Pop Culture Lens Podcast Episode 4: Bewitched (1964-1972)

Our fourth episode for the Pop Culture Lens podcast is up, in which we are joined by friend of the podcast Megan Stemm-Wade to discuss the importance of the American TV sitcom Bewitched (1964-1972).

In this episode, we cover many aspects of how the series was referencing the beginnings of second wave feminism while also subtly subverting the still prevalent notions of femininity in American society and culture. Moreso, in viewing the series now, it seems thoroughly modern, and even more progressive than currently on-the-air sitcoms for how it empowers Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), Endora (Agnes Moorehead), and Tabitha (Erin Murphy).

We also discuss the sitcom’s relation to the 1980s concept of the “superwoman,” as well as how the 1990s rise of “grrl power” and the “magic girl” both reflect the groundwork of Bewitched while also, like the sitcom, critiquing the notion of the superwoman who is so empowered that she can do all things perfectly.

There was a lot going on in this seemingly frivolous sitcom about an advertising man marrying a witch and trying to have a normal suburban life — and that is the true magic of the series.

Metaphors for making sense of virtual worlds

The following paper comes from a presentation given at ECREA in 2010 and at NCA in 2011 (the version of which can be found here on the blog). I submitted this paper to a journal, but never did anything with it after it was rejected. I still think there are interesting ideas in the paper, so I wanted to share it here.

Metaphors for making sense of virtual worlds:

Utilization of comparison processes to interpret and communicate novel experiences

      1.1. Introduction

How do we make sense of the world around us? When faced with a situation that is new to us, what do we do to understand what is happening and what is required of us? Such questions have been with us for thousands of years, whether faced by individuals within such situations, or addressed by organized scientific, philosophic, cultural or other fields of thought. Coming from a trajectory of reception studies and audience studies, these situations can be any time a person chooses a new book to read, watches a new motion picture, starts a new video game, or enters a virtual world for the first time. In engaging in these activities, people bring into the situation any number or type of cognitive and emotive behaviours to help them through it. From expectations based on knowledge of the media product’s genre to information gleaned from word-of-mouth critiques, our experiences can help us make sense of the content and the technology with which we engage.

This article considers how people utilized their personal experiences to make sense of the first time they stepped into two specific virtual worlds. In an experiment for the Danish Virtual Worlds Research Project, relative novices engaged with four types of media products, including a game world, City of Heroes, and a social world, Second Life (Reinhard, 2010). The participants were interviewed about their experiences by utilizing Dervin’s Sense-Making Methodology (SMM) to inform the data collection and analysis. What emerged during the study were participants making comparisons between what they were doing and either what they had done or knew of to make sense of these new experiences. In other words, they were describing their experiences metaphorically: they were making comparative statements linking two entities based on some perceived similarity or dissimilarity. They were looking for overlaps between experiences in order to transfer knowledge and/or skills from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

This article begins with defining the nature of the virtual worlds and the conceptualization of sense-making. After an introduction of the methodology and method of data collection and analysis, the metaphors are presented for how they relate to specific sense-making instances: the questions people voiced, and how they felt helped or hindered in the media engaging experience. The analysis is then used to discuss the utility of metaphors as part of the sense-making process, and how the study of people’s metaphors could assist designers to create technology and content to better facilitate people’s experiences with virtual worlds.

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Categorizing Fractured Fandom

Defining Fractured Fandom

According to the discipline of fan studies, at this point in history, being a fan is considered a positive for any individual. Being a fan helps people discover their identities, and to determine what they like and do not like. Being a fan helps people find friends, establish communities, and develop a sense of belonging. Being a fan allows people to express themselves creatively, whether through theories, writing, art works, or costumes. Being a fan represents a means for everyday people to establish themselves as active and powerful creators and participants in a capitalistic system that otherwise sees them as nothing more than passive consumers. In other words, being a fan, especially since the advent of the Internet, is considered a positive aspect of life.

There are times, however, when being a fan presents a problem: a problem for the fan; for others the fan engages with either inside or outside of any fan community; or for entire fan communities that clash with one another, whether from the same fandom, from different fandoms, or outside the context of any fandom. Sometimes, what one fan considers good another might consider bad. These differences hold the potential to cause problems in how individuals treat one another, and can impact people’s behaviors in such a way that what once seemed brilliant and fun becomes unwelcoming or even threatening. When an individual’s sense of self depends too much on identifying as a fan, or when a fan questions the legitimacy of another group of fans, then fandom becomes problematic. Such instances can lead to what I call fractured fandom.

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The Pop Culture Lens Episode 3: Carnival of Souls

Welcome to 2015, the year of Back to the Future II!

And to start off the new year, The Pop Culture Lens podcast presents a new episode that takes us back in time to examine how a film made at the beginning of second wave feminism may still be relevant in this third wave feminism era that sees female celebrities distancing themselves from feminism and anti-feminism again on the rise as Men’s Right Activists increase in voice if not in number.

In this episode, we are joined by Patrick Ripoll, co-host of the podcast Director’s Club, to discuss the 1962 low-budget, cult horror film Carnival of Souls. The film shows the travails of Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) as she both flees from and is drawn to The Man (Herk Harvey) and his spooky carnival in the Utah desert.

herkharvey1 220px-Candacehilligoss4

While it may never be known if director Herk Harvey was an early feminist (although we three kinda doubt it), we were all able to see feminist messages of equality, empowerment, and struggling with oppression in this film — so much so that while the film was made at the beginning of second wave feminism, we feel it could actually have something to say about the current (and contested) third wave feminism. More importantly, the representation of the theme “women as threat” in the film still has relevance to our world today (unfortunately), given the continuance of this theme in both our pop culture and public discourse.

Give it a listen, and let us know what you think!

The Hobbit International Research Project

Are you a Tolkien fan? Did you enjoy the Lord of the Rings films? What do you think of The Hobbit films? Join in with thousands of others and share your thoughts in this massive international survey!

From Dr. Martin Barker, one of the lead researchers on the project, who previously oversaw a similar project on the Lord of the Rings films:

“In December 2014, the most ambitious film audience research project yet undertaken launched.  Based on research groups in 46 countries, and operating in over 30 languages, the World Hobbit Project has set itself the challenge of answering a series of difficult research questions.

With minimal research funding (just enough from the UK’s British Academy to create the complex website, multi-language questionnaire and associated database), we are totally dependent on our ability to use online means to reach a wide range of people around the world.  Our survey went online at: www.worldhobbitproject.org from the day of the premiere.

What questions are we hoping to be able to answer, and what discussions do we hope we will be able to contribute to?

Very many – but not a fixed list of hypotheses.  We will be gathering a range of demographic data (age, sex, country, education, occupation, etc).  We will be asking a series of orientation questions (designed to show patterns in responses, kinds of evaluation, modal questions about the kind of story The Hobbit is seen to be, etc.).  We will be probing how people watch (and like to watch) a film of this kind, and what else they do in connection with watching it (reading the book, taking part in online discussions, following particular stars, etc.).

Crucially, the survey is designed on the principle of linked quantitative and qualitative questions, so that when people position themselves on scales we have generated, they are then asked to say in their own words what that positioning means – so that we can analyse and look for responses in their kinds of talk.  (This will of course be immensely challenging in that we will be working across so many languages!)  But we believe that if we can recruit a large and diverse spread of respondents, we can make contributions to many current debates: about globalisation, cultural identities, the role of online participation, changes in the role of film and cinema, and so on.

Please, help us in simple ways:

  • By completing the survey yourself, of course, if you have seen the films.
  • By passing on this information to students, colleagues, family, friends, and asking them to do the same.
  • By mentioning and pointing to the project’s address in blogs, postings, and conversations.
  • By mentioning the project and showing the link on Facebook and the like, so that it is as widely visible as we can possibly make it.”

The Pop Culture Lens Episode 2: Freaks (1932)

The second episode of The Pop Culture Lens podcast is up and live!

In the second episode of The Pop Culture Lens podcast, Christopher Olson and CarrieLynn Reinhard are joined by young scholar Clelia Sweeney to discuss the counterculture cult horror classic Freaks (1932). Their guest brings to bear her research on freak shows, reality TV and serial killers as the discussion considers why we humans are so fascinated with abnormality.

Our basic conclusion: while there are great similarities between this film and contemporary reality TV, the biggest difference is in how they treat people who are considered to be abnormal in some way. And the eighty year-old horror movie about a freak show seems to treat them more like humans than modern reality TV! Listen to find out more!

Wrestlers’ Nipples

In the United States, women’s nipples are not allowed to be seen in the media. These natural, life-sustaining features are deemed inappropriate — even to the point where pictures of breastfeeding were banned from Facebook.

But men’s nipples, those rather meaningless holdovers from at one point being a female zygote in the womb? Those are completely fine.

So, okay, let’s take advantage of that with an arena where the male nip is always slipped: professional wrestling aka sports entertainment.

And so I present to you the satirical yet serious Wrestlers’ Nipples.

Chris’s Cult Catalogue: No Way Out (1973)

CarrieLynn D. Reinhard:

Christopher Olson examines a forgotten movie that should be a classic. If you like gangster movies, revenge flicks, and handsome French men, then this is the movie for you!

Originally posted on Seems Obvious to Me:

In Cult Catalogue, I offer my thoughts on cult movies, and try to determine whether or not they are essential, forgettable, or somewhere in between. Throughout this series I will endeavor to focus primarily on cultish, lesser-known, or largely forgotten films, though in the age of the Internet, nothing is ever truly forgotten, so occasionally the movies may seem more familiar. These posts will be less academic, and more in the vein of straight up reviews or blog posts, though occasionally I will attempt to bring in some sort of scholarship or academic approach to these write ups whenever warranted. More than anything, these posts simply represent my attempt to put forth my thoughts on lesser known cult films and so-called “bad” movies. Anyway, I hope you enjoy. As always, I welcome your feedback, so please, let me know what you think of this entry in the comments after the…

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Deliver Us From Evil: The Danger of Possessing Men

As we have repeatedly seen during this project we are calling Tensions in Exorcism Cinema, there appears to be a narrative made popular by the success of The Exorcist (1973). There is a reason we like to say that the 1973 movie is the one that started it all, even though there had been films before The Exorcist that depicted demonic possession and exorcism rituals. The success of the 1973 horror classic led to many other film producers, around the world and across time, to attempt to capitalize on its success by essentially redoing the film’s central narrative and conflict. A common narrative and conflict emerged across the movies that were released after The Exorcist. In our analysis of The Last Exorcism and The Last Exorcism Part II, we call this commonality the “traditional exorcism narrative.”

In this traditional exorcism narrative, a demonic or evil force possesses a girl or young woman, leading her to behave “badly,” as defined by society and culture. This afflicted person must then be saved, and thereby the danger to the rest of use removed, by some member of a religious order, usually a male priest, reverend, pastor or rabbi. This male religious figure can be read as representing a patriarchal order that seeks to maintain a status quo in which women are not a threat. By removing the possession and returning women to a state of innocence, the threat the woman represents is undone and traditional order is restored.


We have seen this pattern repeated over and over again, across time and cultures. Few films reject or subvert this narrative. As we have discussed, The Last Exorcism Part II does subvert this narrative. Additionally, while exceedingly rare, there are stories that focus on the possessed being male. Most of these films come to us by being associated with The Exorcist, and thus could be read as attempting to keep the franchise fresh. For example, The Exorcist III could be read at William Peter Blatty’s attempt to reignite the passion generated from the first movie. Furthermore, while Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist featured a possessed African boy, the movie was scrapped by the studio as the official prequel to The Exorcist, leading to Exorcist: The Beginning returning to the possessed woman as threat narrative. Additionally, the “true story” behind The Exorcist, Possessed, which featured a possessed young boy, only aired on Showtime. These three films, then show examples of trying to capitalize on The Exorcist by presenting twists on this traditional exorcism narrative, but none were financially or culturally successful.

Beyond this franchise, there have been occasions of men being possessed during the course of an exorcism cinema film, such as in The Devil Inside or The Rite. However, these possessions were secondary to the main female possessions that were at the center of the film or were the inciting incidents of each film’s narrative. Only in The Rite does the possession really feature the conflict between a possessed person and a man of faith how is struggling with his faith, this conflict being so central to the traditional exorcism narrative. In a sense, the presence of a possessed man in exorcism cinema is more novelty than commonality.

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From Reaffirming to Challenging Traditions: A critical comparison of The Last Exorcism and The Last Exorcism Part II

Christopher Olson and I presented our first analysis for the exorcism cinema project at this year’s Midwest Popular Culture Association conference. We subsequently wrote the presentation as a paper that would go in a book we are developing. We just submitted the book proposal last night, and now this morning you can read this analysis here: From Reaffirming to Challenging Traditions: A critical comparison of The Last Exorcism and The Last Exorcism Part II.


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