5 Questions With…
In this feature, we offer a closer look at some of your Communication colleagues via five questions related to their research, the Communication discipline and higher education, and their experiences with NCA.
Ragan Fox is Professor of Communication at California State University, Long Beach. Fox studies the communication practices of gay men and other sexual minorities. His work has appeared in Text and Performance Quarterly, Critical Studies in Media Communication, and the Journal of Homosexuality, among other journals. In 2012, he was the recipient of NCA’s Lila A. Heston Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Interpretation and Performance Studies. He currently lives in West Hollywood with his French bulldog, Beau.
- What is your current research focus, and can you share something interesting or exciting you’ve come across recently?
This fall, I have a book coming out with Routledge titled Inside Reality TV. The text details my experiences on and off the set of CBS’s reality show Big Brother. One of my favorite arguments in the book outlines how producers use the casting process to create docile, on-screen laborers. In other words, casting a reality show like Big Brother doesn’t simply determine which applicants make it onto the program. Casting inculcates and transforms gregarious people into cogs in reality television’s representational machine. Take, for example, mandatory sequesters before contestants move into the Big Brother house. I was locked in a hotel room for two weeks before the game started. I couldn’t watch TV or use the phone. The only time I saw anyone is when production assistants brought meals to my room. Imagine two weeks of that routine. Research demonstrates that this sort of isolated confinement, akin to what one finds in a prison, makes people more likely to submit to authority, or, in this case, production. I’ve been a fan of the genre since 2000, but it wasn’t until I started writing about my experiences on Big Brother that I realized why reality TV participants do ridiculous things, like eat animal entrails on Survivor or jump out of planes when they’re afraid of heights. Indoctrination begins in casting and casts (so to speak) a powerful spell on a reality show’s players.
- Can you tell us about one of your most inspiring mentors in the Communication discipline, and how they influenced your career and life?
I worked with so many great professors as a graduate student at the University of Texas and Arizona State University. Dr. Sarah Tracy at Arizona State had the greatest impact on my research and instruction. Her Qualitative Research Methods course is the most rigorous and rewarding class I have ever taken. Watching her put together a syllabus is like witnessing an artist construct a masterpiece. I also admire the amount of feedback she provides on each assignment. I had my fair share of professors who left little to no marginalia on major research papers I submitted. Dr. Tracy not only taught me how to write like an academic, but she is the professor I emulated once I entered the tenure track.
- What is one of your favorite memories from the NCA Annual Conventions you’ve attended?
Many moons ago, the final paper I produced for Dr. Tracy’s ethnography seminar was named one of the Ethnography Division’s top four papers. Presenting that paper is my fondest NCA convention memory. I was a graduate student presenting for a couple hundred people, including authors I had just read in class and cited in my essay. I began to feel like an actual scholar.
- If you had to do it over again and you were just starting out as a young Communication scholar, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Use research to understand WHAT ails you and humanize WHO troubles you.
- What is one of your most important career goals for the next five years?
I was just promoted to Full Professor a year ago, so I finally get to produce research on my own terms and timeline. That’s exciting. In terms of research, I want to experiment with new methods, explore topics that I previously ignored, and expand the range of journals in which I am included. I may even try to write another book. In terms of instruction and service, I’d like to mentor junior faculty and discover innovative ways to fund my department’s graduate program. That’s the thing about academia: no matter how much you do, there’s always more to complete.
Read our first installment of this feature, for which we interviewed Norah Dunbar.