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ODU Professor's Book Explores Cult Classic

Dana Heller, Old Dominion University English professor and department chair, is the author of a new book titled "Hairspray," which focuses on the 1988 cult classic film by John Waters. The book, published in May by Wiley-Blackwell, explores assumptions about the film found in mainstream popular culture as they pertain to gender, class, citizenship and race.

When doing research for the book, Heller interviewed Waters, who called "Hairspray" the most subversive of his numerous works. "This struck me as oddly counterintuitive, as it should to anyone familiar with Waters' movies, and I wrote this book because I wanted to explore the meaning and legitimacy of his claim," Heller said.

In her book, Heller explores topics ranging from camp and queer theory to gender performance and the body, and from debates over postmodern style versus substance to fandom in popular culture and the history of the American film musical. "To better understand our culture we need to open ourselves to the possibility that even our most vulgar entertainments can critically engage our minds and change the way we see the world," she said.

"I believe that too often we dismiss the products of mainstream popular culture as mere entertainment, or useless trash, or worse," Heller added. "But as a scholar of popular culture I believe that transformative art and 'mere' entertainment are not at all contradictory. They really do co-exist, and they do so most dynamically in American culture."

Heller has written widely about elements of popular culture, gay and lesbian studies, consumer culture and television. She is the author of "The Selling of 9/11: How a National Tragedy Became a Commodity," "The Great American Makeover: Television, History, and Nation," "Reading Makeover Television: Realties Remodeled" and over 40 scholarly articles.

This article was posted on: July 5, 2011

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