For anybody who is either around the Dow Science Complex on the Central Michigan campus tomorrow (Friday 11/1) or enjoys eating gratis lunch, I’ll be giving a talk at Noon! Join me and my colleagues in DOW 270 to learn about my research, the overlap between Geography and Pop Culture, and see me break down what I mean by Symbolic Gentrification. I look forward to seeing you.
Those details again:
Friday, November 1, 12pm – 1pm Central Michigan University Dow Science Complex Room 270
Last week, my Cultural Geography: Core Concepts class tackled the relationship between gender and space. Many of my students volunteered personal experiences when their movement through space reminded them (some harshly) of their gender performance. One student mentioned a male friend of hers who specially requested cocktail drinks in a brandy glass in order to mitigate any ridicule he may receive for having a “girl drink.” So, being me, I decided this would be a good excuse to show this classic 1991 sketch from Kids in the Hall.
For a quick overview, the Kids in the Hall were a Canadian sketch troupe with a hit TV series that ran between 1989 and 1995. They released their motion picture Brain Candy in 1996 and have reunited on multiple occasions. All five members – Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCullough, Dave Foley, and Kevin McDonald (the latter two co-star in this sketch) – are still working regularly on television today.
I had the opportunity to interview Kevin McDonald at a live show last summer, and I asked him about the changes he’d observed in sketch comedy over his decades in the industry. Though the satire and humor holds up, this sketch is reflective of a major shift he had noticed in how comedy was written, produced, and presented since the KITH show was on the air.
“One thing we were lucky about was that there was no YouTube. We couldn’t film stuff, so we had to do it the old Vaudeville way. We had to get our stage legs, and we performed all the time… It forced us to strengthen muscles that aren’t strengthened [as much today]. People on YouTube – they strengthen different muscles. They know how to be filmic. They know how to write for film; they understand “cut-to:” right away.”
Watching this sketch on YouTube in 2019, it’s easy to notice how much space they gave this short film to breathe. The dialogue is just as important as the visual gags, and the story builds slowly over a handful of scenes. Though memes (in the internet sense) did not exist at the time, the characters and cinematography lend themselves surprisingly well to that medium today. When I asked McDonald about what he thinks has contributed to the characters’ cult longevity (even early-era spots like The Eradicator, a Bruce McCullough character with a recent punk band themed after him), his answer was pretty simple: “I think that we found a rhythm in the troupe that was halfway between absurdism and real…”
The concept of what is and isn’t a “girl drink” brings a focus to that interaction of gender and place via multiple dynamics: namely, bodily comportment and subconscious “gendering” of flavor and decoration as ‘feminine.’ As they did in their strongest moments, the Kids in the Hall blended the real/tragic (a guy falling off the wagon and losing his job) with the absurd (needing some fruit and a tiny parasol in his booze). The sketch could easily be distilled (heh) down to one joke at its core, but playing to their strengths, McDonald and Foley inject masterful character work and subtle jabs. Though Foley and McDonald are hardly the punching-down type of comedians, having Scott Thompson in the writing process certainly provided a valuable voice in modulating their humor about sexuality and masculinity to avoid reinforcing gay tropes (unlike some other sketch comedy of that era … Buddy Cole, martini at his side, always dominated that conversation, anyway).
In general, alcohol plays a crucial role in geography, and vice versa. Obviously, site characteristics inform how and why brewers decide to open up shop, and local tastes often determine how certain brands of alcohol are marketed and distributed. A number of geographers, including my mentor Tom Bell, have published studies about regional dynamics in alcohol marketing, and the latest issue of the Journal of Cultural Geography contains an overview of brewing in New England. My friends Dave and Steph spoke to me and Bret Hartt about the relationship between beer and place on Episode 6 of The Casual Geographer back in 2011. I also include a case study/focus on alcohol and localism in my American Popular Culture course, especially the imagined geographies of Eastern TN and the legalized moonshine trade.
This is just one of many classic comedy sketches I use to teach cultural geography. I’ve previously written about how I introduce my Popular Culture lecture on Minstrelsy with my favorite SNL sketch of all time. I’d love to hear any examples of sketches and scenes you’ve found useful in your classes.
It’s November, meaning that for the undergrads, it’s registration time! Nothing quite like making students plot out their next round of classes right at the moment when they are at wits’ end with their current round. Fortunately, I’ve been enjoying my four classes this semester, and from my mid-semester evaluations and individual conversations, so have most of my students. This is fortunate, because I happen to be teaching four more courses in the Spring.
Whether or not I’ve had the pleasure of having you in one of my classes this semester, last Fall, or in my 101 sections in 2014-2015, take a look at these options for the Spring.
GEOG 101 – World Regional Geography
This will be my fifth time teaching this introductory course (fourth time at the University of Tennessee). It takes a humanities-oriented look at the globe and how we are all increasingly connected, taking time out to focus on all of the major World Regions. The list of case studies I use here is too long to write out here and consistently increasing, but today I discussed the geographic birth of the American Indian Movement and my colleague Emma did a guest-lecture about the Westward expansion of the US within our National Park system.
That’s not me, but my friend Eric Dawson from the East TN History Center speaking to my GEOG 320 class last fall.
GEOG 320 – Cultural Geography: Core Concepts
This course overviews the building blocks for approaching and understanding the very broad concept of Cultural Geography. It includes lessons about the perpetually-growing subject of ‘sense of place,’ gender, the battle of space v. place, as well as case studies in film geography, music, sports, and possibly anything else that ‘makes’ culture. This will be my third time teaching this course, and I always look forward to building on it.
Somewhere outside Segovia, Spain
GEOG 371 – Exploring Europe
One of my favorite quotes by Eddie Izzard was a throwaway line in Dress to Kill (1998): “I grew up in Europe – where the history comes from!” This class unpacks that phrase by taking a critical look at the geographic processes that have made Europe into Earth’s ostensible mission control center for the past 500 years despite being a rattling agglomeration of devolving nation-states all grappling for some semblance of identity. We look at the heavy-hitters as well as the bench players of the continent, complete with a hand-picked soundtrack from all over the map.
GEOG 423 – American Popular Culture
This course will examine the relationship between the cultural geography of the United States and the amazing breadth of art, icons, and legends that have sprung from her soil. I’m not prepared to deliver a full syllabus just yet, but some of the topics we may have on tap include literature, popular music, television, Music Television, sports, food/drink, death, Vaudeville, and architecture. This course will be cross-listed with AMST 423 (American Studies), so I’m looking forward to meeting some folks from that department who may not have taken a Geography class yet.
This was the 5th result when I googled “the South.” (via a listicle-type article on ’19 Reasons why Southern Florida really isn’t “the South.”‘)
This morning in my GEOG 320 class, I introduced and discussed the concept of vernacular regions. That is, large-scale places that tend to be united by an idea rather than political borders (e.g. state lines) or physical borders (e.g. rivers). Because this class meets in Eastern Tennessee (a vernacular region usually defined by the Cumberland Plateau on the West and the NC border on the East) and many students are from this area, we split up into groups and decided to make brainstormed lists of what makes the South “the South.” The responses came from individuals from various points within the South as well as people who never lived in the South until college. The associations all had positive and negative connotations, depending on who you’d ask.
We only had time to get a small sample of each group’s list, but here are a good handful of things that make the south “The South” to get the conversation going.
The Mason-Dixon Line
This formulates “the South” in the classic, antebellum sense, as the British astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drew this to settle a border dispute between the Pennsylvania and Maryland colonies in the 18th century. Unsurprisingly, this meaning of this arbitrary line have changed over the years. Most Marylanders, including one member of our class, do not consider themselves Southerners. The same goes for DC, though it does have a big Southern cultural imprint on it.
Football & the SEC in General
More than one group led the conversation with Football. There are few aspects of Southern cultural life that don’t tie into the gridiron in some way. Obviously, this isn’t unique to the South, as many cities outside of the vernacular region (Columbus, OH for example) take great pride in football and their cities transform on any given Sunday (or Saturday…or in some cases, Thursdays now).
The “Bible Belt”
One student mentioned that she worked at an ice cream parlor in Pigeon Forge for some time. They would usually play the local classic rock station in the background, and more than once on Sunday afternoons, an older person would come to the counter and call it “inappropriate” to be playing music (at least something so secular) on the Lord’s day. This was one of many ways that living within “the Bible Belt” (a typically derogatory term) affects people here on that micro level. Again, this is not unique to The South, though stereotypically it’s more present here.
An abstract idea that’s hardly unique to the South, but it’s something that Southerners of all stripes and throughout the political spectrum have in droves. This often connects with Football.
This is a huge one, especially now that Southern cuisine is so popular that it’s even popping up internationally in places like London and Paris. I loved asking people for examples of this, because we heard several fun stories from those who’ve worked in the service industry. Here are some sub-topics within the foods that make the South “the South:”
Sugar and Fats
“Meat & 3”
Mac & Cheese
Biscuits and Gravy
French-Influenced/Creole Food (this came from a student who grew up in Southern Mississippi, where Creole culture and Cajun food is much more prominent, closer to the Gulf).
“Comfort food” meaning larger people (Texas, we’re looking at you).
We didn’t get into this one quite as much, but one student did bring up Chacos and Camouflage, which are both worn all over the world but seem to have a pretty big role in Southern fashion.
Upbringing / Economy / Farming
Although the South has become a major industrial manufacturing center over the past few decades, ideas about “the South” still revolve around the bucolic small-town, rural agrarian community. Farming still plays a big role in Southern legend, and it also feeds into the idea of…
Southern Hospitality vs. the “Fast” North
Life in the South is, by all accounts, slow, and that’s the way many people like it. Cities like New York and DC have people zipping everywhere, but in the South people tend to take it easy. This is, of course, changing with many Southern cities growing at a fast rate, largely due to people migrating in from these smaller towns, as well as big Northern cities. Many of the middle-class people moving down from the North become known as…
Nashville (and Atlanta) Hipsters
This is always a funny conversation. Both of these cities, on either side of us in Knoxville (not to say there aren’t plenty of hipsters here, too) are blowing up and with it come people priced out of Bohemian lifestyles in more expensive cities. Cities like Nashville, Atlanta, Savannah, New Orleans, and more have become cradles of new life for artists from all over the U.S.
Less of a Melting Pot / More Racism
Racism is the unfortunate reality of anywhere less diverse (and even many diverse places as well). But since the South has been slower to diversify than other more urbanized regions, the stereotype of the racist Southerner has persisted. Also, the region’s history of institutionalized racism doesn’t help, but like everything, it’s changing.
The past few elections have seen a shift in classically “Red” Southern states like Virginia and North Carolina. This time around, there’s a good chance that Georgia and South Carolina may even go blue, given the growth of Atlanta, Savannah, and Charleston with more progressive population sets. That being said, “the South” is still a largely right-wing and conservative vernacular region, voting for more hard-line candidates and more influenced by the Baptist Church (see: the “Bible Belt.”)
Tourism / Guest Workers
With the summer tourist season, the region attracts tons of guest workers from all over the world here on temporary visa programs, including Russia and Mongolia. One student actually mentioned how many French workers (some here illegally) are in Lexington working on Horse farms there. I had no clue.
Country Music / Bluegrass
Though I did mention Dolly Parton as a symbol of Americana abroad, this one didn’t come up until a student stopped by on her way out of class and added it, since it was on her group’s list and they didn’t get down to it. This is a BIG one, as the music of “the South” has absolutely changed the world. Country Music’s industry is centered on Nashville (though country stars come from everywhere), and Bluegrass music (largely the province of rural Appalachia, much of which “the South” claims) has seen a major upsurge in popularity over the past decade.
It’s fun teaching cultural geography in the South because conversations like this can both teach many concepts in the subject, but can also go on for days. I’m sure that we left out plenty, too.
I’m excited to announce here that I’ll be teaching Geography 320, our department’s core upper-level cultural geography course, this coming fall. This class has no prerequisite, though general proficiency in global geography (GEO 101, for example) is recommended. I’d be happy to have students from other disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, and ethnomusicology, especially those who haven’t been able to take a geography course yet while at UT-Knoxville.
Cultural Geography, like culture itself, is incredibly fluid. But with this course, I’m aiming to focus on how the relationship between people and place is interpreted through media, popular culture, religion, and public memory. By the end of this course, students should be able to understand and describe the effects of nature of culture, and vice versa.
East TN music historian Shane Rhyne delivering a guest lecture in my GEO 101 class, October 23, 2014.
Similar to how I connected with the East Tennessee History Center’s “Made in Tennessee” exhibit in my GEO 101 curriculum last year, I’d like to continue that collaboration with their new “Come to Make Records” exhibit. This is one of a handful of interactive projects I’m looking forward to pursuing with this course, in addition to some great guest speakers and elements that students will be pleasantly surprised to find in a geography course. I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach it while working on my dissertation.
The syllabus will be a work in progress over the summer, but if you’d like a preview of a some material I look forward to incorporating, check out (1) Duncan Light’s entertaining and informative 2014 piece on place names and (2) this article about Steven Lee Beeber’s research on punk rock’s manifestation of Jewish New York. Hopefully you enjoy this tip of the iceberg; if not, there is plenty more well outside of both those subjects. If you’re a UTK undergraduate student and interested in attending the course, don’t hesitate to write me and ask any questions at SonicGeography[at]gmail[dot]com.
I’m not actually staying in this hotel. I may need to go check it out, though.
It’s hard to believe that the AAG Conference is almost already here. I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends and making new ones over a backdrop of near-constant happy hours and pontificating.
I’m working on posting some background here about the research I will be presenting in Tampa next week. In case I’m not able to (and you’re in the Tampa Bay area), here’s where you can see me. Copied directly from the AAG Program.
2569 Geographies of Media 3: Music Geography (Sponsored by Cultural Geography Specialty Group, Communication Geography Specialty Group)
Room: Meeting Room 2, Marriott, Second Floor (Paper Session)
ORGANIZER(S): John Finn, Christopher Newport University; Joseph Palis, North Carolina State University
CHAIR(S): Tyler Sonnichsen, University of Tennessee
2:40 Tyler Sonnichsen*, University of Tennessee,
‘The Boston I Knew is Lying on the Ground’: Reinterpreting Boston Landscapes Through Song.
3:00 Rex Rowley*, Illinois State University,
Evoking Las Vegas Place Particularity and Typicality through Popular Music.
3:20 Ola Johansson*, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown,
Lost in Translation? The Role of Place in Swedish and American Music Media.
3:40 Deborah J. Thompson, Ph.D.*, Berea College,
Performing Gender in Eastern Kentucky’s Old Time Music Community. .
Another weekend, another conference. It is almost springtime, after all.
I’ll be making my first of at least two trips to Florida this semester to present at my first Ethnomusicology conference, the annual meeting of the Southeastern and Caribbean Chapter of the Society of Ethnomusicology happening this weekend in Gainesville, Florida! Hopefully things have cooled off since the Associated Press threw the #1 ranking at their Basketball team yesterday.
More information about the conference is at the official website here. I’ll post the draft schedule here, with me and some of my Tennessee colleagues highlighted. I have to admit: “flutelore” sounds pretty badass.
Friday, February 28
Session 1 (8:30 am – 10:00 am) Historical Perspectives on Women and Music Kathryn Etheridge (Florida State University), “The Modern Girl Composes Herself: Japanese Modernist Yoshida Takako”
Sarah Kahre (Florida State University), “The Gravest of Female Voices: Women and the Alto in Sacred Harp”
Megan MacDonald (Florida State University), “‘Heaven is Nearer Since Mother is There’: Gendered Spaces in Southern Gospel Songbooks of the Great Depression”
Session 2 (10:30 am – 12:30 pm) Drop on Down in Florida: Musical Models For a New Generation
Peggy Bulger (American Folklife Center, Ret.), “Dropping Back Down: From the Field to the Archive to the iPod”
Dwight DeVane, (Florida Folklife Program, Ret.), “The Drop on Down in Florida Reissue: Opportunity, Conceptual Framework and Digital Access”
James Cunningham (Florida Atlantic University), “A Grass-Roots Applied Ethnomusicology of in the Glades”
Gregory Hansen (Arkansas State University), “Fiddlelore and Vernacular Theory within Presentations of Public Folklore”
Session 3 (2:00 – 3:30 pm) Multicultural Musical Mediations in the United States
Sarah Renata Strothers (Florida State University), “Looking Like the Enemy: Negotiating Risk in Japanese-American Musical Performance”
Elizabeth Clendinning (Emory University), “Symbiotic Sounds: University-Community Interdependence in World Music Ensemble Instruction”
Matt DelCiampo (Florida State University), “‘Real Beauty Turns’: Beauty and Gender Perceptions in Mixed Media”
Session 4 (2:00 pm – 3:30 pm) CONCURRENT SESSIONS (continued) Identities and Spiritualities In South and Southeast Asia
Tyler Sonnichsen (University of Tennessee), “Can’t Breakaway: Indonesian Punk and Xenocentrism”
Nina Menezes (University of Florida), “Voices of Sheila: Re-signification in Bollywood Filmic and Non-filmic Contexts”
Gavin Douglas (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), “The Sounds of Buddhism in Myanmar: Dhamma Instruments and the Cultivation of Divine States of Consciousness”
Book signing (3:30 – 4:15 pm)
World Flutelore: Folktales, Myths, and Other Stories of Magical Flute Power
Dale A. Olsen (Professor Emeritus, Florida State University)
Keynote Address (4:30 – 5:15 pm)
FOCUS ON FLORIDA: DOCUMENTING AND PRESENTING MUSICAL TRADITIONS OF THE SUNSHINE STATE
Robert Stone (Independent Folklorist)
In a time-honored tradition of having entirely too little time to honor given preparations for AAG, I haven’t had the opportunity to write about AAG, so here we go.
For those of you attending the Association of American Geographers meeting in Downtown Los Angeles this week, I’ll be presenting my research onthe transformation of Highland Park into a vinyl lover’s mecca tomorrow at what’s shaping up to be an amazing cultural geography paper session. Here are the details, and the session page on the conference site.
Wombleton Records, Highland Park, Los Angeles. (Photo from marpop.com)
Paper Session: 2259 ‘This Must Be the Place’: The Evolving Economic Geography of Music II Wednesday, 4/10/2013, from 10:00 AM – 11:40 AM Olvera Room, The LA Hotel, Level 2
Click the prior link for more details, but other papers in my session include foci on electronic music in Berlin, the contemporary Lubbock music scene (I wonder if Buddy Holly would even still hate it there?), the shifting imagery in Country lyrics, and something about booking hardcore shows for a tiny Swedish community. In other words, several reasons why I absolutely love working in Cultural Geography. Special respect to Brian Hracs for putting this together and chairing it. (On a side note: why does my research involve so many transplanted Canadians?)
I will do my best to keep this updated this week, but that’s presupposing I’ll have some breathing room. If you’re going to be around and can help it, don’t miss a few of my brilliant colleagues at their respective sessions:
Teresa Anderson-Sharma presenting on community gardens as a usage of vacant space on Wednesday at 8 AM in La Cienega, Westin, Lobby Level.
David Schwartz presenting on his research about Search-and-Rescue deficiencies in the Arctic for Canada and the US on Friday at 8 AM Laguna Parlor 3028, Westin, 30th Floor (Fancy!)
Abel Santana co-presenting some research with Dr. Christy Jocoy on field data and GIS analytics Wednesday at 4:40 PM in Santa Monica A, Westin Hotel, Level 3
Dr. Deborah Thien (My Adviser) will be presenting her research on the socio-spatial ramifications of post-traumatic stress disorder on Friday at 8 AM in Palos Verdes, Westin, Lobby Level, along with Dr. Alison Mountz (my former professor from Syracuse who recommended CSULB to me. Wild.)
Thanks for reading, and best of luck to all my friends/colleagues this week. Time to ship up to Los Angeles. If only someone with a solid connection to Black Flag had advice on the best way to get there…
As was mentioned on Monday, Teresa “Tree” Anderson-Sharma joined me and Bret on our radio show to talk about just what we mean when we say “imagined geographies” pertaining to Hill Valley, CA and explain more about our project. What’s remarkable was just how much geographic material on the Back to the Future trilogy we didn’t even have time to discuss. Here is the hour show for your listening pleasure. Forgive the freewheeling format; we included some Huey Lewis & the News, if it helps our cause.
More updates soon about the Los Angeles AAG Meeting and other work in the pipeline.