Monday, May 2, 2011

May 2011 Graduate Student of the Month: James Paasche

James Paasche
Department of Communication and Culture
May 2011

When you meet IU Graduate Student James Paasche you can’t help getting caught up in his enthusiasm for movies and music, but you will also quickly notice that his interests run deeper than a “thumbs-up” review. Paasche wants to know what media means in day-to-day life and what it’s like for average people to be everyday media producers. His path to graduate school as a first generation college student was not exactly straightforward – the typical pipeline of high school to college to graduate school had turns and bends in it. It’s also immediately clear that his life experiences are a bonus in his research, and that he is an important addition to ongoing discourse on amateur media happening in departments like IU’s Communication and Culture.

“I was away from college for eight years being in a band and touring the country. I worked for an interesting group where I taught students with learning disabilities how to read and comprehend what they’ve read,” he said. “But probably the main thing I did was work at record stores and video stores and cinemas. I was trying to count it up, but I think I’ve worked in five different record stores, four different movie theatres and three different video stores.”

“Media and pop culture were an everyday part of my life and at some point I realized that media wasn’t just about a financial transaction. I really started to understand the affective ties people have to media and music and film, and that peaked my interest,” he said.

Paasche finished qualifying exams and is now in the process of writing a prospectus. His dissertation will focus on the amateur media environment in Vietnam in all its various forms, such as film, newsletters, magazines, newspapers, and audio letters made by soldiers and sent home. The idea, he said, is to acknowledge current day interest in amateur media, but to also “give a nod to historical precedence.”

The act of writing a prospectus, he said, is like doing research on his research project and a big part of it is figuring out the scope of his project.

“For example,” he said, “the Vietnam War is my time frame, but I might have an epilogue where I discuss the relevance to the current Iraq/Afghanistan war because there is a huge proliferation of video letters home on YouTube and sites like that because it’s a way for soldiers to communicate with their families back home. I just find it fascinating that such a private thing like a letter could become such a public thing.”

Another reason Paasche wants to focus on the Vietnam War is because he wants to work on a project that incorporates film and not just digital video.

“I want to talk about film stock – the material – which we don’t do much anymore. There are a lot of fantasies about the utopian possibilities of technology, but we don’t really talk about what it means to have that camera in your hand or what it means to have to send that film somewhere to be developed. In many cases, Vietnam soldiers were probably never watching their messages over there – they’re sending them home – so they’re eventually sitting in someone’s garage or attic. What does it mean that someone would create this media then never see it again? It’s different from what current and future film makers do,” he said.

“Every day of working on my prospectus I’m learning new things – like how a lot of film and photographs went missing after being confiscated from dead soldiers, so the surviving films – no one knows who shot it or who the people in it were now. So, this process of preparing for a large research project is about preparing and educating me as well. I’m looking for archives, veterans groups, and other data sources right now, and I’ve started to make contacts on a larger context – like sons of guys who were there and relive those memories through their father’s roles there.”

“I want to incorporate film, but I also want to think about media in a larger context as well because there were a number of newspapers being made by soldiers at the time and many of them are documents of people who are disagreeing with their government at a fundamental level, and these are the people over there fighting for the government. It can be a form of resistance as well. Another example like this is pirate radio broadcasts.”

As Paasche defines the limits for the project and looks for funding, requests IRB approval and works through other hoops that are part of beginning a large research project, he makes sure to find time for the environment that led him to finish college and pursue graduate school in the first place by working a few shifts at Landlocked Music here in Bloomington, Indiana.

I really enjoy the atmosphere in music stores, he said, but “I know now I also want to be more critical of my media practices and I want other people to have that ‘ah-ha’ moment. I want my students to have that moment of not just accepting these things as forms of entertainment but forms of culture that say something about us in a larger sense.”

“That’s really what got me here.”

For the past three years, James Paasche has organized and run Home Movie Day—an annual event that connects the university with the community in a celebration and screening of home movies.  (See the press release:  Home Movie Day is held all over the country, and James took the lead in bringing this important event to Bloomington.  He has been able to establish important collaborative connections with the Black Film Center/Archive and the new IU Cinema, helping to assure that IU will continue to host this unique event.

This October, 2011, Home Movie Day will be held at the new IU Cinema. Part of the event this year will be an hour of curated home movies from various IU archives such as from the Kinsey Institute, Black Film Center/Archive, and Fine Arts.

Paasche will also be co-programming City Lights, the classic Hollywood film series, next year for the Department of Communications and Culture and the IU Cinema.

Media Contacts:
Erika Lee, Director of Communications, The University Graduate School,
Angela Jones, The IU Graduate and Professional Student Organization,

The Graduate and Professional Student Organization and the University Graduate School would like to congratulate James Paasche on receiving the GPSO/UGS Recognition Award. Students selected for this award were nominated by a faculty member from within their department, and selected by the GPSO and UGS for excellence in their graduate studies at Indiana University.