The Theses

Four seniors give us the low.

Kate Grumbles, Staff Reporter

Emma Massie

How does Trix the rabbit relate to cultural anthropology? Emma Massie is a senior anthropology major whose thesis examines the major themes in children’s cereal commercials from the 1950s to today. These commercials reveal the values held in the United States around food and the role of children in the family, through characters like Trix the Rabbit and the children featured in the commercials.

Massie looked at the commercials over time for around six beloved childhood cereal brands, such as Lucky Charms, Cookie Crisp and Trix. With these cereals and more, Massie found two themes of U.S. food culture present in these commercials. The first theme is restraint and indulgence. This refers to the rules surrounding food in the United States and how we give ourselves specific times when we can indulge, like dessert, and times to show restraint from eating unhealthy food.

“I kind of argue that (this idea of tempered indulgence) doesn’t serve the purpose we think it does …  I argue that by repressing desire, we only increase it. That comes out in cereal commercials. I argue that the cereal commercials themselves are a socialization process for the kids who are watching it. All of these kids watching the Cuckoo bird having to restrain himself before he goes Cuckoo, basically socializes them to this cultural idea that restraint and indulgence are linked in all of these different ways,” Massie said.

Along with the theme of indulgence and restraint, Massie noticed that there was an emphasis on children. This child-centeredness was very visible to her in the commercials and cereal products themselves.

“The U.S. in the past few decades has shifted to be very child focused. Children are no longer considered the lowest rung on the social ladder, they are put before adults,” Massie said. “We adapt our things for children instead of expecting them to adapt.”

Massie spoke about how the colorful packaging and cartoon characters designed for each cereal make it clear who the target audience is. The cereals marketed for children are also often very sugary, with the main ingredients being marshmallows or frosting.

“There’s an idea in children’s commercials that children’s food is separate from adult food, and that children have agency within these cereals that gives them the authority to request it from the parents. These commercials teach them that children’s food is sugary, and I argue that has a lot of negative repercussions on children’s health. That’s kind of the ‘so what’ of my thesis,” Massie said.

Annie Roge

Annie Roge is the only senior Film and Media Studies major doing a thesis this year, and her choice of topic is a critical analysis of the 2015 horror film, “The Witch.” Roge uses feminist theorists to examine the movie, which is a period piece set in early New England. The film uses old folklore surrounding witchcraft as the plot, examining the family unit and role of the woman in New England. Roge explores how the idea of the deviant woman can create horror historically.

“It’s been fascinating to explore the ways in which women and the female form threaten patriarchal power structures, both implicitly and–in the context of this film, and arguably, the horror genre in genera–explicitly,” Roge said. “The film locates its story in the annals of history, and as such, the power structures and figures of horror it represents might seem far removed; but this thesis has largely been an inquiry into the degree to which the themes explored in the film–namely, deviant female sexuality in conflict with patriarchy–still hold relevance today. Spoiler alert: they obviously do.”

Roge’s thesis was initially going to be something much different. Her initial idea was to connect this thesis to the oral exam she completed last fall on the music video for Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.” The thesis would have been on the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s and 1980s, but Roge realized that her interest in “The Witch” would make this thesis more impactful.

“I’d seen this film the year before and raved about it pretty consistently since then, so basically, I had all these theoretical, conspiracy-theorist-type ideas bouncing around in my brain already, and they just needed to get put down onto paper,” Roge said. “It’s been great–I can’t think of a better way to spend my final semester than this: railing against the patriarchy with the help of a crazy horror film!”

Riley Jordan

Riley Jordan’s thesis brings new information to the very old field of stellar astronomy. Her thesis is the discovery of new variable stars in globular clusters M92 and M15. The goal of the study was to confirm the existence of variable stars, but in the process, Jordan discovered variable stars she hadn’t been expecting.

“M92 and M15 are globular clusters, which means a dense group of really old stars. They’re located in our galaxy and we were just looking for stars that varied in brightness over a period time,” Jordan said. “The goal of the project was to find variable stars in the two clusters, so we confirmed stars that were already known to be variable and we also found new variable stars in both clusters. By identifying these variable stars, we can learn more about stellar evolution and stellar history.”

Jordan worked closely with her advisor, Nathaniel Paust, to research and gather data for her thesis. She used data from 2003 studies, as well as gathering her own data from the Kit Peak National Observatory in Arizona during her junior year. She continued research and analysis of her data during the summer and says the thesis is almost finished now. The biggest surprise Jordan encountered in her research of globular clusters was the discovery of new stars that couldn’t be classified.

“We expected to find RR Lyrae-type variable stars because they’re common in old populations of stars and we were looking at older stars. We found a whole bunch of those, but we also found stars that we weren’t expecting to find that are variable. We’re really not sure how to classify them at this point. We think our results are valid–we just don’t know how to interpret them. That was kind of a surprise,” Jordan said.

Ben Caldwell

Ben Caldwell wrote 14 short stories for his senior thesis, each one ranging from seven to 20 pages long. The stories each represent a slightly different genre and storyline independent from the others. Some of the genres represented include detective fiction, science fiction and fantasy.

Caldwell spoke about his desire to cross the boundary between genre fiction and what is considered literary in this collection of stories. The inspiration for these short stories came from the stories that Caldwell read and enjoyed when he was younger, but didn’t see represented in his high school or college English classes.

“I grew up reading a lot of genre fiction; I grew up reading a lot of fantasy and science fiction especially. As I went through high school and started college, it became increasingly apparent that stuff wasn’t cool anymore. Professors didn’t assign that stuff very much–it just wasn’t considered very interesting or complex enough. I thought, ‘Why? Why can’t it be more serious, more sophisticated, more literary?’ I wanted to explore that, and push at what seemed like a line in sand,” Caldwell said.

Writing and coming up with material for 14 short stories is an intimidating task. Caldwell spoke about the challenges, but he mentioned that with the smallest of changes, even a widely used storyline can feel new.

“It often feels like all the books that can be written, have already been written … In this process, I’ve come to feel that with small tweaks and rearranging of familiar tropes, it’s easy to make something feel fresh,” Caldwell said. “It’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as it seemed to me before. Especially in genre-writing, stories are often very formulaic. They follow the same steps, they have the same images and same themes that come up again and again. If you get away from those even a little bit, it opens up space that feels a little more original, and a little more surprising and interesting.”