February 1, 2017

Faculty Profile: Ellen Seiter

By Sabrina Malekzadah

Ellen Seiter is a professor in the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies. She also holds the Nenno Endowed Chair in Television Studies. She recently won the 2016-2017 Pedagogy Award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. The award is given for instruction, publication and development of educational materials, and service/value in Cinema and Media Studies Pedagogy. Professor Seiter is also the author of many books including The Internet Playground: Children’s access, Entertainment and Mis-Education and Television and New Media Audiences. She comes from a long line of teachers—many of them women—and she feels that as an educator she is honoring them today.  

What classes do you teach at SCA? I teach the big lecture class in Norris, 191: Introduction to Television. I also have recently taught teen film, anime, crime for undergrads; and for grads theory courses on scholars such as Bourdieu, Barthes, Zizek, and Brecht.

Do you have a favorite? Why? I love teaching 191 and watching as students who enter the class completely focused on film become really enthusiastic about the amazing developments in long form television over the last decade. My favorite upper division class recently was CTCS 403 American Television History, which I taught on streaming. With the explosion of new platforms and models for distributing film and TV it is a very exciting time to watch how streaming is changing the industry and changing how we watch TV.

What does it mean for you to win the Pedagogy award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies? This is a career award, so in the nomination we covered all of the different phases of my career at many different universities and including the work I have done in K-12 education around new media and media production. It’s a very competitive honor and I am just enormously moved by this recognition of my work. 

Some of the books you have written focus on the relationship between children/teens and television. Why do you think these two relate to one another? Television producers need the teen audience because 1. kids and teens still have time to watch TV (and broadcast TV); 2. they have their own spending money, so advertisers want to reach them; 3. they are just forming many of the consumer habits they will have as adults, so again, advertisers are very, very keen to reach them; 4. they influence their parents’ spending; 5. boys are notoriously difficult to reach if they are video game players; 6. children and teens have more leisure time and therefore are good at speaking “word of mouth” about favorite films and TV shows.

What is one lesson you hope that students take out of your class? That writing takes time and revision, having other people read it, proofreading. That audiences for TV and film are not as dumb as those of us at university like to think they are. They can have any different motives for going to “bad” films or watching trash TV. That stereotypes in the media are stubborn and require a lot of thought if one is to make more challenging representations.

Anything else you would like to share? The most vital part of teaching is the process of establishing the relationship as one of mutual learning. Guiding students to the choice of a research topic, and watching students discover their own capacity for reflection, as well as their strengths and weaknesses are adventures I truly enjoy. The best mentoring happens when both of us are honest and open enough to shed unworkable projects, theses or expectations, and freely exchange ideas so that we can work flexibly to produce the best work possible.