April 6, 2008
PCA/ACA: Clayton Childress on Daytime Television and Pro-Anorexic Groups Online

I never actually got the chance to meet up with Clayton Childress at the National Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association joint annual conference in San Francisco last month. I became aware of Clayton's work because of a piece he and Denise Bielby are contributing to the anthology on soap operas I am co-editing with Gail Derecho and Lee Harrington. But we'd never met.

After several failed attempts, we eventually came to accept it wasn't going to happen in San Francisco. But I was lucky enough to have Clayton pass the two papers he presented at the PCA/ACA conference this year along. Apparently, he wasn't aware that you are only supposed to present one round of work at the conference, and he wa allowed to go forward with presenting both. I was also lucky to have him be agreeable to pass both projects along to me, since I wasn't able to attend his panels.

Clayton chaired a panel on meaning-making and Internet culture, presenting on "pro-anorexic journaling." He also presented on "Variations in Talk from Trash to Simulated Courtrooms," as part of a larger project looking at changes in daytime television. That project, Childress' thesis at the University of California-Santa Barbara, is entitled "Ordering the Court: Morality, Power and Play in Daytime Television." Childress is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology.

Among other things, Childress takes an historical perspective of daytime talk in order to understand the ways we ended up where we are today, playing on some of the notions also present in C3 Consulting Researcher Amanda Lotz's presentation at the Society for Cinema and Media Culture conference earlier in March. I wrote:

She pointed out in her presentation how a variety of the decisions that were at first arbitrary or at least dependent on particular requirements of the moment eventually just became "the way things were," such as the concept of a season, the general understanding of how many episodes are in a season, etc. The industry lore may remain central if never tested or challenged, but initiatives that do eventually change them most often come from outside the center of the industry, such as challenges from the consumer electronics and computer industries

He is also building off some of the work of Bernard Timberg. See a previous post from January about some of Timberg's most recent work.

For more, see here.

Childress traces in particular the popularity of syndicated courtroom shows, declaring their current popularity the third surge, with the first two being from 1949 to 1960 and the second phase from 1981 to 1993, through The People's Court, before launching into a comparison of trash-talk shows and these courtroom shows. The project isn't in its completed stage yet, but it's worth seeking out.

As for his other presentation, the abstract says:

Pro-Anorexic groups began appearing online at the turn of the 21 Century. These groups provide moral and informational support for women who want to "successfully" accomplish their eating disorders by organizing group fasts, trading "inspirational" pictures of anorexic women, and by providing weight loss tips. Twelve months of online journaling by a Pro-Anorexic webring member is analyzed using textual analytic methods. Although a Pro-Ana participant, the study finds that the journal's author rejects much of the Pro-Ana ideology, while also reformulating past events in her present writings in order to legitimize an unprecedented future of successful disordered eating. The study also highlights the benefits of online journaling as a research site for longitudinal, textual studies of counter cultural practices.

Feel free to contact me at samford@mit.edu if you'd like more info about Clayton's projects.