WARNING: RANT ALERT.
I’m at a family lunch, a friend’s birthday party, or even just standing in a store aisle when someone I kind of know asks me, “So, what do you do again?” This has happened so many times, because for some reason the term ‘general B.A.’ doesn’t stick to people’s brains as well as ‘medicine’, ‘law’, or ‘business’. And after I explain that my courses are English, Media, and Film there’s always that subsequent frown, that strange tilt of the head and the phrase, “Film? What does that mean?” Well, here I am to say, for the final time, what studying film means to me and why a B.A. is awesome thank-you-very-much.
To give you some context, the only reason I am enrolled at UCT and studying at all is because my parents filled out the application form in 2014 and forced my to take the NBT. I know what you must be thinking: “Pathetic. Does she always do what her parents want?” I don’t. But, at that point of my life I was depressed after having my dream of becoming a professional ballet dashed at my feet… literally. I had a foot injury which forced me to redefine my future and my very identity. The only thing my parents could think of was, “She was good at school, let’s send her to UCT.” So, feeling like Persephone trapped in hell, I chose the only two majors that slightly interested me: English, and Film and Media. Thus begun a wonderful journey from stubborn hatred, to a sincere love of studying. My Film course in particular.
Now that you know that this argument is subjective, let me begin. People like watching movies; there might be a few hermits out there without wifi or cable t.v. who prefer soaking up nature’s glory, but for the most part, people of today like movies. Otherwise box offices around the world wouldn’t be making millions, or there wouldn’t be so many illegal streaming/torrent sites (so I’m told, cough, cough). Therefore I can’t for the life of me understand why people don’t take film courses seriously. We learn how to analyse films; I know at the word ‘analyse’ most people’s eyes roll back into their head in boredom, but think about it. I am learning how to pick out themes, and nuances that you unknowingly ingest while staring at a screen. I am almost sure that everyone who watched The Lion King was affected by Mufasa’s death, and I can tell you why. The rush I get from realizing a cinematic trick or picking apart a piece of dialogue is akin to a chick who has taken Ritalin on a roller coaster. It’s fun to not only watch a great movie, but to know how and why it was made.
“So, you guys just watch movies?” they reply. Yes, we watch movies (cue jealous looks) but we also spend hours studying film history and theory, as well as writing essays analyzing those films. This is not a film club, this is an academic course. Just because I am doing a B.A degree does not automatically mean that a) my courses are easier than those in the sciences, or b) I work any less, or c) I don’t take my work as seriously. I am tired of people, generally those of the older generations, insinuating that I chose to stick with my B.A. because it is somehow easier.
“Michaela, when are you going to get a real degree?” I am getting a real degree, one which requires holding myself up to a high standard while both studying content and generating my own content. I am not saying this to bash the sciences, I hold the utmost respect for them, but 1+1 is always 2 and that can be learnt, but there is no textbook answer as to whether Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is, or is not, a feminist film. In my B.A courses we are often required to go beyond rote memory, to come up with our own theories and ideas. In my opinion, people underestimate film courses because they deal with a subject that is labelled as “entertainment”, so therefore that is all the career can ever be.
“But, what are you going to do with your degree once you’ve finished?” The truth is I don’t know, strange-friend-of-my-mom-who-I-have-just-met. I often think that maybe I should have studied something like law, because then I would know: “Oh, now I go and practice law.” Careers that have specific job tracks which you follow out of university, that is the easier option in my opinion. My undetermined future scares me, but it is also exciting in the variety of options it presents to me. I could be a journalist; a P.R practitioner; a copy writer; an editor; a screen-writer; a reviewer; or even just a perpetual academic. Learning how to write well and tell good stories are skills which are flexible and can be applied to a range of different occupations.
In all honesty, I too get my own bigoted doubts as to whether a B.A degree in Film is of any consequence. What is the point? How does it contribute to society in a meaningful way? Yada, yada. Well, like I said before, people like watching movies. People like reading stories. If you spend your day scrolling through Facebook, then you enjoy seeing and reading what is going on in other people’s lives who exist near and far from you. I am not promising that films can change the world, although certain films have irreversibly changed the way I think about specific issues, but they do have a place in society. Whether that is to educate the audience through a documentary, commemorate someone’s life through a biopic, or simply to entertain, it has value. Films give us a chance to experience different cultures, time periods, and perspectives. They allow us to explore emotions and relationships, which we can then apply to our own lives. When you have had a hard day at work or school, where do you turn to relax and unwind? The T.V screen. So, why not study this medium that has become such an embedded part of our routines and social consciousness?
My studying film does not guarantee me a job, nor does it fulfill a community incentive, but it has taught me more about history than my 12 years of primary and secondary education. It has given me comfort when I was upset, and a purpose that I didn’t have when I started at UCT in 2015. So, my course may not be respected by society or deemed a “real course”, but I don’t care. Because all that matters is I respect what I am doing. Next time someone asks me, “So, what do you do again?”, I’m going to tell them:
“What I want to do,” and leave it at that, because that’s all that matters.
(Featured image taken from NBC)