In the fourth installment of THESISCRAZY 2015, we talk about everything from children’s fantasy to junk food and propaganda. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the series are here, here, and here, and THESISCRAZY features from previous years are here.
If you’re completely insane and still want us to interview you in the ~28 hours until theses are due, email staff[at]wesleying[dot]org!
Working title: “Magic Lessons: The influence of contemporary theories of childhood and education on the construction of children’s fantasy novels.”
On her topic: “So it’s basically about how popular works of kid’s fantasies like Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter or Percy Jackson are all implicitly influenced by popular theories of education and child rearing that are taking place at the time that they’re being written. Like Harry Potter can be linked to no child left behind, and so can Percy Jackson, or the English progressive movement of the 1950s is kind of hinted at in the Chronicles of Narnia. It’s just taking about how education and fantasy novels are interacting with each other.”
On how she though of this topic: “This wasn’t my original topic. I had interned the summer between my sophomore and junior year at Random House Children’s Books where I was just like “Oh! Kids books are so awesome, I wonder if I can do anything with this?” Then the fall of my freshman year I took “Childhood in America” with Professor Karamcheti and I was like “Oh! I actually can do something with this.” So I went through the whole summer thinking that I was just going to write a thesis about publishing trends in children’s fantasy and then my advisor had me reading some educational things as background so mid-October I had this revelation that this would be a much better topic and he agreed, and it became that. It was also a slight freak out because everything I had read was like now condensed into like 7 pages.”
On her Harry Potter chapter: “That’s my entire middle chapter, and it’s basically on how Harry Potter is the biggest deal in kids lit ever, I would say. I would argue and say ever. So, why it might have become that and how, while J.K. Rowling is doing completely contemporary things and “oh like this is such a progressive liberal view” it’s actually implicitly hinting at these neo-liberal classicist things. Harry is already deemed special that’s why he’s the protagonist of this. Like, he’s not just picked out of the blue, implicitly reinforcing some sort of understood class structure, which is actually completely against what everyone thinks of Harry Potter as.”
On her progress: “It’s going… I’ll be done probably by Wednesday night or so. It’s just like really writing a quota that I’ve really been procrastinating, because that means that this is all kind of going to be done.”
On procrastination: “Hot guys with dogs tumblr, pictures of prince George: that cute little chubby baby who I absolutely love. Yeah those are really good procrastination sites, and obviously Netflix. I feel like for everyone Netflix is the main thing.”
Mental state in one word: “Anxious? Yeah. I just kind of feel like I have so much to do, but I might not… I’m just still kind of in freak out mode. Anxious might be a good word.”
Most traumatic thesis experience: “I think deciding to switch my topic, like mid October. So I realized that all of the stuff I’d read over the summer would be useless now. It wasn’t really starting from scratch but it was starting from like 5 percent.”
Advice for future thesis writers: “Love your topic! I know everyone says that but seriously if your not obsessed with your topic this is going to be the most painful process ever. I mean it’s already kind of painful, but if you don’t love your topic its not even worth doing it.”
On her favorite part of the thesis process: “I think just getting to read children’s fantasy. I’m basically analyzing the entire Harry Potter Series and the entire Percy Jackson series and the Chronicles of Narnia. So getting to do that and having someone possibly awarding me honors because of it is just really cool.”
Thesis as song/movie/tv show: “I knew you were going to ask this and I was just thinking of like creative things, but I don’t know. The Wizards of Waverly Place comes to mind for some bizarre reason, even though I’ve only seen like two episodes of it, but just because it’s “special kids that go to school and do magic things.”’
Plans for April 10th: “Obviously alcohol! I’m not going to go into any specifics in case any future employers ever Google me but definitely alcohol. ”
Most used word/phrase: “Probably children, education… Oh and I throw the word neo-liberal around a lot. I didn’t know what it meant before November 1st so it’s kind of pretentious of me to do that but that happens a lot.”
Raphael Linden ‘15, Film Major (Film thesis)
Thesis working title: “Wald” (forest in German)
On his Topic: “I wrote, directed and animated a short stop-motion animated film. It’s based on an Italian folk-tale and is about a girl who gets these sort of malevolent powers from a snake and everything goes awry after that.”
On the thesis thought process: “I think of animation as a special effect almost. I wanted to create something otherworldly and fantastical through animation. So, I spend about three months reading a lot of folktales from all around the world and just came upon this one.”
Progress as of March 30th: “It’s coming along. I’m kind of burnt out from it. I spent a month over winter break filming it because it’s stop motion animation so it’s really time consuming. Right now I need to do color correction and sound. There’s a lot to do.”
On his previous experience with stop motion: “I’ve made a couple of stop motion music videos every other winter break. This was the more ambitious follow-up to that.”
Current mental state: “I’m zoned out (laughs). I should be more paranoid and stressed out but I’m trying to take it easy although that won’t last long.”
On his most traumatic thesis experience: “I don’t know if it was necessarily traumatic, but my art director Dandara Catete ’15 built a giant miniature tree for us made out of grapevine and wire. We spend two full days very slowly cutting the tree down. Then, we played the footage in reverse so it looks like it was growing. It was the most painstaking thing I’ve ever done.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “I would say binge-watching Netflix. I feel like that’s the main one you’re gunna get. I just rewatched True Detective with my housemate Laura and it was just so good.”
Plans for April 10th: “Utterly Shit-faced. That’s the plan (laughs).”
Advice for future thesis writers: “Planning ahead as much as possible. First semester was really essential to everything that followed. I just planned as thoroughly as possible and it paid off second semester.”
On the favorite part of the thesis process: “I would say writing it, because it’s the one thing I got to do by myself that didn’t involve other peoples’ stresses.”
On the multi-person directing process: “There was a ton of people involved and I could not have done it without them. The main person who helped me was Alexis Moh ’15, who was my actress, gaffer and producer. Isaac Schneider ’16 and Rachel Day ’16 were producers as well. Noah Masur ’15 helped me with editing and animation. Dat Vu ‘15 is an awesome photographer, and was the director/photographer for the movie. Dandara Catete ’15, who is an arts major, was the art director/set designer. My housemate Laura Werle ‘15 was the costume director.”
If his thesis was a song: “There’s a lot of Bulgarian choir music in the movie. Just a general choir vibe I would say.”
Laura Werle ‘15, CSS and Ellen Lesser ‘15, Neuroscience and behavior
On their theses:
LW: My thesis is about veteran’s benefits and American history through Vietnam and their particular place in the American welfare state.
EL: My thesis is looking at behavioral effects of eating junk food.
On their progress:
LW: …progressive. Well tonight instead of editing my chapter I wrote three sentences of my acknowledgments.
sheninagans: I guess that’s a better question, what did you do tonight?
EL: I went to Chipotle, and finished my intro, and I made a bunch of graphs and I wrote a title. I did a lot today.
EL: My title, currently, working title, is “Biting off more than the cue: Incentive salience in prenatal and lifetime exposure to junk food.” Do you want to know my previous title? “Biting off more than you can chew, a piece of cake since sliced bread with a grain of salt.”
LW: For a long time my working title was “Veterans: they exist.” I haven’t gotten that far beyond that one. I was trying out one the other day, “Veterans: they exist. The existence of veterans.” But now I think it will be like “Set apart or set aside? Veterans in the American welfare state.” Or something. Like the peculiar place of veterans in the federal benefits schema or something I don’t know. But “set apart of set aside.”
EL: I think that’s not what schema means.
LW: No, it’s not, haha
EL: Schema’s in the brain yeah?
LW: I don’t know.
On their mental state(s):
EL: 100% wired all the time. So basically not applicable
LW: Well it depends what I was doing the night before. Like last night I slept from five-thirty to ten. So today was sleepy. But last night I was really awake until five.
EL: I’m even wired when I’m sleeping.
LW: I have not had any anxiety dreams about my thesis yet, which is pretty good. I have anxiety dreams more frequently about physical illness.
EL: I have waking anxiety dreams, because I’m awake all the time.
[LW gives a very explicit description of her anxiety dream about a giant animated eyeball with pink eye]
On difficult or traumatic thesis moments:
LW: The one kind of traumatic moment was last semester when I had to give a presentation. It was very low key, it was people just sitting around in a circle basically, but I just really fucked it up. It was all the professors who I’ve known for a really long time but haven’t in class so I haven’t had to prove that I’m smart to them, they were just really surprised how inane I am. But that was fine, I was like “it doesn’t really impact me.”
My one existential moment was when I was reading a book about for another class about the Iraq war and I just got really depressed about the state of the world. That was kind of more pressing.
On breakdowns and breakthroughs:
EL: I have a lot of trouble using a computer to do work because, very distracting. The internet is fascinating. So I’ve been doing my whole thesis by hand. I had like 600 pages of notes but I lost like 150 of the middle pages and so that was really stressful.
sheninagans: What happened to them?!
EL: They just blew away in the wind. So I’ve just been building back up from that one. But I’m getting there.
sheninagans: And your breakthoughs?
EL: It’s kind of hard to come back from that one you know.
LW: Actually I had a pretty good historical research breakthrough where I read all these primary sources that were dancing around this one study that came out in 1977. And I was trying to find it and I finally found it online and realized I’d had the government document in my carrel since September. That was a huge key to unlocking this thing, the main argument of my thesis. Unlocking the proof that this thing that I thought was happening actually had happened. And then I was likem “Oh, now it’s in my carrel, or it has been there and I just didn’t read it.”
EL: My breakthrough was learning how to use a computer.
LW: I like to watch clips of the West Wing on Youtube when I’m sad.
EL: I like to read the weekly digest of different reality TV shows I don’t watch.
LW: Oh, I watch a lot of survivor challenges and try to think about my strategies in preparation for my eventual place on that TV show. My post grad plans.
On plans for April 10th:
LW: I am going to get in shape and make my survivor audition video.
EL: On April 10th, I am going to have dinner with my boyfriend’s grandma. I’m having dinner with Isaac’s grandma.
sheninagans: And Isaac?
EL: And Isaac, and his grandma, and his parents. Except I might not be able to go because I might be really drunk.
LW: Yea, I’m pretty excited to get drunk. That’s my short term plan. My long term plan is to tape my survivor audition video.
EL: You can’t tape it, because you’re going to be in it. I can tape it.
LW: You can tape it, but I’m going to have Raf(ael Linden’15) direct it because he’s a film major.
EL: Interesting, if you’re going to have that of high production quality you probably have someone else tape it. Although I did do a lot of taping.
Oh, I also like those Buzzfeed quizzes that try and guess your age based on different things.
LW: Oh yea, what do you get?
EL: Usually I get like 24 or 28. But the other day I took one and got like 68. It was from like how you use the internet or something. Which isn’t true, I use the internet a lot, I guess just not in the right way.
LW: I get a lot of like thirties.
EL: I only get twenties or sixties.
On finding a topic:
EL: I work in a lab that focuses on issues of addiction so I was exposed to different kinds of addiction research. I was just way more interested in food addiction because it’s more relevant.
LW: I wanted to write about America. And the military is pretty American, and that’s about it. But also Congress is cool.
On procrastination (again) and ~expressing oneself~:
LW: I actually spend a lot of time with Self Control. But the White House website isn’t blocked so I’ve read all of the descriptions of the rooms and services in the white house on the White Jouse website. I’ve spent hours there so I can answer lots of questions.
Recently, my procrastination has been my daily “art” therapy posts. I’m usually not a big social media person but I’ve been really trying to make sense of my thesis experience thought the private therapy of social media. So every day for the last ten days of the thesis experience I’ve been doing a little post it note “art” piece and taking a picture and posting it on Facbeook. But Facebook is blocked most of the time so I just check it on my phone. I like to monitor the status of my “art” throughout the day. There are two poems and a pictorial representation of temporal passage. It’s a deeply personal experience, I think it really gets to the core of who I am, the “art” that I put on Facebook. Wait, all the time you write “art,” can it be in quotes?
sheninagans: Ellen, how do you express your thesis?
EL: Well other than hand writing it out on paper…. Well I have a great support group with my borrowed carrel mates Jamie and Lindy. And sometimes I snap chat my feelings.
LW:Yeah, snap chat is a big part of it.
EL: That’s the only social media I have other than Yik Yak. But Yik Yak is a place for nice things so I don’t really use it for my thesis.
Advice for future thesis writers:
EL: Be really real about your data collection goals. Because you want to leave time for writing and analyzing and putting out a good product to reflect your research.
LW: And don’t bullshit your advisor. They are there to help you. I think a lot of people tell their advisor that they’re further along than they are. But they aren’t there as an authority figure, they are just there to advise you.
Also I think not getting too stressed out is really important.
On diet changes:
EL: Oh, so bad.
LW: Yea, it’s been really bad in the last month.
EL: I’ve been method reaserching junk food and I’ve just been eating bad foods or not eating.
LW: I eat a lot of Builder Bars.
EL: What have I been eating? Potato chips, I love potato chips.
sheninagans: And you write about potato chips. Do you eat them while you write about them?
EL: Yea, I do do that.
LW: That’s one of the things I’m most excited about after thesis: to eat some fucking vegetables.
EL: Yea, sometimes I will get a bag of green beans from Weshop and pretend they are potato chips and eat them all in one sitting.
On their favorite parts:
LW: Probably these kind of convoluted Congressional battles in the 40’s with all of these different veterans lobbying groups and the countervailing pressures and the really interesting political alignments that changed depending on the issue. And how that played into this larger goal. It was good because I was really immersed in the material and knew a lot about it.
EL: I like making figures and graphically representing my data in different ways. The color scheme I’ve settled on is consistent throughout and based on my visceral reaction to junk food. So like the junk food is usually bright red, the healthy food is like a muted dark light blue, and a mixture of them is like orange.
On Laura’s fish:
LW: Oh, one last thing I want to include is the central place my fish has played in my thesis writing. He’s been with me since high school and we experience everything together. Including sophomore year CSS and he kept me company at night and now thesis, and I just don’t know what I would do without him.
Amy Zhang ’15, Anthropology/Environmental Studies (thesis in both)
Working Title: “Obamao”: The Desublimation of Maoist Propaganda
Intersections of Aesthetics and Politics
“It’s Just Harmless Fun”: The Desublimation of Maoist Propaganda in Modern Commodities
On her thesis: I’m using the theoretical framework of the sublime to analyze the meanings behind these tourist commodities in China that reappropraite old Cultural Revolution propaganda, so like on shirts and wallets and stuff. And usually it’s in these absurd funny ways using manipulation. And I want to look at the political significance of that because in China the Cultural Revolution isn’t talked about publicly but then there are all these things going on visually in the public sphere.
Specifically I’m looking at this wallet I have that has this visual that’s call Obamao so it’s like Obama’s face and Mao’s face meshed together. And it’s very popular in Beijing and sold on shirts and everything. I’m also looking at how humor and absurdity is used in relation to traumatic events of the Cultural Revolution.
And if you want to know more you can read my abstract that will be way more eloquent.
On choosing a topic: In the very beginning like in September I was going to write something about Nazi propaganda, a comparative thesis of like Nazi propaganda film and Chinese Cultural Revolution films but then I realized those two area are way too broad. So then I started thinking about all these interesting things about China that I noticed. Like how even people don’t talk a lot about the Cultural Revolution there are so many memes and modern art images that reflect back on that time. In anthropology we always look at things really deeply so I started thinking what are these images doing that words can’t because in China words can be really easily censored but images can’t because you never know what they’re really saying.
On her progress: My current progress is that it’s three days from being done haha. I have to rewrite this section of chapter one, do some brief edits for chapter two and then do formatting.
On her mental state: My mental state is very cyclical. I can predict already what my mood will be in depending on what time of the day it is. Like night times are really hard, and 4-6 is just always unproductive and then the mornings are usually optimistic. I’m in my hard but gungho stage right now.
What’s the soundtrack to your thesis? What have you been listening to? And if your thesis was a song what would it be? My writing playlist is called “pound it” and right now it’s a mix of Taylor McPharen, and lots of Daft Punk and also the soundtrack to The Social Network.
And if it had to be a song….well, actually under the image on the wallet it’s printed “More money no problems” so I actually cite, or like write about the Notorious BIG song, “More Money More Problems.”
On her most traumatic thesis experience: It was problem when my Spring Break plans completely changed and I realized I only had four days to write my last chapter. My last chapter has three sections so it was like 45 pages. So it was pretty traumatic when I realized I had to do that.
On her plans for tomorrow: My immediate plans are to drink a lot of the champagne I bought, and then somehow get over to terp and dance the Harry Potter dubstep.
On her plans for the rest of the year: I really want to really make the most of it and do more fun, creative projects with people and hangout with a lot of people. There are definitely friends I haven’t seen since before Spring Break.
Is there a word or phrase you overuse? The sublime, intersections between aesthetic and the political, desublimation, harnessing the power of….
On her favorite part: The last chapter was really fun for me to write because with the ObaMao image I got to talk about parody and humor and so I got to look at what happened in the Soviet Union and there is a really interesting parallel with their post modern movement in response to their socialist art. I also got to talk about memes and American pop culture and Chinese pop culture so that was fun.
Advice for future thesis writers: Items a thesis writer should have: I really like my circle scarf. So if you want a really warm scarf that can double as a blanket, I literally wear this every day to Olin, you can get it at American Apparel, it’s a really worthy investment. It’s nice to have one blanket with you at all time. Oh and ear plugs.
Yea, I’d say really stay organized with the way you structure the organization of your notes and the way you label your folders because that stuff will be really annoying later on. And when you start researching as procrastination, stop. And also, just as early as you can start writing. Even if it’s just jibberish you will love yourself later on. Even if your not writing your intro or conclusion but a thought comes to you like, “oh, this could be in it” just open a word doc and paste a quote because you’re probably going to forget.
On her favorite form of procrastination: I watch so many late night comedy clips on Youtube. So I’ve seen all the Conan O’Brian clips. All the fun Jimmy Fallon games, I watch a lot of TV show bloopers so I’ve watched all the Office bloopers and a bunch of Veep clips, they swear a lot.
How’s your diet and your poop? Your thesis feces? My diet has either stayed around the same or improved because I really like making myself elaborate meals to put myself up. So like one night I made roast lamb.
My poops seem….healthy? Because of that I guess. I don’t think anything is unusual or concerning.
Interviews by Dasha, astag_rocky, and sheninagans