Claire j chillin’ in her thesis carrell.
This THESISCRAZY part ellllleeeeveeeeen. We’re sitting on the cusp of greatness. Tomorrow’s the day. We’ve got a BUNCH of theses in this post (5. that’s a bunch), so make sure to stay tuned till the end. We’ve had a record breaking year of interviews (google forms are truly revolutionary), so we’re gonna be posting until the final moment.
I think the weather outside is like once removed from a tornado, and I know you don’t wanna go out there. So why don’t you pop over to Pi, grab yourself a nice matcha latte, and lounge a little. Read a little. Get to know your peers a little.
Thesising is after the jump
Claire Shaffer ‘18, FILM major; Written thesis in FILM, senior editor at Wesleying
Working title: “Emotional Pictures: The art and evolution of music videos.”
On her topic: “It is about music videos, but it’s a film criticism thesis, so it’s not like I’m going back and just analyzing a select few music videos. It’s kind of an anthology. It’s 11 separate essays that are, together, meant to paint a picture of ‘Oh! Music videos haven’t been as critically examined as they could be and they’re so important to digital media and to our understanding of music.’ And so I’m going over all these different topics to address that.”
On how she came up with her topic: “Last spring, I was watching a bunch of recent videos. Lorde’s ‘Green Light’ comes to mind. I was also thinking of Lemonade and all the stuff that happened in the medium that people talked about for a bit, but they weren’t talking about it as important music videos. Lemonade was a big deal, but I was thinking ‘Are we going to get more long form videos now? What’s the history behind that?’ I had all these questions and most music journalists aren’t really interested in, because they’re not really interested in visual stuff because they only want to write about music. And then film journalists, film critics only want to talk about music videos if the directors go on to make films; they’ll look back at their music videos and talk about them the way you talk about student films. But, they’re not actually talking about how the video works and how it is good and effects you.”
On her progress: “It’s actually pretty good. I wrote the whole first draft throughout February and finished it all by [the] end of spring break. So I’ve just been editing. I’m finishing off the last round of edits today and then I’ll just be getting my bibliography together.”
On her current mental state: “Pretty good. I just feel very tired and I feel like I kept interest in my topic for a very long time, which was good. I didn’t lose interest in it, but now I’m just like ‘I have written so much and I just want to present it to the world and be done with working on it.”
On her most upsetting thesis experience: “There’s two. One of them was—I had written my whole chapter on like 80’s music videos, an overview of 80’s stars and what each one of them did in music videos, and I realized I hadn’t written about Kate Bush. I was like ‘I HAVE to write about Kate Bush. She’s incredible and so important.’ So that was a bit of panic. But I managed to include her in the second draft. The other one was—I was watching Drake’s recent videos because I have a whole chapter on Hotline Bling, and I wanted to tie that into it and I learned that the director of God’s Plan and Nice for What, the two most recent videos, is Karena Evans. She’s 22. She’s s our age. It’s the most professional video you can imagine. And it’s like ‘Wow you are so accomplished and I’m not in comparison.’ That was a bit of a crisis. But I think she’s cool. You know, Karena Evans; you should look out for her in the future.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “For anything else, it would be music videos but I can’t really escape from that. But, I’ve stumbled across all these great photo shoots with the artist I’m talking about, or the directors that I’m talking about. Spike Jonze—all these behind the scenes photos of the sets are great. There was actually a video I’ve watched a lot of which is [Jonze’s Apple commercial with FKA Twigs]. It’s in this room and she’s dancing and the room is stretching out. You watch it, and it looks completely CGI, but it’s a built set and there’s this behind the scenes video that shows you how they built it, and it’s incredible.”
Plans for April 17th: “We were going to throw a party, but I think we’re going to be too tired for that, so we’re going to wait till the weekend. But we are still gonna throw down a bit, get lit, but just probably just me and my housemates.”
Advice for future thesis writers: “I was told that most people write a chapter, edit the chapter and then go on, but if you feel like you need to see the whole thing before you do that, trying to plan out a first draft by spring break and then going back and looking it over—that worked out really well for me. I know that doesn’t work out for everyone. But you can consider it an option. Don’t completely rule it out.”
On her favorite part of her thesis: “I think all the topics are ones that I really enjoy writing about. I don’t know if all the writing is articulated as well as I wanted. But my advisor’s favorite part is talking about Smells Like Teen Spirit. I have this one section on grunge. My advisor is very reserved in his comments throughout [the thesis] and then during that one part, all his notes were like ‘Yeah! Damn right! Like this is amazing I love these videos!’ He was so excited that I wrote this one paragraph or two about grunge videos.”
Most used word/phrase: “Oh man, so many. I think I use ‘undeniable’ way too much. ‘Abstract’ or ‘lighting’ or anything pertaining to Internet culture.”
On if a carrel is worth it: “Yes, if you can get one. I will warn you though, with carrels, the door opens into it, which is always very frustrating. And the door slams really loud which is overall not that big of a deal but it’s nice to know going in that when you’re in the library, the door will just slam shut.”
Aaron Stagoff-Belfort ‘18, CSS; Thesis in CSS
Working title: “Power in the People Is Like Light in the Sun: An historical perspective on state resistance and the Trumpian age.”
On his topic: “I’m writing about the history of major conflicts when states massively resist or defy federal laws and what happens in those cases, and why it should be allowed to happen, and why it’s a healthy part of participatory democratic order where everyday citizens are allowed to determine constitutional issues and participate in politics.”
On how he came up with his topic: “I mean it was like me going to Professor Adelstein, my adviser, and just like throwing out hot take ideas and getting them rejected. On the fourth time, we struck on this. For me it was mainly thinking about something that was interesting now and that was relevant now, but [for which] I can go back into the history and talk about some of the things that are happening now in the conclusion with the history behind it.”
On his progress: “Pretty good, man. First semester was a mess. I tried to start early but I think unless you’re not taking that many classes you, and you can really vote a lot of time to it, it’s hard. Starting is always the hardest part because you have no idea what you’re really doing and what you’re really arguing, and you have to narrow a lot, and it has to come and take shape. So I’ve finished everything except my conclusion. I just have to write the conclusion. I’ve done a good amount of editing. I’m not like crazy stressed, but the next two weeks will definitely be pretty busy and I’m sure that last week will be hellish and reminiscent of comps week, and I will be very happy to be popping champagne on the library steps.”
On his current mental state: “I think I try to handle stress by just being very zen or by not thinking about it at all. I’m very zen person. So I’m fine. I’m good. I’m not that behind. Over spring break I was getting pretty scared, but I just worked really hard over spring break to put myself in not a terrible position. This was definitely the most stressful thing that I’ve done in college. There’s no blueprint for how to write like a hundred plus page paper.”
On his most upsetting thesis experience: “My most upsetting thesis experience is realizing now that I wrote like 20 pages that’s like garbage that I can’t even use, man. Everything I wrote first semester was like worthless! So it wasn’t even helpful. or me, it’s like some of that happens. Sometimes you go down roads that you don’t end up pursuing. You write things, you throw them out. That is a normal part of the process. I think there’s a little more of that that I would’ve wanted.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “I’m really into basketball so I really like to crunch on the statistics. I’ll do little trades in my head like a little weirdo. And I’m really into the NBA draft right now. So I’m building my draft board. I’m doing that. That’s a big thing. And then just downloading music. And writing my acknowledgements. I spent a lot of time on my acknowledgements section. Perhaps too much time.”
Plans for April 17th: “Dude, I’m going to buy like a parents soccer chair, I’m going to put it on the top Foss Hill after we do our whole little thing. For the next few weeks, I’m going to read, I’m going to listen to music. I’m going to chill out. Maybe I’ll meditate for the first time. I’m just going to relax. That’s what I’m going to do for like three to four weeks. I’m going to do nothing. I got one or two classes, like I’m chillin.”
Advice for future thesis makers: “Don’t do it to get honors or something. People drop; It’s a long project. There’s a big opportunity cost to it. Only do it if you’re into something. That’s basic advice that I’m sure everyone gives out, but it’s really true. When it’s the middle of winter and it’s winter break or when it’s spring break, and you want to go to Punta Cana with the other people—I didn’t even want to do that anyway. If you’re somebody who wants to have that freedom during the whole year and not have something hanging over you, only do it if you’re really interested in spending a lifetime with something.”
On his favorite part of his thesis: “Learning about the history of the Fugitive Slave Act was totally fascinating to me and that taking the position that actually, before the Civil War, a lot of the time, the North were the real states rights [advocates]. Slavery actually required the federal government to uphold it. It required centralizing power. But, during the 1960s, during the civil rights era, it was definitely the South that was using principles and tactics of state resistance to thwart federal law. But during the Civil War, it was the total opposite. And that’s not something I ever thought. So like I was interested to learn about.”
If his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “‘I Fought the Law and the Law Won’ by the Clash.”
Most used word/phrase: “’State power’ or ‘state resistance.’”
Shane Bannon ‘18, FILM; Thesis in FILM
Working title: “It’s called ‘Only Strangers Sleep in My Bed.’ It’s after a Tom Waits lyric.”
On his film: “It’s about a con man who is posing as a woman’s long lost son to work his way into her home who finds himself out of his depth in some ambiguous way.”
On how he came up with his idea: “I started thinking about it early on junior year. I think I came up with the idea after seeing this horror movie called Don’t Breathe. And it just contained this interesting reversal of power dynamics. These people break into this guy’s home and then they end up running from him and he ends up being the big baddie. And this story is somewhat inspired by that but hopefully it has a little bit more heart. It’s a little more intimate.”
On his progress: “I started writing the script over the summer and we have to have a script done by the time we get to school. For film production theses, a lot of the work is front loaded in the first term when you’re working pre-production, getting funding, and planning out doing rehearsals and shooting. And then the second term is just editing which is a lot more based on yourself. It’s not as much of a collaborative effort. And since I’m doing a 16 millimeter thesis, the timeline is pushed even more forward. And so yeah I’m done.”
On his current mental state: “I’m anxious because I have so much time before I get to screen it for people and I have so much time where I can’t even see it. And I don’t know how the coloring process is going to go and I keep thinking something’s going to go wrong like ‘The colorist isn’t going to finish any of our theses in time for the deadline,’ which is a possibility.”
On his most upsetting thesis experience: “My thesis for the most part was a pretty clean good experience surprisingly. A few positions dropped out right before my thesis was actually going to shoot. And I realized that one of my one of my lighting people wasn’t going to be free on certain days. And so I asked Tiler Wilson ’20 to do it. I just saw him; I ran into him randomly on the street and was like ‘You want to gaff?’ And he was like ‘Yeah yeah sure.’ And I texted him but I wasn’t sure if he would show up because it was so unofficial. Like it was the day before [the shoot] when I asked him. And then just as we were leaving the first day he shows up, and I was like ‘Get in the car!’ And he was fantastic.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “Well the nice thing about being a film major is, if you like watching movies, you kind of have an excuse to because it feels kind of constructive to some extent. So I watch a lot of movies. More recently, I have figured out there is a graphic novel section at Olin. I’ve been going to that a lot. Some of the comics they have there are very weird to have in an academic context. There are some really interesting memoirs and things like Maus and Black Hole that people analyze and they’re really deep and interesting. And then there are like some dumb things.”
Plans for April 17th: “Well I have class on that day until five, which is an issue. All the film people in that class will just do it on the film steps at 5. It’s more fitting. We didn’t spend any time in Olin. And I’m going to learn how to drive.”
Advice for future thesis filmmakers: “I guess it’s really useful to get a crew that you trust and is hard working and is very competent. I was very lucky in that way. Having an assistant director that is really strong. Sophie Somoroff ’18 did it for me and it just was fantastic and it made it so I didn’t have to do any of the organizational stuff on set. And I was able to just focus on the actors and setting up the shot. Oh also having a dog on set, if it’s well-trained and isn’t loud really boost morale.”
On his favorite scene in his thesis: “Oh there’s a scene in a bathtub. It’s pretty fun. There’s something about it that’s kind of Oedipal but it doesn’t have to be read that way. It’s fun and strange and it was really fun to shoot because we all had to crowd. The actors were never in the same room at the same time because it was a tiny bathroom.”
If his thesis was a song/book: “I think, in terms of a song, it would be something a little melancholy, a little off, but a little hopeful as well.”
On his theses feces: “Fantastic.”
Graham Brown ‘18, FILM; Written thesis in FILM
Working title: “Beyond the Infinite: A genre study of the hypothetical space film”
On his topic: “At first I was interested in the aesthetics of outer space movies. [I had a few questions] like ‘What’s the history of the special effects that were developed to achieve the look of outer space?’ [and] ‘How do people render those in a way that speaks to the emotions of the story or amuse viewers?’ And I was talking to my adviser Scott Higgins about this idea and then I realized it just had to be bigger. I had to look into what kind of movies take place in outer space, what are the narratives surrounding them, what are the traditions and conventions in place for those stories. Then it got to a point where I realized there are basically two types of space movies: ones that people would call like realistic or not realistic. I started trying to figure out, besides just being realistic or not realistic, what else is different about the way these two movies approach outer space, specifically, cinematic approaches to outer space. So what I’m arguing is that the hypothetical space film is its own genre born from a desire to distinguish itself from mainstream science fiction. And throughout the past like 68 years, this genre has had a set of conventions and techniques that directors use and modulate and interact with when they’re creating these movies.”
On how he came up with his topic: “First, it came out of an interest in the aesthetics of space in cinema and then, as I was talking to my advisor about it, we both drifted towards this idea. I definitely think it’s the most solid idea.”
On his progress: “Right now, I have a draft of the body. I’m still working on the intro and conclusion. Right now, I’m simultaneously writing an introduction while editing my second chapter because that chapter needs like a total facelift. I’m almost at the end, but I’m still trying to tie my rope together as it’s being woven, so to speak.”
On his current mental state: “I’m alive. I’m not totally stressed out yet because I haven’t started the all nighters. The all nighters are coming, but they’re not here yet, so I’m just getting ready for that, trying to get all my work done and balance everything. Right now, I’m still pretty calm and collected and that’s usually how I like to work. Even if things seem big I don’t try to let it get to me.”
On his most upsetting thesis experience: “When I got my second chapter draft back with all the feedback, I got torn apart relatively hard. That didn’t feel good for a little bit. But I’ve bounced back from that since then. Also, I didn’t get a lot of work done over winter break; that was bad. But that wasn’t a horrible experience that had happened to me.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “I like to go to the music building and play piano. That’s a great way to procrastinate because it’s a far walk from the library. So I get to walk and play and walk back and that kills a lot of time and it’s really fun. I also like to watch movies that aren’t related to my thesis at all. I watched The Shining the other night and I watched Blazing Saddles before that.”
Plans for April 17th: “Champagne baptism. It’s going to be sick.”
Advice for future thesis writers: “Work hard over winter break, even though it sucks and it’s annoying. And talk to the person you want to be your adviser early and start hashing out ideas with them as soon as you start thinking about them because the earlier you start talking to your adviser, the easier it will be to get into writing and thinking about these ideas.”
On his favorite part of his thesis: “My third chapter. It’s just a case study on Gravity, the Alfonzo Cuaron movie. I really like that movie so it’s fun to delve into the things that I like about that movie and make an argument for them and have that be a credit.”
If his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “It would be Destination Moon, 2001, and Gravity.”
Most used word/phrase: “Hypothetical space film. That’s my name for the genre. Shiggins and I came up with it together.”
Working title: This Land Was Not Made For You and Me: the Black Hills Dispute and Struggles for Authority in Sacred Land Conflicts
On his topic: I am writing about the Black Hills land dispute. Essentially it’s when the United States seized the Black Hills from the Sioux Nation, specifically the Lakota People in the Sioux Nation. There was a hundred year legal battle, and what happened was the Supreme Court ruled in their favor under the fifth amendment for just compensation, and granted the Sioux over a hundred million dollars—and yet they rejected compensation and just wanted the land back. So I’m looking at questions of why did they reject the money? Why is the land sacred to them? What does this mean? What are the implications for authority in our political system and legal system? I’m trying to combine settler colonialism and necropolitics to look at both institutional and individual roles in this legal dispute, and I’m finally trying to figure out how this can improve how we resolve sacred land conflicts. I come down firmly on the side of land returns and co-management plans. It’s been an awesome experience writing it.
On how he came up with his topic: It all started with my intro to religion class, because we looked at a couple of court cases concerning basically what this unit was about: “what is religion?” And we were problematizing certain court decisions, and we looked at this one decision, Employment Division vs. Smith, which is the Peyote case, and then from there I independently looked up this court case called Lyng, that is basically a case in which the court ruled that the US government and forest service could build a road through sacred lands in the Six Rivers National Forest. I was astounded; I was thinking, “they’re destroying a religion for the sake of building a road through a forest!” Luckily the road never got built, because the California legislature intervened, but it just got me thinking about these questions, so I wanted to write a thesis about sacred land conflicts. But then, we had a guest speaker who came in for CSS Monday luncheon, who told me to check out the Black Hills land dispute, and from there it took off. And I guess the reason that I stuck with the Black Hills land Dispute was because everyone I talked to said that the case was argued along property lines, and so they were like “why are you writing on the Black Hills land dispute instead of cases that were argued under the first amendment?” They thought that my project didn’t really make sense in the way, but I wanted to show that there was actually indeed a connection and I worked through that by talking about issues of authority and sovereignty and settler colonialism.
On his progress: Right now, I am formatting; I’m in formatting hell. I’ve been working on trying to fix my table of cases, and it’s really frustrating. There seems to be this demon that keeps screwing up all of my footnotes, so I keep going back and fixing them, and I’m just caught in this perpetual cycle. Most of the writing is done, I’m just waiting for my epilogue to be returned. I’m just trying to see if there are any last minute edits I can make, but at this point I just don’t want to nit-pick too much or else I’ll just drive myself insane. I want to finish my thesis in a spot where I’m confident about what I turn in, I wanna have some self esteem left on Tuesday so that I’m not just like hating the project forever.
On his current mental state: I would say that I feel pretty happy with where I’m at. Definitely frustrated, but overall if you were to force me to admit it, I’m actually pretty happy. I’m also probably lying to myself, but that’s where I want to be. I want to be in a spot where I can feel confident, even if that confidence is built on just complete hubris. Even if there’s a spelling mistake on like page 100, I don’t want to know about it—I don’t want to know about the imperfections that are still there. I just kind of want to get it over with and be happy with what I’ve done.
On his most upsetting thesis experience: So I interviewed the lead attorney for the Oglala Sioux when they were basically suing to reject the money that the Supreme Court gave them in that case. And I interviewed him twice—and one interview was at a family barbeque, his family barbeque, and then the other one was at this Wacipi rodeo fair on Pine Ridge Reservation—the worst was trying to parse out the audio from my crummy voice recorder iPhone app, while transcribing this interview on a bus headed to a cross country meet. It was just terrible, it took forever. And then I didn’t end up using any of it because he never authorized it and I didn’t want to against his word. But it obviously informed everything that I did. But the fact that I couldn’t actually quote from it was so frustrating, but it was fine. Also I have had so many horrible experiences in Olin that they’ve kind of all merged together into one blur. At least I’m forgetting those experiences.
On his favorite form of procrastination: Trying to pick up guitar again. Trying to resuscitate my guitar skills was always a fun form of procrastination. Running is always a huge form of procrastination—skiing also. Basically anything that gets me out of Olin, which is not great procrastination because you can’t just easily come back to the work.
On his plans for April 17th: Oh wow! I am gonna be completely detached from reality itself and I’ll just see where the wind takes me.
Advice for future thesis writers: Do it! Please do it! It’s awesome. My advice is to recognize that this project is completely for your self-fulfillment. If you actually look at any other schoolwork at Wesleyan, the grading is entirely superfluous. We always say that Wesleyan is collaborative not competitive, but there’s still A-F grades, but for the thesis, most of the grading is you being able to qualify for your thesis—to meet your department requirements—everything else from that point on is pass/fail. So when you’re talking with your friends and you’re like “oh my thesis is so tough,” that’s you making it tough because you’re trying to make yourself happy. And I think once you realize that, then you can kind of just own responsibility more and enjoy it more because you know that you’re doing for yourself, that this is your foray into academia, that this is going to be fun. Rather than stress yourself out like “oh am I going to get honors,” because it’s basically pass/fail. So once you accept that and just take ownership and responsibility for it, you can have a blast.
Oh his favorite part of his thesis: So I have a couple favorite parts. One, I really love the part where I kind of explain the genius behind the lead attorney’s arguments—I basically parse out the ultimatum that he is thrusting upon the American judiciary. Because very few lawyers have been in a position to basically force the judiciary to confront the settler colonial past of the U.S.. I think it was really cool, uncovering that and challenging myself to simply explain it. I also like how toward the end I try to come up with like options for resolution like land returns and co-management plans, I had a lot of fun writing that. And finally, te epilogue where I talk about Standing Rock and Bear’s Ears and how my thesis kind of sheds a new light on those movements and what needs to be done, because I think that once we get Trump out of the White House and there’s a president who is friendly toward the Bear’s Ears inter-tribal coalition, for that land to actually be more—there needs to be some sort of action that actively transfers more authority to the tribes so that you can’t just have someone like Trump come in and rip those lands away. So that was fun thinking about and making my thesis relevant for an audience today.
Most used word/phrase: Probably “Sioux Nation,” “settler colonialism,” “authority,” and “necropolitics.”
On his favorite place for crying: Music library.
On what his thesis’ patronus would be: Probably a buffalo… or bison.
interviews by wilk