Professor Dr. Kugler
Project Grant Proposal
Bringing Literary Theory to the Public Sphere
This focus of this research project is to look at how to make literary theory accessible to a broader audience by observing how several youtubers use their particular platforms to accomplish this task. Furthermore, we will analyze how they structure their arguments, what types of narrative and aesthetic choices do these content creators make when it comes to presenting these theories to their audiences and where do they fall short. By observing and noting what these content creators do to present literary theories to a general audience and is their approach an effective method for building bridges of understanding between the academy and a broader audience. The final portion of this project will be to create a video essay of one of several primary texts using the information gleaned from watching the youtuber content.
I was having a discussion with someone on twitter and they brought up how conservatives tend to do a better job of making information widely available and easier for their audiences to understand. In response to their comment I responded that conservatives tend to present information to their audiences but that it has the tendency of being reductive and oversimplified, especially when it concerned literary theory. Our conversation then revolved around (in this particular instance theology) what would it look like for those of us who consider ourselves leftists or left-leaning to take theories that are often difficult to understand and making it easier to be understood by a general audience that may not be familiar.
As our conversation came to a close, I kept thinking about the conservative site PragerU and what it would look like to create a leftist version of the platform. During this time I was reading C.L.R. James’s Black Jacobins and Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic. At the time I kept thinking how as important as Gilroy’s book was for the academy, how much more would this be important for those who were not in the academy? For me, I could not ignore that despite the importance of Gilroy’s work that it was written in such a way that those who are not scholars in English might not be able to understand. Fortunately, reading James’s book provided the answer that I was looking for, it was a text dealing with the Haitian Revolution but written in such a way as to create a narrative that is easy to follow for someone who may not be familiar with the Haitian Revolution.
But at the same time I was thinking of particular leftist Youtube channels (Breadtube) that I watched and how they accomplished this task of taking theories like Marxism, Queer Theory, theories of masculinities, Film theory, Postcolonial theory and others and made them easier for their audiences to comprehend. Moreover, this allowed their audiences to be exposed to theories and theorists available in the academy that one might not read or hear about unless one was in graduate school while simultaneously providing resources for those looking to read the primary sources for themselves. In addition to giving access to these theories within the humanities, many of the youtubers I watched (namely Contrapoints, Philosophy Tube and Folding Ideas) would respond to things taking place in media and popular culture, whether that be Incels, Flat Earthers or Antifascists organizers, these youtubers used the humanities as a lens through which to understand these ideas.
The first part of this project will consist of reading C.L.R. James’s Black Jacobins in addition to Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic, both texts will serve as the primary text for the video essay. The youtubers chosen for this project were chosen because of the theories they used and how their videos do the work of presenting the theory. Questions as to how to observe whether this video is effective in presenting the theory will consist of: How the video present the theory in a way that is easy to be understood? What are the connections the youtuber makes between theory and a current social or political issue that is going on at the time of the video essay being uploaded? What sources does the video cite and do they provide a bibliography that allows the audience to read the primary sources? And finally, what type of aesthetic choices does the youtuber make to describe the theory (cinematography, costumer, design, allusions to pop culture, script, etc.).
The youtubers chosen for this project belong to a collection of youtubers known colloquially as “breadtube” consisting of leftist (many of them Marxist in their or belonging to socialist, communist, or anarchist organizations) on the Youtube website. Many of those chosen are youtubers whose content I am familiar with and whose videos are chosen to look at how they deal with a particular theory or social theory. Dan Olson the content creator of the youtube channel Folding Ideas, was selected because of how his video “In Search of a Flat Earth,” deal with flat earthers and the ideology that motivates someone to become a flat earther.
Lindsay Ellis was chosen because her content usually looks at the intersection of cultural critic, literary theory and film studies. Her videos, “The Ideology of the First Order” and “Mel Brooks: The Producers and the Ethics of Satire About N@zis”, which both focus on the representation of fascism in film are interesting in observing how to film can be a means of explaining theory. Moreover, because of Ellis’s background in film we want to see how she weaves cinema and cultural critique in her video essays. While Jack Saints video essays represent a mix between several other youtubers mentioned previously, but with a heavier focus on the use of film and pop culture to explain a theory.
Philosophy Tubes and Contrapoints represents a more straightforward approach to taking a theory and explaining, in the case of Philosophy Tube, using Antifa as a means to talk about both the history and diverging pathways that make of what is known as anti-fascism. This particular youtuber was also chosen because of the content creators background in Philosophy and will look at how his motivation to bring philosophy to a broader audience influence the type of content that he provides on his channel. Contrapoints, who also has a background in philosophy, also does similar analysis of philosophy but emphasizes the visual in analyzing her theories. Her work demonstrates the need not to simply present a digestible version of a theory but will be used to analyze the role that performance and performativity play presenting an analysis of a theory that is both informative and entertaining.
Ellis, Lindsay. “The Ideology of the First Order.” 3 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAVeyXwy3BE.
---. “Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zis.” 2 June 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62cPPSyoQkE.
Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Harvard UP, 1993.
Hogan, Liam. All My Work on the “Irish Slaves” Meme (2015-2020). Medium, 12 Mar. 2017, https://limerick1914.medium.com/all-of-my-work-on-the-irish-slaves-meme-2015-16-4965e445802a. Accessed 3 Dec. 2020.
James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins. 1963, Vintage-Random House, 1989.
Lennard, Oliver. “The Philosophy of Antifa.” Uploaded by Philosophy Tube, 1 December 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgwS_FMZ3nQ.
Olson, Dan. “In Search of a Flat Earth.” Uploaded by Folding Ideas, 11 September 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTfhYyTuT44.
Saint, Jack. “James Cameron’s Avatar: Dances with White Saviours.” 23 March 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hihKrHP9aMc.
Williams, Eric. Capitalism & Slavery. 1944, UNC Press, 1994.
Wynn, Natalie. “Jordan Peterson.” Uploaded by Contrapoints, 2 May 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LqZdkkBDas.