Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Call for Papers:

Binks Building, University of Chester, England
Friday 22nd June 2012

Event organisers:
Dr Chris Hart, Dr Mark Duffett and Dr Beate Peter

From Cadillacs to tour buses, motor vehicles and popular music have developed in parallel as symbiotic commodities. Their intimate and intertwined relationship evokes issues and feelings that characterize life in modern society. The conference aims to outline and discuss this relationship between these two culturally charged commodities. Motor transport is a dominant feature of the modern world. Cars, buses, trucks and everything in between have their followers and dissenters. Vehicles offer the functions of mobility, freedom, speed and comfort, but they are not just physical machines. Contemporary and historic brands offer consumers opportunities to display status, belonging, style and choice. Social and utilitarian elements combine within a motor aesthetic that provides individuals with entry into particular imagined communities. A multiplicity of brands and logos symbolizes the various styles, designs and attitudes that are now a global currency. Advertising and marketing have elevated the social place of particular vehicles to objects of fantasy, desire, status and play. Just as motor vehicles are referenced in popular music, so music is a part of automobile culture and design. From the 1950s onwards drivers and passengers have been able to enjoy a choice of music styles, genres and artists as in-car audio technology has became a feature of most vehicles. Linking the two commodities has allowed auto-manufacturers to stylize mass-produced lines as emblems of social and personal identity. Whether one discusses Motown, the Oldsmobile 88 or Route 66, motor vehicles and roads have been at the centre of popular music cultures that have defined the attitudes of whole sections of modern society. We therefore suggest the following themes for consideration:

* The role of vehicles in the music or images of key artists.
* Music stars as celebrity endorsers for motoring.
* Glittering prizes: vehicles as commodities (eg. Elvis, Beach Boys).
* Vehicles, gender, youth and courtship (eg. Grease, surf sounds, Beatles).
* Vehicles and particular music genres, places or scenes (eg. hip-hop, surf music, Detroit).
* Dimensions of identity: place, class, vehicles, music.
* Alienation / twisted celebrations (e. Gary Numan, Kraftwerk).
* Metaphorical critiques: crashes and traffic jams (Jan & Dean, Hendrix, The Normal).
* Popular music and racing cars.
* “Driving” and “the road” as themes and metaphors in music.
* Vehicles as vehicles for listening (eg. in-car audio culture).
* Drive time: music formats, radio and the experience of driving.
* Retro culture: vehicle collecting, music and nostalgia.
* Low-riding: race and music, vehicles and the urban landscape.
* Futurism, vehicles, speed and music (eg. Kylie, Electronic music).
* Motor companies use of music for branding (eg. David Guetta / Transformers).
* Use of vehicles in music videos.

The event will not charge a registration fee, but we will expect those attending to register and fill in a photography clearance form.

At this stage we invite submission of abstracts for proposed papers of 300 words or less with the addition of a 50 word biography by 31st January 2012.

Please send abstracts or enquiries to C.Hart@chester.ac.uk

About the organisers:

Dr Chris Hart is Senior Lecturer in Advertising at Chester. He recently co-managed the largest study done to date into the economics and social impact of historic vehicles in Europe.

Dr Mark Duffett is Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Chester. He is known as a popular music scholar whose central interests include fandom and Elvis Presley.

Dr Beate Peter is Lecturer in German at Manchester Metropolitan University with research interests in music psychology and popular culture. Her comparative study of techno in Detroit and Berlin is to be published in Spring 2012.

Older NW Pop Studies Events

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In memory of David Sanjek

Last night when I heard the news about Dave, I couldn’t quite believe it. We had a friendly get-together planned for this coming weekend. How inconsiderate: he never said goodbye. But Dave could be sentimental, so I think that if he had to go, his doing it by slipping away was for the best. He died as he lived - a high flyer - and he died in his own native country.

The last time I saw him in the flesh was a couple of weeks ago, when he popped his head into the jazz studies reading group that I attended at Salford. He was organizing another event that day and in retrospect I was sorry that I didn’t go. We stayed in email contact right up until he flew to the USA. He was going to argue the case for George Clinton to be added to the National Recordings Registry.

I first met Dave when he came over to present a paper at a conference in Sheffield in about 1999 - we just said a quick hello. When he got the job at Salford I saw him at another event and suggested that we should meet up: we worked in the same field and lived in the same city. We became very dear friends, partly I think because without any comeback we could hear about what was going on (and sometimes going down) in each other’s institutions, and also because we use each other as sounding boards and strategize together. I always felt we were extremely lucky to have a scholar like Dave in this region. But we became more that professional allies. When I got to know Dave as a person, I felt that I was very lucky to have him in my life. We’d be in contact by email all the time, sometimes go out for meals at the Red Chilli on Portland Street, and he’d visit my place every couple of weeks with a ragbag full of DVDs.

Dave knew as much about film as he knew about music. When you watched a film with Dave he’d always turn to you afterwards and want to know your opinion. He had such catholic tastes. I think he liked quirky, ensemble pieces the best as they fitted his inclusive ethics, but we watched everything - from old film noirs to westerns, films by Orson Welles to Dario Argento, Claude Chabrol and all else in between. I still have a pile of DVDs sitting on my shelf that he loaned me. Beyond cinema and popular music Dave was a cultural omnivore whose interests also extended across theatre, literature and American politics (a little sign of home sickness). Between talking about music research and giving me a priceless education in cinema, Dave would reminisce about his past in the USA: his family life, college days, the summer camps (some of his happiest days) and his time working for BMI… By the end of the night, we’d watched a couple of films, had a few hours of conversation, and it would be getting late. Dave would clap my hand and say, “Alright, man” then be off into the night to get his taxi across town. I never counted how many times we repeated the ritual, but I was always grateful that he’d taken the time. For such a busy person, one of the wonderful things about Dave was how often he found the time to be there with you. He was creative, considerate, compassionate and thoughtful. And I’m going to really miss him.

There are more posts from those who met Dave here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

CFP - POPULAR MUSIC FANDOM, special issue of Popular Music and Society

Guest editor, Mark Duffett

Popular Music and Society invites article proposals for a new special issue. Fandom is both a personal expression of emotional conviction and a complex, changing, multi-faceted social phenomenon that now encompasses both online and offline activity.

The study of fandom is a scholarly niche that exists at the intersection of a wide range of interests and connections. It can be contextualized by wider media research (theory by scholars such as Henry Jenkins and Matt Hills; reception analysis; celebrity studies; ethnography; subcultural theory) and by direct research into popular music culture (ethnomusicology; research on listening; live music audiences; studies of music in everyday life).

We invite papers with themes that may include, but are not limited to:

· Fans as musicians / musicians as fans

· The consumer marketplace, perceptions of the music industry

· Collecting, listening, and other fan practices

· Live music, local scenes, and fandom as living culture

· Stereotyping, self-awareness, media representation, lit and fiction

· Fandom and social identities (such as gender, age, disability, race)

· Methodology, research practice, cultural theory

· Histories, critiques of fandom as a response to mass culture

· Taste, cultural capital, and the canon

· Online participatory cultures

· Case studies and ethnographies; personal narratives, memories, and investments

· Stardom and celebrity; identification, reading, and textuality

· Legacies of key representations (e.g., Fred Vermorel and Judy Vermorel's book Starlust)

· Modernity, religion, pathology, and the "cult" analogy

· Differing fandoms / specific music genres

· The fan community: insiders, outsiders, and the "ordinary" audience

· Fan culture and the paradigm of performance

· The uses of fandom: political activism, heritage, and tourism

· Fandom, the family, and / or the life cycle

Send proposals of up to 500 words in the first instance.

Contributions will be peer-reviewed for potential inclusion in the main section of the journal. Polemical papers will also be considered for inclusion in the Forum section. Indicate the name under which you would wish to be published, your professional/academic affiliations, a postal address, and preferred email contact.

Deadline for submission of proposals is October 31, 2011. We would hope to commission articles by December 31, 2011, and deadline for submission of the articles will be July 31, 2012.

Please email proposals to guest editor Mark Duffett at m.duffett@chester.ac.uk.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Making Things Whole Again - Take That Reunion Events

My friends Anja Lobert and Dr Tim Wise were busy last week putting on a double-header exhibition and conference on Take That, designed to coincide with the band's triumphant home run of several reunion dates at the Manchester City football stadium.

For American readers who don't know them so well, Take That were a boyband from the North of England who had phenomenal success before splitting in 1996. In their heyday they had a string of chart-topping singles in the UK, but only one hit in the USA. After the break-up, all went their separate ways. The incomparable Robbie Williams went on to have a successful solo career. Gary Barlow became a credible singer-songwriter with a career in his own right. Some of the others - who were called Mark, Jason and Howard - released albums of their own. Then about four or five years ago they reformed as a four-piece without Robbie. Last year he rejoined for a carefully controlled reunion that extended the band's reach to encompass the quality press, giving the Take That reunion mass phenomenon status.

As might be imagined, the Making Things Whole Again conference was rife with discussions of fandom and gender, generational memory, and Take That's in-group masculine dramaturgy. My own contribution explored how we constantly frame boybands and their followers with four interlocking discourses - youth, exploitation, gender and fandom - that collectively function to allay anxieties about us loving music that is undeniably created for the process of commercial marketing. Even in the liberate age of social media, boybands still come in for a kind of mass culture critique.

Anja's exhibition, called Take That Fandom before the Internet is also fascinating. I never realized the extent to which she was a 1990s Take That fan herself. Held in the Northern Quarter, Anja's installation is based on her research contact with around 500 fans. What it shows is that the girls who loved Take That formed a living social culture. They sent each other penpal letters, traded stickers and candid photos of band members, and some made "FBs". Many of the girls would receive pen pal letters on a daily basis.

The "FB" (or "friendship book" to give it the full title) is a hand-made compilation of fans' addresses, circulated between enthusiasts. FBs were often just a few sheets of paper folded or stapled together. Yet they were chocked full of mini-appeals in felt-tip squiggles for girls seeking new pen pals - the one page or less ads frequently featured text-speak teen acronyms for things like which bandmember the girl liked and whether she would accept corresponds from other countries. FBs also contained pictures, doodles, stickers and the like. As Anja shows, there were three types: Slams (get-to-know-yous that feature repeated answers to the same set of questions), Crams (that cram in lots of addresses) and Decos (ornate, heavily decorated lists - in effect, homemade portable "shrines" to the band).

Beyond the FBs and their ephemeral culture of performed self-representation, the currency of the fan community included real life amateur photos of the boys in the band, taken by girls who waited by stage doors or followed them round the country. While presenting a less glossy image that Take That's publicity stills, in effect these candids offered a vicarious back-stage pass to anyone who wanted to see what the boys were like in ordinary life. For most girls, the photos were the only evidence that the Take That boys were "real" lads who goofed around off-duty. Sometimes the photos were also evidence that the pen pal you were corresponding with had actually met a band member and could claim to have got nearer and known about them. Girls would write "no copies" on the back of the pictures to stop others copying them into oblivion as the pictures circulated through the fan community. Take That Fandom before the Internet shows that the 1990s were an eventual, social time in the lives of adolescent female fans from different countries. Before the days of Facebook there was indeed a communicative, living culture of active, producerly Take That fans invigorated through their engagement with what might have appeared to be, on the face of it, the glossy yet glossed over end of teen pop culture.

Friday, May 27, 2011

All Watched Over By Machines - Adam Curtiz, BBC2 documentary

The televisual essayist and social documentarian and Adam Curtis has just slipped out another fascinating series on BBC2. If the first episode 'Love and Power' is anything to go by, it's going to be a great ride. Curtis has a knack of weaving together the big picture of history with the personal struggles of those who made it. To aid him he also infuses some subtle popular music cues, such as Kraftwerk, on the soundtrack.

In this episode Curtis explores Ayn Rand's role as the seismic catalyst to a wave of thinking that propelled the Republican notions of a society made up of independent "free" individuals. Inspired by Rand, Silicone Valley entrepreneurs led to a rush to promote new businesses on the back of a utopian vision of computer-based free market abundance. Yet their social dreams ignored the economic realities of unsound growth and over-reaching national debt. More personally, Curtiz contrasts Rand's unforgiving, Darwinian view of love with her own moribund love life and failed affair with the psychologist Nathaniel Branden. After he finished with her, apparently Rand angrily accused Branden of betrayal. At the end of her life, to her TV interviewer the supposedly loveless free marketeer repeated the cold, steely words of a ferociously self-willed Greek philosopher: "I will not die - it's the world that will end."

One of the most interesting points in the whole episode (7:30 in on the clip) is when we hear the disillusioned words of 1990s online poster Carmen Hermosillo. Her claims are even more prescient to the age of web 2.0 social media as they belie liberal notions of the active audience. We work for capital now, as Hermosillo made clear over a decade ago, even when we don't realize it:

It is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some island of the blessed where people are free to indulge their individuality. This is not true. I have seen many people spill out their emotions – their guts – online, and I did so my self until I began to see that I had commodified myself.

Commodification means that you turn something into a product that has a money value. In the nineteenth century, commodities were made in factories by workers, who were mostly exploited, but I created my interior thoughts as commodities for the corporations that owned the board that I was posting to, like Compuserve or AOL. That commodity was then sold on to other consumer entities as entertainment.

Cyberspace is a black hole. It absorbs energy and personality and then re-presents it as an emotional spectacle. It is done by businesses that commodify human interaction and emotion, and we are getting lost in the spectacle.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"I Have Admired You for Many Years": Fandom and the Performance of Identity

Why fans of different celebrities behave in such similar ways? The 1999 documentary feature film A Conversation with Gregory Peck contained footage of the classic screen icon’s retirement tour of America. For much of the film, Peck recounts tales from his working life as an actor to live audiences of his now-middle aged fans. One woman that came all the way from England finally manages to meet her Hollywood icon backstage. The result is a loving exchange that can be found at about 7:13 within the above Youtube clip...
  • Gregory Peck: Hello there. You came all the way from London for this evening, did you now?
  • Peck fan: Absolutely. I’m speechless – I don’t know quite what to say.
  • Gregory Peck: So tell me about yourself?
  • Peck fan: Well, I’ve admired you for many years. I wanted to see for myself whether you really are what you appear to be on screen.
  • Peck: Umm.
  • Peck fan: Tonight has proved to me that you are what you appear to be.
  • Gregory Peck (chuckling): Well I hope so. I hope it isn’t a put on for all these years.
  • Peck fan: No. That’s what I wanted to find out for myself. I thought, “The hell with it: I’m going to blow all my savings and I’m going to going to come here and see for myself what you are like.” And I’m so glad I did; it’s been the experience of a lifetime.
  • Gregory Peck (shaking hands): God bless you. Thank you for coming.
... What is evident from the conversation is how the power relation between star and fan eclipses to the fan’s other senses of personal and social identity for the specific purpose of the forwarding her role in the exchange.

While their encounter was obviously selected by the camera crew and chosen by the editor for inclusion, it is evidently more than the sort of shallow critique of fandom that might have been concocted by some media hack. The female fan is not young, crazy, screaming or hysterical. Uncharitable commentators might lament her "dumb enthusiasm" as evidence of a lack in her life, psychology or worldview. However, to approach this star-fan exchange like that is both disrespectful, reductionist and myopic. Nevertheless, Peck's British admirer is not quite the kind of "active audience" rescued by the last two decades of cultural study, at least from what we can see here. Although she may well pursue the various strategies, tactics and practices outline by Henry Jenkins et al, rather than "textual poaching" Gregory Peck's fan here is placing herself as a fan - colluding with her aging idol to get the most she can out of the encounter. She does not want to treat Peck on equal terms. She does not want to discuss the details of her life with him. Instead she wants to represent herself as a fan, to perform her identity in such a way that Peck acknowledges her fandom itself as form of dedication and commitment. In this sense Peck and his fan are colluding; sharing different sides of a unequal but consented social relationship to unlock its potential power.

As a fan, Peck's admirer's quest began in seeing something in his screen image (creativity, a fragment of an ideal identity, something that was innately for her) and has then gone on a mission to verify its reality. Of course her version of his screen image may be a unique personal construction. We do not know how differently or similar it is from that of other fans, or how her perspective on Peck's image compares to the ideas of Peck might hold about himself on screen. Indeed, while themes, perceptions and interpretations might be shared, Peck's image - like any other star image - is inherently unstable as shared social phenonemon.

Fan studies needs to start asking how we can theorize fandom as a set of power relations while recognizing the agency and humanity of all participants. While active audience theory has represented an advance in that area, there is still an undiscovered continent here, a territory marked out by the role-based collaborations between stars and their followers - collaborations that circulate the power of the stardom even as they reinforce its premise.

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