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Spring 2019 Calendar of Events

Pop Cultures: A Symposium

We love what we love. We can’t help it—guilty pleasures, stylish schlock, the tunes we can’t get out of our head, the TV shows we binge. Popular culture is driven as much by a taste for the new and surprising as by the need for the familiar and comforting. A pop sensation is often fleeting—a phenomenon today, a stale joke tomorrow, but nonetheless evolving out of a specific time, place, and need. When a phenomenon endures, however, its status shifts from fad to cultural moment, from commercial success to critical legitimacy, from cult favorite to beloved classic. In a world that seems transformed by its digital capacity and viral potential, how do we distinguish between the meme of the moment and a trend with shelf life? And does the difference matter in the first place?

A serious consideration of what makes popular culture suggests the fluidity between high and low art, the substantive and the frivolous. Popular culture can provide a critical reflection of society, producing insight and dialogue. It can also create new worlds, inviting us to imagine radical alternatives and to speculate “what if?” Whether you find pop culture glitzy and glamorous, retro and campy, catchy, annoying, or simply bewildering, we hope you will join the conversation in Spring 2019.

Fandom as Consciousness-Raising and Critique
Thursday, February 7 at 7pm
Razzo Hall, Traina Center for the Arts


Is popular culture simply what people make of the resources offered by mass culture? Such an idea suggests that the heart of our culture involves the art of “making do,” the politics of appropriation, and the poetics of remixing. Ultimately, this approach constructs media fandom as an exemplary form of cultural expression as fans—like other subcultures—have proven to be highly effective at challenging dominant paradigms through their crafty use of borrowed materials.


In this virtual, interactive conversation on fandom, Clark University’s Roxanne Samer (Screen Studies) will host Henry Jenkins, the Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Art and Education at the University of Southern California. Together they will explore how fandom operates as an “imagining” community, where important debates about gender, sexuality, and race are staged through active engagement with mass media. They will consider how fandom offers a model for political resistance and civic imagination in the era of Trump.


Audience members will have an opportunity to participate in a Q&A session with Jenkins and Samer immediately following the discussion.


Co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities; Media, Culture, and the Arts; and Screen Studies at Clark University

Bingeworthy: A Community Conversation - POSTPONED!
Due to inclement weather, this event has been postponed to Tuesday, March 19 at 7pm
Higgins Lounge, 2nd Floor, Dana Commons

Why do we call some pleasures “guilty?” Is there something out of proportion between popular genres of entertainment and the profound satisfaction they give us? We immerse ourselves so deeply in imaginary worlds, on the one hand pursuing thoroughly subjective passions and on the other finding community with equally devoted fans. But is the draw of a pop phenomenon merely escapism, or is it an alternative way of grappling with larger issues, even changing the possibilities of the everyday? What can we learn about ourselves and the world in which we live when we stop to think about what and how we binge?


Join two of Clark’s greatest and most insightful fangeeks, Betsy Huang (English; All Things Sci Fi) and Jennifer Plante (Writing Center; Batman and So Much More), as they lead this community conversation down rabbit holes of popular entertainment and invite us to think about the guilty pleasures we hold sacred, and why.


Sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities at Clark University

Magic Lanterns: Photography by Brian Ulrich
Exhibit Opening and Reception
Wednesday, February 20 at 4:30pm
Higgins Lounge, 2nd Floor, Dana Commons

Photography holds a particular power to reveal that which many in our culture are blind to, especially when viewed from within the culture of privilege. For the past five years, Brian Ulrich (Rhode Island School of Design) has been making photographs that explore growing economic disparity and the resulting social, economic, and psychological effects that result when luxury and wealth become preeminent definitions of success. Magic Lanterns draws from that larger project, The Centurion, and highlights images of display windows and stores. Ulrich’s work illuminates the urgent need to unpack myths that drive the widening economic gap and that create the allure of desire through the seduction of commerce.


Ulrich’s photographs portraying contemporary consumer culture are held by major museums and private collections across the country. He is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (2009). A publication of his Centurion project is forthcoming this year and joins a growing list of his monographs and exhibition catalogs.


Magic Lanterns will be on display in the Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons through April 26. Please contact the Higgins School for hours and availability.


Co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities and the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Clark University


The Unfinished Work of Early Modern Blackface
A lecture by Miles Grier

Thursday, March 14 at 4:30pm
Higgins Lounge, 2nd Floor, Dana Commons


In 2018, Megyn Kelly was fired by NBC after she asserted that blackface had been “OK” during the innocent days of her childhood. In 2015, the title role of Verdi’s Otello was played at the Met without black paint for the first time. The ongoing debate about the ethics of impersonating black people has been framed in terms of offense and appropriation. But are there aspects of blackface that are submerged and even protected by this framing?


Miles Grier (CUNY Queens College) will draw on a catalogue of 16th- and 17th-century stage moors to argue that early modern blackface did its most important work not by creating negative images of Africans. Rather, by treating blackness as an ink, a legible and transferable mark. What mattered was not the specific ethnic group designated by “moor”—or even whether such characters were noble or evil—but whether black characters were afforded credibility or treated as reading material for an other. The work of blackface, then, was to produce a white interpretive community authorized to assess black character in its textual and embodied forms, an aspect of racial hierarchy that is both older and more fundamental than mockery, enabling injustices that far surpass the stakes of cultural appropriation.


This event continues the Roots of Everything, a lecture series sponsored by Early Modernists Unite (EMU)—a faculty collaborative bringing together scholars of medieval and early modern Europe and America—in conjunction with the Higgins School of Humanities. The series highlights various aspects of modern existence originating in the early modern world by connecting past and present knowledge.


Co-sponsored by Early Modernists Unite; the Higgins School of Humanities; the Center for Gender, Race, and Area Studies; the Department of English; the Department of History, and the Theater Arts program at Clark University

McMansion Hell
A lecture by Kate Wagner
Tuesday, April 2 at 7pm
Higgins Lounge, 2nd Floor, Dana Commons

Since its launch in July 2016, Kate Wagner’s viral blog McMansion Hell has become an internet sensation, featured in a wide range of publications, including the Huffington Post, Slate, Washington Post, and Paper Magazine. The site uses cutting humor and actual real estate listings to roast “the world’s ugliest houses” from top to bottom, all while teaching subscribers about principles of architecture and design. But what exactly is a McMansion? Is it a specific type of architecture or a cultural idea? How did these oversized and poorly crafted dwellings evolve? Why do they remain so popular, and what are the aesthetic, economic, social, and environmental implications of that popularity?


Outside of McMansion Hell, Wagner (MA Audio Science, Johns Hopkins University) specializes in architectural acoustics and its intersections with urbanism and Late Modern architecture. She has written for Curbed, Architectural Digest, The Atlantic, The Baffler, and more. Join us as Wagner examines the architectural and pop cultural roots of this pervasive feature in the American suburban landscape.


Co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities; the Art History program; and Urban Development and Social Change at Clark University

Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music
A book reading and audio odyssey with John Corbett

Wednesday, April 10 at 4:30pm
Higgins Lounge, 2nd Floor, Dana Commons

Drug delirium, groovy fashion, religious cults, mega corporations, glitzy glam, hard rock, global unrest—from our 2018 perspective, the seventies are often remembered as a bizarre blur of bohemianism and disco. John Corbett will transport us back in time to this thrillingly tumultuous era through a playful exploration of its music. Weaving musical excerpts with readings from his latest book, Pick Up the Pieces, Corbett will take us through a curated playlist of the varied musical scene of the 1970s (rock, disco, pop, soul, jazz, folk, and funk), creating a panoramic view of the era through cultural observation, music criticism, and personal insight.


Corbett is a writer, curator, and producer based in Chicago and the co-owner of the art gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey. Called “a master DJ of the page,” he has written other books including Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein (1994); Microgroove: Forays into Other Music (2015); and Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium (2017). Corbett’s work as a music producer includes his label, the Unheard Music Series (1999-2006) and Corbett vs. Dempsey, an ongoing label issuing CDs of new and historical jazz, experimental music and improvised music. He also guest directs and co-produces concert series, musical events, and festivals in the US and abroad and has curated museum exhibitions throughout the country.


Co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities, the Department of English, and the Music program at Clark University