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A Voyage of (Re)Discovery

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.

The ABBA-tars. Credit: ABBA VOYAGE

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.

And a cassette player!

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.

The worst part of Muriel’s Wedding was that I couldn’t walk down the aisle to “I Do I Do I Do I Do” because it would be seen as derivative.

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.

My West End experience

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.

The Way Old Friends Do: June, 2016 Credit: ABBA Facebook

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.

Right before they made the boys shave, presumably. Credit: ABBA VOYAGE

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.

The ABBA Arena at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Credit: ABBA VOYAGE

And, as Ros predicted, I’m already planning to go.

PopCAANZ 2017

The call for abstracts for the 2017 iteration of the annual conference for the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (PopCAANZ) is closing soon.

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!


On Clara, and Birds

** This post contains inferred Spoilers, Sweetie: relating to Season 9’s “Face the Raven”**

It’s no secret that I love Doctor Who’s latest (or is she the earliest?) companion, Clara. I’ve blogged about her before, and given conference papers about her in Auckland and California.


What you may not know is that I keep chooks. And one of my quirks is, that because the chooks are my companions, I am technically a Doctor and my sense of humour is sometimes odd, we name them after Doctor Who’s companions.

About two years ago, we rescued two hens and dubbed them Idris and Clara. I say rescued, because although they were advertised for sale on a local pets/produce swap/sell page, when we got there, they were in the world’s tiniest yard in our area’s worst suburb. When we paid the man, he tried to get them out of their cramped, dark pen, and Idris, in particular, made a very energetic run for it. The man’s naked toddler was chasing after her shouting, and the man was shouting and swearing, so I kind of didn’t blame her. But Idris quickly became known as “the big white one” because she was big, white and it seemed mean to add the descriptors “nasty” and “anti-social.” In hindsight, perhaps Davros or Missy would have suited her better.

Clara, on the other hand, was petite and pretty; a more exotic breed than white leghorn Idris, and despite the previous untold horrors they’d likely both experienced, she had a lovely nature. She was affectionate from Day 1.

Clara chook.jpg

Clara on Day 1, having a cuddle

Both birds came to us with scaly mite, so we spent some time treating them and getting them to be nice, healthy girls. They assimilated with their coopmates with minimal fuss, and Clara would (almost) always come when called. Idris never would.

A week or two ago, I noticed that Clara was looking floppy. Her comb had flopped, her tail was drooping, and she’d clearly lost condition. We treated all the girls for mites and worms, and while her two buddies immediately bucked up, she continued to look … well, floppy. I went to shoo her into her coop one evening and she landed on her tummy and sat there, looking shocked. She’d forgotten to put her feet out.

So when I had a day working-from-home, I  figured I’d better give her some quality time while I still could. I coddled her with a warm towel, cuddles, and hand feeding her creamed corn. She loved it, and was even quite enthusiastic about the food. But it was obvious that she was struggling.

I wasn’t home on Wednesday night, so I rang the kids and asked had they checked that the coop was locked. My daughter told me that “Clara was sleeping down the bottom.” She couldn’t even made her way up into the safety of the nesting boxes.

And that’s where I found her on Thursday morning. She looked like she was napping, and as I approached, I was hoping against hope for a different outcome. But no. The inevitable had happened, and even though I was expecting it, it was still hard to accept.

So tonight Doctor Who involved a plotline around Clara, inevitability, and facing a bird. As the distance between human and bird grew ever smaller and the raven shifted into sinister black smoke, I was once again hoping for a different outcome.

Vale, Claras.





Gender Flipped Twilight

Open Graves, Open Minds

Following Kaja’s post breaking the news about Beau and Edythe (don’t you just love them already?) I thought I’d post Stephenie Meyer Explains Gender Flipped Twilight from Publisher’s Weekly. Love to hear your views on this. Does Meyer still have her finger on the pulse of middle America or has she flipped along with the gender? Do tell.

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Sport in Australia: What on earth is going on right now?

This week on the ABC’s QandA, Annabel Crabbe noted that if Australian politicians were considering what they said better than our tennis players were, they were doing OK. Tennis fan or not, everyone in the room got the reference.

In good old ‘Straya, sport is so much a part of our culture that politicians and journalists use these kinds of metaphors, university subjects tackle Sport & Popular Culture together, and the coalescence of sport and popular culture in the Australian imagination are discussed in both the mainstream press and in academia. So if we’re going to look at shifting the shape of popular culture, sooner or later, we were going to have to deal with sport on some level. And sure, I was expecting it to be a kids’ book about a soccer-playing werewolf or something, but since I haven’t come across one yet and this is such a big thing in our nation right now (and only likely to get more airtime with the US Open coming up), it seems like it’s time to look at what’s going on.

This past month the media debate about what it’s OK to say and what it’s not OK to say, on and off a sporting field, has been omnipresent. And it’s ongoing. Recently, rising Aussie tennis star Nick Kyrgios “sledged” his opponent Stan Wawrinka by “letting him know” that his rumoured girlfriend Donna Vekic had at some time in the past allegedly made a presumably informed, adult choice to have sex with someone else whom Kyrgios knew – his teammate and friend, fellow Aussie rising star Thanasi Kokkinakis. All four people involved in this saga are current tennis players on the circuit. Realistically, probably none of them wanted this news broadcast by the omnipresent microphones and cameras courtside. But Kyrgios is the only one who had agency in this story breaking. He really stepped outside the bounds of professional behaviour – not to mention basic manners – and has rightly worn the consequences. Matters were not helped  when first Kyrgios’ Mum and then his brother attempted to defend his actions, saying Wawrinka had sledged him first (which is not, frankly, an unbelievable accusation, but doesn’t excuse anything that came afterwards) and then big bro Christos making an unfortunate comment about Vekic, using a pun on Kokkinakais’ nickname and instagram handle . Kokkinakis was then harassed later in the tournament by an unrelated aggressive opponent who somehow seemed to think that the “Special Ks” were not actually doubles partners, but the same person.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios of Australia look on from the team bench during the reverse singles match between Sam Groth and Temur Ismailov of Uzbekistan during the Davis Cup World Group Playoff tie between Australia and Uzbekistan at Cottesloe Tennis Club on September 14, 2014 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The Special Ks in happier, less controversial times (Davis Cup tie in Perth, September 2014)

Kyrgios is a 20 year old  who has had a meteoric rise up the tennis rankings over the last eighteen months. He is one of the most talented players I can recall seeing in a lifetime of watching tennis. He is also currently trying to navigate the circuit and all its associated media circus and social media pitfalls without a coach or any kind of outside support team who have experience on the circuit. An overprotective family is not quite cutting it.


I call this Nick’s “Mr T” period

Earlier in the month there was another controversy, this one in stark contrast to the soapie-like qualities of the who-slept-with-whom-in-the-tennis-world drama. This was one centred on one of the elder statesmen of Australian sport, former Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes. I don’t watch AFL and don’t intend to start, so I cannot comment on his on-field behaviour or skill. But off the field, he is ambassador for the Racism. It stops with me. campaign, which basically tells folks that when they see or hear racism, they need to point it out and say it’s not OK. He is currently the face of the “Recognise” campaign, which seeks to add acknowledgement of Indigenous Australians to the Constitution’s preamble. He does charity work to improve the lot of Indigenous kids.



His greatest sin, apparently, is that he did an Aboriginal war dance on the field after scoring. In the Indigenous round. You know, the one where a particular fuss is made about Indigenous culture. Cos Lord knows, there’s no precedent for this kind of thing.

He also famously once called security to a 13 year old who called him an ape while he was playing. Security removed the teenager. The police interviewed the teenaged. Goodes was asked if he wanted to press charges and he declined. Ever since, there has been a weird undercurrent in social and even some more mainstream media of “he should apologise for what he did to that little girl.” Peter FitzSimons summed this up so beautifully that I don’t think I need to say anything else; other than, I read the girl’s mother defending her actions with the weirdest argument ever while demanding an apology from Goodes: “She was technically still only 12. I mean, she’d only turned 13 a few days earlier.”

Technically, I don’t think you know what “technically” means. And usually the person who’s done the wrong thing apologises, not the victim. I mean, even Nick Kyrgios has apologised (although Wawrinka has claimed it wasn’t done “properly”).

Anyway, so Adam Goodes was being booed and harassed on the field. In fact, he was harrassed to the point where he said it was impacting his mental health and he had to take a break from the game. Some people say it’s not based on race, because other Indigenous players weren’t being booed; some say they have a right to boo and were booing because they don’t like Goodes (my response to this was, “why do we need to boo in sport, anyway? It’s not done in tennis!” But then Kyrgios was booed in Cincinnati after the sledging incident, so maybe I’m really out of step.). But when you followed most social media posts, it seemed that sooner or later the commenters came back to, “I don’t like him because of what he did to that little girl” (ie pointed out that it is not OK to use a racial slur that suggests Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are sub-human). Which is, of course, about race. And regardless of your “reasons,” when is it OK to bully someone to the point where they can’t actually go to work?

In the midst of all this, I unexpectedly received a message from a former student. Kieran is now in his final year of Engineering; I worked with him at Kip McGrath (now Nowra Tutoring Solutions), when he was studying for his Higher School Certificate. Kieran had been so moved by the Adam Goodes story that he had written a piece about it, and he asked me to have a read and suggest any changes. It was pretty powerful stuff, and didn’t need much input from me. I told him it was too good for a Facebook post and he should try to get it published.

And so, here is Kieran’s piece on The Roar, linked with his permission.

If you have any questions for Kieran about the writing, editing or publishing process involved, pop them in the comments below and we’ll be sure to pass them on. As I said at the time, I am one very proud old Teacher-Lady. I love that I have students who keep in touch and still turn to me for writing or other professional advice years later; I love seeing passion for social justice, and I particularly love when they know that if they combine these two things they’re going to be supported in it.

Twitter controversies and fan-cademics

“Fans take a much more active and personal role in the viewing experience now. They don’t just watch a show and forget about it until it’s time to watch the next episode. They dissect it and re-shape it into elaborate fan fiction, creative videos, and intricate art work. They want to be heard and even treated as participants in the creative process.”
Angela Harvey, staff writer, Teen Wolf

I gave my paper on Doctor Who and Disability at the Eaton Science Fiction Research Association conference a couple of weeks back. I’m not sure how effective my recollections will be, given that I was rather jetlagged when I gave the paper, and am again somewhat jetlagged as I attempt to write this. But I’m sure my brain will land in Sydney sometime soon.

From what I can recall, the paper went quite well. It was a mixed panel ie a panel on controversies in three different Sci-fi texts, of which Doctor Who was one. There were a number of Doctor Who aficionados in the room, however, if the discussion afterwards was anything to go by (it went 40 minutes into the scheduled lunchbreak!), ranging from interested fans to people who clearly knew every episode inside and out and even one guy who’d written an entire book on the show. And there was an attendee who’s working on representations of disability in Star Trek, so we kind of greeted each other like long-lost sisters because each of us “got” what is sometimes hard to explain to others.

The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive, but I was questioned on my methodology–specifically, I was asked why the hateful tweets of trolls mattered or were worthy of examination. My initial slightly glib response was, “Well, because they matter to Stephen Moffat” (who had deleted his Twitter account in response to hate messages). But another delegate argued that it is a really interesting space in which to work, looking at online fan responses and the social media zeitgeist. In fact, it’s been the topic of a couple of books, including one to which I contributed, Fanpires: Audience Consumption of the Modern Vampire.

I agree with the second delegate whole heartedly, as it happens. In an age of increasing direct interaction between show runners and fans, there is enormous opportunity for the audience to help shape the text. Equally, it is a fraught process where disgruntled keyboard warriors can lay into showrunners who have not privileged a favoured “ship” or who have strayed away from canonical points of reference. I cited as a further example of the Twitter-disappearance-phenomenon that of Teen Wolf show runner, Jeff Davis.

(Yes, I’m working on a piece on Teen Wolf. Attempting to Twitter-stalk Jeff “The Gift” Davis therefore counts as research, just at the moment).

All of this led me to believe that the insights from Teen Wolf staff writer Angela Harvey were rather apropos.

Werewolves in the Media

After posting about our radio adventures on Sunday Night Safran, it occurred to me that we haven’t popped up links to other promotional stuff that we’ve done. Granted, not all of the photos are flattering, but hey, it’s nice that folks are interested.

So without further ado, here is pre-event launch coverage from The South Coast Register and a more recent piece in The Liverpool Leader. We also had some rather nice coverage in The Macarthur Advertiser.  

We’ve done radio spots on 4BC and 602 in Queensland, as well. I am beginning to wonder what’s living in the wilds up north, that they are so interested in hairy beasts. Which brings me to the following image, which popped up on my Facebook page yesterday:


I don’t reckon that’s a bored sheepdog. I reckon that’s an anthropomorphic wolf.

What do you think?

Werewolves on the Air – in which our intrepid authors are interviewed for Triple J’s Sunday Night Safran!

For those among us of a certain age, John Safran is kind of a big deal. I can remember him on Race Around the World, and also the infamous Ray Martin confrontation. And for those among us of the Catholic persuasion, Father Bob McGuire is a rock star. On a recent trip to Melbourne during The Block’s auction weekend, I got excited about seeing Father Bob’s church. So it was kind of surreal to be interviewed by them both in the ABC Sydney studios for their national radio program.

When their producer told us we were booked into a Tardis, we decided that that was a very good sign. It also generated some serious coolness points with my kids. (See? I told you I was almost the Doctor’s companion, and in the very next post, I’m in a Tardis. As was Ros(e)lyn).

You may have noticed that there are a lot of pictures in this post, and very little about the actual interview. The reasons for that are threefold:

1. I can’t remember that much about it. 7 hours’ of travel and the pressure on an on-air interview. ‘Nuff said.

2. Because of Reason 1, I’m terrified that what I said may have made no sense whatsoever

3. Despite Reason 2, we’d kind of like people to listen in to the broadcast. It airs tonight at 9pm (8pm if you’re in Queensland). It can be downloaded as a podcast from Monday morning and will be available for a week.

As always, you can join in the conversation about “hairy beasts” in the comments here, or find us on Twitter @KMcMahonColeman and @roslynweaver. John and Father Bob are on Twitter, too, and also discussing all things shift-y on their Facebook page.

The Joys of Academia

In Australia, that supposedly relaxing ‘break’ between Autumn and Spring Semesters comes to an end this week. It’s Orientation week and Graduation Week here at Wollongong, and it’s busy. But what we’re seeing is nothing compared to next week, when the students will return in earnest.

Ros and I have been enjoying our ‘break’ by finishing up paperwork from last Semester and sorting out paperwork for next Semester. In addition, it’s a fun time of year for Early Career Researchers like our good selves, when we find ourselves bandying around acronyms like CASS, DECRA, ICFA, PCA/ACA, GANZA, and we add in a few actual words like Crawford and Probation for good measure.  What all of these forms have in common is that  just when you think you have them *nearly* filled out, you remember the question you’ve been avoiding all along: the one about about assessing things like the impact of your work.

Now, it occurs to me perhaps we are not the best placed people to do that. So if you have read Werewolves and Other Shapeshifters in Popular Culture, please consider reviewing it on Amazon or similar.

Other than having to read and write and think about myself, it’s been a pretty good week. I got to participate in a Welcome for Study Abroad students, of whom I’m particularly fond (I have done 3 short-term hostings, and once upon a time I was an exchange student myself). And I also had the opportunity to present on teaching students with Asperger’s Syndrome to my colleagues (again, a cohort of whom I am fond and with whom I share some traits 🙂 ). Working a little bit of werewolfery into the latter proved beyond me, but I did manage to use popular culture as a teaching tool. I love this, so I hope you’ll indulge a little non-shifty moment. Enjoy.

Werewolves in the Wild

Let us know if you spot Werewolves and Other Shapeshifters in Popular Culture  in the Wild!

So far, we have found it stocked at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Fishpond and Book Depository.