BiographyAs I write this, my husband and I are in self-isolation because of COVID-19. The crisis harkens back to other national upheavals I’ve experienced—the assassination of an American president, the killing of Martin Luther King, Jr., the attacks of 9/11, the war in Iraq, and the financial meltdown of 2008. In all these calamities, Americans turned on their television sets. The ubiquity and reach of television, even in the digital age, fascinates me and has motivated my scholarly work over the past three decades.
My path to media studies was not a straight line. Well-schooled in the humanities and textual analysis at the University of Chicago, I earned a PhD in English Language and Literature, with a concentration on medieval studies. I learned Latin, read Beowulf in the original Old English, and studied the Middle English romances (in Middle English) for my dissertation. This may seem a far-cry from media studies, but I was enchanted by what might be considered “popular” in the past, including long narratives sung in Middle English. My interests have always leaned toward “lower brow” narratives, not the “classics."
My research took a new direction after my studies at Northwestern University in the Department of Radio, TV, and Film. There began my concentration on television history and criticism.
What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s (University of Texas Press, 2005)
“What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s,” was the culmination of extensive archival research and primary source interviews. Telling the history of early daytime television from a feminist perspective, I focused on the daytime genres that predated the dominance of soap opera: Kate Smith’s unsuccessful transition from patriotic radio star to daytime TV personality; the “charm boys” Garry Moore, Arthur Godfrey, and Art Linkletter, who established the preeminence of male hosts; “misery” and “makeover” programs like Strike It Rich and Glamour Girl; NBC’s failed Home show, moderated by the sophisticated Manhattanite Arlene Francis; the ambitious daily anthology drama Matinee Theater, advertised as “not” soap opera; and the popular audience participation shows of daytime—the runaway hit Queen for a Day; Ralph Edwards’s show of surprises, It Could Be You; Who Do You Trust?, staring a youthful Johnny Carson; and The Big Payoff, featuring Bess Myerson, the country’s first Jewish Miss America. My feminist interpretation of these shows illustrates how daytime TV responded to the cultural pressures, inconsistencies, and gender ambiguities of the postwar era.
Television and the Embodied Viewer: Affect and Meaning in the Digital Age (Taylor and Francis Group, 2020)
“Television and the Embodied Viewer: Affect and Meaning in the Digital Age,” represents a new direction in my scholarship. My reassessment of a chiefly cultural approach to the interpretation of bodies on the television screen was prompted by my study of cigarette advertising on TV. Between 1948 and 1971, cigarette commercials on television numbered in the thousands, and, in 2006, I set out to investigate how these ads targeted women and prompted them to take up smoking. My study began as a straightforward feminist critique of the multiple social and cultural appeals found in these ads, which promised women sophistication, weight control, sexual allure, social status, and good times. Yet, in my survey of some 300 cigarette commercials, I soon discovered that almost every ad detailed the physical act of smoking as its centerpiece. While questions of gender remained prominent, I began to see that applying feminist theory alone was not sufficient to explicate fully the clever somatic appeals powering these ads.
Emergent theories of phenomenology, synaesthesia, and sense memory in film studies in the humanities were crucial to understanding the full force of these cigarette commercials.
As my interest in the body developed, I also turned to research about embodiment contributed by cognitive film scholars who favor empirical methods but remain open to cross-disciplinary thinking. My new book endeavors to navigate a path between these two approaches to balance useful ideas from each. This path anchors my project to the tradition of textual and cultural studies in the humanities but does not discount germane empirical perspectives.
Regarding the enigmatic concept of affect, I find value in philosophical work in the humanities that sees affect as an “intensity” or “amplitude” that enhances emotional response and interpretation, but I am also fascinated by the neurobiological matrix of the brain that makes this process possible, interfusing sensations, feelings, emotion, and cognitive evaluation. To this extent, I take to heart Lennard Davis and David Morris’s advocacy for an interdisciplinary “community of interpreters,” “willing to learn from each other.”
Because the most salient scholarly work on screen embodiment has centered on film, I revisit television studies’ paradigms to make the case that digital television, especially in the 21st century, resembles film in its customary appeal to the body. I conclude that many variables in reception circumstances work in unison to determine a viewer’s level of involvement in a digital work, but digital television continues to reinvigorate and reinforce attention-grabbing alliances with the viewer’s body.
The core of my new book is interpretive, seeking to discover in the television works themselves the sensations and bodily feelings that are designed to enliven a viewer’s responses, whether through a physiological resonance with the bodies onscreen or via the work’s aesthetic choices. To clarify the ways in which distinctive television artistry and affective portrayals can animate interpretation, I start with two examples from very different genres: the epic final three innings of the 2016 World Series and the dramatization of sexual manipulation on The Americans. Yet I also point out that even low-quality and distorted images can provoke heartbreaking and passionate visceral responses. The dash-cam video of Laquan McDonald’s murder in Chicago, and an overhead shot documenting the drowning of a father and young daughter at the U.S. southern border, are just two poignant examples.
In my choice of television series to interpret in depth, I sought works that feature sensations and bodily feelings that touch on the circuit of human life. Mad Men makes explicit the body’s integral relation to food consumption, a survival imperative—by dramatizing flavor perception, hunger, overindulgence, self-starvation, and vomiting. The analysis of Mad Men elucidates how the program’s themes of nostalgia and gender entrapment for both women and men find visceral expression. My discussion of Little Women: LA focuses on the bodily movement, tactility, and pain of dwarf women as they navigate the world and cope with human reproduction—sexuality, pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. The series offers the viewer the empathetic knowledge of the dwarf body, but, in its explicit representations, at times reverts to freak show allusions. The analysis of Six Feet Under confronts the endpoint of the life circle. It concludes that the series interfuses revolting images of the corpse with sensual depictions of the mind’s altered states, laden with ambiguities about reality, to create a meditation on death.
TEACHING, SERVICE, AWARDS
In the late 1990s, I began teaching media studies full-time in the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since 2005, I have also served as an instructor and fellow in UIC’s Honors College, teaching multi-disciplinary courses and mentoring English majors. For the past ten years, I have supervised a number of English Department senior theses and Honors College capstones.
My department views me as a versatile teacher, and I am often asked to teach courses that students need to graduate, like the capstone course for UIC’s Moving Image Arts Minor or an independent study on a media topic. I have supervised independent scriptwriting projects, a thesis on the topic of TV’s medical shows, and a capstone about recent adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes narratives. In the past two years, I have been instrumental in developing a new Professional Writing Program in the English Department and was tasked with creating and teaching the inaugural portfolio capstone. Two years ago, I was selected to develop a general education course in English fully online and taught it for the first time in Fall 2019. The course is an introduction to popular genres in literature and media, focusing on crime, romance, and horror.
I am proud to have won a number of awards for excellence in teaching, at the department, university, and national levels. In 2012, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, an international organization, selected me as the year’s single recipient for Outstanding Pedagogical Achievement in Cinema and Media Studies.
At the department level, I received the peer-reviewed 2015 Lecturers Distinguished Teaching Award for creating a new Moving Image Arts capstone course entitled, “Film, Bioculture, and the Body.”
At the University level, I am honored to have been selected three times for UIC’s Teaching Recognition Award and Grant—in 2002, 2007, and 2013. And in one of my proudest achievements, in an exit poll taken by UIC’s graduating seniors, I was ranked one of their all-time best instructors, winning the prestigious Silver Circle Award twice, in 2011 and 2016.
I was awarded another prestigious life-time achievement award in 2011, when I received the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the single honoree for the UIC campus.
I’ve been married since 1975 to writer, editor, and publisher Robert Cassidy. We have three children—Heather Cassidy Timilty, Gwen Cassidy McCarthy, and Michael Cassidy—and four grandchildren. Our home in Chicago is located about 2 miles directly west of Wrigley Field. On a warm summer night, we can sometimes hear the Cubs fans cheering.
Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
Media Studies in the Humanities, with an emphasis on Television History, Criticism, and Viewership
Cultural Studies, Textual Studies, Disability Studies
Feminism, Phenomenology, Research on the Body
In my past life, I worked as a radio and television producer.
For the past 25 years, I have been an active participant in formal presentations (refereed and invited) that highlight my research. Copies of these papers, presented in both professional scholarly organizations and UIC symposia, are available upon request.
“The Monster, the Bride, and the Movies: The Popular Iconography of Frankenstein.” Invited Presentation, UIC Institute for the Humanities, Frankenstein Festival, February 28, 2018.
"Is There a Body out There? Rethinking the TV Viewer in the Digital Era." Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference, Chicago. Panel Chair: Embodiment and the Television Spectator in the Post-Network Era, March 2017.
“Six Feet Under and the Sublime: Reality and Corporeality in Memory, Hallucination, Imagination, and Dream.” Society for the Cognitive Study of the Moving Image Conference,
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, June 2016.
“Teaching the Super Bowl,” Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference, Atlanta GA, 2 April 2016. Workshop participant, “Television’s Lesser Forms.”
“Rolling with the Push Girls: Phenomenology, Paralysis, and Reality Television.” Console-ing Passions, International Conference of Television, Video, and Feminism, Columbia, MO, April 2013.
“At Home with Television: Daytime TV and the 1950s Women.” Keynote Speaker, Speaker Series, The 1950s: Affluence and Anxiety in the Atomic Age, Albert Lorenzo Cultural Center, Clinton Twp. Michigan, March 2011.
“Lucy Smokes, Betty Vomits: Phenomenology, Bioculture, and the 1950s Body on Television.”
UIC English Department Colloquium, January 2011.
“Betty Vomits: Mad Men, History, and the 1950s Body.” Panel Chair: “Exploring the Gendered World of Mad Men.” Console-ing Passions, International Conference of Television, Video, and Feminism, Eugene, OR, April, 2010.
“Google-ing the TV Canon.” Workshop: “Teaching Television in a Post-Network Era.”
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Los Angeles, March 2010.
“Feminist Criticism Up in Smoke?” Panel, The Future of Feminist Criticism.
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Philadelphia, March
“Touch, Taste, Breath: Synaesthesia, the Female Body, and the Selling of Cigarettes on Television.” Media History Conference, Austin, TX, October 2007.
“The Makeover, 1950s-Style: Glamour Girl, Misery, and Postwar Femininity.” Console-ing
Passions, International Conference of Television, Video, and Feminism, Milwaukee, WI,
“The Public Intellectual in the 21st Century.” Workshop Co-Chair, Society for Cinema
and Media Studies Annual Conference, Vancouver, BC, March 2006.
“Bad Habits: Tobacco Sponsorships, Early Television Viewing, and the Promotion of Cigarette
Smoking Among Women.” Console-ing Passions, International Conference of
Television, Video, and Feminism, New Orleans, LA, May 2004.
“Domesticity in Doubt: Arlene Francis and the Home Show (1954-1957).” Department of English Colloquium Series, University of Illinois at Chicago, 23 April 2004.
“Sex in the Afternoon: Matinee Theater and the NBC Censors, 1955-58.” Society for Cinema
and Media Studies Annual Conference, Minneapolis, MN, March 2003.
“NBC’s Matinee Theater, 1955-1958: “’Quality’ Entertainment for the Tired Housewife.”
Chicago Film Seminar, Chicago, March 2002.
“Visible Storytellers: Women Narrators on 1950s Daytime Television.” Society for Cinema
Studies Annual Conference, Washington, DC, May 2001.
“Creating an Annotated Website for Television Historians.” Workshop Presentation, Society for Cinema Studies Annual Conference, Washington, DC, May 2001.
"Innovating Women's Television in Local and National Networks: Ruth Lyons and Arlene Francis" (Co-authored with Mimi White). Console-ing Passions, International Conference of Television, Video, and Feminism, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, May 2000.
"Making Misery Over: Glamour Girl and the US Daytime Sob Shows of the 1950s."
International Association for Media and History Conference, University of Leeds.
Leeds, UK, July 1999.
"Misery, Morality, and Excess: Daytime Talk Shows, Heterosexual Coupling, and the
Melodramatic Imagination." Society for Cinema Studies Conference, Ottawa,
Ontario, May 1997.
"The Fantasy of Interaction: Women, Daytime Television, and the 1950s Audience Participation
Programs." Broadcast Education Association Conference, Las Vegas, NV, April 1997.
"NBC's Home Show: 1950s Femininity and the Network Construction of Daytime Television."
Third-prize winner in the History Division. Broadcast Education Association Conference,
Las Vegas, NV, April 1997.
"Audience Ethnography Since 1980: Convergence and Debate in Cultural Studies and
Qualitative Social Science." Speech Communication Association Conference, San Diego, CA, November 1996.
"Stand Up and Be Counted and the Misery Show: Gender Relations and Resistant Talk in 1950s
Daytime Television." The University Film and Video Association Conference, Memorial
Panel for Nina Leibman, Chapman University, Orange, CA, August 1996.
"No Room for Feminine Work: The Computer Comes Home in the 1990s." The International
Communication Association, Chicago, IL, May 1996.
Local and national politics; disability rights
Equal access to higher education and UIC’s mission
For leisure, I am a member of the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild and the Lakeview YMCA; I have been a participant in the exercise/dance class NIA for the past 15 years. Other pastimes include baking, sewing, hiking, walking in the city (especially along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan), gardening, and grand-parenting. For relaxation, I read lesser-known women authors who were popular in the 19th century, like Margaret Oliphant.
Published: Nov 18, 2015 by Food, Media, and Contemporary Culture: The Edible Image
Authors: Marsha F. Cassidy
Subjects: Media and Cultural Studies
Drawing upon theories of the body, this chapter focuses on sensory and visceral simulations of hunger, eating, and vomiting as an expression of femininity's constraints. It spotlights the plight of Ruth Fisher, the matriarch on "Six Feet Under," and Betty Francis Draper of "Mad Men." to reveal how the somatic evocations magnify a feminist interpretation.
Published: Mar 22, 2011 by Cinema Journal 50:3, 86-88
Authors: Marsha F. Cassidy
Subjects: Media and Cultural Studies
When my students in a television history course said one of their favorite Super Bowl ads featured Betty White, an icon of TV history, a discussion of White’s variable gender, genre, industry, and age positions in relation to changing American values brought home to my students the instability of the TV canon and the merit of analyzing any television text within the broader scope of cultural history.
Published: Jul 22, 2001 by Style 35:2, 354-374
Authors: Marsha F. Cassidy
Subjects: Media and Cultural Studies
During the 1950s, television's daytime airwaves were filled with women's stories. Four of the most popular 1950s confessional quiz shows--Strike It Rich, Queen for a Day, It Could Be You, and The Big Payoff--cast the voice of the woman storyteller as variously outspoken and silent. An alternation between vocal storytelling and emotive display serves to disclose the opposition between free expression and enforced muteness at the core of these programs.
Published: Mar 22, 1988 by The Journal of Popular Film and Television
Authors: Marsha F. Cassidy
Subjects: Mass Communications
Extensive interview with one of the most important writer-producers in 1980s prime-time television
Published: Apr 07, 2020
After Don Draper and his boss Roger Sterling overindulge on a lunch of martinis, oysters, and cigarettes, Roger vomits in front of the Richard Nixon campaign team. Vomiting in "Mad Men" serves as a somatic expulsion of toxic masculinity.