University of Richmond Pop Culture Experts

Pop Culture Experts

Taylor Swift Experts

UR has experts who can discuss the influence of Taylor Swift on popular culture: leadership studies professor Jessica Flanigan can discuss why we should take Taylor Swift seriously as a philosopher and psychology professor Janelle Peifer can talk about Swift in connection to the escapism of celebrity and when it can be helpful vs. hurtful. 

Contact us to arrange an interview. 

Stephen Brauer

James Bond & crime fiction

As an expert in both crime fiction and the stories we tell about real-life criminals, English professor Stephen Brauer can comment on media coverage of true crime, criminals in TV and film, and what they tell us about ourselves as a society – including James Bond novels and films. 

 “The Bond films are fun, blockbuster movies, but they’re also a unique cultural artifact – they embody an evolving set of Western cultural values over the last sixty years, including issues of gender and class, nationalism and globalization, and late capitalism.”

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Jennifer Cavenaugh

Women Who Kill

Jennifer Cavenaugh, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, can discuss dramatic portrayals of women criminals in pop culture and how these characters represent ways that society controls anxiety over female empowerment and rejection of traditional gender norms.

“Women killers have had a hold on popular imagination for time eternal, and the message is always the same: "Look what women will do when they are not properly socialized in their normal gender roles,"” said Cavenaugh.  “These fictional characters often serve to contain women and deflect attention away from issues of women's systematic repression.”

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Joe Essid

Science fiction & fantasy: from page to screen

Joe Essid, director of the Writing Center, teaches courses on science fiction and fantasy, as well as the adaptation of these books to film. He is available to discuss the Dune series by Frank Herbert, including Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation, the second part of which releases in March 2024.

Dune is widely regarded as one of the finest science fiction stories of all time. Imagine the burden, and outcome, of a young aristocrat doomed to be a prophet of a new religion, one that would reshape the entire galaxy? Dune is to science fiction what The Lord of the Rings books are to fantasy – every story thereafter (including Star Wars!) lives in its shadow.”

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Jessica Flanigan

Philosophy & music

Leadership studies professor Jessica Flanigan can discuss the philosophy behind music icons such as Taylor Swift and Bob Dylan.

“Philosophy holds a mirror up to the human experience. But some philosophers show people what they want to see while others show them who they really are,” Flanigan said.

“Lots of people love Taylor Swift because she leaves so little room for interpretation in her lyrics, and whatever puzzles remain are compelling because they pose clear and vivid challenges to our way of seeing things. In contrast, Bob Dylan’s music is full of indeterminate arguments and contradictions. Lots of people love Dylan because they can find some way of interpreting his music that affirms who they are.”

More About Jessica Flanigan
Erik Nielson

Rap on Trial 

Liberal arts professor Erik Nielson is a leading expert on the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court. He is the co-author of Rap on Trial and served as a consulting producer on the documentary As We Speak, which explores the history of rap music and racial bias in music. 

“It’s insidious, and no other musical genre is treated this way,” Nielson said. “It plays upon racial stereotypes to secure convictions in cases when there might not be much else in the way of evidence.”

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Matthew Oware

Hip-hop & rap culture

Sociologist Matthew Oware studies hip-hop as a lens through which we view society as a whole. His research analyzes how popular rap artists address race and gender in their music, particularly notions of Black masculinity and the Black family in American society.

 “Pushing boundaries has always been a staple specific to rap,” said Oware. “This goes back to rappers first including explicit language, content, and controversial political statements in their music.  But where rap has historically challenged racial discrimination, it has slowly evolved on issues related to gender and sexuality.”

More about Matthew Oware
Janelle Peifer

Parasocial Relationships

Janelle Peifer, a licensed clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of psychology, can discuss the impact of parasocial relationships – for example, why Taylor Swift fans are so deeply invested in her relationships.

 “Social media, in particular, has increased the level of identification that people have with celebrities,” Peifer said. “People can open up their apps and see what Swift’s up to, so it can legitimately feel to some as if she’s a close friend. It can feel like we’re owed something in return.”

More About Janelle Peifer
Ravynn K. Stringfield

Black girls & superhero narratives 

A professor of rhetoric and communication studies, Ravynn K. Stringfield’s research focuses on Black women and girls in fantasy and futuristic narratives, particularly in American superhero films and comics.

“Afrofuturism, speculative fiction, and the dark fantastic are all genres through which I investigate what we can know about contemporary Black girlhood based on their place in these narratives, in particular paying close attention to when Black women have artistic control over the media object and when they do not,” she said.

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Allison Tait

Celebrities & prenups

Allison Tait is professor of law at the University of Richmond where she teaches trusts and estates, family law, and feminist legal theory.

She can discuss the role of marriage in the creation of economic privilege – including prenups.  

“A prenuptial agreement can seem like something only high-profile people like Jeff Bezos – with his US$138 billion fortune to protect – actually need. But prenups – contracts entered into before marriage that detail how assets will be divided in the case of divorce – can be a good idea for anyone going into a marriage,” Tait said.

For more information, read Tait’s article Beyoncé has a prenup − but do you need one if you’re not a millionaire? Originally published in The Conversation, this piece is available to republish with attribution.

More about Allison Tait