We started this blog as a place to discuss shapeshifting figures in popular culture, after becoming interested in the recent growing popularity of werewolves in books, TV series and movies – and especially how shapeshifters come to represent issues like adolescence, gender, disability and mental illness.
Although that’s where we started, we also blog about popular culture generally and review books and movies here.
Our scholarly work on this area is available in our book but here we want to open up the blog to anyone interested in the field. You can find out more about us here.
Well, the last post was about ABBA, and this week the ABBA Voyage experience opened in London.
And very recently, the inimitable Dr Roslyn Weaver snuck back into the country for a very special reason; one that had me humming an old ABBA favourite.
I promised not to gush, so: it was great to catch up with you, Ros, to meet your lovely groom, to watch you make vows to each other, and of course to update the selfie collection. We were so happy to be a part of it.
Serendipitously, Facebook tells me it’s 14 years today since this Disneyland classic “how it started” pic.
Until our next catch-up–hopefully involving ABBA-tars and maybe discussions about another book topic (any reader suggestions?), much love to you both.
We have a new Vice-Chancellor at work, and she’s instigated Tuesday Trivia sessions. One of the questions yesterday was “what has been hailed as the biggest musical comeback of all time?”
The answer: ABBA.
A little over a week ago, ABBA released new music for the first time since 1982’s underrated classic, “Under Attack.” That’s 39 years between songs.
For context, it was only 25 years between The Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road” and “Free as a Bird,” remixed from a demo and released a good decade and a half after John Lennon’s tragic death.
I’m a longterm ABBA tragic. My first album was ABBA’s Arrival, released when I was a few months shy of turning 4. At 4 years of age, the “big kids” next door (the eldest was about 13) introduced me to ABBA and would play “concerts” which consisted of them playing the album while making little rag dolls dance to it, holding them above their heads and they hid behind the brick retaining wall that kept our Queenslander home safely above the concreted play area below. It was like a very Queensland version of Punch and Judy. At some point I must have received some cassettes of my own, because one of my earliest memories is of my dad panicking, hitting the brakes and yelling, “where is it? where is it?” when he heard the train whistle at the start of “Nina, Pretty Ballerina” play in the car.
Granted, we were approaching a railway crossing at the time.
That album, Ring Ring, was subsequently banned from the car.
And that wasn’t the only time my ABBAsession caused rifts at home. When I was 8, all I wanted for Christmas was Super Trouper. Post-holiday, when well-meaning adults asked me what I got for Christmas, I would enthusiastically reply, “Super Trouper, and a cassette player to play it on” which evidently annoyed the living daylights out of my mother, who viewed the player as the main gift and rather thought I was burying the lede.
Throughout the 80s, ABBA was considered pretty naff. Most people pretended they had been too cool to ever like them. Missing whatever protective social properties most folks have, I continued to openly love them.
Eventually, in the ’90s, the Queer community adopted their dance beats, Muriel’s Wedding came out, the Gold album was released and their rehabilitation was complete, ready for Mamma Mia and Cher to follow in recent years. ABBA was once again influencing popular culture in a significant way.
When our first child was born in late 1998, my husband used to sit up watching cricket with her in his arms. To even the score, I would only play ABBA in the background when sitting up with her for late night feeds. When she was a teenager, Ros and I were considering an academic conference in the Greek Islands. It was just post-the Global Financial Crisis, and the release of Mamma Mia. My daughter got wind of it and asked if she could come. Ros jokingly replied, only if she could join in as we sang and danced our way around the island. I relayed this to Jamie, who huffily replied, “Of course I know all the lyrics to all the ABBA songs! I’m YOUR daughter!”
Later, she would be the one to buy me the Mamma Mia soundtrack. And to drive us all to the movies to see Mamma Mia 2. The latter time, even her nowhere-near-as-interested brother was singing along in the back seat. Evidently ABBA is not cool in his world – and yet he can also recite which bands have played ABBA songs as part of their festival sets.
And, as you can see above, Jamie and I had a Cher/ABBA girls’ night in 2018. True to her word, she knew every word to every track. There are no words for the delight I feel when my kids know and appreciate the music of my youth.
Ros and I didn’t end up going to Greece, but about six years ago we made it to a West End production of Mamma Mia.
I loved every minute of it. Afterwards, I commented to Ros that I didn’t believe ABBA would ever reunite, despite the fact that there were people who would spend any amount of money to go to their concert. Ros replied: “Like you.” I said that as long as I’d covered the mortgage for the month, then yes. Anything beyond that would seem reasonable.
So I was stunned when news emerged in 2016 that the awesome foursome had, in fact, sung together at a party in Stockholm.
It seems that about that time, the seeds were sown for a reunion. Initially rumoured to be a hologram tour because of the quartet’s age and lack of interest in leaving their home for extended periods of time, it became apparent that holograms don’t travel as light as one might think.
And so gradually a plan formed to create “abbatars” through using the real, human, present-day singers, Agnetha Fältskog, Anna-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaues, all now in their 70s, to perform two new and an unnamed number of classic hits. These were filmed and then Industrial Light and Magic — yes, the power behind that other great seventies franchise, Star Wars–was brought in to “de-age” them back to their 1979 heyday.
These were used in the clip for the new single. Two songs were initially released, but eventually there was enough material for a new album, due to drop later this year. The B-side song, “Don’t Shut Me Down,” is the phenomenon that prompted the VC’s trivia question. It’s gone to Number 1 in Britain, forty one years after their last number one hit. It’s a great song, about complexities, loss and hope of reconciliation in relationships, a descendant of “Winner Takes It All” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” with just a hint of “Gimme Gimme Gimme.” The most suprising thing about this, for me, is that I think the other single, “I Still Have Faith in You,” is more quintessential ABBA: simple piano lines that are then overlaid with guitar, drum and tambourine sections and contrasted into sweeping orchestral moments, reminiscent of “My Love, My Life.” It has the simple sweet harmonies, and then moments when the boys are basically chanting an additional harmony, “Chiquitita”-style.
Alongside the album, plans were developed to create a purpose-built arena in London, for an immersive experience in lieu of a traditional album tour. Producer (and son of Benny) Ludvig Andersson has described the show as ‘An ABBA space church circus on steroids’!
So: not content with their already impressive impact on popular culture in the late twenty first and early twenty-second century, we have a third resurgence in popular culture. ABBA shapeshifts itself into de-aged, tireless performers who quite literally can’t hit a bum note, with a Las Vegas-style residency that changes the very notion of what an album tour and album publicity are.
And, as Ros predicted, I’m already planning to go.
Kimberley is teaming up with some other scholars of the supernatural to pull together an edited collection about The Vampire Diaries.
The call for abstracts went live on UPenn and H-Net just in time for Halloween.
Contributions can cover television studies, intertextuality, the role of social media in the TVD fandom, gender, adolescence, mind control, the Gothic, and can also relate to the original novels, the spin-off novels, or either or the television spin-offs.
We’re looking for 400-500 word abstracts (or send us the complete paper, if you have something ready to go), as well as a brief author bio. We need both by the end of the month, so we can get this project rolling as quickly as possible – full drafts of the selected papers will be required by March 1, 2020.
Yesterday (which is still “today,” where Ros is) we hit send on our latest manuscript. This will be our second book with McFarland Publishers.
This one is looking at how mental health disorders are represented–or even misrepresented–in popular television. And while it’s not very shapeshifter-y at all, the idea for it did come out of our Werewolves book. I know we’re not supposed to play favourites, but my favourite chapter in that book was the one about dis/ability. So many of these supernatural narratives, especially the YA ones like The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf, play upon the idea of whether or not you would choose to have that one little piece of biology that sets you apart. It’s the theory of the Temporarily Able-Bodied, writ large as the Temporary Super-Able Bodied.
And on that note … stay tuned for more The Vampire Diaries-themed posts. I’ll be sharing a Call for Abstracts/Papers here soon, and catching up on that last season and a bit … and catching up on the spin-off … and catching the newest spin-off … which may just prompt me to put fingers to the keyboard a little less infrequently than has become usual …
I’ve done some sleuthing online today, and it seems a few people are still selling our Werewolves book–mostly at wildly inflated prices.
So – I am finally shifting (geddit?) the ones that have been living on my study floor so long that I should be charging them rent. You can find copies of Werewolves and Other Shapeshifters in Popular Culturehere – signed by both of us, no less!
[Disclaimer: This sudden and uncharacteristic burst of decluttering and organisation may or may not be a form of procrastination related to our next book manuscript being due at the publishers in a few short weeks …]
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote elsewhere that I had been working in Batemans Bay. I’ve just secured a pretty cool teaching gig down there in October, and it relates to the things we love around here: werewolves, vampires, popular culture, and writing.
My employer (and the Uni Roslyn & I both attended, UOW), runs an enrichment program for school kids called Learning Labs. Back in the day, my kids–now themselves students of UOW–attended. The program has expanded over time, and covers interested kids from Years 1 and 2 (Little Learning Labs), through to those in Year 10. Students have to be capable of working at an advance level (as signed off by a teacher in their school), and they choose an area of their interest, and attend workshopped activities with other, like-minded students.
So, in conversation with the Campus Manager, Jaimey, I came up with the idea of a workshop about reading and writing vampires and werewolves.
So for two days we’ll track through from generic supernatural types, to some very famous modern examples. And then, I’m going to ask the kids to come up with their own “rules,” and write their own story. I’m really excited to see what they come up with!
I have a bit of planning still to do, but I’m really looking forward to this. And I’m already trying to figure out what to wear. In October, I like to progressively amp up the Goth touches in my wardrobe, leading up to the grand finale on October 31.
Serious Academic, at work.
For enquiries about this, or any other Learning Labs program at the Batemans Bay campus of UOW, please contact your local campus directly.
Wollongong registrations can be done through the links above.
All you have to do in order to be considered is submit a 150-word abstract and a 100-word bio to the Area Chair most closely affiliated with your topic of interest. You can find the full list of Areas, as well as information about related publication opportunities, below:
It’s that time of year again, when we call for abstracts for the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (PopCAANZ) conference. The 10th conference will be held in Melbourne July 3-5, 2019. We’ve been to Melbourne for PopCAANZ before, and loved it. (Actually, I could use that post title again, now. Sorry). We’ve also blogged about past PopCAANZ conferences here and here. Come along, and you might feature in this year’s wrap-up post!
Roslyn & I have a long history with PopCAANZ – we were at PCA/ACA in San Antonio, Texas, when they were first planning to establish the association, and Ros attended the first conference in Brisbane. I hopped on board the following year, and I have only missed one since. In that time, I’ve presented in the film, television, Gothic and disability streams, which I think gives a good idea of what PopCAANZ is all about – it is very interdisciplinary. There are plenty of great papers to attend; some of them will be in your field, and others will just be about things in which you are interested.
The call for papers can be found here, so get writing! Send a 150 word abstract and 100 word bio to the chair whose area links best to your abstract idea by March 31, and we’ll see you in cosmopolitan Melbourne!
If you have an interest in popular culture, presentations are called for in areas as varied as Life Writing, Toys and Games, Disability, Gothic and Horror, Comics, Science and more. There really is something for everybody–and shapeshifters have popped up in Gothic, TV, Comics and Film areas.
This year’s conference will be held in Wellington in late June, and 150-word abstracts are being accepted up until March 31, so get writing!
So, we’ve established that I’ve got a wee bit of a soft spot for Rob Thomas. This is not a new thing – my love affair with the music of Rob Thomas and Matchbox 20 has been going slightly longer than the one with my husband. I’ve long joked with people who react with disbelief to learning that I named my only son after him, “well, it’s not like they’re ever going to meet.”
Except that last Friday night, they did.
With massive thanks to Live Nation, I scored complimentary tickets to the State Theatre show, along with a hyperventilation-causing meet’n’greet opportunity. You had to share your favourite Rob Thomas story to win, so I told the story of my boy’s name, and won–which also made it pretty easy to decide who got the other ticket.
The other competition winners were lovely people, and the excitement was palpable. We had to wait in the tiniest corridor you’ve ever seen, and Rob was supposed to walk straight past us. Except he didn’t: he stopped and said hi to the lucky few waiting to meet him. We were then led in two-by-two. I went to shake hands, hoping that was allowed. Rob Thomas put out his arms and gestured for a hug. It would have been rude not to respond.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it took approximately two seconds to transform the self-diagnosed Aspie with clinically-diagnosed anxiety from someone who was afraid of throwing up or passing out in front of an idol, into the relaxed, smiling person chatting in the photos below.
Look at me, making small talk! With a famous person!
Rob Thomas (the musician) then extended his hand to my son and said, “Hi. Rob” (We both resisted the urge to say, “I know.”). My son replied in kind, also extending his hand and saying, “Hi. Rob,” and then Rob Thomas the musician looked at me in confusion and Rob Thomas (aged 14) and I both said, “Rob Thomas” in unison. And then Rob Thomas (musician) got really excited, and said he’d only ever met one other Rob Thomas (the TV guy). (I think he missed the bit about these being the boy-oh’s given names, but the conversation moved into interesting territory pretty quickly, and it probably meant I didn’t seem quite so stalker-ish as I otherwise might have).
Wait, you named him WHAT?
So suddenly we’re on solid ground, because Rob Thomas (the TV guy) is something of a pop culture icon. He’s the man behind Veronica Mars, which was discussed at great length at our school reunion (I’ll watch it soon, Phoopie, I promise!), as well as the reboot of 90210, which Roslyn and I will be looking at in some detail in our next book, Mental Health on TV: Representation and Reality.
And then, Rob Thomas (the musician) starts talking zombies. Because Rob Thomas (TV guy) is now running iZombie on the CW (the network that is also home to The Vampire Diaries).
And Rob Thomas (musician) and Rob Thomas (TV guy) became friends on Twitter over their shared name, and now Rob Thomas (musician) is going to have his brain eaten in an episode of iZombie when he returns to the States. So watch out, folks, we may be about to see another sexy zombie soon.
So after that little bit of excitement (my son took charge of retrieving my iPhone and our signed photos from the lovely staff, because, in his words, “I knew how you’d be”), we used our complimentary tickets (thanks again, Live Nation!) and headed into the iconic State Theatre for what was billed as “an intimate audience with Rob Thomas.”
Now, I admit I was a bit overwhelmed by this whole experience, and maybe that explains how I had missed the point that the State Theatre concert was going to be markedly different from the arena-spectacular-esque Melbourne version at RLA a few days earlier. This turned out to be a pretty good thing. I feel incredibly blessed to have seen both “versions” of #theGreatUnknownAussie16 tour.
The RLA performance was high energy, and two of the highlights–David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Rob running through the crowd in the closing minutes–were not really able to be replicated in this stripped back show, where Thomas was backed only by long-term collaborator Matt Beck, and guitarist Frankie Romano. No thumping drum beats here, which is probably one of Mr 14’s favourite things, but instead we got stories behind the songwriting process, which is definitely one of mine.
Oh, and Rob Thomas played Little Wonders. I’ve actually seen “my” song played live, and it was awesome, and I don’t even mind that it was inspired by what is probably the most mundane part of pet ownership. 😉
All in all, this was a fantastic evening and an experience I’ll remember ’til they’re blaring Little Wonders over my casket.