Devil's Tale


I had all these romanticized ideas when I walked across campus for the first time, as if I were on a movie set.

By Brittany Woodruff


At first glance, this professor’s office looks like any normal office. It has shelves filled with books, a computer, desk, and a mini-fridge/microwave for those late nights spent grading papers. The walls are freshly painted in a tan tint, and a few personal mementos lie scattered about the room. The smell of paint lingers in the air. No artwork is on the walls yet. This office is a work in progress, much like the life of its occupant, Dr. Mary-Lou Galician, respected Arizona State University professor, accomplished researcher, and loving wife. There is still so much work to be done on the office and in her life, but when all the pieces come together, the office and her life will be one of a kind.

Photo by Danielle Peterson Dr. Mary-Lou Galician poses in front of the infamous shelves full of books in her office.

The books
On the shelves of Galician’s office are stacks of books and videotapes—constant reminders of the research and other commitments that keep her perpetually busy. “I just moved into this office at the beginning of the school year [2003-2004], so I only had time to through things on the shelves before I left for my 2003-2004 research sabbatical. I haven’t had the time to put it together,” Galician said.

Galician, or “The Original Dr. FUN” (FUN is her acronym for “Fire Up Now!”—the mantra of FUN-dynmaics!—The FUN-damentals of DYNAMIC Living, the musical motivation she created and for which she holds a federal trademark), has been a professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication since 1983. Currently, she is the head of the school’s new Media Analysis & Criticism concentration. She has worked in print journalism and television, including as producer and on-air host of her own nighttime TV interview show, and in advertising, marketing, and public relations.

She is married to Dr. David Natharius, professor emeritus of human communication and humanities at California State University, Fresno, and currently an adjunct professor in the Cronkite School who teaches Visual Communication (MCO 450). The two also enjoy presenting lectures and programs together around the country and around the world.

Galician came to ASU because, although she herself was successful in the corporate world, she was becoming “disenchanted” with it, having seen too much creativity stifled and too many good people pushed around by the emphasis on “the bottom line.” She also wanted to help improve her mother’s health by moving to a warmer climate.

“It was a new beginning for me,” Galician said. “I liked the faculty and staff at the university. I was energized by the students. And although it was a big campus, it felt small. I had all these romanticized ideas when I walked across campus for the first time, as if I were on a movie set.”

Editor’s note

This interview was conducted last year [2004], when Dr. Galician had only recently moved into her new office (with windows!) after 20 years in her former window-less office, so she had not yet had time to unpack boxes and decorate. Since then, she has found time to unpack the boxes and decorate the walls. The interview has been updated below where applicable.

The research

However, Galician, a media literacy advocate, now focuses her research and teaching on helping people “dis-illusion” romantic media-induced fantasies. “Dis-illusion” is her term for media analysis and criticism, and her Seven-Step Dis-illusioning Directions are detailed in the textbook she wrote, Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media: Analysis and Criticism of Unrealistic Portrayals and Their Influence (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates). She created and teaches the popular ASU course Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media (MCO 473); and universities around the nation have adopted her book and curriculum for similar courses.

In her book and in her programs and classes, Galician explains that she herself underwent a major change about a dozen years ago when a former dating partner told her, “Mary-Lou, your problem is that you’re looking for a knight in shining armor, but no man in his right mind would ever think of YOU as a damsel in distress.”

Galician, who says she was both “flattered and furious at the same time,” realized his words had some truth. She decided right there and then to devote her research and teaching to deconstructing the myths and stereotypes portrayed by the media, which she summarized in the 12 items of her Dr. FUN’s Mass Media Love Quizİ (available on her Web sites, and The 12 quiz items include “There’s such a thing as love at first sight” and “Bickering and fighting a lot mean that a man and woman really love each other passionately.”

From her research, she also evolved her 12 Dr. Galician’s Prescriptionsİ—“antidotes” to the myths and stereotypes. Her “Prescriptions,” such as “Communicate courageously” and “Cultivate your own completeness,” offer men and women more realistic and healthy relational strategies that counteract the unhealthy messages found in the most mass media—from books and magazines to movies, TV, and popular songs. Dr. FUN emphasizes that people can still enjoy the media as long as they don’t adopt unhealthy media models for their own real lives.

As a media literacy service, Galician created her Stupid Cupid & Realistic Romance™ Awards for media portrayals of sex, love, and romance. The annual awards, for which the public submits nominations via Galician’s website and a panel of judges makes the final determinations, are announced each year on Valentine’s Day. A Stupid Cupid Award is made for each of the 12 quiz items, and a Realistic Romance™ Award is made for each of the 12 Prescriptions. Two overall awards are also presented: the Stupidest Cupid Award (given in 2004 to the movie Just Married) and the Realistic Romance™ Grand Prize (given in 2004 to the television sitcom I’m With Her.) A full listing of current and past recipients, along with the citations, is also on Galician’s websites.

Her books
For Galician’s new book on this subject, Critical Thinking About Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media: Media Literacy Applications (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), scholars around the nation contributed original chapters that address her Mass Media Love Quiz and her Prescriptions. Currently, Galician is completing a book for the general public, Dr. Galician’s Prescriptionsİ for Getting Real About Romance: How Mass Media Myths About Love Can Hurt You.

Another of her books, Handbook of Product Placement in the Mass Media: New Marketing Strategies in Theory, Research, Trends, and Ethics (Haworth), was also translated into Russian and published recently in Moscow by Et Cetera Publishing. She was the guest editor of a special double-issue of the scholarly interdisciplinary journal American Behavioral Scientist (September/October 2004), which she devoted to her passion: media literacy.

Between publishing deadlines and class commitments, she and her husband find time for resting and regrouping (and romance!) on cruises to such venues as Scandinavia and the Greek Islands, and they regularly visit London and Paris, where they’ve been leaders of cultural and performing arts programs. Although many cities around the world hold a special place in her heart, Galician said her favorite is Paris. “The first time I went there, I felt as if I were coming home,” she said.

Mary-Lou, your problem is that you’re looking for a knight in shining armor, but no man in his right mind would ever think of YOU as a damsel in distress.

The windows
Galician is very happy to finally have windows in her new office. “My old office didn’t have windows, and sometimes I’d be working late at night and not even realize what the weather was like or how dark it had gotten,” she said.

Galician opens her life and soul to new challenges and experiences as easily as you open a window. Her effervescent personality is more reminiscent of a cartoon character than a professor. Her animated eyes, shock of blonde hair, and dramatic hand gestures make you expect that at any moment, she may get up and start bouncing around the room.

“Before I met my husband, a man I was dating, a very well-educated and deep-thinking man, told me, ’I want to know what’s under all the bubbles,’”Galician said. “I didn’t know what to say, but a longtime friend of mine answered immediately, ’More bubbles!’”

It is nearly impossible to walk away from a conversation with Galician without a smile on your face because her smile and her zest for life are so contagious.

“When I was a baby, my uncle used to tell my mother, ’You’ve gotta smack that kid to see if she’ll cry,’ because I was always so happy. Even my babysitter called me Giggles,” Galician said. “My life has been far from perfect, and I’ve had my share of less-than-dancing-on-the-stage moments, but who I am in public is the same person I am in private. If you woke me up in the middle of the night by shining a light in my face, I’d probably get up and start singing a show tune and doing a tap dance.”

She never passes up the chance for a hug. Her students recognize her by her hats, a collection she started when she was interviewing celebrities in New York for a professional newspaper column she wrote when she was still in junior high school. “When I used to interview celebrities in New York, I tried to dress to look older, and I thought the hats made me look older. I was even asked to model hats, which I got to keep after the photo sessions. Now I like them because it means I don’t have to worry about fixing my hair,” Galician said.

These days, she walks with a cane because her hip joint has been deteriorating for a number of years. “It’s OK for about the first 20 steps, but then after that it gets very painful,” she said. Nevertheless, Galician still wants to continue to see the world, especially Holland. “My mother had a Dutch kitchen when I was growing up, with little figurines of Dutch children in traditional dress on the refrigerator. I’ve always wanted to see the tulips in bloom and the windmills,” Galician said. “I’m 58, and I told my husband that for my 60th birthday I’ve got to finally go to Holland. That’s going to be a priceless present.”

Galician said she believes if you genuinely care about your partner and you share common values, you can do anything together and still be happy. She said, “I’d definitely rather be sitting in a Jack in the Box with an ”appropriate“ person than be in Paris with the wrong person.” She doesn’t like to say the “right” person, as that implies there’s only one perfect mate.

Galician said an “appropriate” partner is “someone who knows you behind your eyes. Someone with whom you can laugh and cry. Someone who respects you and supports you. Someone with whom you can 'communicate courageously.’”

“You don’t have to have the exact same interests, but you should share values and the things you’re passionate about—what you’d would fight for,” she added. “And you can’t expect that a mate will ’complete you.’ Two incomplete people don’t make a whole healthy couple.”

To further illustrate her belief that there’s not just one “right” soulmate for each person, she describes one of her favorite (British) movies, Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which a young woman’s beloved fiance dies, only to come back and move in with her, along with hundreds of his ghost friends.

“Only she can see them,” she said. “At first she’s so happy to have her departed love back. But eventually, he and his friends become annoying because their needs are now so different from hers. Finally, she begins dating a new man who is alive. He’s very different from her dead fiance but he’s also very nice and, as I like to say, ’appropriate.’”

Galician stopped for a moment, as tears formed in her eyes. “Just talking about it makes me cry,” she explained before continuing.

“At the end, the new boyfriend picks her up at her house, and for the first time she’s genuinely happy to see him and be with him,” she said. “They leave for their date, and you see her dead fiance and all his ghost friends standing outside her house, watching the couple go. You think they’re going to be upset, but they all just start smiling and applauding. And then they disappear. Because her dead fiance truly loved her, he wanted her to move on with her life. It’s so moving.

”It’s like my ’Prescription’ to ’Consider Countless Candidates’. It’s really hard to do good movies like that. They’re so rare.“

Galician also enjoys watching the Comedy Central cartoon series “South Park,” which she believes offers “cogent critiques of the popular culture,” but she dislikes TV shows where people get plastic surgeries she feels are unnecessary.

“Just because you fix your nose and have some fat sucked out doesn’t mean you’re going to be a better person,” she said. “Too many of these extreme surgeries are self-hate crimes, and it’s sad that these people have so little self esteem. Throughout history, the people considered most beautiful had unique features. It’s OK to have plastic surgery for medical purposes or for serious abnormalities, but it’s ridiculous to carve yourself up just to look like someone else. It’s fine to try to look your best, but people should concentrate more on their insides than just the superficial package. That’s one of my Prescriptions.”

Galician said an “appropriate” partner is “someone who knows you behind your eyes. Someone with whom you can laugh and cry. Someone who respects you and supports you. Someone with whom you can 'communicate courageously.’”

The champagne glass and sunset photo
Taped on one wall of Galician’s office is an 8x10 glossy photograph that her husband took on one of their joint lecture tours. It’s a close-up of a champagne glass, with an orange-red sunset over the ocean in the background.

“My husband is a photographer, so he likes to do a lot of artsy photos,” Galician said with a giggle. “That was taken on the balcony of our stateroom on a cruise ship where we were invited as mass media lecturers.”

Ironically, Galician didn’t find her Prince Charming until she stopped looking for him, and it took more than half of her life to finally meet him.

The romance between Galician and Natharius began in 1993 at a national gender and communication conference in Phoenix, when he was still living and teaching in Fresno. Natharius, a 69-year-old man with gray hair and spectacles, said he first noticed Galician at one of the programs at the conference. “This attractive blonde made a comment at the end of the presentation that was just so intelligent and so right to the point, so I went up to her after the program was over and told her I really liked her comment,” he said. “We sat together at the convention dinner that night, and after the dinner we stood in the parking lot until 1 a.m. talking.”

The pair met again two years later in Minneapolis at the same conference and “immediately connected.” Natharius said they felt a strong energy between them and often “felt so focused on each other that we were oblivious to other things around us.” For the next two years, they had a long distance relationship, visiting each other periodically, from October 1995 until they married in January 1998, when Natharius retired from his professorship so he could move to Phoenix to be with his new wife.

Their marriage ceremony was held in the British Airways First Class Lounge at Sky Harbor International Airport (and covered by KPNX-TV/NBC and the East Valley Tribune), just before they boarded a flight to London for a honeymoon that included 30 people who were in the cultural and performing arts travel study program that the newlyweds were leading there and in Paris. Galician calls their wedding “realistically romantic and romantically realistic.”

Natharius said he and his wife try to have the kind of marriage they talk about in their books, and they try to practice what they preach by communicating with each other to keep their relationship healthy.

“You have to work at it, but I’d say we know each other very well,” Natharius said. “She recognizes my moods and knows they’re just moods and they’ll pass. Sometimes we’ll both just find something funny and laugh forever about it. She’s so joyous, and she finds humor in so many things that I can’t help but find them funny too.”

For the most part, they have been fortunate not to experience very many sad or tragic events together. “Early in our relationship, her best friend died of cancer at 49, and that was very rough on her. She also lost a dear aunt who was in a nursing home in Florida, but her aunt had had a long life,” Natharius said. “She lost her mother in 1989, before we met. But she did something positive to keep her mother’s memory alive and to help others. She established and personally funds the Evelyn-Nancy Galician Memorial Book Scholarship for a Cronkite School student every year in her mother’s name because her mother was a brilliant woman who loved to read.”

Although Natharius was married once before, he said one of the reasons this relationship works so well is that neither of them has children, siblings, close relatives living nearby, or living parents. “We had no emotional baggage coming into the relationship, so it made it very easy to be together,” he said. “In fact, we’re together most of the time now, except when we’re both teaching classes. We travel together, and our favorite vacations are cruises and when we travel as enrichment lecturers.”

Galician said, “When I was younger, I had a lot of relationships that were really hard work, like scrubbing floors,” but her relationship with Natharius is “like working to be a good tennis player,” because it is something she wants to do and enjoys. Like playing tennis, their relationship takes effort, motivation, and some skill in communication.

Photo by Danielle Peterson Galician shows off the Alice in Wonderland she has since drawn on her office wall.

The paint

Galician plans to draw scenes from Alice in Wonderland on the freshly painted walls of her new office. She explained, “Alice is my archetypal heroine because—unlike most media ’heroines’ who rely on a prince or a knight to rescue them—Alice rescues herself. When the Queen says, ’Off with her head,’ Alice decides to leave Wonderland ’and all its foolish ways.’ She reaches inside herself for courage that comes from facing a situation realistically. As Lewis Carroll writes, ’And besides, she had grown again to her full size’—a marvelous metaphor. ’I’m not afraid of you,’ she says. ’You’re nothing but a pack of cards.’” In the same way, Galician wants the men and women to rescue themselves from the unhealthy myths, stereotypes, and illusions portrayed by the media.

Another of Galician’s favorite scenes (and metaphors) from Alice in Wonderland is when Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which way to go, to which the Cat replies that it depends on where you want to get to.

The library of the Chandler home of Galician and Natharius contains Galician’s eclectic Alice in Wonderland collection, including several versions of the movie and copies of the book in various languages. Friends and family add to her Alice memorabilia each year on her birthday and other special occasions.

“A major section of the bookshelves in our library at home are filled with Alice memorabilia,” Natharius said. “Alice stuff is really hard to come by because she’s not one of the more traditional Disney heroines.”

Photo by Danielle Peterson The caption that Dr. Galician wrote next to this scene from Alice in Wonderland is not from Lewis Carroll but is instead a favorite related saying from a 19th-century German, Ludwig Borne: “Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth.”

Their modern, two-story home has a large media room upstairs, complete with a 70-inch television, three Tivo recorders, and a video editing station. The husband and wife eat meals at the kitchen table, in their dining room on whose ceiling Galician had an artist paint a fresco of clouds, on their poolside patio, and sometimes on tray tables while watching TV.

“I’m more of the chef,” Natharius said. “I usually make large salads or I barbecue entrees with steamed vegetables, but we eat out a lot, too. Sometimes we prepare our meals separately because of our different time schedules and rhythms.”

Their living room gallery has many original paintings and other artifacts the couple has collected on their travels, as well as a grand piano with many photographs. Galician is an accomplished pianist but rarely has time to play anymore. Their bedroom set, which Natharius bought before he met Galician, has Oriental patterns.

“Mary-Lou knew when she saw that bedroom set that I was the one for her because she had seen the exact same set in an ad and cut it out because she wanted to buy it,” Natharius said. “We knew then that we had lots in common. We framed the ad and it’s hanging on the wall in the bedroom.”

Because they have no children, Galician’s cat is “their baby.” The cat was given to her by children at Galician’s church who found the abandoned animal on the doorstep there. “Because she was a gift from my church, I named her Sainte Catherine, so I could call her Sainte ’Cat,’” Dr. FUN explained.

The papers
Stacks of papers cover Galician’s desk at the Cronkite School, a sign that this is the office of a professor who loves teaching and helping her students.

Jill Van Sickle, a Barrett Honors College senior majoring in journalism with an emphasis in public relations, chose Galician as her undergraduate thesis director because she wanted to write about product placement, one of the areas of Galician’s expertise and publication.

“I love how enthusiastic Dr. Galician is when she teaches,” Van Sickle said. “Anyone can tell that she loves what she does. When you see that kind of radiance every day, it makes you equally excited and makes you want to do the best you can. She is also extremely intelligent and organized, especially considering how many projects she is working on at one time.”

Van Sickle said Galician supported her academic career and helped her gain a more realistic view of the mass media. “Dr. Galician has helped me tremendously by giving me the opportunity to present a research paper with her at the International Academy of Business Disciplines Conference, she helped me submit my thesis as a Thesis of Distinction, and she nominated me for Outstanding Cronkite Graduate,” Van Sickle said. “These things have made me feel like my work matters, and they have definitely boosted the credentials on my resume.”

Dr. Sharon Bramlett-Solomon, a close friend and colleague of Galician’s, said, “The Original Dr. FUN” loves teaching and shows concern for her students. She’s a “bright, witty woman who always knows where she’s going and how to get there.” Bramlett-Solomon said the first time she met her, Galician looked like a platinum blonde Barbie doll, complete with her hair in a flip and a thick black headband.

According to Bramlett-Solomon, Galician’s research calls attention to the fact that media images are not “the” reality. “When I was little, I thought my first kiss was going to be just the way it was in the movies,” Bramlett-Solomon said. “Movies never show slobber, they never show ’Oh, I don’t ever want to kiss this guy again with that breath.’ I didn’t know for the longest time that people used their tongues when they kissed because all you see in the movies is lips locking, but I think Dr. Galician’s work helps zoom us into reality.”

If she could no longer teach, Galician said she would “wither up and die” because “the most important mission is educating and uplifting people. Loving and learning is what life and teaching are all about. In fact, I think that’s my new motto, ’loving and learning.’”

The complete office, the complete Galician

Galician has a very full life, full of scattered mementos, but putting those pieces together makes up the whole picture of a woman who will never stop learning and never stop teaching. As she herself said, “Life is a process. Attitudes toward romantic portrayals in the media are beginning to change, but I heard someone say that if evolution happened too quickly, we’d all be mutants. More people are becoming media literate, but sometimes change is slower than we’d like.”

Galician’s life is a work in progress, and with each step she takes, she empowers herself while changing the world around her. Her work and her love of life will linger after she retires—the mark of a truly accomplished professor.


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