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2017 NEPCA Conference

NEPCA's 2017 Fall Conference will be held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Details will appear soon.

Peter C. Rollins Book Prize

The deadline for publishers to submit nominations for the 2016 Rollins Prize is July 1, 2017. This prize will honor the best book written by a scholar working in New England or New York on a topic pertaining to popular or/and American culture during the year 2016.

Important Dates

2017 Conference: October 27-28

CFP Fantastic (Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction) Area (6/1/17; NEPCA Amherst, MA 10/27-28/17)


Visit us at NEPCA Fantastic:

2017 Conference of The Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association (NEPCA)
University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts
27 and 28 October 2017
Proposals by 1 June 2017

Michael A. Torregrossa
Fantastic (Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction) Area Chair

Formed in 2008, the Fantastic (Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction) Area celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2017, and we seek proposals from scholars of all levels for papers that explore any aspect of the intermedia traditions of the fantastic (including, but not limited to, elements of fairy tale, fantasy, gothic, horror, legend, mythology, and science fiction) and how creative artists have altered our preconceptions of these subtraditions by producing innovative works in diverse countries, media, and time periods and for audiences at all levels. Details on previous offerings can be found on our website at

Special topics:

Given the proximity of the conference to Halloween, we are always interested in proposals related to monsters and the monstrous.

Furthermore, in anticipation of the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 2018, we are especially hoping for proposals that address aspects of the Frankenstein tradition and the fantastic. Be on the lookout for a separate call for our 2017 Frankenstein-themed sessions on “Frankenstein: Friend or Foe?”.

Please see our website NEPCA Fantastic ( for further details and ideas. Presentations will be limited to 15-20 minutes in length (depending on final panel size).

If you are interested in proposing a paper, please address inquiries and send your biography and paper abstract (each of 250 words) to the Fantastic (Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction) Area Chair at, noting “NEPCA Fantastic Proposal 2017” in your subject line. Do also submit your information into NEPCA’s official Paper Proposal Form accessible from Be sure to select “Fantastic” as your designated area.

Please submit inquiries and/or proposals for complete panels directly to the Fantastic (Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction) Area Chair at

Michael A. Torregrossa

Fantastic (Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction) Area Chair

Northeast Popular Culture / American Culture Association

Review of New Work on Marx Brothers

FOUR OF THE THREE MUSKETEERS (2016). By Robert S. Bader. Northeastern University Press, 544 pages. 2016.

I am a Ma51zq0wfsbbl-_sx349_bo1204203200_rxist—a devotee of Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo. I’ve seen all the films numerous times, read every book I can get my hands on, seek out new documentaries, and scour DVDs and YouTube for lost clips. But until Robert Bader’s new book, my Marxist education was weak concerning their vaudeville days—those years before durable recording devices or movie cameras were there to capture moments in time for posterity. Bader—who also writes and produces for Warner Brothers—has unveiled a work that is meticulously researched and encyclopedic in scope.

It’s not news to scholars that many Marx memoirs­—Groucho and Me, Harpo Speaks, Growing Up with Chico, etc.—are filled with inaccuracies dutifully repeated by biographers and passed off as truth. Lots of these tales were embellishments and some were outright fabrications, but Bader forces us to consider that many resulted from the memory lapses anyone might have who led such a vagabond lives as the children of Minnie Schoenberg Marx. She was the ultimate obsessed stage mother—determined that her children would make it in show business like her brother Al, part of famed comedy duo Gallagher and Shean. When Julius (Groucho) showed talent for singing, she pushed him onto the stage—his brothers to follow. Today, most people think of the Marx Brothers as film stars. From 1929 through 1949, the Marxes made 14 feature films and only Charlie Chaplin rivaled their comic fame. Overlooked in the big screen glamour is what it took to become stars. From 1905 on, the brothers toiled in vaudeville in a dizzying array of ensembles and acts—mostly musical variety sketches; their comedy evolved organically. Because the conniving Minnie angered vaudeville’s biggest booker, B. K. Keith, the Marxes were shut out of a lot of Eastern theaters and Minnie moved her family to Chicago so she could develop hinterland bookings. For her sons, it meant a whirlwind existence of three-a-day performances, split bookings, and if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Nacogdoches travel. Their grueling schedules were such that troupe members—often including Minnie–came and went quickly. Sometimes key members quit in the morning and instant replacements were readied for the afternoon curtain. It’s no wonder that the only reliable names the lads retained were those of the chorines they bedded, though that was quite a few!

Bader has sifted through playbills, newspaper advertisements, reviews, and archives to the degree that he knows the Marx Brothers performance schedule better than they ever did, and he corrects details in the extensive Marxian literature trove. Along the way he reveals little known tidbits, one of which might startle: Leonard’s (Chico) legendary gambling addiction was real, but the bonafide bad boy of the family was Herbert (Zeppo!), a street punk who was lucky to make it to adulthood. He also gives accurate particulars of events such as Groucho’s first use of a greasepaint moustache, how Arthur became Harpo, how the Marxes stumbled into comedy, and how many of Groucho’s patented “ad-libs” were not.

That last point is critical. If the Marxes look natural on the screen, it’s because they spent time on the road perfecting small bits, such as the pilfered silverware falling from Harpo’s baggy clothing gag. The Marxes were workhorses until they finally had a Broadway hit with “I’ll Say She Is” in 1924, but they never really left the circuit; both The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930) were stage hits before they were films. Movies sounded the death knell for vaudeville in the early 1930s and closed a lot of “legitimate” theaters as well, but the Marxes continued to travel to test sketches and songs before they made they shot their films (and sometimes during). They continued touring into the early 1940s, by which time they were rich and tired enough to stop. In a palpable way, though, the vitality of the movie Marxes ended with their tours. Does anyone think that a Night in Casablanca (1946) is one of their great films, or that Love Happy (1949) has much to offer other than an early Marilyn Monroe performance?

We are indebted to Bader for his exhaustive research. My only nitpick is that Four of the Three Musketeers is also exhausting in places. Bader has compiled a vast array of material, but his insistence on presenting it all makes sections of the book read like a chronicle. You will savor this detail if, like me, you are a Marx Brothers fanatic, but many of his revelatory corrections will be lost on those unaware of the errors in the first place. Marxist comrades might disagree, but I think that shorter, snappier synopsis with expanded explanatory footnotes would have fit the bill better. Still, Bader’s book is indispensible for any Mark Brothers research project.

Rob Weir

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Pop Culture Institute at Bowling Green

“Exploring the Archives: Fifty Years of Popular Culture”
For the second time, the PCA/ACA and Bowling Green State University are jointly sponsoring a summer research institute on the Bowling Green, Ohio campus from Sunday, May 21 through Thursday, May 25, 2017. This institute will introduce a small group of scholars from across the country and abroad to the research and pedagogical treasures of BGSU’s very special collections.
The staff of these exceptional collections will assist institute participants in locating unique resources for use in their teaching and research in accordance with Fair Use guidelines. In addition, volunteer faculty scholars from both BGSU and PCA/ACA will lend their time and expertise to help participants with their own individual projects.
A limited number of $400 travel grants are available for participants.
For more information, please visit the following link(s):

Kent State Reconsidered

Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties. By Thomas M. Grace. University of Massachusetts Press, 2016. 273 pages + appendices, notes, index.

 51d82dphtul-_sy344_bo1204203200_Tin soldiers and Nixon coming/We’re finally on our own/This summer I hear the drumming/Four dead in Ohio.

Those lines from Neil Young’s “Ohio” were inescapable by the summer of 1970, with Young’s pained voice and blistering guitar presaging those of punk and grunge. Anger was already in the air, but the May 4, 1970 shooting of thirteen Kent State University students brought home that rage for multitudes of Americans. By summer’s end, Kent State had become the symbol of divisiveness that roils American society to the present day. Those on the left seized upon Kent as further confirmation that the American Establishment was controlled by duplicitous liars with murderous intent—those willing to expand an immoral war (Vietnam) into neighboring Cambodia and also ready to mow down anyone, including college students, with the audacity to challenge their authority. To those on the right, Kent State was a long overdue crackdown on lawless degenerates who sought to rent the very fabric of American society.

If the two camps shared anything in common, it was their surprise that matters came to a head at Kent State. Until May 4, most Americans had no idea where Kent State was even located. Those such as this reviewer who are old enough to remember the 1970 shootings at Kent (and also Jackson State, Mississippi) recall that most coverage presented Kent State as something of a backwater—the term “small second-tier state school” was often used. Why there? Kent, the media asserted, had not been an epicenter of campus dissent like UCal Berkeley, the University of Michigan, Columbia, San Francisco State, or the University of Wisconsin.

This was because too few were paying attention. So says Thomas Grace and he would know—he was at Kent and was among the nine students wounded on May 4. Kent, Ohio was a small city of just over 28,000 in 1970, but it was no backwater—it was/is an outlying section of Akron and part of the Greater Cleveland metropolitan region. In one of the book’s many remarkable features, Grace has meticulously researched the backgrounds of Kent students and can definitively say that though the university had grown like Topsy—from 6,000 students in 1955 to over 21,000 at the time of the shootings—its undergraduates were not just the sons and daughters of farmers; they were also the children of blue-collar workers. Many were first-generation college attendees and some were students of color whose entrance into higher education was uneasy.

Grace deftly employs the concept of the Long Sixties to prove that the events of 1970 were neither unique nor unpredictable. Ohio—as election observers know—has long been a divided state. In 1970, conservative Republican James Rhodes was governor, but Kent’s students hailed mostly from parts of the state where labor unions had fought and won hard battles. In 1966, the largely black Hough section of Cleveland exploded into six days of rioting that destroyed millions of dollars worth of property. Four (ahem!) people died and fifty were wounded. Those who landed on the Kent campus during the 1960s were neither naïve nor quiescent. The campus saw its first major protest in 1961 and by the mid-Sixties Kent was a spider web of Old and New Left organizations: socialists, Trotskyites, civil rights advocates, SDS members, black nationalists, antiwar activists…. Moreover, ten percent of Kent students were Vietnam veterans, many of whom were outraged by Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia. Though several of those shot at Kent were not actively protesting, most of those chanting for the National Guard’s exit from their campus knew why they were protesting and were experienced at doing so. As Grace says of himself, “I was not a victim; I was a casualty.”

Grace’s book is so filled with individual stories that one is sometimes lost in the welter of unfamiliar names, but some clear villains emerge: Governor Rhodes, parts of the KSU administration, Ohioans applauding the suppression of civil liberties, the Ohio National Guard, and court systems that literally allowed the Guard to get away with murder. But Grace leaves us with some of his namesake vibes. In a final sweep, his appendix traces the post-May 4 lives of protestors. They did not slink away, as those hoping to teach them a lesson had hoped. Most were activists before 1970 and remained so afterward. Grace, a Syracuse native, returned to campus after a long rehab to show he belonged. Until retirement, he was a Buffalo area social worker, union organizer, and part of the May 4 Memorial task force. Then he got a Ph.D. and is now a history instructor at Erie Community College. He insists there is nothing special about his story—his prerogative, but his book is extraordinary.


What if you knew her/And found her dead on the ground/How could you run when you know?


Robert E. Weir

University of Massachusetts Amherst

History of White Trash

This review appeared in the Cultured Classrooms section of NEPCA’s fall newsletter. It seems appropriate to repost it as a review on Inauguration Day.


Putting Class Back Into the Classroom

22bookisenberg-blog427-v6I’m guilty of being one of those scholars who too glibly use the words “important book” in reviews and academic discussions. We often mean, simply, a work that advances some argument within our narrow specialty—not a book we could actually teach, or one that undergraduates would find provocative. Every now and then, however, a book appears that truly is “important.” Such a work is White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (New York: Viking, 2016). Its author, Louisiana State University history professor Nancy Isenberg, hit the market at a propitious time: during the Donald Trump political tsunami. Whether or not Trump wins in November, his campaign has energized many of the people about whom Isenberg writes: the white working class, especially those who live on the economic margins, often–but not exclusively–in the proverbial hinterlands. Educated Americans and those with financial resources have, historically, evolved a host of terms to dismiss these folks: waste people, sturdy beggars, clay-eaters, crackers, hillbillies, rednecks, trailer trash, lubbers, tar-heels, underclass, white trash….Isn’t it odd that few of these terms are ever discussed during campus cultural-sensitivity sessions?

Isenberg asserts that we ignore this group at our own peril. By most accounts, white wage-earning Americans make up 30% of the electorate. This means they’re no longer a majority, but given the stark divisions within American society, that 30% has the potential to alter elections. I think this book needs to be taught, so allow me to highlight a few of Isenberg’s assertions and to add questions I think could spark lively debate.

* First and foremost, Isenberg asserts that the working poor are not a recent phenomenon; they are sewn into the very fabric of white North American society. Isenberg catalogues this pattern from British colonization to the present. It’s not really the “untold history” she bills it, but few have marshaled as much evidence for the claim that outcast underclasses are not merely unfortunate; they are the deliberate creation of economic elites that exploit them for their own gain. Moreover, white trash has been conditioned to see itself as such; Isenberg’s is a pathology of powerlessness.

* This will ruffle feathers, but Isenberg argues that those who discuss race or gender without referencing social class are futilely talking to themselves. This is because elites have successfully inserted the mudsill theory into the national dialogue. (The mudsill theory holds that society, like a house foundation, sits upon a bottom layer of social “mud” on which all power relations are constructed.) In essence, the white working class–often masculine in character–compensates for its lack of power by defining others as inferior: non-whites, recent immigrants, and women. This has also been done in ways familiar to pop-culture scholars: when crude power fails, use manufactured flattery of the sort we now see in the “new rage of slumming” (291), or what I’d dub “redneck glorification,” as seen in Elvis, Dolly Parton, Bill Clinton’s presidency, and TV shows such as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Honey Boo Boo,” “Redneck Island,” and “Duck Dynasty.”

*This will also rankle: Isenberg sees class as the essential analytical category. She has little patience with using social class as a sort of “drive-by” tool in the way we view history or contemporary sociology.

*Isenberg has even less patience with those who equate white trash traits with the Scots-Irish. Such ethnic identification isolates, stigmatizes, and ignores both the pervasiveness of the white underclass and the power relations that created it. She dismisses–and I agree–Grady McWhiney’s Cracker Culture. I’d toss J. D. Vance’s recent Hillbilly Culture (Harper, 2016) into the not-to-be-taken-seriously pile.

*Another target of Isenberg’s analytical sword: conservatives who dismiss white poverty as proof of degeneracy, lack of initiative, or cultural/regional norms. She bristles with indignation when someone like Mitt Romney insists upon the personhood of corporations, given the systematic manner in which the 1% he represents has denied the humanity of poor whites. If you think she exaggerates, see her chapter on eugenics.

* She reminds us that the Civil War was as much a class war as one about race. Scholars know this as well, but it’s good to be reminded.

*Isenberg suggests that the cherished American ideals of equal opportunity, equality under the law, and freedom are largely ahistorical descriptions of the true American past.

So how can we use this book in the classroom? Here are ten discussion questions that occurred to me. Other readers will easily come up with others.

  1. Isenberg says discussions of race and/or gender without references to social class are worthless. If you agree, list concrete reasons why you find Isenberg to be correct; if you disagree, move beyond personal preference and enumerate reasons why you think she’s wrong. (One could easily devise a classroom debate of opposing sides on this question.)
  1. Isenberg has a very pessimistic view of American ideals. Do you think she’s right that these are more mythic than historical? What does the evidence suggest? (Have students do a sociological investigation into poverty. Who is poor? Where do they live? How many poor people are full-time workers? What is the racial breakdown on poverty?)
  1. Question two could be approached in political terms like this: Mitt Romney made a major gaffe in the 2012 election when he said that 47% of Americans were reliant on some form of “government handouts,” even though he was (mostly) correct. What happens, though, is we ask: Why are 47% of Americans dependent upon government handouts?
  1. What is a secondary labor force/market? What did Marx say about the exploitation of working people? What is Antonio Gramsci’s “hegemony theory?” Do any of these ideas fit Isenberg’s analysis? (Obvious “egg hunt” possibilities here.)
  1. Donald Trump’s campaign attracted a lot of white working class voters. Why? In what ways were his followers similar to those attracted to Bernie Sanders? How did they differ?
  1. An interesting recent phenomenon: In the late 20th century, nearly 80% of Americans thought of themselves as “middle class;” now just 51% think so (and many sociologists would place the objective number at closer to 35%.) What are the differences between being middle class and working class? How have those definitions changed over time? Why are fewer Americans seeing themselves as middle class? Does this mean that the “white trash” is growing in numbers?
  1. Isenberg gives us an incomplete (and dated) list of TV shows and entertainment that present the white underclass and she’s not very good at all with movies. Come up with your own list of music, shows, and movies that deal with the white underclass she describes. How is class represented in these?
  2. Other than a handful of characters such as Davy Crockett and the “common man” meme of the 1930s, Isenberg gives very few examples of working-class heroes and heroines. Can you compile a list of positive working class and/or poor folks who ought to be part of the discussion?
  1. Is Isenberg guilty of casting underclass whites as historical victims without agency? What about, for example, the labor movement? Welfare-rights advocates?
  1. This is controversial, but needs to be discussed: Does Isenberg unintentionally justify boorish, racist, and sexist behavior? Does she make excuses for people to wallow in ignorance? Does the underclass have any responsibility for liberating itself? Do we believe in Isenberg’s pathology model? How does one escape the past? Should one? (Aren’t these the same questions we raise about non-white poverty?)
  1. Bonus question: If your students are mature enough to grapple with this—and if you’ve set it up as a discussion, not an assertion–ask students if it’s as racist to use terms such as “white trash” as it is to use the “N word.” (This could spark intriguing discussion of white privilege. How does it work in the face of economic depravation and social marginalization?)


Rob Weir

University of Massachusetts Amherst


Undergrad Conference at Providence College

Call for Papers
February 1, 2017
Rhode Island, United States
Subject Fields:
Health and Health Care, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Public Health, Sociology, Anthropology

The 8th Annual Undergraduate Conference on Health & Society at Providence College will be held on Saturday, April 22, 2017.

This is a great opportunity for advanced undergraduates who are engaged in significant writing projects. This interdisciplinary conference welcomes paper proposals from all areas of inquiry that address topics related to health, health care, or health policy, including Anthropology, Biomedical Ethics, Community Health, Economics, Health Care Management, Health Policy, History, Literature, Political Science, Public Health, and Sociology. Abstracts are peer reviewed on a competitive basis by a joint student-faculty selection committee. Accepted participants orally present their research on a panel moderated by a faculty discussant. Additionally, all participants will have the opportunity to publish their work through PC’s Digital Commons. Examples of papers from past conferences can be viewed at Abstracts can be submitted via by February 1, 2017. For more information contact the Conference Coordinator at

Early submissions are strongly encouraged because we are able to offer a limited number of travel stipends to defray the hotel/transportation costs for interested students who must stay overnight in order to attend.

Contact Info:

Samantha Santos ’14 & ’16G
Graduate Assistant
Health Policy & Management Program
Howley/Service 229
Providence College
One Cunningham Square
Providence, RI 02918


Frankenstein and the American Dream





Frankenstein and the American Dream?

Frankenstein and the Fantastic, an outreach effort of the Fantastic (Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction) Area of the Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association seeks proposals for a panel in commemoration of the endurance of Frankenstein and the Frankenstein tradition. The session is being submitted for consideration at the 2017 meeting of the American Literature Association to be held in Boston, Massachusetts, from 25-28 May 2017.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein celebrates the two-hundredth anniversary of its publication in 2018, and, over the almost two centuries of the story’s existence, Frankenstein, its characters, and its themes have inspired a myriad range of creative responses, including retellings, adaptions, linked texts (i.e. prequels, midquels and sequels), recastings, and allusions. American creators seem to have been especially fascinated by Frankenstein and its textual progeny, and American-made productions have offered many thought-provoking transformations of Shelley’s work.

What is most interesting is that some of these American works promote happy (or at least happier) endings to the tale that permit the creator and/or his creation to live beyond the ending prescribed by Shelley’s narrative. This has allowed them, the creature most importantly, to achieve (at least to some extent) the privileges, available to all Americans, of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In seeking and claiming aspects of the American dream for Shelley’s characters the Frankensteiniana of the United States provides insight in how one nation in particular has adopted and appropriated Shelley’s story and made it its own.

We are especially interested in proposals that explore how American-made texts relate to Shelley’s novel and the larger tradition of Frankenstein-related texts in popular culture. Possible options would include works by American production companies (film and television studios, publishing houses, comic book companies, etc.), American-born creators working either in the United States or abroad, and foreign-born creators working for American companies. Additional options might explore Frankenstein and Frankenstein-related texts in an American context/setting.

Please submit proposals to no later than 28 January 2017. A complete proposal should include the following: your complete contact information, a clear and useful title of your paper, an abstract of your paper (approximately 250 to 600 words), a brief biographical statement explaining your academic status and authority to speak about your proposed topic, and a note on any audio/visual requirements.

Further details on the Fantastic (Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction) Area can be found at The Frankenstein and the Fantastic project has its own dedicated site at that will be expanded in 2017.

Complete details on the American Literature Association and its conference can be found at


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