Popular Culture

Popular culture is an expression of a country’s distinctive traditions, history, and language, as well as its current social, economic, and political systems and its degree of technological development. How events, institutions, and artists/performers shape popular culture and how in turn popular culture shapes the lives and identities of cultural consumers is a complex reality that defines much of contemporary life.
Globalization, multiculturalism, and diversity provide additional lenses through which to think about popular culture. Does American popular culture support a bland collection of homogenous Americans living uniform lives in gray suburbs or a rich cacophony of cultural voices that clash, “crash,” and co-mingle along lines of race, ethnicity, class, religion, and sexual orientation? To what extent do forms of popular culture express and inculcate dominant social values and support existing institutions? To what extent can popular culture provide a means for challenging such values and institutions? The degree to which the United States and other nations export their cultures produces new sources of cultural tension, resistance, and creativity. During 2009-2010, The Clarke Forum will explore these issues in a number of different contexts and from a variety of different perspectives.

Nina Davenport

Documentary Film Director

Operation Filmmaker

Nina Davenport PosterWednesday, September 16 – Film Showing – Operation Filmmaker
Stern Center, Great Room, 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, September 17 – Discussion with film director, Nina Davenport
Stern Center, Great Room, 7:00 p.m.

Do-gooder intentions go disastrously wrong when Hollywood gives a young Iraqi film student the chance of a lifetime. Operation Filmmaker tells the fascinating and riveting story of this student’s odyssey in the West, which has uncanny parallels to America’s recent misadventures abroad.

Topical Background
Many Americans expected Operation Iraqi Freedom to be a quick intervention welcomed by the Iraqi people. Yet, over six years later, an American occupation continues. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 5,000 Americans have perished in the conflict since 2003. Millions have become refugees and sectarian violence persists. Our initial expectations were upset; our ignorance of Middle Eastern culture exposed.

Inspired by the 2003 MTV profile of Iraqi film student Muthana Mohmed, American actor Liev Schreiber invited the young man to intern on a Hollywood movie set. Documentary maker Nina Davenport immediately saw an opportunity: she would tape Muthana’s Hollywood internship. “I thought the film would be called The Kindness of Liev Schreiber,” she later said. However, cultural differences between the young Iraqi and his co-workers proved greater than expected. A project that was only supposed to take a few months turned into a yearlong endeavor, as Operation Filmmaker began to resemble another instance of good American intentions gone awry.

Adjusting to a new and different culture is difficult for everyone, but young people from the Middle East have an especially difficult time adapting to American culture. According to Mona Faragallah, Walter Schumm, and Farell Webb, Arabs are more likely than any other immigrant group to say that, “In the U.S., there is no place I really belong.” The situation is such that many Arabs report disillusionment with the United States and a strong desire to return home.*

* Faragallah, Mona H.; Schumm, Walter R.; Webb, Farrell J. “Acculturation of Arab-American immigrants: an exploratory study.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies (1997).

Biography (provided by the speaker)

After studying photography and filmmaking at Harvard College, Nina Davenport completed her first film Hello Photo, a poetic travel documentary about India, which premiered at Rotterdam and won “Best Documentary” at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Her second film Always a Bridesmaid – described by the Hollywood Reporter as “dripping with artistic merit” – was autobiographical, and aired on Cinemax/HBO and Channel Four in the U.K.

Davenport’s third feature, Parallel Lines, a lyrical road movie about the private stories and personal grief of Americans in the aftermath of September 11th, premiered at IDFA (The International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam) in the Joris Ivens competition, and subsequently aired on the BBC’s “Storyville.”

Operation Filmmaker, her most recent film, first screened as a work-in-progress at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2007, where it won the prestigious KNF Dutch Film Critics Award, and later premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Davenports unique and personal style of documentary has earned her numerous filmmaking awards and grants. She grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and lives in New York City.
Continue reading

Eric Lott

Professor of English, University of Virginia

When Bob Dylan Came Knocking

Lott Poster
Friday, September 4, 2009
Stern Center, Great Room, 4:30 p.m.

Bob Dylan popularized Eric Lott’s book by putting its title on his 2001 album “Love and Theft.” Dylan’s “lift” of the title reflected Lott’s view that appropriations are fundamental to popular culture and that artistic creativity has an important bearing on education and identity formation.

Following Professor Lott’s talk, there will be a barbecue and concerts by Structure of Feeling and Black Landlord, named the “best local band” by Philadelphia Magazine in August 2009. Concerts are co-sponsored by The Division of Student Development, the Office of Campus Life and the Multicultural Organizational Board.

Topical Background
Cultural theorist Raymond Williams claims that culture is “one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.” Certainly the meaning of the term is highly contested.

In his book Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction, John Storey identifies six different definitions of the term:

• The “culture which is widely favored or well liked by many people.”
• The culture which is “left over after we have decided what is high culture.”
• “Mass culture,” that is, commercial culture produced for mass consumption.
• “The culture which originates from ‘the people’ for the people.”
• The culture that develops when “dominant groups in society seek to win the consent of
the subordinate groups in society.”
• Postmodern culture, that is, the culture “which no longer recognizes the distinction
between high and popular culture.”

Despite the controversy over the meaning of the term, there is little doubt that “popular culture” is an important dimension of American life. Technological developments in the radio, television, film, and recording industries, along with the growth of the Internet, have expanded and deepened American popular culture. Of course, trends in popular culture have important ramifications for American social, economic, and political institutions and practices.

About the Speaker
Eric Lott is a professor of American and Cultural studies/English at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books including “Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class,” “The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual,” and the forthcoming “Tangled Up in Blue: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism.”

Lott received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1991. He earned his M.A. from Columbia in 1984 and his B.A. from the University of Missouri in 1981. Lott has received numerous awards, including the MLA Best First Book Prize and the Myers Center for Human Rights Book Award in 1994.

Common Reading
Jonathan Lethem’s essay “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.”
Continue reading

Steve Bratt

Steve Bratt Poster

Chief Executive Officer of the World Wide Web Consortium

Tomorrow’s Web

Thursday, October 9, 2008
Rector Science Complex, Stafford Lecture Hall – 7:00 p.m.

New technology standards will shortly be finalized for the World Wide Web. These standards will transform the Web as we know it, permitting wide-spreadintegration of data, across an expanding range of Web sites and devices, and an explosion in the number of Web site creators and consumers. This future Web will be rich with disruption, opportunities, and challenges.

Topical Background
The Internet has become part of the daily lives of many people and organizations around the world. Emerging as one of the key dimensions of a globalized world, the Internet is accessible on many different types of devices, including cell phones and personal digital assistants.

The World Wide Web was created in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. Today, a strong force behind the promotion of a “Web for Everyone” is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Tim Berners-Lee and others created W3C as an industry consortium dedicated to building consensus around Web technologies.

Long-term goals of the World Wide Web Consortium:
&#8226 Web for Everyone
&#8226 Web on Everything including mobile phones, smart phones, personal digital assistants, interactive television systems, voice response systems, kiosks and even certain domestic appliances.
&#8226 Knowledge Base that is more than just an immense book of information. It will also be a vast data base that, if designed carefully, can allow computers to do more useful work. By developing a Web that holds information for both human and machine processing, W3C aims to enable people to solve problems that would otherwise be too tedious or complex to solve.
&#8226 Trust and Confidence is needed for the Web to be a useful medium for social transactions. While technology cannot guarantee trust, it should enable secure transactions with trusted parties, be they people, organizations, or services.

About the Speaker
“The social value of the Web is that it enables human communication,
commerce, and opportunities to share knowledge. One of W3C’s primary
goals is to make these benefits available to all people, whatever their
hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture,
geographical location, or physical or mental ability.”
-Steve Bratt, June 2007

Steve Bratt is the Chief Executive Officer at the World Wide Web Consortium where he is responsible for the organization’s world-wide operations, overall management of member relations and many other duties. The World Wide Web Consortium concentrates on long-term web growth. By formulating standards that reinforce the importance of Web compatibility and global consensus, the organization works to help create a Web available to everyone.

Before joining the consortium in 2002, Bratt performed many roles throughout industry and government. In 1997, he was named coordinator of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty International Data in Vienna, Austria where he was responsible for establishing the data center and creating standards for data exchange between 300 world-wide sensors and 170 nations. From 1984 to 1997, he spearheaded research initiatives first at Science Applications International Corporation and then as a program manager at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Bratt received his bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his doctorate from Pennsylvania State University.

Related Links
World Wide Web Consortium
Continue reading

Stephen Adler

Editor-in-Chief, BusinessWeek MagazineAdler Poster

Rush Award Lecture
The Future of Media

Thursday, February 28, 2008
7:00 p.m. – Stern Center, Great Room

This program will focus on how technology, law, and new consumer habits are changing the way we learn about the world, and what these changes will do to the way we live, work, and choose our leaders.

Issue in Context

Today, much of how we communicate is digitized. E-mail allows people who are often many miles apart to exchange news instantly. Instant messaging and video conferencing allows people to talk in real-time through their internet connection. Until very recently, the best mode of world-wide communication in real-time was a telephone call that was very expensive; but as the costs have dropped drastically over the past two decades, it is not unusual for elementary school children to have personal cell phones so that their parents can contact them directly any time. Before the telephone, a common method of contact was handwritten correspondence through what we now refer to as “snail mail.”
With electronic media available to increasing numbers of citizens around the world, how do people receive breaking news and crucial information? Important television news reports are broadcast live across continents; many newspapers printed and delivered to homes or bought at a newsstand can now be accessed on the internet either at no charge or with online subscriptions. What effects do these changes have on the way that the news media portrays current events? Do these depictions encourage the public to base their decisions and views on a single information source? Do laws regulate the information accessed by the public? How does the media impact the way we think about and view the world? Certain news stations may offer more conservative views than others. Some may choose to cover a story to a certain point but omit information the public might find useful. Some papers and television news stations portray stories from perspectives which might encourage people to rely on one source for all news coverage. Some laws may restrict the publication of certain information, resulting in limited public knowledge. Whether we like it or not, media is present in our everyday lives. We need to consider the positive and negative effects the ever-growing media has on us, and whether change is necessary.

About the Speaker
Stephen Adler is an accomplished journalist and has been the editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek since 2005. He began his writing career reporting for The Tampa Times and The Tallahassee Democrat. He then joined the American Lawyer Magazine, where he became editor and eventually editorial director of the American Lawyer newspapers group. Adler was a National Magazine Award finalist for his article on the Union Carbide accident in the American Lawyer in 1985. After a few years with the publication, Mr. Adler became legal editor of the Wall Street Journal in 1988. Adler and a colleague were given a merit award in the John Peter Zenger Media Awards Competition in 1993 for an article they wrote entitled “Common Criminals.” He received several promotions at the Journal, and in 1998 became assistant managing editor. During his time with the Wall Street Journal Mr. Adler directed reporting teams which won three Pulitzer Prizes. He was promoted to deputy managing editor in 2000, expanding the Journal on the internet and in other media, directing news coverage in the daily edition and supervising the Wall Street Journal Books imprint, a division of Random House Publishing.
In 1994, Times Books published Mr. Adler’s The Jury: Trial and Error in the American Courtroom, which won the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award in 1995. He also co-edited two books with his wife, Letters of the Century (1999) and Women’s Letters (2005), both published by Dial Press. Mr. Adler is on the board of directors for one of New York’s original settlement houses, the Goddard-Riverdale Community Center. In 1977, he received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and in 1983 earned his juris doctorate degree from Harvard Law School.

The Benjamin Rush Award
The Benjamin Rush Award for Humanistic Values in Corporate and Government Life, established in 1985, is one of the most prestigious annual awards presented at Dickinson College. The Award celebrates the achievements of officials and executives who have reached the highest levels in government service or the corporate world. It is named in honor of Benjamin Rush, the prominent colonial Philadelphia physician who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and founder of Dickinson.

The Award is conferred at a public ceremony on the Dickinson campus, during which the recipient presents the annual Rush Award Lecture. The lectureship guidelines stipulate that the recipient should comment on issues of significance to government or the corporate world, with some attention to the value of the liberal arts in preparing individuals for responsible citizenship. The recipient of the Award is presented with an honorarium and a bronze medal bearing Rush’s likeness. Prior to the Rush Lecture the college hosts a reception and dinner in honor of the recipient.

Here, Bullet

Monday, April 10, 2006
Here, Bullet
Stern Center, Great Room, 7:00 p.m.

Here Bullet
Issue in Context
A majority of the poems in Here, Bullet were written during Turner’s one-year tour in Iraq and reflect the struggle to understand his place in the War and the world. This first-hand account of the War in Iraq stands as a powerful witness to the actual events of the War. The poems are neither politically skewed nor do they make moral assumptions. Instead, they leave the reader to draw conclusions and feel the poetry.

The first and only of Brian Turner’s published books to date, Here, Bullet has garnered national acclaim. Both author and poetry have been featured in many publications and radio broadcasts, including Maine Things Considered and NPR. Here, Bullet is the recipient of the 2005 Alice James Books’ Beatrice Hawley Award.

Reviews of Here, Bullet

• “The day of the first moonwalk, my father’s college literature professor told his class, ‘Someday they’ll send a poet, and we’ll find out what it’s really like.’ Turner has sent back a dispatch from a place arguably more incomprehensible than the moon—the war in Iraq —and deserves our thanks…”
– The New York Times Book Review

• “As a war poet, [Brian Turner] sidesteps the classic distinction between romance and irony, opting instead for the surreal.”
– The New Yorker

About the Speaker
After earning an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Oregon , Brian Turner began a life of travel. He lived in South Korea for a year before serving seven years in the U.S. Army. He was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division and most recently to Iraq from 2003-2004 with the 3 rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2 nd Infantry Division. There, he was stationed near Mosul and was a team leader in the first Stryker brigade to enter the combat zone.

His poetry has been published in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review and other journals, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name.

“In Iraq , I was a sergeant. I was a team leader. My job was to accomplish the missions given to me and to see that my men made it home safe when it was all over. At the same time, I saw myself as an embedded poet; it was my job to witness, to provide testimony, however limited and filtered through the lens of my own faulty perceptions, to the ongoing war. Death hovered over all of this.”
– Brian Turner, excerpt from an essay for The New York Foundation for the Arts

Related Links