Oberlin Blogs

Theory and Practice

May 1, 2013

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

It's quite lovely that things can be cyclical when you stay in a community for an extended time. My first cinema class tackled big questions about film and how we talk about it, and it was in that class that I realized that while I liked movies, I lacked the words to talk about them effectively. That was my gateway to cinema at Oberlin. This week Thursday, I'll be guest lecturing in an introductory cinema class much like the one that led me down my current path, talking about where media studies fits into a bigger world, one with jobs and paychecks.

We'll overlook the fact that I find it hilarious that I'll be lecturing in a class that helped get me to where I am now, but it's a bizarre conundrum. I never thought of myself as a media scholar, not one that lectures on things. I just like to make things! That's why I did my major. I could make movies instead of writing papers, and that's what sold me on cinema studies in the first place. In order to prove that I knew something, I could make something. Good? Yes. For that time, yes. But now that I make things as a part of my job, I am constantly asking myself and out loud, "Why, how, WHY?!" before, during, and after each thing I do. As reticent as I was to admit it at first, I realize that I'm turning to theory before practice every damned time.

My initial thought was that I wasted so much time with my major. I keep on kicking myself for not taking more theory classes in the time that I had, but I don't think I wasted my time. I mean, I didn't want to do theory at the time but what I have from my experience is a strong basis in STUFF — learning, listening, thinking, doing, and (while I am even more loath to admit it then but happily embrace it now) writing, and that means that I'll be okay moving forward. Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I would totally revise my academic plans at Oberlin to include more theory classes... but I wouldn't have liked it at the time... so... fate being the way that is, I think I did fine. We can't go back and advise our past selves, but we can help our future selves out. It's okay. I'm comfy with where I am and quite possibly where I could be going (oh, the future!).

In no way does my new-found appreciation for media theory despite my complete avoidance of it up until this past year mean that I can't do this on my own. Libraries and books? Check. Friends and cohorts who do media studies giving me things to read/prompting awesome conversations? Check. A total head-over-heels appreciation for Henry Jenkins? CHECK. I've got things to devour, things to think about, and things to talk about, and it's all informing my work and my life in wonderful ways. This is where the Oberlin liberal arts training comes in: I'm prepared. I can do this!

But here's the thing, the super important thing: despite all this theory stuff filling my brain, I can not stop making things, and that is still the reason I was drawn to cinema studies in the first place. (That, and the fact that my media-deprived childhood meant that I had to start making up for it at some point.) The cinema studies students I had the pleasure of working with throughout my time as a student at Oberlin (and since then) have this deep-down urge to make stuff. Even the theory kids dabble in production (it's a requirement of the department — everyone has to take one production and one theory class, and then all the rest of the 300 and 400 level classes can be selected according to your interests), but I'm beginning to think that all of us, regardless of what camp we fall into in the cinema department, have a fascination with the other side of things. I started my cinema story with production (middle school), history (summer camp), then moved back to production (high school), then theory (beginning of college), then production (most of college), then pedagogy (end of college), and then theory (right now). And sometimes they're all happening at the same time. And then you start overanalyzing your life and wonder how you ever managed to make any decisions about your future when there's all this cool stuff in this world. Ahhhhh.

Let me tell you: this battle between making and thinking is really really frustrating sometimes. I want to think more, but I also want to do more. They have to play nicely with each other at some point, right?

I had an exchange with fellow cinema studies major Patrick Willems '10 on Twitter Wednesday morning about the creative process:

Patrick: My weekly routine: shoot a video, be excited about it, start editing, hate everything, want to drop it and run away.

Me: This is basically every creative process ever.

Patrick: AND I HATE IT.

Me: Me too. But it's a part of the process. And we keep on coming back for more.

That's me. That's us. We're gluttons for punishment but we also can't not do what what we do. You can't stop the makers from making, but everything within our power is making it seriously hard to do so, specifically, our brains start getting in the way. It's terrible but it's a good good thing. The next time you see a creative type (or maybe you're that creative type yourself, in which case, get thee to a mirror stat), give them a grin. We're probably residing in part of the spectrum between the throes of awesome and crippling self-doubt, with our brains constantly battling the muses of theory and production.

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