At Auburn University, my research has centered on the many reverberations of community. Community is performed in various ways both on stage and in life. The negotiation of community in contemporary American culture presents itself in many forms -- from performances of vulnerability, negotiations of trauma, and illusions of connections between people and memories of popular culture. Community building requires a level of intimacy between members either through shared experiences or, I argue, popular culture. Community building established through popular culture creates a space where we build communities through references, icons, and memes that we then utilize to navigate our experience together.
Each of the following research projects are positioned in the vein of community in various degrees.
“At any given Before moment”: Memory, Trauma, and Pop Culture in Washburn’s Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play
Ann Washburn's Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play captured my attention as the first contemporary play I encountered in my Master's program and I was drawn to the blunt investigation of performativity within the narrative. What is most intriguing is the creation of spaces of intimacy in an apocalyptic time through the interpolation of popular culture. Specifically, I saw a connection between The Simpsons, "mindless entertainment," and the negotiation of cultural trauma. Other misconstrued ideas of intimacy presented themselves through assumptions of sexuality through soft drinks, demonstrating the limitations of our cultural understanding of intimacy. What was crucial in my understanding of the characters' misremembering of popular culture were the intimate, tense pauses in their conversations that both complicated the audiences' understanding of their role and opened spaces for trauma for the characters. This paper marks the shift in my research from female-centered communities to the interconnections of performance and popular culture. This project was also the first time I utilized nontraditional sources such as public YouTube comments as sites for cultural intimacy.
“With the interpolation of “Cape Feare,” American products like Diet Coke, and contemporary American pop music, Washburn creates a space that makes its audience hyper-aware of its own social performativity.”
Being On Display and In Display: The Tactical Negotiation of Agency and Ideology by Performing 'Prisoner'
"Because Run-On Sentence is taken out of the space where the incarcerated women can manipulate time and exercise agency over their bodies, it loses tactical power for the individual women as they are no longer given the agency to tell their own intimate story. [It] transitions from allowing the women to be 'in display' to forcing their experiences to be 'on display' for characters."
This paper was my first exploration into the field of Rhetoric and Composition but I still found a way to incorporate my research in negotiating performances of American intimacy by situating non-profit prison performing arts projects within spatial rhetoric. Though I could not access the script of Run-On Sentence, I utilized an NPR interview of an incarcerated woman, Patty Prewitt, who operated as part of the inspiration for the show and, later, a performer within her own story. Through this interview, I was able to understand the complex position of the incarcerated women and their understanding of their own identity and experiences. This project lead to my critique of the disparity between agency provided to the incarcerated women when they chose to offer their intimate stories to be 'in display' for themselves and their peers in contrast to when their stories became a spectacle 'on display' for the general public. This was also my first attempt to engage with literary theory in regards to subjecthood — especially de Certeau's discussion of spatial tactics. While it was a challenge, this lead me to see how ideological theory and subjecthood impacts performances of vulnerability.
Freddie Mercury: The It Queen
My semester long engagement with Freddie Mercury began as a challenge to find one person who had "It" by Joseph Roach's definition. I was aiming to prove Mercury's It factor but, more than that, I wanted to understand the cultural capital he maintained after his death more than twenty-five ago. What I found was a man who was deeply private about his intimate life, full of contradictions, open with his emotional challenges, and able to build a vast community of fans globally. This project gave me the chance to critically engage with multimedia sources such as tabloids, music videos, and costuming which forced me to refine my understanding of physical performance.
Serendipitously, while I was working on investigating Mercury's It factor, the Bohemian Rhapsody film was premiering. Working on this project provided me the necessary insight of how to navigate active/developing stories because, as I was negotiating the impact of Mercury's It factor and afterlife, the debut of the film was putting the spotlight on Mercury and the remaining members of Queen. The various responses to the Bohemian Rhapsody film demonstrated the illusions of familiarity that fans adopt with celebrities and how these personal memories can conflict with the cultural memory. This project also allowed me to envisage the possibility of a queer icon who maintains an intimate spot in mainstream popular culture. The following artifact is a collection of slides from three presentations that demonstrate my engagement with celebrity theory, digital platforms, and misrepresentations of collective memory.