Joseph Coppola

I specialize in Cinema & Media Studies with certificates in Media Policy at the Annenberg School of Communication and Legal Studies at UPenn Carey Law School. My research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of American film and media studies, Black and ethnic studies, and how legal policy on data and technology (re)draws lines of civic inclusion. My article on the imbrication of Black bodies and sound technology was recently published in Screen (Oxford University Press, Autumn 2021) and a second article on critical race intellectual property is being revised for American Quarterly (John Hopkins Press), the official journal of the American Studies Association.

My dissertation, Not Your Average Joe: Classical Hollywood’s Data Wars, looks back to the first uses of modern information-gathering techniques into the arena of media production to assess contemporary critical debates about algorithmic culture in light of a longer history of interdisciplinary negotiation. This study offers a historical and technical genealogy of platforms such as Netflix which use massive amounts of data to produce and market content, collecting “taste signals” like searches, fast-forwarding and binge-watching to anticipate audience behavior. My project proceeds chronologically and explores the various methods and approaches used to measure audiences from applied sociology and psychology in the 1920s, to an eclectic mix of audience interviews, community studies, and questionaries in the 1930s, to the statistical sampling methods of the 1940s-1950s still used today. One of the dissertation’s main claims is that by interrogating the purported “objectivity” of statistics, Black press writers historically prefigure interventions by contemporary media scholars who analyze how data collection goes beyond merely gathering information, but assigns and reassigns gender, race, sexuality, and citizen status. Furthermore, by thinking through the impact of media effects research on Hollywood mores, I consider how we might view “data collection” as a potential aesthetic category—as generators of new narrative forms and aesthetic paradigms—and not only an ideological or methodological practice. This media genealogy of data mining bridges conversations in film history and quantitative media studies by historicizing key shifts on what constitutes “data” when it comes to understanding motion pictures—all the while negotiating the sharp protests by audiences on the grounds that “scientific” measures cannot fully explain and reproduce a phenomenon as complex as the cinematic experience.

When not writing or teaching, you can find me walking my Shetland Sheepdog, Pongo, in the city.