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Summer Research Report: Grace Gipson and the Popular Culture Summer Workshop

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Grace Gipson received a summer research award from the BCNM to support his dissertation research by attending the Popular Culture Summer Research Workshop! Here’s what she discovered with the grant:

There’s no greater feeling than swimming in an archive full of one’s research. This summer I had the opportunity to take part in the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) Popular Culture Summer Research Workshop at Bowling Green State University. For two intense weeks, I was given the opportunity along with 19 other scholars from the U.S. and abroad to use the only archive, the Ray and Pat Browne Popular Culture Library, dedicated to a wide range of popular culture artifacts, while creating my own research project. My research project sought to examine how black cosplayers make their performances of various media characters (comic books, television, film, etc.) of all races widely visible on a range of digital entertainment platforms, including Tumblr, YouTube, blogs dedicated to fans of color (such as Black Girl Nerds), television and web series, and podcast. I argued that black cosplayers value the digital space as a performance site and a “safe space”. And the archive provided a foundation into how the digital realm evolved into an alternative way of performing cosplaying. Various texts (such as articles, magazine clippings, videos) showed how Black cosplayers, in particular were experiencing deliberate exclusion or viewed as suspicious and dangerous at fan conventions. Thus, eventually spaces like Twitter and Tumblr became an open door to enter into the world of cosplay.

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Additionally, the fanzines, comics, webcomics, and digital trading cards helped to further critique and analyze the transcodability of cosplay and comic book fandom culture, while providing a background into how the “digital” became an alternative and popular safe space. Since the Ray and Pat Brown Popular Culture Library primary focus is on the abovementioned artifacts not only did I have access to primary sources but secondary sources that also supported my project.

In addition to gathering artifacts and information for my project on cosplay, I was also able to obtain preliminary information other research projects that I have been working on which deal with race and New Media art. In addition to cosplay and comic book fandom, I had the opportunity to investigate the significance of funk musical artists George Clinton, Parliament, and Funkadelic album covers. Through their album cover art I was able to examine how their provocative work artistically can be viewed as a form of resistance while incorporating early manifestations of New media art.

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This research workshop definitely served as a valuable asset (both present and future) to my dissertation research project here at UC Berkeley and my research as a whole. Although each scholar had their own individual projects, we were also exposed to other forms of popular culture (popular literature, television, music, graphic arts, greeting cards, advertisements, etc.) and the research that is being conducted about and on them. Not only did I gain knowledge about my own personal work, but I also gained new knowledge while creating new networks and relationships.

Having direct open access and engaging with this deep, rich, and unique collection allowed me as an upcoming pop culture scholar to add another creative level of inquiry, while expanding my research on race and new media, comic book fandom culture and digital black culture, and their respective interdisciplinary relationship. It was truly a pleasure to be able to take part in this summer research workshop at Bowling Green State University, and make obtaining this valuable research a possibility with the support of the BCNM Summer Research Award.

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