Trauma & Melodrama: Emotions in the Public Sphere

13th Annual CMS Graduate Student Conference
Friday, April 21, 2017 - 12:00am to Saturday, April 22, 2017 - 12:00am

Memory. Suffering. Upheaval. Displacement. The language of personal and political trauma is routinely also the language of melodrama. As a diverse set of filmic, televisual, and theatrical practices, melodrama expresses the constraints and possibilities of individuals and societies as they mediate between private and public spheres, engage with moral oppositions and ambiguities, and succeed or fail at communicating emotion, pain, and desire. This conference explores varied accounts of how melodramatic structures make trauma present—to a screen subject, a filmmaker, an audience, or a national public. How and why does emotion become public in the world, on the screen, and across spectatorial contexts? How do stylization and performance condition a person’s encounter with the traumatic event, the camera, and the screen?

The conference begins on April 21 with opening remarks by Tom Gunning, Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, and a keynote address by Elisabeth Anker, Associate Professor of American Studies and Political Science at The George Washington University. Professor Anker’s research and teaching interests are at the intersection of political theory, critical theory, cultural analysis, and media studies. Her book Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom (Duke, 2014) examines the role of melodrama in American politics as a powerful political discourse that intensifies suffering and galvanizes national sentiment to legitimate state violence. A curated screening of short films and clips will accompany Prof. Anker’s address.

Graduate student panels on April 22 address contemporary global political phenomena with their attendant issues of the representations of race, gender, sexuality, and nation; melodramatic techniques and forms, ranging from video-game mise-en-scène to song and dance aesthetics in commercial Indian cinema; and contemporary documentaries that employ melodramatic and poetic registers. The conference will conclude with a roundtable discussion involving Professor Anker and faculty members from the University of Chicago.

For complete conference schedule, please visit The conference is organized by Tyler Schroeder, Tien-Tien Jong, and A.P. Pettinelli, and is co-sponsored by the Department of Cinema and Media Studies, the Film Studies Center, and the Franke Institute for the Humanities.

Two public screenings are also associated with the conference: Mamma Roma (Apr. 14) and He Who Gets Slapped (May 19).