When Big Media Aren’t the Biggest

I’ve wasted half my life, Marge. You know how many memories I have? Three! Standing in line for a movie, having a key made, and sitting here talking to you. Thirty-eight years and that’s all I have to show for it! – Homer Simpson, The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace

At the end of a long-ish year, I’m very happy to have handed my honours thesis in. Now, the nerves are setting in as I wait to hear about the marks.

The work turned into a response to Michael Billig’s call for more detailed examination of banal nationalism in the everyday and the popular. It also dealt extensively with Benedict Anderson’s theory of imagined communities. I was able to map the representational practices of nation in the show, and especially those presenting the United States. I highlighted exclusionary practices in the representation of nations, pointing out that nations were often described as much in opposition to other nations as they were in any positive sense. Certainly not a world-changing piece of work, but worthy I think of the effort.

I wouldn’t have even been back at uni this year if not for the encouragement of my nan. She wanted me to make the best I could of myself, and with very few people in our family ever having obtained any higher qualifications, she really wanted me to push ahead with my PhD. Nan passed away less than a day before I handed this thesis in, but I was lucky enough to have the chance to show it to her and tell her I had finished it. Below is the acknowledgements section from my thesis, which includes my public tribute to my nan for her role in my life. I was able to talk more about her life and her influence on our entire family at her funeral.

Acknowledgements

Well, this certainly seems odd, but, hey, who am I to question the work of the Almighty? Oh, we thank you Lord for this mighty fine intelligent design! Good job! 

– Ned Flanders, ‘The Simpsons Movie’

As much as Ned Flanders might disagree, there is rarely only one being involved with the creation of anything worth being thankful for. Ned failed to notice that the multiple-eyed purple squirrel he talks about in the quote above was the product of a whole heap of (toxic) stuff being spewed out into the atmosphere and mixing with some pre-existing elements. This work started as a bunch of ideas in my head about the role of ‘the media’ (that big amorphous conceptual beast that no-one can quite define) in shaping ideas about other big concepts. Without giving ‘the media’ too much credit for their role in establishing and contesting such concepts, it does seem that many people take strong heed of the content produced. One of my favourite media artifacts is, of course, The Simpsons, and it then seemed logical to ask some questions about what Springfield had to say about the world. Thankfully, I found in Dr Dean Chan a supervisor who was very happy to guide me through those questions, usually by asking well chosen and carefully worded questions of his own. My thoughts poured out onto paper and, like the waste from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, mixed up with other stuff that was lying around. Somehow, it flowed through the work of those scholars of nation who have meant so much to the theoretical frameworks in this project. Through the whole process, Dean was there to mop it up and keep it flowing away from disaster. Without Dean, and not to labour the analogy too much, I would have been like Rainier Wolfcastle flailing about while several tons of sulfuric acid raced toward him in the episode Radioactive Man. The goggles would have done nothing. For his support and guidance, Dean has my gratitude and thanks.

Thanks also to my partner Meghan. Like a Marge to my Homer, she has been a long-suffering party to my schemes and ideas, no matter how half-thought and risky they seem. She has supported me financially, emotionally and academically in this endeavour and I hope the result is worth it for her sake at least as much as mine.

Finally, thanks also to my family. My brother, parents and grandparents have always been there for me and I would not have been able to achieve half as much without their love and support. In particular, my grandmother Olive has always encouraged me in every aspect of my life. She has been my safety net when needed, and I am sure it was our many Scrabble matches and debates that have taught me to think critically and carefully. I could not have had better training for this project. I am sure that when she tried to stop me watching The Simpsons as a kid, she would not have dreamed that I might have made as much use of it as I have.