Shrek and the ‘Digital Postracial"
December 8, 2021 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Jamie Loftus, known among other things for detailed scholarly discussions of popular media, offers a review of a recent academic conference about the films Shrek. (previous stuff by loftus)
posted by eotvos (3 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, Jamie Loftus. I'm getting really fond of her willingness to go all in on pop culture. See her AACK! Cast, with which she was also happy to show herself as sincere in her admiration of what everyone else barely thinks about.

I am surprised that there are enough academics interested in a Shrek conference, although not surprised that they have plenty of material. As a college student when it was released, I didn't think it was particularly fresh, although I liked it all right. I remember hearing that the critics didn't like it and what would later be known as the DreamWorks attitude, but the kids who were young really took to it. And then they practiced that trademark Gen Z humor on it. Well, God love them, why not.

No one’s camera is on to reassure him, save the moderators and the Disney adult who has looked physically ill since he read a description of Shrek’s turgid ogre penis out loud.

When you study the internet, the abyss is gonna start gazing back into you in about ten minutes.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:46 AM on December 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm especially amused at this account because of the parallels with the Star Trek fandom and academia, not just with accidents such as the fans being known as Shrekkies, but with people writing theses and delivering talks on the franchise and its fans, the reporting of which is likewise suffused with scornful/bemused so-this-is-what-they're-doing-instead-of-curing-the-plague-du-jour takes. I liked most of the piece, but Loftus disappointed me at the end with "I want them to tell me what I know—that it’s just something for us to do, that there is a part of us that should just get a real fucking job." How long does a story or set of stories have to be around before it's considered worthy of study in fancy-lad academia?
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:12 PM on December 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

but the last 10 years has seen a sharp uptick in it needing to mean something.

There is such a massive desire to overanalyze pop culture detritus, one I’ve directly benefited from, that I think we sometimes fail to see that not everything is something. Sometimes you are 22 and want attention. Sometimes you are a grown person with a doctorate who wants to listen to academic white noise for seven hours because it’s funny. We are not watching Shrek anymore as much as we’re watching each other.

Those bits of the article, I think, catch the conflict Loftus is feeling about her own work looking at pop culture as a comedian and something about the culture as a whole. Of course Shrek, like any other pop culture work or, really, any notable element of culture "means something", even if not what the given takes might suggest, it couldn't do otherwise. People spend enormous amounts of time and money involving themselves with such things. The difficult part though is in wanting it not to mean, wanting something else to provide a center of purpose, something not Shrek. But what? Your "real fucking job" selling or servicing shit to people who probably don't really need it and helping someone else get rich from your efforts? The soothing aspect of pop culture comes from how it consolidates the world into a norm that you can take in as comforting for it being there, but, as it sometimes happens, the last decade or so has shown us that the norm is anything but stable, much less a universal.

Things like pop culture or other elements of our day to day life, when looked at closely, mean something, but that meaning is a reflected one, showing us something about ourselves or culture by demonstration rather than by "creation". Creating meaning is what I think the underlying desire is, but we, as a culture, are increasingly afraid of it because what is being created seems out of our grasp, so we turn to comedy as a way to deflect that lack by the way it distances us from having to commit to action or perspective. Laughing at something sincere is a way to say I can indulge in this, but I'm not "really" affected by it.

Taking things like pop culture or those other elements of life seriously is unsettling because it calls our day to day life and pleasures into question as well. We prefer to defer from that examination because looking at what we exhibit as meaningful, consuming pop culture or working at a shitty "real job" is often hard to bear. That deferral then becomes the desired bond, if we can't find shared meaning in accepting something, we can at least find some in denying it, the shared mockery offering protection from identifying with the wrong thing to the wrong crowd.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:57 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

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