Representing Toxicity: Environmental (In)justice in Film & Media
We’re living in a toxic world — but it doesn’t have to be that way. This Junior Research Seminar explores histories & contemporary cultures of chemical harm, & the ways that exposed communities have rallied to make environmental illness visible. From the radioactive brine trucks of the Utica shale fracking region to Flint, Michigan’s tainted infrastructures to the aisles of your local Home Depot, we’ll ask: what happens when a disease or disability has a cause? How do you prove that? And what happens when it’s where you live that’s making you sick? Whose experiences of toxicity & exposure get believed? And what might justice in a toxic world look like?
By considering popular films (from Erin Brockovich & SAFE to documentaries) & television shows (like Nickelodeon’s Secret World of Alex Mack) alongside court documents, testimony, & ambient media, we’ll take up the political affordances of diverse strategies of representing “chemical sickness”: environmental illnesses that show up unevenly across human communities — and which sometimes take lifetimes to show up at all. Across these forms, we’ll explore how communities, artists, & popular culture have sought to represent chemical harm: to get people to care, to highlight risk, to hold corporations accountable, & to demand — & enact — justice.
This Junior Research Seminar is designed to build an adaptive, multidisciplinary research toolkit to support your own future critical film, media, literature, & popular culture analysis. Course assignments will include a series of short auto-ethnographic, archival, visual-cultural & media analysis exercises; and your choice of either a final 10-15 page research paper or a researched creative media intervention into a toxicity situation or environmental justice campaign of your choosing. Public-facing, applied, & activist work is strongly encouraged.