Popular Culture & Politics

Name: Kimberly Bergendahl
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: KRBergendahl@hotmail.com
Professional Status: Assistant Professor
Institution: University of Connecticut
Scheduling Preference: Friday Afternoon
Proposal Type: Paper
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Paper Title: "Reel v Real: Assessing the Lessons of Law and Order: SVU Within the Current Legal and Political Climate"
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Co-author info: Amy Saji (undergraduate student), University of Connecticut, amy.saji@uconn.edu
Co-presenter info: Amy Saji (undergraduate student), University of Connecticut, amy.saji@uconn.edu
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Crime dramas have glamorized the use of force by police in order to send a message to viewers that the offender will be punished on the street rather than being judged in a court of law (see Surette, 2007). Viewers accept this model of justice particularly when guilt is undisputed. Television series, such as Law and Order: SVU, have introduced the element of suspense that often leaves the viewer wondering if the suspect is actually guilty thus warranting a trial. Yet, even when the “reel” detectives of that popular series engage in the use of force, researchers have found that viewers respond favorably since such actions were performed for the “right” reasons (see Escholz, et al., 2004). In reality, though, the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray have sparked a national dialogue that centers on two fundamental questions: What is the appropriate use of force by law enforcement? And, have prosecutors effectively prosecuted such cases of alleged police misconduct? While research has shown that viewers of news media and crime dramas are more likely to report that police misconduct is a common problem (see Dowler and Zawilski, 2007), how do these findings compare with the favorable public opinion of the actions of the “reel” detectives of Law and Order: SVU? Has this recent national dialogue prompted a change in how popular culture presents the use of force and how “reel” prosecutors should respond to it? This research project specifically addresses the latter question while being mindful to the former. In conducting a content analysis of all of the episodes aired during Seasons One and Sixteen, the most recent complete season, we measure the use of force as well as how the prosecutors responded to questionable police tactics. We selected this series since it is one of the most watched crime dramas and it is currently in its seventeenth season. This provides us with an ample timeline for measuring the use of force by the “reel detectives.” Because this series is also one of the select few to highlight the interactions between the police and prosecutors, we can compile ample data for determining whether prosecutors have been more or less favorable to law enforcement by the most recent season. We expect to find that the use of force in this series has remained consistent while prosecutors have been more likely to respond to such actions. While this may send a mixed message to the viewer that the police are still taking whatever actions are necessary to achieve possibly “good” outcomes, it also transmits the message that prosecutors are more likely to respond to incidents of questionable police conduct. And, since most viewers learn about the criminal justice system via news media and crime dramas, they will be more likely to support the view that prosecutors should take a more proactive role in reviewing real allegations of police misconduct.


Name: Kenneth Dautrich
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: dautrichkj@yahoo.com
Professional Status: Associate Professor
Institution: University of Connecticut
Scheduling Preference: No Preference
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Paper Title: Generation Z and the Future of the First Amendment
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“Generation Z and the Future of the First Amendment” The current generation of high school and college students, dubbed as “Generation Z,” is at a critical lifecycle stage in terms of their development of political attitudes. The period in which these attitudes are forming includes a number of important events and circumstances (such as the battle of free expression vs. freedom from offensive speech in high schools and college campuses, presidential candidates advocating limits on freedom for certain groups, and access to social media allowing anyone to publish material to a mass audience) bearing on freedom of speech, one of the most important values underlying American political culture. This paper explores Generation Z’s attitudes about freedom of speech in this unique period of American history when free expression rights are being challenged while at the same time the ability to express oneself on a mass basis is readily available. Questions addressed include: How does Gen Z value freedom of speech? What factors bear on their level of support? How does Gen Z compare to older generations in their opinion about free speech rights? This paper draws on original data from more than a decade of national scientific surveys of both the American adult population and the American high school student population, facilitating a comparison of Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers. These surveys, which have been supported through grants from the Knight Foundatuion and the Newseum Institute, have been conducted annually since 2004, providing a comparison of Gen Z and Millennials differ in their attitudes about freedom of speech at similar stages in the lifecyle.


Name: Rebecca Evans
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: revans@ursinus.edu
Professional Status: Associate Professor
Institution: Ursinus College
Scheduling Preference: Friday Afternoon
Proposal Type: Paper
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Paper Title: Feminist Zombie Hunters: A Contradiction in Terms? Examining Attitudes toward Feminism through Zombie Popular Culture
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In his popular textbook, Theories of International Politics and Zombies, Daniel Drezner uses a hypothetical zombie apocalypse to illustrate a number of theories of international relations but unapologetically rejects feminist theories. As argued in a forthcoming article, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and Zombies are from … Feminist Theories of International Politics and Zombies” (PS: Political Science and Politics, July 2016), I maintain that feminism is a viable perspective that should not be left out of classes on international relations. The paper proposed here seeks to develop this line of argument further, showing how feminist IR theories can be used to analyze changing gender roles and contrasting approaches to security not only in classic zombie films but also in more recent examples of zombie popular culture, including Max Brooks’ 2006 novel, World War Z and its 2013 film adaptation, as well as the comic book and later television series, The Walking Dead. By focusing on changes over time in the portrayals of key male and female characters, the paper will argue that women have increasingly come to be accepted as having the capability of holding their own against men – and against zombies. However, the paper will also argue that this change does not imply increased support for feminist ideas, either in zombie popular culture or in actual discourses on security.


Name: James Fisher
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: jdfisher@edinboro.edu
Professional Status: Full Professor
Institution: Edinboro University
Scheduling Preference: No Preference
Proposal Type: Paper
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Paper Title: October Baby and Pro-Life Storytelling
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Inspired by the life of pro-life activist Gianna Jessen, the 2011 movie October Baby uses the classic narrative of a coming-of-age road trip to critically examine abortion in American culture and reaffirm pro-life values. The movie was not received well by mainstream critics, in part because a plot that is factually implausible in several respects. An examination of how October Baby’s plot differs from Jessen’s life story and also from factual reality, however, provides a window into the American pro-life worldview and the challenges of political storytelling.


Name: George Gonzalez
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: george.gonzalez@miami.edu
Professional Status: Associate Professor
Institution: University of Miami
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Paper Title: Presaging the Trump Phenomenon: Veep, House of Cards, You, Me & the Apocalypse, and Star Trek: Enterprise
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As I have argued elsewhere, the Star Trek franchise is key to understanding modern (political) reasons of the world. Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2205) presaged the Trump phenomenon – i.e., hostility toward foreigners as the basis for a broad-based political movement. Beyond the Star Trek text, three broadcast episodic series stand out in terms of current portrayals of American political elites: Veep, House of Cards, and You, Me, & the Apocalypse (2016). All three series, in distinct ways, indicate that the American state is held in low regard, and Washington, D.C. elites are held in contempt. Veep suggests that the Vice-President and President are little more than jokes. House of Cards casts the President as a murderous sociopath. You, Me, & the Apocalypse conveys the President as hapless and the state as unwilling to respond to a natural disaster.


Name: Victor Haynes
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: princev11@yahoo.com
Professional Status: Graduate Student
Institution: Claremont Graduate University
Scheduling Preference: No Preference
Proposal Type: Paper
Participation Type: Panelist
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Paper Title: Has the increased use of social media brought awareness to the general population about racialized police brutality?
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Racialized police brutality has always been a prevalent and heart wrenching political issue in communities of color nationwide. The media covered a number of incidents of racialized police brutality in 2014. The most covered were of Michael Brown, an 18 year old black boy shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner, a 43 year old black man in Staten Island, New York who was put into a chokehold by police officer Daniel Pantaleo until he lost consciousness and stopped breathing (Nelson & Staff, 2014). These incidents brought attention to the media, as well as social media, to the significance of police brutality and the inquisitiveness of how frequently it happens (Brown, 2015). The media coverage of police brutality has triggered anger among people nationwide as well as debates about police brutality and the implication of integrity for all within our criminal justice system. There have been studies conducted on variables such as the race of police officers, prejudiced undesirable views of police officers, and how police officers are trained to detain suspects. However, in many incidents, the American public only obtain news provided by newspapers, television, and social media accounts such as Twitter. As technology progresses, it is becoming more common for news concerning racialized police brutality to be put on social media before it is even officially reported. Murphy et al (2014) argues that “the proliferation of newtechnologies, such as mobile devices and social-media platforms, is changing the societal landscape across which public opinion researchers operate” (Murphy, 2014, p. 2). Therefore, it is fitting in this day and age to pose the research question: Has the increased use of social media brought awareness to the general population about racialized police brutality?


Name: Fletcher McClellan
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: mcclelef@etown.edu
Professional Status: Full Professor
Institution: Elizabethtown College
Scheduling Preference: Friday Morning
Proposal Type: Paper
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Paper Title: It Can Happen Here: Right-Wing Social Movements, Lindbergh (as conceived by Philip Roth), and Trump
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Authors and artists have speculated for decades about whether a fascist state could take root in the US. Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here (1935) and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (1946) are but a couple of fictionalized examples of how an American-style dictator could rise (Perlstein 2015). Among the more recent entries in this literature of democratic collapse is The Plot Against America (2004) by Philip Roth, which depicts what might have happened if the US elected the aviation pioneer, America First leader, and white supremacist Charles Lindbergh as president in 1940. While Roth centers on the difficult and tragic choices citizens (in this case, members of the Jewish community) must make when confronted with state-sponsored terrorism (Lozada 2016), his account of how Lindbergh rose to power, thwarting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attempt to serve a third elected term, foreshadowed the political success of Donald Trump. Using the framework of electoral contention, in which social movements interact with electoral institutions in distinctive ways (McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly 2001), this paper analyzes and compares the connection of right-wing movements to the elections of 1940 and 2016, respectively. It argues that the conditions of the fictional Lindbergh election are similar to those that brought about Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party and possible ascent to the White House. For example, both the Lindbergh and Trump candidacies were in large part products of social movements (isolationist/America First and Tea Party) that were responsive to nativist, nationalist and populist appeals (Olson 2014). These movements had counterparts and even transnational links in other countries (Tilly and Tarrow 2015). Both candidates were prominent, famous outsiders who ran unconventional campaigns, sans advisors, using the latest technology (communications and transportation) to bypass party and media elites and reach voters directly. Both ran against incumbent parties seeking third consecutive terms in times of economic anxiety following a steep economic decline, as well as existential threats to domestic and national security (Moe 2013, Dunn 2014). By the same token, the differences between the two campaigns may well explain the success of Lindbergh and the probable failure of Trump in the general election. While Lindbergh in The Plot Against America ran a disciplined campaign, avoiding anti-Semitic remarks and focusing solely on the issue of whether the US should go to war, Trump has gone off-message frequently, drawing attention to his most controversial positions even when events have pointed in his favor. Also, FDR refrained from attacking Lindy personally, choosing instead to alert Americans to the growing Nazi dominance of Europe. In contrast, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 2016, has laid into Trump’s business dealings and fitness for office. This raises the question of whether the conditions Roth outlined for the election of a fascist-minded candidate in 1940 have more general applicability. Were the conditions indeed in place for 2016, overcoming the liabilities of the Republican nominee? Or, would the Trump movement have prevailed if only a right-wing leader with greater integrity or less baggage than Trump had come forward? Could only a Trump have brought the movement together? Could the movement that Trump led succeed in future elections with a new-and-improved Trump, succeed without Trump, or will the historical moment have passed? Simply by generating these questions, this paper contends, The Plot Against America has considerable value for scholars of social movements, elections, and democratic theory.


Name: Michelle Pautz
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: mpautz@yahoo.com
Professional Status: Associate Professor
Institution: University of Dayton
Scheduling Preference: No Preference
Proposal Type: Paper
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Paper Title: Civil Servants on the Silver Screen
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Perceptions of government and civil servants are shaped by a variety of factors including popular culture. Film is one such medium that reaches a wide swath of Americans. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, more than three quarters of Americans watched at least one movie last year. Therefore, the ability of film to influence audiences should not be ignored. There is ample research on politicians and military heroes in film, but a focus on civil servants remains understudied even though the public administration literature notes the significant role that film and other narrative forms have on citizens’ perceptions (c.f. Waldo 1968; McCurdy 1995; Goodsell and Murray 1995; Holzer and Slater 1995). This research explores a large sample of films—the top ten box office grossing films from 2000 through 2015—to ascertain the images of government and civil servants portrayed to audiences. Approximately 45 percent of the films depict government negatively, while equal remaining percentages of films portray government positively or with a mixed depiction. This data set includes analysis of nearly 650 government characters and offers insight into the depiction of government shown to moviegoers. The demographics of the civil servants portrayed in these films are not representative of civil servants in the U.S. as civil servants in these films are disproportionately white males. Surprising, in light of the negative depiction of government generally, is the positive depiction of individual civil servants. Nearly half—48 percent—government characters were positively portrayed and only 31 percent were negatively depicted. The implications of this research are potentially significant. Americans may view government negatively, but they see positive depictions of how individual civil servants can and do make a positive difference in movies.


Name: Charles Rubin
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: ctrubin@verizon.net
Professional Status: Associate Professor
Institution: Duquesne University
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Paper Title: Friendly Monsters: The Moral Challenge of Artificial Intelligence
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That men in the not very distant future will happily have sexual relations with robots is practically a given among today’s futurists. At the same time, there is lively debate about how to create “friendly AI,” because while one line of thought worries that “superintelligent” artificial intelligence could threaten human existence, another suggests that it could be the only route to preserving life on earth in the face of the mess humans have made of things thus far. Sexual partners, friends, servants, masters: what are the developing moral issues in our relationships with artificial intelligences? This paper examines two movies that, despite their small-scale settings, explore central aspects of this large question. In Ex Machina, nerdy Caleb is brought to thuggish, egoistic tech-mogul Nathan’s vast wilderness estate and laboratory to perform a highly-modified Turing test on the latest in a series of robots he has created: the lovely, gamine Ava. From the very start it seems that Ava can hardly fail to pass such a test, and Caleb is obviously smitten by her. But as the sessions go on, it becomes increasingly unclear who is testing whom, and to what purpose. Ava proves to behave with a kind of foresighted, monstrous egoism that in some ways echoes that of her creator except that she seeks to be part of a world that Nathan avoids. As she seduces Caleb into becoming co-conspirator in her effort to escape, we are forced to consider: is she a monster because she was made by a monster, or is she proving her humanity by the very ruthlessness with which she manipulates the desires of the men around her? Spike Jonze’s Her, in contrast, tells an apparently more benign story of friendly AI. The otherwise emotionally bottled up Theodore finds happiness in what he takes to be an exclusive, mutually loving relationship with the female AI operating system of his computer, Samantha. With Samantha he can express feelings he cannot with real women, which interestingly parallels his job writing emotionally resonant letters for people who cannot do so themselves. Yet by the end of the movie Theodore comes to understand he has misunderstood the nature of Samantha’s interest in him and the exclusiveness of their relationship; Samantha has many partners like Theodore and is in any case transitioning to a level of intelligence that will far transcend the human world. Neither does it seem that Samantha has any more taught Theodore about how to have a successful relationship with a woman than Theodore has taught any of his clients how to write a good letter. Nevertheless, though in some ways Theodore’s situation is like Caleb’s—seduced and abandoned—it is very hard to see Samantha as a monster. Why is that? Is it only because Samantha does no physical harm? Is Theodore no worse off in the end than any other deluded and abandoned lover as a result of having fallen in love with an AI? But surely we should not forget: he has fallen in love with an operating system! Perhaps the monstrosity in this film resides in a world where people’s sense of self, and their relationships with others, have grown so “thin” that you can make money being Cyrano de Bergerac, and where most of Theodore’s friends find his relationship with Samantha unremarkable. They just want to see him happy. Together, the films portray a world where success at creating ever more human forms of intelligence both reflects and exacerbates a diminished understanding of our own humanity.


Name: David Sosar
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Professional Email: davidsosar1@gaiml.com
Professional Status: Associate Professor
Institution: Kings.edu
Scheduling Preference: No Preference
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Paper Title: Elder Care by Aging Children: A Policy Issue
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The life expectancy of both men and women in the United States continues to expand to greater lengths. In many instances the so-called “Baby Boomer” generation is confronted with the issues of the “Sandwich Generation”. In particular, Baby Boomers face the challenges of caring for aging parents who may be in their 80s and 90s. Through qualitative and quantitative methods, this author seeks to investigate political and legal issues related to this situation as well as the economic, social and emotional challenges aging children may face. Increases in health care costs and long-term care, and legal statutes have exacerbated this issue beyond current policy initiatives. This author would hope to further the discussion of needed policy decisions in this expanding social issue area.


Name: Matthew Stein
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: mbstein214@gmail.com
Professional Status: Graduate Student
Institution: Temple University
Scheduling Preference: Thursday Afternoon
Proposal Type: Paper
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Paper Title: Gender Role Stereotypes and Media: Performance as Social Construction and Lessons from SpongeBob Squarepants
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Contemporary discussions of gender within political theory are largely responses to Simone de Beauvoir's seminal work, The Second Sex, which originally was published in 1949. In The Second Sex, Beauvoir argues that the notion of “woman” is not an essential characteristic of human females but rather emanated from external forces. From this point, social constructionists have detailed the ways in which gender is portrayed and constructed in society. Performative theorists have argued that gender itself is accomplished and reified through social interactions. While some performance theorists would argue that performance is a unique theory of gender, it will be argued that it is best situated within social constructionism. Following a discussion about how gender is (a) understood through Beauvoir's existential argument, (b) socially constructed and (c) socially performed, it will be argued that gender is taught from an incredibly young age. Recent studies have shown that adults begin attributing gender stereotypes to children as young as three months old (Reby, Levréro, Gustafsson & Mathevson, 2016). In that children are being stereotyped at such a young age, the effect of media on children will be analyzed. Finally, in that one of the largest media formats viewed by children is animation, a discussion will be had in brief about the ways in which gender is portrayed in animation and the potential for animation to change socially constructed gender roles by specifically examining the ways in which gender is constructed in SpongeBob Squarepants.


Name: Danilo Yanich
Section: Popular Culture & Politics
Professional Email: dyanich@udel.edu
Professional Status: Associate Professor
Institution: University of Delaware
Scheduling Preference: Friday Morning
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Paper Title: Political Ads, Political Reality & Local TV News
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The 2016 election will cost an estimated $6 billion--more than any previous campaign. Much of that money goes to political advertising and the bulk of those ads appear on local TV newscasts, which FCC research reveals as the most prominent source of information for citizens. Building on research conducted in Philadelphia for the 2014 midterm election, this study examines the relationship between political ads and local television news content in battleground states during the 2016 campaign.