6/08/2014 Peter Durantine

International Meeting on Moving Images and the Mind Comes to Campus

Subjects from violence and filmmaking morals to reality TV and the Amish will occupy more than 70 scholars in such disciplines as philosophy, brain science, sociology, and cognitive psychology when they converge on Franklin & Marshall College to share papers and presentations during the annual conference of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image June 11-14.

This is the first time F&M has served as host of the 15-year conference, typically held in larger cities. The 2013 conference was held in Munich, and the 2015 conference will be in London.

"It's a great honor to host these leading minds from around the world. This is a conference that is deliberately interdisciplinary, and it's deliberately small and intimate," said Dirk Eitzen, professor of film and media studies in F&M's Department of Theatre, Dance and Film and a member of the society's board. 

  • Dirk Eitzen, professor of film and media studies in Franklin & Marshall College's Department of Theatre, Dance and Film, and four of his students will present a study at the conference of audience response to the Discovery Channel's locally shot "Amish Mafia" reality TV program. Pictured here with Eitzen is (right-to-left) sophomore Daisy Mase, and seniors D.J. Kime, Sarah Reynolds and Rebecca Gant. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

Founded in 1997 by Joseph Anderson, professor emeritus of mass communication and theatre at the University of Central Arkansas, and Barbara Anderson, an independent scholar, "the society's purpose is to pull together disciplines that seldom convene to pose, as well as answer, central questions about the design, functions, and effects of moving-image media," Eitzen said.

Conference lecturers include notable scholars such as American film historian and theorist David Bordwell, the Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison; Canadian novelist Keith Oatley, who teaches psychology of fiction at the University of Cambridge; Jeff Zacks, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis; and Murray Smith, a film professor at the University of Kent.

Eitzen and four of his students will present a study of audience response to the Discovery Channel's locally shot "Amish Mafia" reality TV program during a reception at New College House on the conference's first day.

The work of senior film and media studies majors Rebecca Gant and D. J. Kime, sophomore Daisy Mase, senior English major Sarah Reynolds and Eitzen is "What Do Viewers Care if 'Amish Mafia' is Real?" It looks at the veracity of so-called reality TV, which often turns out to be scripted and produced.

"People like the sensation of the program, regardless of whether it's true or not," Eitzen said.

The students polled a group of 58 subjects, including Amish and ex-Amish, as they watched selected segments of the program, which was filmed in Lancaster County. They asked questions concerning "likeability" and "believability." They also followed and recorded Twitter and other social media responses to the program when it was aired. According to their analysis, viewers didn't mind being misled.

"It's really telling that the entertainment value is higher than the truth," Mase said.

Another part of the group's research involved meeting with former members of the Amish community and interviewing them about "Amish Mafia," inquiring whether anything in the program was factual or true.

"They were laughing at us at times. When we would ask, "Is that real?" They would say, "Of course not,"" Gant said. "Even we didn't know certain things were contrived." 

Viewers generally thought some parts of the program were true, even though none of it was, Eitzen said.

The four-day conference will be conducted in F&M's Ann and Richard Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building and New College House, where many of the conferees will stay during their visit.

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