On the Spot with Merinda Simmons

“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.

1. When people ask what you study, what do you tell them?

Well, if they’re asking what I study, they’re probably academics. Because how it typically goes is:

“What do you do?”

“I teach at the University of Alabama.”

“What do you teach?”

If the question doesn’t emphasize what most folx see as the more immediate/visible work of the profession, it’s usually coming from someone inside that same profession. Teaching and research are interconnected, of course (or should be, anyway), but “study” is kinda insider-speak… ain’t it the way? So among my community of insiders, I tell them I study and write about authenticity rhetoric — specifically how/why it appears in theories of gender and race. Even more specifically, my work tends to have a geospatial focus on the Caribbean and the American South as circum-Atlantic regions.

My Ph.D. is in English, so I bring a literary theory background to religious studies and try to put some proverbial money where my interdisciplinary mouth is. What does that mean in practical terms? Well, I write and teach about a lot of different things, but they tend to involve my interest in when and why ideas about authenticity or realness seem to appeal and have traction and when they don’t. Along the way, I apply identity theory outside the field to my own academic study of religion. Continue reading “On the Spot with Merinda Simmons”

Rebranding Identity Claims

I was running the other day and this bumper sticker stopped me in my tracks. What do you think this means? How (or better yet, for whom) does this work? 

Real Cheese and the Eucharist: On the Rhetoric of Dietary Restrictions

The other day, I went to a local coffeehouse for breakfast. The restaurant is an entirely gluten-free facility that also caters to other dietary restrictions. The restaurant is somewhat of a hot-spot for those of us with food allergies or dietary restrictions because it accommodates most all of them. While the entire facility is gluten-free (not to be confused with wheat-free), they also have vegan breads and cheeses, so anyone can order most anything on the menu. Continue reading “Real Cheese and the Eucharist: On the Rhetoric of Dietary Restrictions”

A Good Fake or a Bad Fake?

You will likely remember the (somewhat) recent restoration of Ecce Homo in Spain that resulted in a rather different representation of Jesus in the newly finished product. It quickly became a meme and has since been circulated widely on the internet. It came to mind after seeing this following video about art restoration. Take a look:

The video takes us through the process of the restoration of Mother Mary to demonstrate the ways in which art is maintained to last. But as I was watching the video, I began to wonder when restorations are considered to be good and necessary and when they are considered to be destructive. As shown in the video, much care is taken with the restoration process — every detail attended to with great care. While the finished restoration of Mother Mary is, to the casual observer, far more similar than that of Ecce Homo to the worn image we see in the beginning of the video, are the restorations of the two all that different, practically speaking? Continue reading “A Good Fake or a Bad Fake?”

Marketing the Authentic Taco

As I drive through my home city looking for a place to eat lunch, I feel overwhelmed by advertising that offers what seems to be an endless array of food options. Do I want fresh and healthy or fast and fried? How about vegetarian, seafood, gluten free, halal, burgers, pub food, buffet, Chinese, fine dining, Indian, local, or organic? While my options seem endless, there is one type of food that seems to be available on every street ­‑ “authentic.” And with so many selling it, how does one differentiate between the inauthentic and the authentic? Continue reading “Marketing the Authentic Taco”

A Man, A Tan, “God’s Plan”

Drake with his right hand up beside his face. An image from his music video "Hotline Bling"

Earlier this month Aubrey “Drake” Graham revealed that the knotting of his purse strings to his heartstrings are all a part of “God’s Plan,” the title of his latest music video.

The billboard hit features him giving out the video’s $999,631.90 production budget to the people of Miami. Gifts ranged from surprise shopping sprees to impromptu educational grants to unexpected spa treatments. The emotional reception shown in the video matched the public’s initial positive reactions.

However, the Canadian rapper’s philanthropy—like the Bible—has since been subject to varied interpretations. You’re likely familiar with the more skeptical takes. Continue reading “A Man, A Tan, “God’s Plan””

On Kings and Trump Cards

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

During the Super Bowl, RAM Trucks debuted a controversial truck commercial splicing images of Americana with a sermon excerpt from slain Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After outrage gave way to discourse, cultural critics were quick to point to the irony of Dodge’s signification. In the originating sermon, “The Drum Major’s Instinct,” King critiques self-interested pursuits that hinder people’s ability to see the value in others. He literally calls out Americans who ride in expensive “Chrysler” vehicles for the ego trip. NB: FiatChrysler Automobiles is the parent company of RAM.

To make the point,  the left-leaning magazine Current Affairs re-edited the commercial with an audio excerpt from the same sermon that they believe to be more indicative of King’s message. Continue reading “On Kings and Trump Cards”

Culture on the Edge is in Bonn!

bonn

Members of Culture on the Edge are in Bonn, Germany, at a conference entitled Hijacked!: A Critical Treatment of the Public Rhetoric of “Good” and “Bad” Religion.  We are thrilled to be working alongside the Forum Internationale Wissenschaft to investigate the politics and social structures that inform our public conversations about religion.

Tune in soon for conference updates and snazzy pics of Culture on the Edge at work!

Follow the conference at #hijacked2017

 

photo credit: http://www.budgetbestemmingen.nl/bestemmingen/duitsland/bonn/

Always Historicize

Picture 2

You know me, I’m all for critiques of authenticity — the way we authorize happenstance interests by portraying them as normative, inevitable, timeless….

But what about croissants? Continue reading “Always Historicize”

So Wrong It’s Right

credits

I watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002) the other day — sure, I’ve seen it a few times before but I always get a kick out of the way it lampoons the creation of diaspora identities and the way they can end up being over-the-top parodies (because they’re based on estranged memories) of the thing people think they’re just modeling. Continue reading “So Wrong It’s Right”