I am feeling invigorated after HASTAC 2017: The Possible Worlds of Digital Humanities– my very first HASTAC conference (hopefully of many more to come). Everyone was so welcoming, even to someone who feels like an interloper in the DH world, and it was comforting to realize that a good number of people there also see themselves on the peripheries of this field. We had great conversations, both in person and on Twitter, about using technology to do social justice work, disciplinary anxieties, feminist pedagogy, and cultivating new communities on and offline. There is so much to reflect on, so stay tuned for a fuller (and more coherent) reflection.
But for now, I am hoping to take the energy from this conference to the upcoming American Studies Association conference, “Pedagogies of Dissent.” I am presenting on the panel, “Pedagogies of (Resistance to) Neoliberalism” (Thursday, Nov. 9, 12-1:45 PM, Hyatt Regency Chicago, McCormick, Third Floor West Tower), along with Derek DiMatteo, Funie Hsu, and Emily Raymundo. Krista Benson, Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies at Grand Valley State University, will be chairing and offering comments on our work. I am looking forward to this exciting conversation and hope to see you there!
If you’re interested, here is the abstract for my paper:
Disney’s Big Hero 6 and the Future Geographies of the University
Disney’s 2014 animated film Big Hero 6 offers a captivating glimpse of the contemporary university through its representation of the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology (SFIT), with its shiny modern architecture, expansive research laboratories and multiethnic, high-performing student population. The movie’s narrative arc follows Hiro Hamada, a Japanese American boy and robotics prodigy, who begins as a juvenile delinquent, participating in back-alley “bot” fights. Hiro’s encounter with the diverse students from SFIT as well as Baymax, a robotic healthcare companion, however, awakens him to his own potential. Over the course of the film, he not only becomes a member of a crime-fighting superhero team, but also comes to the realization that the university is the ideal site for the cultivation of the individual, for the discovery of “proper” uses of knowledge and technology. In this sense, Big Hero 6 can be read as a film that sustains neoliberal fantasies, transporting audiences to an ideal futuristic landscape, where the university emerges as a site of racial harmony that reinvents the myth of the model minority while relegating concerns about student debt and social and material inequality to the illicit alleyway.
By thinking through Stuart Hall’s admonition of the “double stake in popular culture, the double movement of containment and resistance,” this presentation aims to elaborate strategies for negotiating the dominant, largely compromised visions of the university in Big Hero 6 alongside the possibilities of reading and teaching dissent. I explore how engaging this film on multiple scales, from the level of animation and technology to characterization, plot, and reception, opens up multiple avenues for approaching it as dissident viewers. In particular, I ask, what happens when we work toward animating those subjectivities, histories, and geographies that are rendered invisible by Disney’s appealing landscape and loveable characters? I consider, for example, how the university opens up into the world of San Fransokyo, a magical blend of the urban spaces of San Francisco and Tokyo that required advanced digital mapping technologies for its construction. Recognizing how this landscape celebrates the technological and cultural exchange between Japan and the U.S., I argue, creates openings for attending to the imaginaries foreclosed by the film’s geography, namely, how it precludes attention to the politically charged spaces of China and the Middle East. Moving from broader geographies, I also examine the film for minor moments of unruly animation, where a robot’s seemingly sentient act of rebellion against its creator enables a dialogue about affective labor and racialization.
Through this multiscalar engagement with Big Hero 6, my presentation seeks to open up a conversation about how we might work with both the constraints and possibilities of popular culture; that is, how we need to recognize the appropriation of the minor and minority discourses in shoring up principles of “excellence,” “individualism” and “diversity” characteristic of the neoliberal university, while simultaneously enacting dissent through our pedagogies and practices to instantiate other possible universities and universes.
 Stuart Hall, “Notes on Deconstructing ‘the Popular,’” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, edited by John Storey (Great Britain: Prentice Hall, 1998), 443.