Watching TV for a Thesis: the First FAMS Major
Issue   |   Fri, 05/18/2012 - 13:16
Photo courtesy of Lean Longoria '12
Longoria has produced two films and a thesis exploring death in TV.

Leah Longoria, like many students at the College, at first didn’t know what she wanted to major in. Luckily, she discovered her love for film just in time — the Film and Media Studies department was created at the start of her junior year. Even though she was already a Math major, Longoria dove straight into the FAMS department. Not only was she able to complete the requirements, but she also excelled in her courses and wrote an eloquent, insightful thesis examining death in television. Her drive to succeed has led her to be the first to graduate within the Film and Media Studies department and an altogether admirable and inspiring graduate.

Starting Out

Longoria grew up in Austin, Texas with her parents and twin sister Emma (Caris) Longoria ’12. Growing up as a twin, Longoria was incredibly close with her sister, and both sisters have agreed that their bond has only gotten stronger after coming to the College. Nevertheless, Longoria has always had a distinctive sense of independence, which she has carried with her throughout her time at Amherst.

“She blazes her own trail,” Caris said. “I honestly cannot think of a time when she has really failed. For this, I have always looked up to her.”

Longoria knew she wanted to remain close with her sister after graduating from high school.

“Going to different schools was never an option,” Caris revealed. “I don’t think we even considered the possibility.”

What attracted Longoria most about the College in particular was the open curriculum.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to major in, so the open curriculum was perfect for me,” Longoria said.

Indeed Longoria took advantage of the open curriculum during her first year.

“I basically took a class from every department,” Longoria said.

By the end of her first year, she had finally decided on becoming a math major. But Longoria didn’t stop there — her academic career suddenly took an unexpected turn when she took the film course “Popular Cinema” with Professor Christian Rogowski. It was then that she began developing a strong interest in film. John (Jack) Eastburn ’13 noticed a huge development in Longoria’s academic interests.

“Before she came here, TV was just something she watched a lot. Once she started taking film classes I think she really fell in love with the study of it,” Eastburn said.

Caris agreed, stating, “Leah has found her niche in the Film and Media Studies major. That’s where she has really come into her own.”

Discovering FAMS

At the time that Longoria discovered her growing passion for Film and Media Studies, it was not yet an official department and major. Professor Amelie Hastie, who taught Longoria in several courses and was her senior thesis advisor, recounted, “Fall 2010 was when the Film and Media Studies major was officially launched. At that time, it was open to the class of 2014, but Leah came and talked to me the first day of class and said she was interested. I knew it would be a challenge, since Leah was already a junior, but she was ready and able to try it out.”

Longoria certainly rose to the challenge. Her friends and professors are amazed at how successful she has been as the first FAMS major of the College.

“She’s incredibly driven,” Eastburn said. “As a result, her work ethic is hard to beat.”

Everyone I interviewed about Longoria marveled at her impressive time management skills and unfailing commitment to her studies.

“She has the best time management skills I have seen in anyone … I’ve never met anyone who meets deadlines so easily and readily,” said Visiting Professor Chris Mason Johnson, with whom Longoria has also taken courses. “I’m trying to figure out her secret so I can emulate it myself!”

Team Player with the Right Crew

Alongside her academics, Longoria has also excelled as a member of the crew team at Amherst. Joining her first year, she is now the captain of the women’s team.

“I did marching band in high school,” she recalled, “and I really liked being in a group, so being on a team here was something that was really important to me.”

One of her most memorable moments was winning bronze at the New England Rowing Championship last year. In addition, she produced a film documentary on one of the men’s varsity boats.

“It was an amazing experience,” Longoria said. “It was the first film I had ever made, and it was of something I love doing. The finished product is something I’m really proud of.”

Despite her busy schedule, Longoria has always made time for her friends. Having known Longoria for three years, Eastburn said, “She’s extremely committed to her close group of friends and always loyal.”

Caris, also a rower, recounted how absolutely supportive and selfless Longoria was when Caris’s boat won gold in the New England Rowing Championship, while Longoria’s boat did not do as well.

“I will never forget the image of Leah rushing toward me, absolutely beaming with unbridled happiness. As we embraced she said something in my ear, I don’t even remember what, I just remember tearing up, not out of happiness for my success, but because in that moment Leah showed such pure selflessness. She was truly happy for me in a way I think most people who had just experienced failure could not have been. I still look back at that moment as a poignant illustration of our relationship and of Leah’s constant grace,” Caris said.

Death in Television: An Inspiring Thesis

Longoria’s proudest accomplishment during her time at the College is her senior FAMS thesis, “Rest in Pieces: Death on an Undying Medium As Seen On TV’s ‘Dexter’, ‘Nip/Tuck’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and ‘Damages.’” From the moment she declared her major in the FAMS department, Longoria knew she wanted to write a thesis in Film and Media Studies.

“I’m obsessed with TV,” Longoria said. “I knew I had to pick something I love, something I’m really passionate about, to be able to spend a year writing a thesis on it. So I picked four of my absolute favorite shows to study.”

In her thesis, Longoria explored how death is represented in television, particularly centered around the body.

“The shows I picked are so different, so the ironic question I ask is: what does a serial killer, a plastic surgeon, a robot and a lawyer have in common? Nothing, you would think, but I guess what I found in the end was that my desire to work with these shows stemmed from my own fascination with death, which was what connected them in a way,” Longoria said. “I started to see a sort of trade-off between television and different complex theories — Freud, for example — and how our own drive towards death as humans is kind of mimicked in television.”

She explained how her thesis topic changed to further examine “hauntings” in television, and then “fragmentation and television’s archive as related to the body and death.”

Longoria was very happy to have Professor Hastie as her thesis advisor. “Professor Hastie has been amazing,” she said. “[It was] absolutely the best advising experience I’ve had.”

Professor Hastie was equally impressed with Longoria’s impeccable work.

“If there is one thing I would emphasize about Leah, it is her fearlessness in researching, reading and then explicating incredibly complex theoretical text — sometimes even against my caution,” Hastie said. “It’s just remarkable what she was able to accomplish.”

Professor Hastie also praised the fluidity and engaging aspects of Longoria’s writing. “There are moments that are really very poetic, which is something you do not expect in writing about television. I remember when I read the conclusion of Leah’s thesis — I almost wept, it was so beautiful,” Hastie said.

For Longoria, the thesis-writing process was one big discovery. “I found a lot of weird connections between all the shows that I wouldn’t initially have thought of,” Longoria said. “For example, I had a lot of different screen shots within the chapters of my thesis, and it’s fascinating how similar some of the images are in these very different shows.”

Beyond Amherst

It was Professor Hastie’s television studies classes that really excited Longoria about the major and inspired her decision to continue with film and media studies after Amherst College. She will be attending the MFA program in television at Boston Univ. for three semesters, where she will also be a teaching assistant for undergraduates and work in the television production department. After Boston Univ., Longoria hopes to pursue a career in entertainment television.

“I’d love to work on a show on HBO — that’s my dream job,” Longoria said. “I’m interested more in television than film, because the producers are both creative and managerial, so I can get both sides, whereas film is mostly just directing.”

Her friends have complete faith in Longoria and are certain that she will go on to be very successful in life. When I asked Caris what she could see Longoria doing after graduating, she responded with, “Being awesome. I’m counting on her to become the producer of a highly successful and critically acclaimed TV show.”

Eastburn remarked, “I’ve gotten to read just a bit of what she’s done this year for screenwriting and, though I don’t know much about scripts, it’s honestly very good. Couple that with the fact that she’s produced two phenomenal films over the past two years, and I’d say she can really do whatever she wants.”

Given her talents and academic achievements in Film and Media Studies, as well as her leadership, dedication and graceful personality, Longoria has a world of possibilities open to her. The first official FAMS major is undoubtedly an inspiring role model and has really paved the way for future FAMS majors here at Amherst College.

lottiehernandez (not verified) says:
Fri, 05/25/2012 - 11:32

WOW! Go Leah! I wish you success always!