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Arts & Entertainment

Explore the Deeper Waters of Pop Culture with New Podcast from Pennoni Honors College

March 7, 2018

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“We’ve really attacked ‘Die Hard’ in ways that I don’t think ‘Die Hard’ expected,” said Melinda Lewis, PhD.

It was towards nearing the end of the second episode of “Pop, the Question,” the new podcast from Pennoni Honors College. Lewis and her guest, Kevin Egan, PhD, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry, have spent the last twenty minutes investigating the underexplored layers of the 1988 action classic. They’ve talked about consumerism, globalization, The American Dream — even the growing popularity of Krampus, the sinister mythological counterpart to Santa Claus. 

“Yeah,” Egan responded. “We’ve taken it off the rails.”

It’s a mix of highbrow and lowbrow that’s become typical for the new show, which launched in November and released its fourth episode on Valentine’s Day. Lewis, a cultural studies scholar who serves as Pennoni’s associate director of marketing and media and managing editor of The Smart Set, says the show is meant to bring an academic lens to the beloved but critically-overlooked products of pop culture. And in the process, it gives faculty and staff from Pennoni and around the University a chance to scratch an itch they don’t often get to scratch in their professional lives. The show is co-produced by Erica Levi Zelinger and Brian Kantorek, the director and assistant director, respectively, of marketing and media at Pennoni.

“We were looking for a way to have a little bit more fun within academia,” Lewis said. “We’re human beings who aren’t just defined by our work.”

In addition to the “Die Hard” episode — official title: The Gift of Kick-Ass — Lewis has hosted episodes about superhero movies with Ann Alexander, director of administration and finance at Pennoni, and serendipity in science with Lloyd Ackert, PhD, associate teaching professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences. In the fourth episode, half a dozen guests revealed their celebrity crushes — including Pennoni Honors College Dean Paula Marantz Cohen, PhD. All four episodes are available on iTunes and SoundCloud.

The first round of episodes was inspired by the interests and expertise of Drexel faculty and staff, Lewis said. She hopes the podcast can be a place where normally conservative researchers can unwind by bridging their interests and fields of study with popular movies, music, TV shows and celebrity culture. Inspired partly by popular podcasts Reply All and You Must Remember This, the show is supposed to be more like a conversation than an interview, Lewis said. She does background research and brings questions to the show, but doesn’t try to stick too closely to a script.

In her own research — her dissertation was focused on women in American sitcoms — Lewis has explored questions at the intersection of comedy, ideology and identity. She hopes to bring that perspective to the podcast as well.

“As somebody who’s studying popular culture, there’s meaning in the stuff that we watch. There’s meaning in the stuff that we listen to,” Lewis said. “It’s important to see how these works define us and impress upon us and what they say about the larger culture that we live in.”

The podcast speaks to the wider mission of the college as well. Cohen said it is a natural addition to the college’s other public-facing products: The Smart Set, its nationally known arts and culture journal; The Drexel InterView, an interview series that has featured guests from Nora Ephron to John Waters; and Pennoni Panels, a discussion series meant to model civil discourse on controversial and complex ideas. Cohen described both the show and the host as “probing and fun.”

“We see the Pennoni Honors College as forwarding the discussion of ideas on a range of topics in a variety of contexts, forums, and media,” said Cohen. “Pop the Question is our latest addition to this mission.”

So what’s in store for future episodes? Naturally, it’s a bit of a potpourri. Lewis said she’s spoken with a student geoscience major about recording an episode on the 1997 volcano thriller “Dante’s Peak,” and another student who was introduced to feminism through the 1980s rom-com drama “Working Girl.” And of course there’s going to be an episode on the Kardashians.

“I hope that students listen and understand that pop culture isn’t just something frivolous, that it has some meaning to it,” Lewis said. “Drexel is a really fast-paced environment. I hope that they listen to it in between these moments and have a bit of fun while understanding that the things they like have meaning and they can think more about them.”

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