April 16, 2015

Bridging the gap between academia and pop culture

Professors and students carve out niche at Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo
Noted comic book scholar Bart Beaty is one of many University of Calgary professors scheduled to give talks this weekend at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Noted comic book scholar Bart Beaty is one of many University of Calgary professors scheduled to giv

Never let it be said that there’s no room for academia in the pop culture world. As the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo takes centre stage this week, today through Sunday at the Stampede Grounds, professors and students from the University of Calgary are in on the action, amongst the scary monsters, super folk and Hollywood stars in the spotlight.

They’ll be exploring some of the fascinating links between their research and the far reaches of the pop culture universe in a series of nearly 30 lectures which will be held at various times throughout the Expo. 

Disciplines ranging from geography, women’s studies and engineering to computer science, geoscience, and communication, media and film, to name a few, will be represented in this increasingly popular academic track, now in its third year at the Calgary Expo.

Talks range from Archie to fairy tale wolves

Of course, noted comic book scholar and English professor Bart Beaty, above, will be on hand leading four lectures, including one on his new book 12 Cent Archie, a critical study of Archie Comics, and another on the political satirists of Charlie Hebdo who were recently the targets of terrorist attacks in Paris.

"Other Faculty of Arts professors set to give talks include Peter Toohey from classics and religion, who will examine the history of jealousy in pop culture, and Japanese language professor X. Jie Yang who will give a lecture on manga. Assistant professor Patrick Feng from communication, media and film will discuss social media conduct surrounding controversies in the video game world. Geography PhD candidate Victoria Lukasik is set to discuss the representation of wolves in everything from fairy tales to Game of Thrones.

And, of course, zombies

Further hot topics include a hard scientific look at zombies (just how fast would a zombie infestation spread?), space travel and steampunk. Then there's the lecture on the problems of security in a post-9/11 world, as presented in the Marvel cinematic universe. 

"There's so much work being done in the university that has a relation to pop culture and a lot of people coming to the Expo are genuinely interested in these topics," says Ofer Berenstein, a PhD candidate in communication, media and film, who organizes the academic track for the Calgary Expo. "This is a great program for professors and students because it's an exciting form of community engagement. It's an excellent way of letting the public know what we're doing."

It also may be an effective way of inspiring a new generation of students. "Two years ago we had a professor from biological sciences, Rob Longair, give a talk about parasites, both in real life and in science fiction," says Berenstein. "After his session he had a lineup of young people who were interested in learning what they needed to do to study that sort of thing. We see it every year. 'Wow, you can really research video games and comic books? How can we pursue this?'"

Visit the Calgary Expo programming for a schedule of talks including those in the academic track.