My research, which lies at the intersection of feminist media studies and popular culture, takes the form of critical-cultural qualitative analysis of media industries and the shifting relationships between audiences, fans and producers. I am primarily interested in the production and consumption of popular culture and these processes’ material and discursive relationships to identity and power. More specifically my work on gender and stand-up comedy as well as my work on social media fandom explores how we talk about pop culture with our friends, in writers’ rooms, in local comedy scenes, on podcasts, online, in critics’ reviews, and in the press. I investigate whose voices dominate these discussions and whose get silenced, how these discourses shape who gets to make media and who is constructed as a legitimate critic or creator, and how preferred meanings of texts are contested and solidified. Methodologically, I draw on critical discourse analysis, textual analysis, and ethnographic methods to explore identity, power, and representation within media industries, texts, and audiences. Below, I outline the current stages of these projects and my plans for them going forward.
Dissertation Research: “Open Mic? Gender and the Meritocratic Myth of Authenticity in the Cultural Production of Stand-up Comedy”
My dissertation research theorizes authenticity and meritocracy as ideological discourses through which the boundaries of precarious cultural industries are policed in ways that mask underlying structural sexism, racism, and homophobia. My secondary aim with this project is to theorize stand-up comedy not only as an aesthetic form or unique type or rhetoric or discourse, but also as a media industry with its own subculture. Debates over authenticity have become a hallmark of the production and consumption of art, performance, and media under late-capitalism; my research explores how these debates play out with regards to gender and stand-up comedy. More specifically, I argue that gender plays an integral role in the (in)validating of authenticity and merit in the cultural and industrial spaces of stand-up and that women, operationalized as an industrial identity category, are constructed as outsiders who must continually prove their worth through a shifting and slippery set of aesthetic and cultural norms and conditions. Further I make visible the emotional and material labor women must perform to achieve success within the field from their first open mic to their first Netflix special.
This qualitative, mixed-methods, multi-site research explores gender and the ideology of authenticity that currently dominates discussion of stand-up comedy by comics, fans, and critics through three case studies: 1) Debates on social media, television, and the press among fans and comics that construct “feminism” and “authentic comedy” as mutually exclusive endeavors; 2) The ways in which reviews by television critics of female-led comedies reinforce masculine aesthetics by invoking authenticity as a marker of quality; and 3) The subculture of local stand-up open mics and the means through which women and femme-identifying comics adapt to fit into masculine standards of authenticity both on and offstage. I draw on a variety of qualitative methodologies including ethnographic interviews with stand-up comics, an autoethnographic examination of my own experience performing stand-up, discourse analyses of social media conversations, and textual analyses of television and television reviews.
I have started publishing work from my dissertation in online outlets like In Media Res and Flow Journal and have a book chapter forthcoming in which I further my work on authenticity through a case study on the CW’s Crazy-Ex Girlfriend. I am also currently preparing a journal manuscript based on my chapter on television reviews and gendered critiques of comedy for Feminist Media Studies and a book proposal based on the project to pitch to the academic presses including the University of Texas Press, and Rutgers University Press to extend their past work on gender and stand-up comedy.
Social Media Fandom
My second ongoing project focuses on social media fandom, specifically the blurred boundary between fan and producer and the process through which the meanings of media products are articulated through online paratexts. I focus on the ways in which online interactions between fans and producers serves not only as a site of shared interest for a pop culture text but often also as a venue of education, support, self-promotion, reflection, and play. For instance, the host of Mental Illness Happy Hour, a comedic podcast about mental health, created a message board for fans that now functions as a support group. My sites of study also include Comedy Central’s late-night panel show @midnight and Freeform’s teen drama Switched at Birth. My work on @midnight focuses on the gendered and raced dynamics of comics’ transmedia self-promotion, while my work on Switched at Birth, a version of which appears in Transformative Works and Cultures (March, 2018), explores the pedagogical function of a 2015 story arc about sexual assault and its resulting online discussion. Going forward, I also plan to explore Christian film production and distribution company PureFlix and texts like Good Christian Fun podcast to examine the relationship between pop culture, fandom and religious faith.
Research, Pedagogy, and Practice
As a feminist media scholar, I see my research in terms of scholarship, pedagogy and practice. I merge my scholarly interests with teaching and public engagement, creating performance spaces and media projects, writing for online publications, and developing campus and community programs. Thus far, I’ve co-created a stand-up comedy showcase for women and queer performers and helped to develop a social justice theater and media literacy after-school program for teen girls. I currently serve as the graduate student rep for the comedy and humor studies Scholarly Interest Group within the Society and Media Studies. I plan to continue with these projects in addition to seeking new avenues for creating interventions through my research, writing, and teaching like partnering with filmmakers to produce documentaries based on my work, co-authoring projects with online fan communities, or developing courses that draw on comedy, storytelling, and fandom.