Ron Leone knows movies. The longtime film enthusiast and director of cinema studies has researched movie ratings extensively and has been published in numerous scholarly journals. Leone recently became head of the new six-course minor, Digital Media Production (DMP). The professor of communication shares why GoodFellas is his favorite movie, how technology allows students to tell meaningful stories and why doing what you love in life is the ultimate payoff.
My favorite movie of all time: The impossible question! My favorite director is Martin Scorsese, and my favorite film is GoodFellas. To date, I think it represents our greatest filmmaker doing his finest work. I know many find the violence hard to watch, but every aspect of the making of the film—the complex use of voice-over narration, music and sound; the fragmented narrative and use of freeze frames to facilitate storytelling; the legendary Copa steadi-cam shot—make it the best work of his nearly 50-year career.
I started my research on movie ratings because: I’m intrigued by how we regulate children’s access to media, movies in particular, in our culture. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) states that ratings are designed for parents with children under the age of 18 to inform them about the various types of “adult” content in movies. How we treat this kind of “adult” content fascinates me. It’s probably not news to anyone that the MPAA does not treat all adult content equally; violence is treated much more leniently than sex when it comes to assigning a rating. I view it as a reflection of our cultural and legal preoccupations with sex.
Something viewers don’t realize about movie ratings: The rating system is not a legal one; no one can be arrested for selling a ticket to an R-rated film to a 12-year-old. More specifically, something viewers might not know is that the people who decide on ratings need no special qualifications beyond being parents and being able to place themselves in the role of “average American” parents, whatever that means.
Why a digital media production minor? We live in an increasingly “mediated” world, walking around with phones that also serve as mini-production studios with video and editing capabilities. It’s the rare incoming Stonehill student who hasn’t shot video before. This new minor is twofold: First, we provide students with access to faculty, a studio, equipment and technology that allows them to develop new skills and enhance others they already possess. Second, and more importantly, the DMP minor provides students with a means of expression informed by a liberal arts education. It’s my hope that DMP minors will have thoughtful, perhaps even meaningful, stories to tell, and, at the same time, will possess enough mastery of the technological tools at their disposal to do so in interesting, challenging ways.
I often tell my students: It may be a cliché, but it’s a good one: Find a career that makes you happy, which is more important than making you wealthy. If what makes you happy also makes you wealthy, great. But doing something that gives you a sense of fulfillment, a sense that you’re contributing to the world and helping others, provides you with a payoff that isn’t counted in dollars. Money comes and goes, but time only goes—spend as much of it doing what you like with those you love.
Best movie quote: Another impossible question! How about three? “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” from The Godfather. “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small,” from Sunset Boulevard, and “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” from Network.
As director of Stonehill’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, Wendy Chapman Peek must deal with sensitivities and issues that are oftentimes deeply personal, but one thing that she never has to worry about is class discussions. “That’s the really wonderful advantage to teaching gender studies,” says Peek. “Every week there’s breaking news on the topic. From Caitlyn Jenner to spousal abuse in the NFL to women’s admission to all combat positions in the U.S. military, there’s always a gender-related issue that’s got the students talking.”
This isn’t always the case in Peek’s other areas of scholarship—she holds a Ph.D. in medieval studies from Cornell University and specializes in literature of the European Middle Ages and films of the American West. “There’s breaking news in medieval literature now and then,” she concedes with a smile in her voice, “but it doesn’t happen as often.”
“It’s a fascinating time to be a teacher,” Peek continues. “You’re always learning, and oftentimes the lesson is not what you expect.” These days, students are able to learn more about gender and sexuality on their own via the Internet and social media, so they enter the classroom more informed than in years past, Peek explains.
“Many of my students are already following feminist, queer and transgender activists online, or perhaps dealing with questions concerning their own sexual identity,” she says. “My job is to help them contextualize and frame the issues through an understanding of the history of the debates we encounter today and an awareness of other relevant controversies.”
To encourage classroom dialogue, Peek holds a weekly “gender show- and-tell” in which she asks students to present a trending gender issue for discussion. “One of my goals for the Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies course is to increase students’ comfort in discussing gender and sexuality as well as disagreeing with others respectfully—it’s part of the learning experience.”
Balancing Free Trade
At first glance, any connection between tires and chicken parts seems implausible. Yet in recent years, the two have been closely linked, says Associate Professor of Economics Piyush Chandra. In 2009, he explains, the United Steel Workers petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission to impose a tariff on Chinese tires, which they said were disrupting the U.S. market. U.S. officials complied with the request and the Chinese government retaliated by imposing a duty on U.S. chicken parts.
This story illustrates why international trade, particularly with respect to China, is relevant to average Americans, Chandra asserts. “Although the union was trying to protect Americans, the tariff ultimately proved harmful to our interests on several fronts: Consumers were forced to buy more expensive tires from other countries, like Mexico and Taiwan; U.S. tire manufacturers didn’t benefit; and American exporters of chicken parts suffered losses as well.”
China is one of the world’s leading exporters, so anything that happens there affects the rest of the world, explains Chandra, whose teaching and research is informed by such experiences as teaching this past summer at Xiamen University, one of China’s premier institutions.
Most economists agree that free trade is good and barriers should be avoided whenever possible. Yet maintaining a balance can be tough, a fact Chandra drives home to students by asking them to analyze ongoing World Trade Organization court disputes. “Students must choose a dispute, determine its origin, and then render a judgement,” he says. “It encourages them to think beyond the classroom and really consider the trade implications—for all parties.”