Latoya Peterson at Reed College

Yesterday while I inched my way across town through drizzly rush hour traffic, I was tired, cranky, and unsure whether my plan to attend Latoya Peterson‘s Digital/Divides: When Race, Class & Pop Culture Collide talk at Reed College would be the best way to spend my evening.

It absolutely was.

Peterson, editor/owner of the invaluable, is an insightful, funny speaker who moves seamlessly between hilarious TV, music, film & Internet references and acute analysis of the ways these cultural products reflect dominant norms.

Early on, she asked the audience how many of us considered ourselves culture creators, and made the point that whatever you’re putting out there, whether it’s a book, an album, a comic, a YouTube video, or a year’s worth of Instagram selfies, you’re contributing to culture, and therefore you need to be conscious about the messages you’re sending.

A few other highlights from my notes:

When you consume any piece of culture, ask yourself: What kinds of stories are you being told? What stories are you missing?

“Culture is hegemony’s goon.” — Renina Jarmon (Peterson, in citing the piece from which that quote is taken, noted the particular pleasure to be derived from article titles that juxtapose raw lyrics with academic & feminist terms.)

During the Q&A, I asked about using genre (e.g. romance, mysteries, science fiction & fantasy, YA, urban fiction, & other types of storytelling that are sometimes dismissed & disregarded) as a way to challenge dominant cultural norms and tell the kinds of stories we’re not seeing elsewhere. Peterson’s excellent response: “The greatest thing about genre is that you can break all the rules; the worst thing about genre is how infrequently that happens.” Indeed.

Speaking of cultural products, genre and otherwise, now on my list because Peterson mentioned them: Noah’s Arc, the first season of Gimme Sugar (link is to a 2008 article she wrote about the show for Racialicious, which, bonus, quotes Malinda Lo!), and Jennifer Silva’s book Coming Up Short: Working Class Adulthood In An Age of Uncertainty, & (edited to add!) Jessica Luther’s feminist romance project Steel & Velvet.

Peterson also mentioned, offhandedly, that she’d probably write her own book eventually. I hope it’s soon! In the meantime, if you have a chance to see her speak, go.




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