The New Line

I’m starting to wonder if my students think I’m crazy. Or if maybe I’m using them as a mask to address the fact that I am in some ways very not normal.

I’m teaching Intro to Women’s Studies this fall, and as a part of that I’ve asked them all to post blog posts once a week. This week we’ve covered Phyllis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and accompanying that I offered a brief tour through Romantic (capital R) art. People are visual creatures, and it helps to have the occasional graphic when something is available.

Now, where I’ve gone crazy is here: for starters, I’m blogging along side them, largely for kicks. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander (which I do not mean as a gender-based pun—I see it. That’s not what I’m doing). This is followed by introducing art, and political cartoons into the class. I admittedly do not have an art degree, and in fact I think I might only have a single art history class underneath my belt, but I am an art aficionado and if you’re around it long enough and do enough research, then sometimes you can pass yourself along as an expert. At the very least I can infer it. But what probably tops the cake—the thing that’s making me wonder—is that I’ve just finished a blog post comparing 18th century poet Phyllis Wheatley to 21st century rapper Rye Rye.

And it feels crazy because it was not a stretch. At all. It was a very easy comparison.

This kind of thing might absolutely fly at a Popular Culture Association conference, but within the more rigid structures of academia, probably not. It would be like going to school in the 1850s and writing about Dickens. (Because he was a populist writer, looking to make money—not unlike Shakespeare. But to make those kinds of comparisons in certain literary echelons could get a person in trouble, or at the very least draw ire.) At any rate, this sort of thing feels unprecedented in my schooling history—maybe I was in all the wrong courses, but no professor I’ve ever had invoked Madonna, or J. K. Rowling, or Tina Fey, despite what I consider to be their significant cultural contributions and lasting influence. Is this a part of the remove that academia maintains from mainstream society? Or is it a fear of falling down rabbit holes? (If you’re considering Madonna, then why not Lady Gaga or Erykah Badu, and then why not the next unnamed star with the expectation—true or false—that they too will make it big? Where do you draw the new line?)

I don’t know how my students will react to being closer to pop culture and to reflections of modern day society. I can certainly say that I’ve made it clear that that’s where I will be heading, and a lot of them appear to be excited about it.

Time. Time (and evaluations) will tell.