The Nature of Identity in Popular Media
Ever since childhood, I have always been enthralled by the power of cinema, of the emotions and ideas a simple image could convey. During my undergrad at Ball State University, where I studied Digital Media Production, my ultimate career goal was to succeed in Hollywood as a film director, and specifically enrolled in the university’s Digital Storytelling graduate program in pursuit of this goal. However, my experiences in the program, coupled with the guidance of my advisor, Dr. Robert Brookey, helped me to realize that my true passion lay in academia. Instead of producing film or television, I would analyze both mediums, and identify why audiences invest so much passion and identity into popular texts. My new career path led me to the School of Media & Communication at Bowling Green State University.
Under the guidance of my advisor, Dr. Ellen Gorsevski, I established myself as a scholar of rhetoric, specifically visual rhetoric. I studied how popular film and television texts both reflected and influenced the dominant culture. During my studies, I gravitated towards the concept of identity: how identities are constructed and portrayed in popular media, including representations of women and racial minorities, and how such depictions reinforce or challenge dominant stereotypes. To further my research into the portrayal of gender roles and identity in popular media, I obtained a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies from Bowling Green State University’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.
My work draws heavily from qualitative methodology, as well as gender studies, media studies, and race and ethnicity. This allows me to uncover the subtextual meanings of popular texts and their commentary on marginalized identities. My published work has appeared in Popular Culture Review and The Popular Culture Studies Journal. I also have published book chapters in Orphan Black: Sestras, Scorpions, and Crazy Science, Misogyny and Media in the Age of Trump, and Television Serial Dramas in the Era of Social Viewing: Gendering and Racing Across Genres and Audience Involvement.
The intersection of media, racial studies, and gender studies is also reflected in my dissertation, titled Angry White Men: How Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead Predicted the Trumpian Zeitgeist. Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, both of which air on cable channel AMC, are recognized as the most critically and commercially successful texts, respectfully, of the modern Golden Age of Television, a term used to describe the significant aesthetical and narrative innovations in serialized television dramas beginning in the late 1990s. However, this term can be construed as a misnomer, as the alleged Golden Age of the new millennium has largely failed to divert from historical trends and diversify representation in terms of racial or sexual minorities. Instead, the archetypal protagonist of the current Golden Age is a maladjusted, white male struggling with feelings of marginalization – a description that can also be readily applied to members of the alt-right movement. When considering the recent mainstreaming of white nationalism and masculine power norms in the American sociopolitical arena, eminent Golden Age dramas such as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead deserve critical attention for possible cultural and rhetorical connections that exist between their protagonists and alt-right supporters. My dissertation demonstrates that such series have operated as textual artifacts that may have contributed to forming the zeitgeist of this masculinized sociopolitical and cultural moment.
I am excited to continue my research in the humanities. I currently intend for my immediate future research to continue building off my dissertation. Popular media reflects the national character, and although the American sociopolitical climate has recently witnessed a resurgence of destigmatized racial prejudice and femiphobia, many POC and female-centered dramas, such as Netflix’s Dear White People and Jessica Jones, are directly challenging this new zeitgeist through their fictional narratives and affirming the agency and autonomy of social groups targeted and denigrated by the far right. Media is a contested site for cultural identity, and there is an abundance of contemporary television series and film projects that demonstrate cultural relevance and deserve critical attention for examining and expanding notions of gender and racial identity.