Holi festival 2013. Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08.

Sienkiewicz ’03 edits book on SNL and American TV

[Matt Sienkiewicz ’03]Matt Sienkiewicz '03 has co-edited the newly-released Saturday Night live and American TV, a book of essays on SNL's cultural significance. In the following interview with Wesconnect, Matt discusses using SNL as a single lens to study the transformations of the past forty years, his varying interests and upcoming films, and how time has romanticized the sweaty WestCo cafe for him:

Wesconnect: You've co-edited and compiled academic essays on SNL's cultural impact. How was this idea conceived?

Matt Sienkiewicz: Our first interest came about simply when we realized there was not a scholarly book available about SNL. This seemed like a gap worth filling. The project really came together, however, when we started thinking about just how useful SNL is in studying the history of American TV and culture. Here's this single institution that embodies television's ability to adapt to the times, keeping a central place in the American imagination despite enormous social, economic, political and technological changes. SNL allows us to study the transformations that have taken place over the last forty years through a single lens.

WC: Your projects show remarkable variety—in interest and in medium. How does this book tie in with your teaching, research and filmmaking?

Matt: I do work to keep my research, writing and filmmaking varied, which is somewhat unusual in an era where hyper specialization is increasing fetishized. This project in some ways weaves into my other work nicely. For example, I've written multiple articles on the relationship between satire and American identity politics, which is a topic I take up in my essay in the SNL book. My main research focus is on the role media plays in America's relationship with the Middle East, which may seem a long ways off from SNL. However in the book I write about SNL's reaction to 9/11 and so I think there are good connections to be made. I also teach courses in television history and theory, so this book is a nice resource. Sometimes, however, I like to simply take on a new topic that intrigues me and, maybe more than anything, that's what brought me to this project.

WC: You have a film coming out this fall—any word on that? What's it about?

Matt: We're in the final stages of editing and it's coming along nicely. It's called the The Ragged Edge and it's another example of a departure from my main areas of study. It's about the American motor industry and small company in Wisconsin that's using motorcycle racing as a means of proving they can compete with industry giants like Honda and BMW. We're hoping to have it at festivals late this year or early next year.

WC: Do you have any future projects lined up?

Matt: My main project is a book I'm calling, for now at least, The Other Air Force and it's about American programs to establish local media outlets in the Middle East since 9/11. It's based on fieldwork in the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan, places where I observed radio and TV production and conducted a number of interviews over the past few years.

WC: Have you ever collaborated with fellow Wesleyan alumni?

Matt: All of my films have been made with Joe Sousa '03 and I've done a number of creative projects with Sascha Stanton-Craven '04. The Ragged Edge will be the third movie for Joe and me and they've all involved interesting bits of travel, crazy characters and us embarrassing ourselves across the world. It's been great.

WC: What was your favorite thing about Wes?

Matt: Hard to pick. I think the answer the admissions office would want to see would be that Wes really did help me craft a diverse and interdisciplinary approach to intellectual pursuit. I get my willingness to make unusual connections and take on unfamiliar challenges in large part because of my college education. But probably what I miss most is the death trap that was (is?) the Westco cafe. I was part of the original New Teen Force starting in the fall of 1999 and that's where all of our shows were. Not sure if they still are. I have a number of memories of that damp, sweaty basement that time has romanticized in pleasant ways

Read the book review here…

Image: from Matt Sienkiewicz

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