Alumni Voices: Carly Kocurek

Back on September 12 here at UT, the department hosted a great talk by one of our recent graduates, Dr. Carly Kocurek, who discussed “What We Talk About When We Talk About Ms. Pacman.” Before her talk, we sat down with Carly to discuss her current research as well as her time at as a graduate student at UT.

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What will you be talking about today?

Today I will be talking about the nostalgia for what gets called the golden era of the video game arcade, which I position roughly between 1972 to 1985 (there’s some wiggle room in there). There’s been a real vogue for new arcades and archiving projects both formal and informal, so I’m talking about that, but I’m also talking about what’s at stake in this resurgence of interest in arcades, and what people are actually trying to preserve or longing for when we they talk about a kind of arcade that many of us didn’t experience firsthand. I’m positioning all of this within the context of the current culture wars of gaming.

How did you get interested in this topic? Is it part of a larger project?

I’m wrapping up my book, which doesn’t yet have a title (that’s the last thing that happens in that process), but it’s about the classic arcade and the creation of the gamer that happens around the classic arcade. Even though that term is used later, from the 1990s forward, there’s already an emerging idea in the 1970s of who plays games. The word “vidiots” is used — there’s actually a little magazine called Vidiots — that was published for what we would now call gamers and was sold through arcades. I got interested in that because I was interested in gender and games and the assumptions about who plays games and why. I wondered, when did we start assuming that women don’t play games, and why did this happen? If we look at media history, especially when we look at how many different media are considered feminized, for example film or television (there’s strongly gendered traditions there that we generally think of as feminine) it appears peculiar that we think of games as being something that is “for boys.” Looking at that early coverage of games, I wondered, what are we saying about games, who are we saying they are for, why are we worried about who games are for? I argue that there are a lot of factors that influence this, including the Cold War and the Space Race and the technological anxieties of the time, as well as the ongoing crisis of masculinity in the U.S. in the twentieth century and especially after World War II. There’s also the story of the coin-op industry itself, which was trying to look respectable and really struggled — still does — with looking respectable. They saw these young, clean-cut men playing games as a good way to stake their claim for respectability, saying, “Look, we’re doing good things for the kids!” But what happened is that we have all these images of boys playing games, which is powerful and narrows down who designers think they are catering to.

There’s something at stake here that is important and needs an intervention, needs to be exposed. I think there’s a lot of good in gaming, even though we often hear about the terrible misogyny and racism in the gaming world. The gaming industry employs a lot of artists and there’s a lot of emphasis on design and teaching social behaviors and imparting important skills which people value and love, and that’s why people are so passionate about gaming. But what does it mean when that is not open to everyone? That is the real question.

How does your work build on what you did as an American Studies graduate student at UT?

This work is an update and expansion of what was at one point the final chapter of my dissertation. It has been a few years, so that work has moved and changed quite a bit in part because of something I started to notice–the recent revival of the classic arcade, with places like Barcade in Brooklyn. I wondered, how come Dave and Buster’s is a place that corporations have events? There’s Pinballz in Austin, which is a really wonderful arcade, and my neighborhood in Chicago has an arcade called Emporium.

This all started when I was working on my dissertation at UT. My original question was, why do we think games are for men and boys? I could ask people why they think that now, but there’s actually a historical process that helps us understand this. It’s not a “natural” occurrence. I was also really interested in what young women are doing with pop culture and how they are responding to and through pop culture.

Do you have any advice for current graduate students about how to get the most out of their time at UT?

For me, it was really important to have a hobby or something that I was spending a lot of time on that didn’t have to do with school. Sometimes that was volunteer work, sometimes it was sports, it just depended. I think it made my writing a lot better, because I spent a lot of time freelancing and blogging and things like that. I also think it’s good to have a backup plan, and that’s not just because the job market is terrible, which I think everyone gets told all the time, but also because you might realize that you want to do something else. I think keeping in mind that you are actually a person and not just a graduate student is really great. When I was going through the death spiral of the job market my last year, I was making a plan for what I might do instead. For me, I would have gotten a game design certificate at ACC and looked for a job in the industry. That’s not the right fit for everyone, but that would have been an okay path for me. We have alumni that teach at really amazing high schools, or run really excellent nonprofits or make documentaries or work for the state department. All kinds of things. Thinking about how you would apply your interests later is a good thing to do.

 

 

Announcement: Recent Grad Featured on New York Magazine’s The Cut

Our graduates do incredible things! Recent PhD grad Katie Feo Kelly was featured last week on New York Magazine’s The Cut, which profiled the web series she runs with good friend Katy Ansite, “Just the Tips.” The series features short videos where Katie and Katy try out projects they find on the Internet via sites like Pinterest, claiming to hold the internet accountable for its DIY promises. According to The Cut,

Their projects have ranged from Hunger Games makeup, to Super Bowl face paint, to a Home Depot Christmas, to following the guidelines from “The Easy Way to Make Your Favorite Fancy Dress Work for Day.” They’ve attempt to make SWANTS (pants sewn from sweaters), and they’ve adorned gourds as instructed by marthastewart.com. Thirteen videos in, their success rate hovers around 8 percent (a GOOP sweatshirt panned out).

Here, check them out trying on a little Super Bowl face paint:

Check out the interview over at The Cut for more from Katie and Katy on their inspiration for the web series. And as if The Cut wasn’t enough,  Katie and Katy have also been featured on The Hairpin and Refinery29.

Katie is a producer in Texas. Katy is a copywriter in California. They are best friends who met at piano lessons in the early 18th century. In “Just The Tips,” Katy and Katie heed the siren song of “best life” advice in the realms of fashion, makeup, DIY, crafts, and home decor. Their efforts are met with only varying degrees of success; their spirits remain suspiciously undefeated. Follow them on Twitter and Tumblr.

Announcement: Texas Book Festival This Weekend!

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It’s that time of year again–time for the Texas Book Festival! Here’s a look at a handful of writers to check out during the weekend:

AMS alumni Jessica Grogan and Kevin Smokler will both be presenting at this year’s festival. Jessica Grogan will present on Sunday from 2:00 to 3:00 in the Capitol Extension Room E2.026. She’ll be presenting along with Elena Passarello and looking at ways in which self-identity is shaped. Check out her book, Encountering America: Humanist Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self here! Kevin Smokler will also present  on Sunday. He will join Wayne Rebhorn from 11:30 to 12:15 in the Capitol Extension Room E2.012 to talk about “Bringing Classics Back.” Check out his most recent book, Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Read 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School here.

Here are a few other presentations to check out:

SATURDAY

From 10:00 to 11:00, Geoff Dyer will discuss Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, on his book-length film essay, in the Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004.

Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn, and Zachary Karabashliev, author of 18% Gray, will present in a panel tauntingly titled America the Beautiful? from 12:00 to 1:00 in the Capitol Extension Room E2.026

From 1:00 to 2:00, horror master R. L. Stine will present in the House Chamber with his newest, A Midsummer Night’s Scream.

Where to Fight the Fight: Books on Conservation will feature Brad Tyer (Opportunity Montana) and Deni Béchard (Empty Hands, Open Arms) from 1:45 to 2:30 in the Capitol Extension Room E2.016.

SUNDAY

Mark Binelli (Detroit City Is the Place To Be) and Jeffrey Stuart Kerr (Seat of Empire: The Embattled Birth of Austin, Texas) will discuss the evolution of Austin and Detroit in a session called Rebuilding from 11:00 to 11:45 in the C-SPAN2/ Book TV Tent.

Sherman Alexie, author of twenty-two books, including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, will present on Sunday from 1:15 to 2:15 in the Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004. Alexie will discuss his new work Blasphemy and the 20th anniversary of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

From 3:30 to 4:30 Sunday, Roy Flukinger, Senior Research Curator of the Harry Ransom Center, will discuss Arnold Newman: At Work at The Contemporary Austin–Jones Center (700 Congress).

From 4:15 to 5:00 in the C-SPAN2/Book TV Tent,  Ricardo Ainslie (The Fight to Save Juarez) and Alfredo Corchado (Midnight in Mexico) will present their work in a panel titled Border Politics.

Hope to run into you there!

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Alumni Voices: Matthew Hedstrom Featured on ShelfLife@Texas!

Today over at ShelfLife@Texas, UT American Studies alumnus and historian Matthew Hedstrom shares details about the evolution of “Post-Protestant spirituality” and his book, The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century (Oxford 2012).

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The following comes to us from the interview with Hedstrom up at ShelfLife@Texas, in which Hedstrom discusses his inspiration for the project and what he hopes his readers will get out of The Rise of Liberal Religion:

I was a graduate student in American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, looking for new ways to think about religion in the modern United States. Basically, I wanted to think about religion as a phenomenon not just of churches or other formal institutions, but as a part of culture more broadly. Also, in a related way, I wanted to think not just about official theology and ritual, but about religious sensibilities—about spirituality.

As I was thinking about all these things, I came across a set of sources about religion and reading in the 20th century and thought, “Ah ha! This is how I can access the stories I want to tell.” So I began studying the history of religious books and reading in the 20th century, because I quickly came to see this as one of the most important ways that religion happens outside of church, especially in a consumer-oriented society like ours.

I hope my book raises questions for my readers about the power of consumerism in our society. I hope my readers will come to see that the categories “religious” and “secular” are not very easy to disentangle—that psychology and spirituality, for example, often blur. And I hope my readers will look at religious liberalism as a significant religious tradition in the United States, one with strong ties to Protestantism but not limited to Protestantism. Much of the vitality in modern American religious life is in what might be called post-Protestant spirituality, and I want my readers to learn to see the contours of this phenomenon and to understand where it came from.

Alumni Voices: Niko Tonks on Craft Brewing and Bricolage

Now that the spring semester is well underway, we thought we’d offer up some more words of wisdom from one of our alumni. This week, we feature recent grad Niko Tonks, who shares about his experiences with craft brewing and oral history.

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How is the work that you’re doing right now informed by the work that you did as a student in American Studies at UT?
At present, I have two jobs: I am a brewer at Live Oak Brewing Company here in Austin, and I am also an oral historian for Foodways Texas, slowly working my way towards completing a Texas craft brewing oral history project. It’s easier to see how my second job is informed by my work in AMS at UT – the second half of my (admittedly short) graduate career was dedicated to work with food studies, oral history, and craft beer, so it was a natural. I have been lucky to be associated with fantastic organizations such as the Southern Foodways Alliance and Foodways Texas, and both the professional training and real-world experience I have gained from those connections has been and remains invaluable.

The first job, however, is a bit more complicated. My day-to-day existence consists of manipulating large quantities of grain and water, in the hopes of turning them into beer. This doesn’t necessarily seem easy to connect to a graduate degree in the humanities, but things are more interconnected than they seem. Beer is a social beverage with a rich cultural history, and I am fortunate enough to be employed at a brewery that exists both in the “new world” of American craft brewing and the “old world” of European tradition. As such, I am involved in both archival work, re-creating traditional styles that are of a particular time and place, and bricolage (see, still got some grad school words in me!), mixing old and new in (hopefully) productive and tasty ways. Being an AMS student taught me that it is important to be mindful of and knowledgeable about history and tradition, and that it is often the combination of new and old, whether it be in terms of applying a new theoretical lens, thinking of a new way to interpret a well-known history, or simply applying academic rigor to previously unexplored cultural phenomena, that is the most productive mode of scholarship. It might seem like a stretch, but it is a framework that remains central to my life as a brewer.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their time here?

My biggest piece of advice would be to pursue opportunities more aggressively than maybe you think you should. I came into grad school eager to keep my head down and learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and then maybe later figure out what I wanted. This is not to say that students should come in laser-focused on one area of study, but rather that they should cast a wide net in terms of classes and readings, and always be looking for the little bits and pieces of books, articles, or seminars that speak to them, and try to tie them to their interests. You might be surprised at what suddenly seems like a viable and important thing to devote the next two – or five – years to.

Recent Grad Research: John Cline’s “Arterial America”

Our graduates do amazing things. Like this: recent Ph.D. John Cline is preparing to walk from New Orleans to Chicago for a project entitled “Arterial America.”  He is raising funds through Kickstarter to support the trip, and there are a mere 24 hours to go! Check out his description of the project:

The original idea behind Arterial America (www.arterialamerica.com) was simple enough: get from New Orleans to Chicago. As a music historian—I graduated with a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Texas last May—the pathway between those two cities is of enormous significance: it’s the distance between Louis Armstrong and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or between Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. But as this project shifted from idle thought to actual plan, it became clear that the way north has historically consisted of many routes, exceeding the bounds of a “Blues Trail” or even of an African American “Great Migration.” They go back to before Columbus, when American Indians followed what we now call the “Natchez Trace” across the states of Mississippi and Tennessee. That same trail was followed by boatmen from before the time of Mark Twain, hoofing it back to their hometowns after floating a raft full of goods to the port of New Orleans, returning with what coin remained in their pockets after the temptations of the Crescent City. The way north consists, too, of railways and roadways, and, of course, boats. And so, the plan is to walk from New Orleans to Memphis, following the back roads and bits of the Trace and Highway 61, catch a towboat from Memphis to St. Louis, and finally hop a train from St. Louis to Chicago. At the same time, I cannot travel the routes that I’m traveling and expect to find the “last of the Mississippi bluesmen.” Rather, what’s important at the outset is to keep my ears and eyes open to contemporary life.

John has raised 72% of his goal and has until Tuesday, January 15, 12:54pm EST to reach 100%. Check out the Kickstarter here and follow John on his project blog here.