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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Book looks at next century

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 34 - June 27, 1996

People used to look toward the 21st century with "images of Buck Rogers and his helmeted cowboys in spaceships built like Buicks," according to Marshall Fishwick in the introduction to 2001+: Popular Culture Studies in the Future, a book of essays about the millennium edited by Fishwick and Ray B. Browne. "No more. Technology has moved on, bringing new hardware and new software."

"What will the new world be like when we are networked, digitized, downloaded and soaring into cyberspace, when everybody lives alongside the Information Highway?" Fishwick asks.

A society of throw-away products. A society that can't sustain itself, that devalues the common good. A society ruled by technopoly. A community-less society sitting in front of computers. A society of fear. A society at war. What is the answer? "An informed public is a responsible public," Fishwick says, and "the best way to make the public informed is through education and a thorough knowledge of the popular culture in which we live."

2001+ is a part of the attempt to envision the future, to predict the effects of our current decisions, see the challenges of tomorrow, and figure out a way to meet those challenges. As cultures change, "one of the great problems of the 21st century will be to understand the dynamics of the great force of popular culture unleashed in a world of disparate peoples," the book says. "We will have to look beneath the surface of society, of technology, of human behavior. We must identify old and new wellsprings of energy, technique and faith. This means clearing not only the junkyards from our highways and cities but also the bric-a-brac from our intellectual attics and universities."

The book's essays are divided into five sections: Parameters and Dynamics of Popular Culture Studies, Leisure and Recreation, Sense of Community, Marketing Cultures, and Extension or Circularity. Besides essays on the future and place of popular-culture studies, the book looks at such divergent topics as religious fervor (essay by Fishwick), tourism and travel, individual rights vs. community rights, and selling and marketing.

The book holds up intelligent study of the problems to be faced in the new millennium as one way "we may be able to avert or postpone doomsday."

The essays in the book are written by some of the leading scholars in Popular Culture Studies. They point out the "compelling need for studies in everyday cultures" and help set the path of those studies "in the new world that is waiting to be born."

Fishwick is professor of communication studies and humanities who specializes in popular culture. He is a founder and past president of the Popular Culture Association and serves on the advisory board of the Journal of Popular Culture and the Journal of American Culture. His books include Great Awakenings: Popular Religion and Popular Culture and Go and Catch a Falling Star: Pursuing Popular Culture.

Browne is chairman emeritus of the Popular Culture Department at Bowling Green State University.