Popular Culture Studies in the U.S. and in India
Dr. Alapati is an Assistant Professor of English at Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, India. A recipient of a UGC’s Raman Postdoctoral Fellowship (2014), he has also received two other fellowships from US Consulate, Hyderabad (2012) and US Embassy, New Delhi (2011). He has published research papers in the areas of his interest on American literature, Popular Culture, Indian fiction and English as a foreign language. He has two books – Metaphors of Subversion in American Fiction (2012)and Life Through Language: A Holistic Approach (2014). Dr. Alapati was a visiting Research Fellow at the International Forum for U.S. Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from February 2015 through March of 2015.
Dr. David Schrag for IFUSS: Tell us a bit about popular culture studies; how you came to this field of interest, and your particular interests within it.
Dr. Rama Alapati: My idea on popular culture studies sparked off after attending a lecture by Dr. Matthew Donahue of Bowling Green State University, USA, at a Conference-cum-Workshop on “Teaching and Researching American Literary/Cultural Studies” in India. I realized that Popular culture studies are central to the study of Liberal Arts, which enhance the spirit of the academia. They help people to understand their own culture, appreciate it, and grow up as participating members of the community. It is observed that the term ‘popular’ has been understood in terms of a larger “populace”. When literature is studied under the lens of popular culture it brings in with it several dimensions of every-day life.
IFUSS: You have noted that popular culture studies originated in the U.S. in the 1970s. Is this area of study well-established in other countries as well? Does it entail mainly the study of popular culture in the U.S., which is what your work focuses on?
RA: Popular Culture studies draw attention in general because they focus on the everyday life of people. Apart from the growth of Popular Culture studies in the US, the European Popular Culture Association and The International Institute for Popular Culture, Finland, are contributing a lot to the growth of the discipline. My work attempts to document the growth of Popular Culture studies as an academic discipline in the US and thereby to introduce it as a course in Indian academia.
IFUSS: Your work focuses on the tension between science and religion, particularly in the writing of Kurt Vonnegut. Which works by Vonnegut are exemplary in investigating this tension?
RA: The main concern of Vonnegut’s novels is to attack a set of beliefs that humans surrender themselves to, thereby, causing misery to themselves. The significance humans attach to artificial constructs like race, nationality, even national dogma, forces them to snap the common thread that links all people. Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle focuses on the cognitive tension between science and religion, in particular their contradictions. The novelnegated all established religions as detrimental to an individual’s growth. Vonnegut conceals a complex texture beneath a deceptively simple surface by using parody to highlight the dehumanization projected through war. His use of contradiction and uncertainty as fictional devices represents a significant technical innovation.
IFUSS: You present Vonnegut as being very much a humanist—coming out of the traumatic experience of WWII—yet someone highly suspicious of ideologies. Do you think Vonnegut is particularly relevant today, or, in other words, what can we still learn from him in the present?
RA: Kurt Vonnegut is relevant even today because his works ultimately focus on humanity. He strongly believes that human beings in the name of progress are developing technological science which can destroy the world. Similarly, there are people killing in the name of religion. Vonnegut juxtaposes science and religion and characterizes the institutions constructed around them as destructive and dehumanizing. Society has placed many impediments like religion and science in man’s growth in the name of protecting its members from the unknown. Vonnegut believes that writers can influence people’s ideas profoundly and thereby analyzes these establishments wisely.
IFUSS: What are some directions you plan to take in your future research?
RA: I plan to introduce Popular Culture studies in India as an academic discipline making it interdisciplinary. My collaboration with the faculty of the Department of Popular Culture, Bowling Green State University, has given me the necessary direction to initiate Popular Culture studies in India.
Dr. David Schrag is Program Coordinator for the International Forum for U.S. Studies (IFUSS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.