people from all around the world and they were working together to learn more about the universe.  So that helped to fuel my whole idea that I could be involved in space exploration as well as in the sciences.

                                               – NASA Astronaut Mae Jemison (Then & Now, 2005)

Nichelle Nichols ("Lieutenant Uhura") in 1977, talking to students about The Space Shuttle

In 1966, Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura was a groundbreaking character. As the Communications Officer on the Starship Enterprise, Uhura provided a vision of a successful, career-oriented African American woman previously absent from late-1960s television fare. The portrayal resonated with audiences; the studio was flooded with fan mail about Uhura. While Star Trek provided an appealing utopian fantasy of a future devoid of racism, such ideals were not reflected at Star Trek’s studio, Desilu Productions. In her 1994 autobiography, actress Nichelle Nichols recounts how poorly she was treated by studio executives, who not only cut Uhura’s lines and screen time, but also conspired to hide the volume of fan mail that Nichols’ performance was generating. When she learned that the mail room clerks had been ordered to withhold her mail, Nichols decided to quit. Shortly after reaching this decision, Nichols met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and learned that he was a big fan of the show because, as he said, it was about “[m]en and women of all races going forth in peaceful exploration, living as equals” (p. 164). He convinced her to continue with “the first nonstereotypical role on television” for an African American actor . He argued that Uhura’s cultural impact meant that Nichols had a responsibility to stay with the show because “for the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people–as we should be” (pp. 164-165).

Constance Penley theorized that Star Trek has been particularly successful in creating a forum for “citizens to engage in an ongoing conversation about what it means to be human in a technological and multicultural world” and that this success provided the basis for a “symbolic union” between Trek and NASA which benefited both the show and the space agency (1997, p. 16-17). This union is seen most dramatically in the relationship between Nichelle Nichols and NASA.

Star Trek was cancelled in 1969; the show’s demise gave rise to the phenomenon of Trek fandom. Starting in the early 1970s, Nichols and other cast members became regular guests at Star Trek conventions. In 1975, Nichols and the rest of the cast attended a large convention in Chicago with an unusual featured speaker: Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer, NASA’s science director and a fan of the show. Although attendance at prior conventions had demonstrated that many NASA employees were Star Trek fans, this 1975 convention marked the first time that NASA had an official presence at a convention. Nichols describes being inspired by Puttkamer’s presentation about the space program, but her enjoyment was marred by the space agency’s poor record of inclusion:

There was no one in the astronaut corps who looked anything like me. There were no women, no Blacks, no Asians, no Latinos. I could not reconcile the term “United States space program” with an endeavor that did not involve anyone except white males. No offense to those fine, brave men, but if we in America tell our children they can be all that they dream, why weren’t there women and minority astronauts? Thousands of fans wrote thanking me for Uhura’s inspiration. Little Black girls and boys, Latino and Asian children had a legitimate right to share in that dream. Things had to change (Nichols, 1994, pp. 210-211).

Soon, Nichols was an outspoken supporter of space exploration and was appointed to the Board of Directors of the National Space Institute (NSI), a civilian space advocacy organization. In a 1977 speech, she outlined her criticisms regarding the lack of diversity at NASA and emphasized how it was hurting the space program’s legitimacy with the general public.

NASA knew that it had a problem. The agency was recruiting astronauts for the new Space Shuttle program, which was open to astronauts who were not pilots. While this new openness theoretically meant that a wider range of people could become astronauts, women and minorities were not applying to the program. NASA was embarrassed by its inability to recruit astronauts who did not fit the image of the white, male astronaut which had been the norm throughout the history of the agency. Officials at NASA knew of Nichols’ activities in space advocacy, and they were well aware that the Uhura character still resonated powerfully with African Americans and women from all backgrounds. In an effort to change, NASA hired Nichols to run an outreach program with the goal of increasing diversity in the pool of potential astronauts. The program was a success—Nichols was responsible for dramatically increasing the total number of applications as well as the percentage of applications from women and minorities (Nichols, 1994). Astronauts who were recruited through this program include Guion Bluford (the first African American in space), Sally Ride (the first US woman in space), and Ron McNair (the second African American astronaut; killed in Challenger disaster) (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, n.d.).

The first African American woman in space, Mae Jemison (quoted above), was “recruited” not by Nichols, but by the character of Uhura herself. In many interviews, Jemison has recounted how her girlhood dreams of spaceflight began with watching Star Trek. When she was on the space shuttle, Jemison used Uhura’s signature line “Hailing frequencies open” during the course of her duties (Penley, 1997, p. 19).

The story of Uhura—and, indeed, of Nichelle Nichols herself—provides an entry point for a broader discussion about the importance of diverse media representations of people in careers related to science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). This is the topic of my dissertation, Media and the Making of Scientists. Lieutenant Uhura inspired a generation of women, not just at NASA, but also across the STEM disciplines. During the course of my dissertation research, when asked about childhood media exposure to images of science and technology, both African American and white women in STEM careers described Uhura as a positive influence. An African American, female aerospace engineer said of Uhura, “I do realize that, for me, her just being there, [that there was] such a multicultural team [which] included a black woman, helped me to envision my being there.”

In my dissertation, I explore what interviewees from groups traditionally under-represented in real-world science have to say about how such groups have been portrayed in the media. First, I contextualize this material by touching on the issue of real-world diversity in STEM fields. This is followed by an examination of what the study participants think about the lack of representation for women and minority scientists, as well as their reactions to those representations which do exist. Then, I consider why science fiction, as a genre, is a particularly rich arena for talking about these issues. Finally, I discuss some aspects of the media landscape for the next generation of scientists, taking into account interviews with teenagers as well as the media outreach efforts of two of the adult respondents.

Copyright © 2019 visualinquiry