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Kevin L. Ferguson’s current book project, Engaging the Eighties: A Cultural History of How a Decade Grew Up, demonstrates how new types of individuals were labeled in the U.S. 1980s. He argues that the discursive formulation of seemingly simple cultural stereotypes actually concealed newly organized boundaries of ethical behavior, particularly concerning children and parents. For example, “Brat Pack” authors like Jay McInerney obsessively focused on dead or dying mothers. Brat Pack protagonists, forced to choose between traditional family roles and glamorous new identities, enacted a larger concern with the status of the nuclear family. This was echoed by legal innovations and medical practices that created the “surrogate mother” and “crack baby,” publicized by media stories on Baby M and the revamped “War on Drugs.” At the end of the 1980s was a backlash, seen especially in the cycle of “Yuppie Devil” films and novels like Blue Steel and American Psycho. Finally, depictions of PWAs, or persons with AIDS, in comics art highlighted the contest over self-representation, raising positive awareness of safer sex practices as well as conservative anger at a supposed homosexual agenda. As a counterpoint to the stark polarities of the Reagan eighties, experimental writers like Kathy Acker provided alternate strategies of ethical engagement that renegotiated childhood.
My teaching interests are in American literature, film studies, and writing. One of the most important things for students to learn in any class is that there is a broad scholarly conversation happening on campus, and how their individual classes are part of this conversation and their own academic and professional goals. One of my favorite classes to teach is English 110, where I use the topic “Reading Film” to ask students to see how very different practices like making films and writing academic essays in fact share rhetorical strategies.
“Panting in the Dark: The Ambivalence of Air in Cinema” CameraObscura 77 (26.2), Sept 2011.
“Home Movies: Historical Space and the Mother’s Memory” Scope 18, October 2010.
“The Cinema of Control: On Diabetic Excess and Illness in Film” Journal of Medical Humanities 31.3, September 2010.
“The Yuppie Devil: Villainy in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel” Jump Cut 50, Spring 2008.
“Covering the Cinema: On Wallpaper in Some Films” Bright Lights Film Journal 58, Nov 2007.