Presenting at India conference was ‘thrill of a lifetime’ for BGSU professorWritten by Jay Hathaway | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A Bowling Green State University professor recently returned from a trip to India, where he gave presentations about American pop culture, heavy metal and — the Kardashians.
Matthew Donahue, professor of popular culture at BGSU, flew to Hyderabad, India, in March to speak at a conference at the University of Hyderabad, “Teaching and Researching American Literary and Cultural Studies.” The invitation came after Donahue met Pramod Nayar from the University of Hyderabad’s English department and the two connected over discussions of American popular culture.
“The India trip was the thrill of a lifetime,” Donahue said. “It was a long flight. Hyderabad is quite a large campus, and we spent some time walking the campus. I met some participants in the conference, who were close to getting their PhDs or were new PhDs, and also some researchers.”
Donahue was immediately fascinated by how receptive the students and professors were to learning more about American life.
“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “It was very reaffirming to know that there is such an interest in American culture and popular culture. A lot of them had a strong background in American literature as well.”
The first day of the conference focused on American popular culture in general, and the role that it plays in Americans’ daily lives.
“I wanted to express to them that America should not be judged on what that they see on television shows like the Kardashians or ‘Jersey Shore,’” Donahue said. “It’s much deeper than that. There’s a whole other part of American popular culture that they are not exposed to. For me, being a socially and politically conscious artist, it is very frustrating seeing the Kardashians as cultural representatives. Those people are slobs, and that’s not every day America. Most Americans don’t live like that.”
Donahue added that fictional shows like “The Simpsons” are probably more representative of America than reality shows like “Jersey Shore.”
“‘The Simpsons’ are actually very popular in India, so they were very receptive to that idea,” he said.
For the second day, Donahue presented some techniques he uses when teaching about American popular culture, such as something he calls “Project M.I.R.S.H.” – analyzing myths, icons, rituals, stereotypes and heroes.
“It’s a way to sort of break down a topic that’s a lot more palatable for people than some of this highfalutin theory routine, which I think, frankly, a lot of academic types do to put themselves above other people.”
Donahue also talked about his own research on folklore and oral history, as well as his own creative works in art, music and video. He then tied this in to his research on heavy metal T-shirts. Donahue has studied the heavy metal T-shirt as a pop culture phenomenon in its own right, and has presented his research in Calgary, Alberta and BGSU’s heavy metal conference last month.
“They were very interested in that because heavy metal music is also very popular in India,” Donahue said.
The third and final day was about the roles of music and film in American culture, and breaking down these different genres using the M.I.R.S.H. method.
Donahue, the only American at the conference, also met with representatives from the U.S. consulate in Hyderabad, who expressed their thanks and gratitude for his participation.
After the conference, Donahue was taken on a tour of Hyderabad’s city center by a group of graduate students. He noted that there were not a lot of westerners in Hyderabad, so many residents there were curious about his presence. During this time, he discovered several differences between life in India and the U.S.
“There’s more of a sense of order here in America, from my observation. Travelling by road, it was sort of controlled chaos. There were water buffaloes, taxis, motorcycles, motorcycle taxis and they were all trying to go in the same direction.”
Nayar, along with fellow Hyderabad English professor Anne Currian, hosted Donahue, and is considering options for him to return for a longer period of time, to visit other universities. Donahue was excited about the possibility of making a more extensive return trip.
“Here I am, from Northwest Ohio, kind of middle of nowhere to some degree, and going over to India, where there was sort of a similar universal consciousness going on, or at least an attempt at a universal consciousness. It was very reaffirming, and that’s what I try to achieve in my teaching and my work. These kinds of visits are what win the hearts and minds of the people, not military action. It helps to break stereotypes.”