Q&A with Professor Victoria E. Johnson

Victoria E. Johnson
Professor, Film & Media Studies
School of Humanities
Chair, 2013-2014 and 2009-2012, Film & Media Studies
School of Humanities
photo: Steve Zylius/UCI

The Campuswide Honors Collegium (CHC) offers specially designed seminars on a variety of topics each quarter. We encourage students to explore these seminars taught by top UCI faculty as a part of a truly unique and engaging honors experience.

One of the honors seminar instructors is Professor Victoria E. Johnson, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies for UCI’s School of Humanities. Professor Johnson is a scholar in the field of Cinema-Television, having received her M.A. and Ph.D in Cinema-Television. She is currently instructing the Film & Media Studies H80 Honors Seminar, Race Sport Media, which examines the intersection of race, sports, and media in everyday U.S. popular culture and political culture.

We asked Professor Johnson to share with us details of her honors seminar course and scholarly research interests.

What did you study as an undergraduate and what led you to seek a Ph.D. in Cinema-Television?

Professor Johnson: I was a double-major at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in Cinema Studies and in Political Science (with an emphasis on political theory). I was encouraged to continue for my M.A. and Ph.D. in Cinema-Television particularly by two professors who were mentors to me. I also loved research, writing, and thought I might love teaching, and earning the Ph.D. was the path to that career. I also pursued summer employment and an internship that further encouraged these interests—one as a research assistant for a Law School dean the summer after my sophomore year in college, and one at the Library of Congress Motion Picture and Recorded Sound Division after my junior year in college.

What are your current research interests?

Professor Johnson: I am working on articles and a book project both of which continue my interest in the intersection of the sports media industry and questions of “community” through the lenses of cultural geography and critical race theory. I am writing a book for Rutgers University Press on the history and cultural significance of football in U.S. film and TV and am otherwise extending concepts introduced in my recent Sports TV (Routledge, 2021) for publications about sports’ built-environment and the “game-ification” of sports TV and stadium complexes.

You teach the Film & Media Studies H80 Honors Seminar, Race/Sport/Media. What makes Race/Sport/Media different from other seminars in your opinion?

Professor Johnson: I wish I could *take* the other seminars! I think what students who have taken Race/Sport/Media have discovered is that, fundamentally, when we’re talking about sports, we’re really talking about a lot of other things—things that are core to our sense of ourselves. Sports culture and its mediated forms are always about struggles over “community” and its imagination—whether this be through “ideals” of gender norms, questions of racial and sexual “difference,” or mythologies regarding space and place—from pastoral mythologies (e.g., Field of Dreams) to global mobility (the Olympics, etc.).

Can you give us some examples of current debates at the intersection of race, sports, and media that you deal with in the seminar? Why are they important?

Professor Johnson: This past summer’s Olympics offered an excellent example of why sports and media literacies (and their intersection) matter. Naomi Osaka’s year—from her Black Lives Matter protest at the U.S. Open to her prioritization of self-care at the Summer 2020/2021 Olympics—underscored the inherent intersectionality of sports as a “mattering map” within everyday media culture. Much as with TV and popular media generally, sports offer what appears to be an accessible venue for people from a wide variety of backgrounds to come together to talk about key issues of concern in the broader culture. Because we often think of sports as “games” and “play,” they seem like a relatively non-threatening way for us to engage otherwise difficult topics (e.g., in the case of Osaka, mental health struggles, generational tensions, expectations for “representativity” in terms of race, nation, and gender identity).

What do you think students find most exciting or engaging about this seminar?

Professor Johnson: The realization that sports are never, really, about sports. And, that the “sports media complex” touches every aspect of our daily lives, even when we do not identify as sports fans (e.g., “athleisure-wear” as daily fashion; Instagram challenges pegged to athletic feats; Athletes as multimedia producers and influencers; sports complexes as community centers, etc.)

How do you hope that students will use their experience in your honors seminar in the future?

Professor Johnson: I’ve been really gratified to receive emails after the quarter ends from students who took the seminar and now see sports through a really critically-aware and “readerly” lens. It’s also really wonderful when students talk about how conversations we have in class have opened up conversations with family members about their passion for sports that, previously, the student maybe had not interrogated or really connected with. Here, again, we really see that sports’ power rests in ideals about emotional connection and community formation and engagement.

What do you enjoy most about teaching an honors class? What sets honors students apart?

Professor Johnson: I love that the CHC offers students a sustained seminar experience that allows for extended readings, discussion time, and deep research engagement. CHC seems to be a preserve, in this way, particularly for transfer students who do not have much if any flexibility in terms of time to degree and choice of classes. The seminar really allows for the type of engagement that fosters community in wonderful ways. This is also what sets Honors students apart: the provision of such experiences for CHC participants—that UCI can seem “smaller” while also more expansive. Ideally, that same experience should be available more broadly, on campus.

Is there anything that you personally like to engage with in the media, or a sports team that you follow? How does your teaching of this seminar influence your own relationship to that media/show/team?

Professor Johnson: From the time I was 5 years old or so I’ve followed and participated in sports. So, I bring an understanding of why sports engages the kinds of passions that it does to a critical understanding of media studies of sports. In that sense, my relationship with sports/media broadly influences how I have structured the seminar.

For more information on Professor Johnson go to:

UCI Faculty Profile: https://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=4927