As I write this latest “From the Editor’s Desk, I am struck once more with the power of popular culture to influence all of our lives. From the media we consume all day, every day, to the public figures who dominate our lives, even the most reclusive of us find ourselves exposed to and dominated by popular and celebrity culture. Public affairs have gone beyond satire, and comedy skits often seem tamer than events in the news. “You couldn’t make this stuff up,” as I am fond of saying.
Sometimes, breaking into the public consciousness can help raise awareness and prompt empowerment. Scooter Pegram explores the political disenfranchisement of women in France and the importance of a perhaps unlikely avenue to equal representation in a look at the fame and reputation of female hip-hop artists in France. Resistance needs a call to arms, and music can be the perfect vehicle to find the pulse of the common citizen, as explored in “Feminizing the Rhymed Narrative: Women Rappers and Gender Empowerment in French Hip-Hop.”
In “A Conversation with Nanette: A Not-So-New Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric,” Nanette Hilton describes how Hannah Gadsby’s 2018 comedic sensation scapegoats previous women writers for societal ills, making the point that studying writers from Margaret Fuller to Rita Felski may teach us a better way.
Of course, public figures have always had a mystical ability to become timeless icons. Kathy Merlock Jackson’s article speaks to the relevance of so many important figures from the past, including Patty Duke and Marlo Thomas. While visual media like cinema and television programs have preserved the charm of those celebrities, other heroic female characters have faded from the public consciousness with time.
Marcus Axelsson’s “War, Patriotism, and Nationality in the Norwegian and Swedish Translations of Cherry Ames” takes a look at the representation of the once quite popular protagonist in different cultural contexts: sometimes she is intrinsically tied to a patriotic war movement in her military nursing career, whereas in other translations her character is the primary emphasis. (The last few years should have taught us how important character is in our heroes.)
Brian Mosich’ article is perhaps one of our most pragmatic. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, but what happens when those in positions of power find ways to work around it that seem to be completely legal at first glance? Can justice be maintained in such an atmosphere? Speaking of crime, Daryl Mallory Davidson takes a look at crime and sexuality between 1951 and 1984. The topic might be serious, but it is often those things which draw us in most strongly.
While our waking world might seem increasingly nightmarish,
the surreal fantasies of the past are as relevant as ever. Daniel Ferraras Savoye examines one of the most haunting short stories of all time in Guy de Maupassant’s once famous and now perhaps neglected “Le Horla,” which he calls “Dracula’s older French cousin.” Whether it is the Horla or not, something invisible is certainly watching us even now.
Tammy Wahpeconiah explores the human need for another invisible presence in conceptions of God in “’The Wrong Side of Heaven, the Righteous side of Hell’: Religion, Faith and Belief in Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life and Others.”
Whatever your personal beliefs, if the current state of the world is driving you to existential despair, then perhaps it is good news that we have Graeme J. Wilson’s look at a controversial television series which runs the risk of glamorizing suicide in “None of You Cared Enough: The Problematic Moralizing of 13 Reasons Why.” It seems the second season of that show has taken up a more preventative and responsible representation of suicide and the resources available for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, and in an era of constant negative images and decaying mental health, this message is more important than ever.
Finally David Monod and his fellow authors offer us a new resource into vaudeville, a website containing 30,000 reviews of vaudeville performances for the 1900-1920 period.
When a reality television star can rise to the heights of world authority, we see how popular culture affects the globe. What then must we do? What are our responsibilities in providing for the best future? Are we in a position where our entertainments might destroy us, or can we spread positive messages of hope and understanding through the media which connects all of us?
Let us hope for the latter.