I guess you can now say I'm a Pop Culture conference veteran. Last year I attended my first Pop Culture conference in New Mexico, and this year I attended the national conference in Seattle, Washington. Just like last time I met some amazing people, saw some good (and not so good) presentations, saw the sites and just overall had a good time. Being on the west coast for the first time in my life was definitely a new experience for a country boy like me, but I took it in stride and actually learned quite a bit. Not the least of which being that Pop Culture conferences are awesome and everyone should attend one.
Pop culture conferences are just fun man. I mean where else can you sit down and talk about racial politics in Harry Potter, queer representation and performance in Horror movies, or hear scholarly research on Bridezillas and #MasculinitySoFragile? No where that's where. These conferences give students and instructors the ability to step out of their high towers in academia and talk about what the people are talking about. It's not that hard to write a scholarly article on misogynoir and how its permeation disenfranchises an entire community of women, but it's a little harder to make that same claim in a way that (most) everyone understands because it uses a show (most) everyone watches as a framework. That presentation in particular, given by Dana Calhoun, took the popular shows Empire, How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal and talked about how the leading women in those shows (Cookie Lyon, Annalise Keating and Olivia Pope, respectively) simultaneously play into and reject Black women stereotypes of the Matriarch, the Angry Black Woman, the Mammy and the Jezebel. This is a scholarship ripe for discussion in academia today, and a pop culture conference took that same scholarship and applied it to a concept that most people could see and understand. This is important.
Academics have long been criticized for sitting in their ivory towers and not interacting with the people who they're supposed to be helping. It is common, at least among the academics I know, to question if our work is actually going to do some good in the world. I believe that these popular culture conferences are the first step towards answering that question with a big ol' YES. By using popular culture, the things that everyone is watching, reading and listening to, we can introduce some of the same concepts and ideas that we academics are talking about in our overpriced degree programs to the people they can actually help. At this conference a lot of the panels I attended (plus my own) were about my research. You know, children's issues and fantasy and sci-fi. We used so many texts to talk about how these types of books address racism (like the many discussions about J.K. Rowling's controversial story), misogynoir (one of my fellow panelists, Rebekah Bruce, talked about the offensive portrayals of Black female athletes), homophobia (did you know that the Percy Jackson books had a gay character who is the ONLY demigod not to find love?), and of course survival skills and tolerance. It is important that we have people using what most people are familiar with to teach life lessons, because let's be honest, they're not gonna read our academic journals but they just might read a Zane book. We have to encourage academics to make their work more accessible not just for the forgotten and ignored public but for the forgotten and ignored academics as well.
There is another pop culture conference, the Southern region one, that I plan on going to as well. This time I plan on getting every academic I know (because most of them are in the south) to come because I think these conferences are really good for people whose interests are often considered too low level. This is sadly especially true for most Black academics, as when our research isn't the tried and true conventions of African-American literature or a science we seem to have no place. I think these pop culture conferences, at least the ones I've been to, are a little bit more inviting to varied research interests and varied scholars. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they're flawless by any means. Just last week at the national conference I heard a presentation that was supposed to be about the feminism and Black female voice in Scandal and Being Mary Jane that actually ended up being white feminism in disguise. Because Olivia has a lot of taboo sex and gets dragged through the mud she is not a feminist, nor is Shonda and we should all just stop watching the show. Ya'll this woman literally said that, AND she thought that she was saying something new by pointing out that Scandal gets more play because Liv is surrounded by white people. Ya'll know I said that about a year ago just on here; this should be common knowledge. But either way, this woman's blatant disregard of intersectionality prove that everything isn't perfect in pop culture land either, but these conferences still may be a great place for academics with varying interests to show off what they love to talk about, be it a show, art form, movie, identity or a book.
I feel like pop culture studies are going to be what (if anything) saves academia. For too long has the academy shut out people who don't look, act, or talk about what they want them to. This cannot stand for much longer. Studying the workings of the culture that most of society consumes is going to be one of the only ways that it can continue to be relevant. If not, the culture and structure of academia will come tumbling down and I just hope that I (or any of you) are not inside when that Ivory Tower falls.
Do you think it's feasible for academia to start including pop culture all around? If you could study some pop culture academically what would it be? Be sure to leave your questions, comments, and concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!