Podcasts for Public Intellectualism: The Pop Culture Lens and public discourse

Written by CarrieLynn D. Reinhard and Christopher J. Olson for CSCA 2017.

Our podcast The Pop Culture Lens emerged from a mutual desire to engage in more public intellectualism and public scholarship—to engage various publics with ideas from the humanities and social sciences to demonstrate how these abstractions can have concrete impacts on people’s everyday lives. While in the past a public intellectual may have been a scholar from an elite university whose status allowed for a certain degree of celebrity (Dallyn, Marinetto & Cederström, 2015), today the public intellectual is less a media persona and more an approach or temperament that informs a desire to do such outreach. At a basic level, professors engage this temperament in their teaching practices, but the presence of the Internet allows professors to extend their classrooms to larger publics and more diverse communities. For example, YouTube provides professors with channels to reach more than their own students, through video essays, animations, vodcasts, video lectures, and more (Young, 2008). Such “personal broadcasting” (Wolf, 2007) has risen due to the social media capabilities of Web 2.0.

Media and popular culture studies scholars are experts well-suited to using digital communication technologies for their scholarly communication and intellectual performances. Such scholars engage with these technologies in their classrooms already—whether they teach students how to deconstruct or construct texts, they are experts constantly engaging in the translation of abstract concepts and theories into analytical and creative work. Additionally, many deal with texts that are important in the everyday lives of different publics and communities, meaning that they already have a built-in audience for public scholarship. It should come as no surprise, then, that Santo and Lucas (2009) found interest among such scholars to blog, write for online magazine, produce podcasts, and moderate online discussions as part of their approach to scholarly communication.

As media and popular culture studies scholars, we are both been interested in media literacy, and see the podcast as way to address Joshua Meyrowitz’s three types of media literacy. The most common understanding of and approach to teaching media literacy focuses on “media content literacy,” which involves educating people about mediated content to encourage their ability “to access and analyze messages in a variety of media.” (Meyrowitz, 1998, p. 97) This media literacy focuses on deconstructing texts through the use of different theories and concepts to understand that which is communicated. Addressing, and even teaching, this skill is the primary goal of the podcast. Each episode analyzes different movies, television shows, comic books, musical albums, and more using theories and concepts from communication, psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics and so forth to understand what the text says about a people, a time, a place, or a practice. As such, this primary goal aligns the most with what we do in our classes, while addressing texts that may not have received much academic scrutiny.

While this media literacy represents the primary goal of the podcast, we also hope that our conversations can educate others about how media texts are constructed. According to Meyrowtiz (1998), “when content is the focus, not much attention tends to be given to the particular characteristics of the medium through which the messages examined are conveyed.” (p. 99) To add to a media content literacy, we also broach issues related to “media grammar literacy” (p. 99)—the language of the medium, or the production and aesthetic aspects relative to specific medium—and “medium literacy” (p. 103)—how the technological characteristics of the medium impact the content regardless of production and aesthetic aspects. The conversations on the podcast episodes make connections between the text’s content, production and aesthetic aspects, and the medium’s technology by bringing up production histories, political economic contexts, and/or the impacts of adaptation or transmedia storytelling. Thus, we intentionally structure each podcast episode to be as informative as possible by touching on these different forms of media literacy.

With these desires, intentions and hopes in mind, we decided to focus on older pop cultural texts to also demonstrate their continual relevance in the contemporary world, as well as to show how media texts represent patterns in how and what they communicate. Focusing on texts from at least a decade ago can reveal connections between texts from different media, generations, societies, and cultures. Along with deciding to focus on older texts, we also were determined to structure each episode similar to a research article, thereby also helping to explain how scholars communicate to one another. Each episode contains an introduction with that episode’s argument, followed by a literature review addressing the text’s historical, sociocultural and industry-relevant context and academic theories; the analysis of the text is guided by questions that draw on this literature review, and a conclusion considers the continuing relevance of the text and suggests further “readings.” Thus, with these intentions in place, we began The Pop Culture Lens in the fall of 2014.

In the first episode we looked at Easy Rider and discussed issues of masculinity, American mythology, and youth counter-culture. The episode was released November 23rd, 2014, as hosted on Podbean (http://thepopculturelens.podbean.com). To date, according to Podbean, the episode has been downloaded 202 times. This one episode has more hits than currently recorded for our scholarly publications. The most downloaded episode thus far was the second one we recorded on Freaks (319 downloads), followed closely by Episode 6 on The X-Files (316 downloads). The audio sample accompanying this paper comes from these two episodes. Overall, to date, the podcast has received 4810 downloads. According to the statistics, people from around the world have downloaded these episodes. While most are in United States and United Kingdom, we have had downloads from Thailand, Brazil, Japan, India, Serbia, Taiwan, Greece, South Africa, Norway, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia, and more! Overall, people from some 58 countries have listened to the podcast. We have currently published 28 episodes, with more in the planning stages.

Our hope for each episode is to keep the tone conversational yet informational, and to explain any jargon as we would in our classes. We want to be clear, professional, entertaining, educational, and understandable. Our goal with the podcast is to bring this scholarly conversation about media and pop cultural texts to people other than academics but in a way that does not “dumb down” such scholarly conversations. Our goal is to elevate up, to treat everyone like students, and to learn from them as much as they can learn from us. Everyone is an intellectual of their own lives. We hope that having these conversations can help them add these ideas to their everyday attempts to make sense of their lives and their world. Thus, we hope to create a space in which everyone can share our views on these texts, our lives and our world.

References

Dallyn, S., Marinetto, M. & Cederström, C. (2015). The academic as public intellectual: Examining public engagement in the professionalised academy. Sociology, 49(6), p. 1031-1046.

Meyrowitz, J. (1998). Multiple media literacies. Journal of Communication, 48 (1), p. 96-108.

Santo, A. & Lucas, C. (2009). Engaging academic and nonacademic communities through online scholarly work. Cinema Journal, 48(2), p. 129-138.

Young, J. R. (2008, January 9th). Thanks to YouTube, professors are finding new audiences. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/free/2008/01/1159n.htm.

Wolf, P. D. (2007). Personal broadcasting: Applications in higher education. Journal of Computing in Higher Education 19(1), p. 48-64.

One response to “Podcasts for Public Intellectualism: The Pop Culture Lens and public discourse”

  1. […] Podcasts for Public Intellectualism: The Pop Culture Lens and public discourse […]

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