Approaching Academia - A conference on class and culture

March 15th & 16th, 2024, Pallister Conference Room, Jerome Library.
Keynote Speaker Gary Roth, author of The Educated Underclass: Students and the Promise of Social Mobility.

Conference Overview

Inspired by Ray Browne, the founder of Popular Culture Studies at BGSU, this conference seeks to give “education a broader base and greater richness” through the exploration of why and how popular culture and class are interconnected. A scholar and teacher who saw popular culture as a tool to bring together the working-class students and the elitism of academia to create a new curriculum, Browne’s legacy of inclusion and effecting change is at the heart of this year’s Class Con.

As class studies are often niche, invisible, or non-existent within many cultural studies programs, we hope to draw attention to the discipline and the broader need for class consciousness. By understanding and breaking down the structures and systems that uphold our modern class structure, this conference aims to make meaningful change both in and outside of the academic ivory tower. Specifically, with this conference we hope to brainstorm, workshop, and develop a pedagogic approach to bringing class studies into the classroom while also giving a voice to the students most impacted by economic uncertainties.

Free Event Online and in Person

Join Class Con on Zoom

To individuals with disabilities, please indicate if you need special services, assistance or appropriate modifications to fully participate in this event by contacting Accessibility Services at or 419-372-8495. Please notify us prior to the event.

Supported by the Stoddard and O’Neill School of Critical and Cultural Studies Fund and by
BGSU University LibrariesPopular Culture Scholars AssociationBGSU School of Cultural and Critical StudiesInstitute for the Study of Culture and SocietyDepartment of English

Friday, March 15th

12:00 p.m. Library tour with Laura Sheets

1:00 p.m. Opening Remarks by John King, “Past, Present, and Future of Cultural Studies”

1:30 p.m. Noted Speaker: Haley Shipley, “Ray Browne and the New Humanities, 50 Years Later”

2:00 p.m. Academia Panel

3:00 p.m. Phil Dickinson, “‘Beneath the Sightlines’: Unearthing a Midwestern Eerie”

4:00 p.m. Indiana University Graduate Student Bargaining Committee Roundtable Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Culture & Society

5:00 p.m. Public Class by the Bowling Green Socialists

Saturday, March 16th

10:30 a.m. Welcome Breakfast and Opening Remarks

11:00 a.m. Music and Comics Panels

2:00 p.m. Keynote Speaker: Gary Roth. “The Educated Underclass” Sponsored by the BGSU English Department

3:00 p.m. Politics, Literature, Film & Television Panels

6:00 p.m. Time Capsule Workshop with Dana Nemeth
Sponsored by Browne Popular Culture Library

Updated Conference Schedule

Friday: March 15th

12pm Meet and Greet & Library tour

A tour of resources available for instructors and students by BGSU Interim Instructional Coordinator, Laura A. Sheets

1:00 p.m. Opening Remarks by John King, BGSU American Cultural Studies

“Past, Present, and Future of Cultural Studies”

As the BGSU Popular Culture Program enters its 50th year, and we prepare our time capsule for future students, we should reflect on our contributions in this place in time (and our place in this institution), and the world we are leaving for those meant to open our capsule on Friday, March 16th, 2074

1:30 p.m. Noted Speaker: Haley Shipley, BGSU American Cultural Studies

“Ray Browne and the New Humanities, 50 Years Later”

When fathering the study of popular culture, Ray Browne saw the future of the field as part of what he called the “New Humanities” that would democratize academia. 50 years later, we ask if The New Humanities ever happened and what it means if the answer could be no. Placing Browne’s writings and archive within a contemporary context, the connection between the humanities, academia, elitism, and culture become a starting point for teachers and students alike to discuss and understand the future of our fields.

2:15 p.m. Phil Dickinson, Bowling Green State University

“‘Beneath the Sightlines’: Unearthing a Midwestern Eerie”

I will propose the term “Midwestern Eerie” to define a confluence of art, writing and aesthetics in the modern and contemporary Midwest that swirl around issues of landscape and place. Specifically, following landscape writer Robert Macfarlane’s lead, I will explore this confluence as representative of an eerie “occulture” in regional visual, literary, and musical texts which captures the anxieties, discontinuities, and anomalies of the Midwest in an era of late capitalism, often figured in terms of the supernatural, the spectral, and the magical.

4:00 p.m. Indiana University Graduate Student Bargaining Committee Roundtable with Zara Anwarzai and Anne Kavalerchik

Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Culture & Society

5:00 p.m. Bryce Howard, Bowling Green State University

Public Class: “Why We Need Socialism”

Sponsored by the Bowling Green Socialists

Saturday, March 16th

10:30 a.m. Welcome Breakfast and Opening Remarks

11:00 a.m. Music Panel

Matt Donahue, Department of Popular Culture/School of Cultural and Critical Studies, Bowling Green State University

“Just Cos’ You Got the Power..Motorhead…Eat the Rich”

Motorhead is known as one of the most influential rock and roll/hard rock/heavy metal groups of all time and have influenced musical artists across many genres. Motorhead is affiliated with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal era not only known for a new sound of heavy metal, but also for a heavy metal crossover with punk music and attitude. Motorhead were one of the leaders of the New Wave of Heavy Metal genres and lyrically were known to weave a variety of themes, from western movies, critiques of war, religion, politicians and lawmen to name a few. One area where Motorhead did make a contribution was bringing an awareness to class issues. Coming from a working-class background, Motorhead achieved success with their song and album Ace of Spades. However, prior to this release and after this release, the group also has brought an awareness to class issues. This presentation will highlight the group’s contributions in this area.

Jeremy Wallach, BGSU Popular Culture

“Changing Class Composition of Heavy Metal Fans, 1970-2023”

This presentation aims to account for the changing class composition of members of the heavy metal subculture as the genre has globalized and developed stylistically. Blue collar values of inclusivity, heroic masculinity, and communal solidarity persist in a subculture that is increasingly defined by middle-class status; the presentation seeks to quantify and explain this shift.

11:45 a.m. Comics Panel

Charles Coletta, Bowling Green State University

“Hard Travelin’ Heroes”

An examination of the classic early 1970s run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow by Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams, which introduced issues of class, race, sexism, and other social concerns into the superhero genre.

Alan Jozwiak, University of Cincinnati / Cincinnati State

“The Kid, The Crown, and Buster Brown: Class Consciousness within Richard Outcault’s Newspaper Comic Strip Character The Yellow Kid (1895 to 1898)”

This paper will explore class consciousness within Richard Outcault’s newspaper comic creation The Yellow Kid. After exploring the lower-class markings that make up The Yellow Kid’s appearance, this presentation will focus on the ways that The Yellow Kid embodies various class roles (spirit of the class, class commentator, and class agitator). Next, this presentation will do a deep dive into the class connotations from The Yellow Kid’s grand tour of Europe where he stops in Great Britain, sits on the English throne, and wears the English crown. Finally, this presentation will end considering the class connotations of Outcault’s decision to abandon The Yellow Kid for a more upper-class comic character, Buster Brown.

Madeline Main, Bowling Green State University

“Spider-Man Cultural Icon”

Spider-Man's identity weaves a captivating narrative tapestry, exploring the intricate balance between Peter Parker's ordinary life and his extraordinary responsibilities as a superhero. As Peter grapples with the loss of Uncle Ben, his identity becomes intertwined with a profound sense of moral duty, epitomized by the iconic mantra, "With great power comes great responsibility." The red and blue costume, a symbolic mask, conceals Peter's true self while embodying the weight he bears. Adversaries like the Green Goblin and Venom serve as dark reflections, compelling Peter to confront his own shadowy facets and redefine his identity in the face of adversity. Spanning various media and alternate universes, Spider-Man's identity is a dynamic, multilayered concept, resonating universally as a testament to the perpetual journey of self-discovery amidst the challenges of dual existence and the ever-expanding web of his heroic legacy.

1 p.m. Lunch

1:45 p.m. Keynote introductions by Adam Rensch

2:00 p.m. Keynote Speaker: Gary Roth, Rutgers University

“The Educated Underclass”

Popular understandings of the working class typically lag the re-composition of social classes within an ever-dynamic capitalist system. Today, a major portion of the working class in the United States is college educated, yet media and academic analysts continue to use education as a means to differentiate the working from the middle class. Two-thirds of high school graduates attend some amount of college. One-third of college graduates from 4-year schools wind up in jobs that do not require a college degree. Employment no longer matches educational expectations, a disappointment that has helped fuel recent social movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the rise in union organizing. As many union members today hold a 4-year college degree as those with only a high school diploma. Workers and professionals, working class and middle class, all describe overlapping, when not identical, groups of people.

Sponsored by the BGSU English Department

3:00 p.m. Politics Panel

Daniel Burnfin, University of Chicago

“The Political Economy of Left Obstructionism”

In this talk I will address the ways in which changes in the economy in the 20th century gave rise to changes in the composition of the labor force: a transition from manual ‘blue collar’ work to service and intellectual ‘white collar’ work. The former in turn gave rise to a change in ‘the left’ which we have inherited: a replacement of the ‘old left’ by the ‘new left’. Then I will argue that the tradition of the ‘new left’ which the present has inherited obstructs any attempts at class politics or policies which benefit the manual working class. While a return to the ‘old left’ seems improbable, the contemporary left is neither willing nor able effectively to confront the problem of wealth inequality which burdens the vast majority of people.

Zulfqar Hyder, University College of the North

“From Empire to ‘Umpire’: A Re-reading of A Passage to India in the Pakistani Context”

In 2014, Pakistani cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan staged a four-month long sit-in in the national capital to oust the incumbent prime minister. During the sit-in, Khan evoked images from his cricketing days and cricketing parlance, especially that of the umpire officiating a cricket match raising his finger to give his decision that the batsman was out. He used the image to suggest that soon the ‘umpire’ would raise his finger to give the decision that the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must be sent packing. It became an open secret that the ‘umpire’ referred to the Pakistan Military Chief, Raheel Sharif. This paper argues that in Pakistan since emerging as an independent country in 1947, the ‘Umpire’ has replaced the role of the ‘Empire.’

The paper, while focusing on E. M. Foster’s novel A Passage to India, posits that in contemporary Pakistan, the Pakistani generals ‘mimic’ the role of the ‘master colonizer’, that is, the Empire, as ‘umpires.’ The paper further argues that contemporary political situation in Pakistan reflects Foster’s presentation of the role of the Empire and its representatives in his novel.

3:45 p.m. Literature Panel

David Buehrer, Valdosta SU

“(On Not) Eliding Class: Working Class-Consciousness, Rock & Roll Culture, and Narrative Self-Referentiality in the Fiction of Denis Johnson”

When he died from liver cancer in 2017, Denis Johnson was rightly hailed as a genre-defying writer, a “storyteller fluent in […] the transcendence of compassion” (Seaman 26), whose visionary scope and lyrical intensity differentiated him from many of his contemporaries. His career spanned some forty years and evinced an astonishing range, including nine novels, one novella, two books of short stories, five collections of poetry, two collections of plays, and one book of reportage. But consistent across Johnson’s oeuvre was an ability to inject both black humor and tragic seriousness, including a quest for the spiritual, within characters afflicted by the burdens of class-society in a post-1980s America. This paper will thus explore how Johnson foregrounds an especially working-class consciousness in his fictions and employs elements of popular culture, including many allusions to rock & roll music, along with fictional self-reflexivity to ultimately reveal a humanistic perspective throughout his literary canon.

Tyne Lowe, Browne Popular Culture Library, Bowling Green State University

“Class Consciousness in Kate Beaton’s Ducks”

In her 2022 graphic novel Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, Kate Beaton recounts her experience working in the Canadian oil industry to pay off her student loans. Unlike many contemporary graphic memoirs (or memoirs in general), Beaton places her personal story in the broader economic context that produced it. Beaton presents the harshness and alienation of her work conditions as indivisible from class; she also presents her fraught experience in a male-majority work environment as defined by her own gender. How does Beaton’s focus on class impact her focus on gender throughout her story, and vice versa?

Adam Rensch

"Write What You Know: Creative Writing and the Decline of Working-Class Fiction"

This presentation examines the relationship between creative writing as an academic discipline and the decline of working-class literature. While multiple factors contribute to the slow disappearance of novels and short stories engaging with class exploitation, including the composition of the labor force and major shifts in the publishing inductor, one crucial factor is the influence of academia and the codification of "creative writing" as a discrete subject in the 1940s and 1950s. This intervention ultimately signaled the end of American working-class literature as a viable literary form. Not only did it relegate writing to the realm of "experts" (those with BFAs/MFAs who understood the proper "craft" of writing), it also depoliticized fiction by encouraging the production of narratives that prioritized interior life over external struggle. In the process, it took the radical interventions of literary modernism and made them digestible for a growing segment of educated professionals whose interests lay firmly in the realm of middle-class domesticity and individualism.

4:30 p.m. Academia Panel

Will Walton, Bowling Green State University

“Capitalist Realism as Rhetoric: r/teachers as an Online Case Study”

Educators in 2023 face a number of challenges from under-prepared students to draconian legislative attempts to censor classroom materials, and many believe that their students are ill prepared for life after K-12. This in a year where liberal politicians have been prevented from fulfilling promises of student loan forgiveness. This paper examines rhetorical norms on the teaching subreddit to examine how teachers’ rhetoric when discussing these issues adopts a hyper individualistic bent that is incapable of considering how poor student performance and attitudes are shaped by a post-pandemic American capitalism.

Kristine Ketel, BGSU American Cultural Studies

“AI in HigherEd: Hero or Villain?”

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has filled headlines, social media feeds, and conversations from boardrooms to classrooms. Academia is struggling with how to handle AI’s impact on education. What role can AI play in ethical research, teaching, and writing? Are tools like ChatGPT helpful or harmful? The truth is, AI is here to stay, and our students will be expected to harness its usage on the job. Faculty can play a key role in helping prepare students for life after college by helping students understand the benefits and challenges of using Generative AI.

5:15 p.m. Film & Television Panel

Ahmad Bilal, Department of English, Bowling Green State University

“From Cold Calls to Power Calls: Dehumanization and Class Struggle in Sorry to Bother You”

In Boots Riley’s film Sorry to Bother You, the telemarketing world serves as a microcosm of capitalist society. Cassius Green’s journey from struggling caller to “power caller” exposes the dehumanizing effects of conformity, symbolized by adopting a “white voice.” The film navigates class disparity, and labor exploitation, challenging viewers to question the relentless demands of capitalism. Drawing from concepts like 24/7 capitalism and Capitalist Realism, I argue that the film builds the tension between conformity and rebellion to consider our understanding of the power, identity and privilege within a capitalist society.

Becca Cragin, Dept. of Popular Culture, BGSU

“Performance as Politics in the Roseanne Revival”

While scholars often assert that the seriality of sitcoms precludes social critique, Roseanne (1988-1997) was a highly political series, evincing much more class consciousness than other sitcoms of its era. Despite a similar premise, the short-lived Roseanne revival (2018) reflected a substantially more conservative politics than in its prior seasons. In addition to the producers’ attempts to court conservative viewers, several changes in stylistic form contributed to this reversal, including shifts in narrative structure and performance style. Comparison of prior seasons to the revival therefore provides an opportunity to reconsider the role that aesthetics play in the generation of ideological meaning on sitcoms.

Ben Thomason, Bowling Green State University, American Studies Program

“Uncle Sam Goes to Hollywood: Culture Industries and Capitalist Imperialism in the American Century 1941-2020”

The US has been the primary enforcer of global capitalist order since 1945 while also building the world’s premier culture industry. Frankfurt school scholars such as Adorno and Horkheimer explained the class character of the domestic US culture industry lulling working people into passivity and reproducing capitalist hegemony, yet they did not seriously grapple with the role of global imperialism in such culture industries. This presentation asks, how have US cultural industries been influenced by the US’s global imperialist infrastructure, and how have these relationships evolved since 1945?

Since the end of World War II, the US built and operated a globalized security state where the need for constant vigilance and action against a shadowy, omnipresent enemy justified perpetual crisis and exceptions to democracy and rule of law. This security state actively involved itself in the culture industry. The CIA spent many millions of dollars on Cold War cultural front groups and projects, becoming the closest thing the US had to a ministry of culture. American Studies as an institutionalized discipline was established with the help of money from CIA front-foundations, and founding figures such as Norman Holmes Pearson used American Studies at Yale to recruit intelligence agents. The Department of Defense and CIA influenced the creation of over 2000 tv show episodes and films, including some of the most famous hits in Hollywood history.

6 p.m. Time Capsule Workshop and Pizza Party

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the very first academic Popular Culture Program, right here at BGSU, we will be putting together a time capsule to be held at the Browne Popular Culture Library to be opened in another 50 years, March 16th, 2074.

Sponsored by Browne Popular Culture Library

Updated: 06/18/2024 09:43AM