Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Professor heads pop culture association

August 8, 2001
Gary Hoppenstand, the recently elected president of the Popular Culture Association, sits in his office located in Bessey Hall. The association was founded by a former MSU professor Russel B. Nye. —

It was 1962 when the Main Library decided to expand its collection beyond agricultural studies and Shakespeare.

Nearly 40 years later, more than 250,000 popular culture pieces rest in the library’s growing Special Collections - and pop culture studies at MSU keep growing.

Gary Hoppenstand, an American Thought and Language professor and associate department chairman, was elected president of the Popular Culture Association, a 3,000-member organization dedicated to the scholarly study of pop culture of all kinds.

“It entails quite a bit,” Hoppenstand said. “Even things that people don’t normally affiliate with study, like television, film, popular fiction, design, fashion, music and holidays.”

As president of the association, Hoppenstand will have the responsibility of helping the relatively new form of study grow at other universities, while planning for conferences and new membership.

“Here it is,” he said. “I’m doing what I love. For several years I was a high-level management person, but I just wasn’t happy even though I was making lots of money.

“I’m much more interested in teaching, I love doing research and I love writing about these things.”

Hoppenstand teaches several courses relating to pop culture, ranging from Integrative Studies in Arts and Humanities film courses to American Thought and Language fiction courses.

“I like doing things with freshmen like film and contemporary literature,” he said. “I think it’s valuable and important for us to understand our society.”

While the number of popular culture classes is growing at universities, MSU has been hailed as its home.

“In terms of expertise, we have one of the greatest concentrations of popular culture studies scholars in the United States,” said Doug Noverr, chairman of the Department of American Thought and Language and a former Popular Culture Association president. “Gary has a national and international reputation - he has very strong name recognition as someone who’s left a mark on the field.”

The Popular Culture Association was founded by Bowling Green State University’s Ray Browne and former MSU Professor Russel Nye.

The first conference of the association was held on MSU’s campus in 1971, just one year after it began.

Pop culture studies on campus have continued to grow, with the library’s collection serving as one of the most used.

“There are more and more universities who are acquiring material now that for many years were disregarded because of its popular nature and popular content,” said Peter Berg, head of Special Collections. “We made it a point to collect in areas that were undercollected.”

With a collection ranging from Barbie doll tales to Harlequin romance novels to aging etiquette books, Berg said he sees no signs of slowing.

And with his new position as president of a leading organization, Hoppenstand said he’s glad to see popular culture remaining popular.

“It’s a growing interest, and we’re one of the nation’s leaders,” he said. “I’m doing what I’d hoped to do - maybe not when I was 7, but certainly when I was 21.”

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