Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

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The language of survellance in pre- and post 9/11 Popular Culture: a corpus-based study

Joe Trotta
Presentation type: 

Ever since George Orwell’s classic dystopian work ‘1984’, the theme of the surveillance society has been problematized in many ways and with relative regularity in popular culture, most notably in speculative fiction genres. Stories predicated on surveillance can be found not only in works by prominent science fiction authors such as John Brunner (e.g.The Shockwave Rider), Stanislaw Lem (e.g. Memoirs Found In A Bathtub) , Phillip K. Dick (e.g. A Scanner Darkly), to name but a few, but the topic is also well-represented in other genres such as superhero, horror/thriller, etc. (e.g. Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, DC’s The Dark Knight, among many others). This presentation explores the discursive construction of surveillance in speculative fiction (primarily science fiction) in a comparison of pre- and post- 9/11 works, showing how the discourse has changed over time as a reflection of prevailing social anxieties (about, among other things, intelligence gathering, organized radical religion, privacy issues and identity theft, the growth of the omnipotent multinational corporation, etc.). The methodology employed is mixed, involving a qualitative analysis of selected works as well as a corpus-based ‘distance-reading‘ (á la Moretti 2005) of a large number of texts from both the pre- and post- 9/11 periods. The study shows common trends in relation to variables such as subgenre (e.g. hard science fiction, cyberpunk, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, etc.) the period of production, authorship and intended discourse community. In addition, this study serves as a platform for further discussion on how various popular culture works not only reflect, but also contribute to how we construct and interpret our ever-shifting reality, consider our potential and explore our limitations.

Scheduled on: 
Thursday, November 8, 11:00 am to 12:15 pm

About the presenter

Joe Trotta

Joe Trotta is a linguist and an expatriate American who lives and works in Gothenburg, Sweden. Since 2002, he has been an Associate Professor in English Linguistics at the University of Gothenburg. From 1998-2002, he was a Senior Lecturer at Halmstad University College. In addition, from 2003 to 2005, Joe was a visiting scholar at the CUNY graduate center in New York City.

The focus of Trotta’s research on grammar/syntax has been ‘descriptive-oriented theory’, i.e. an approach which incorporates generative, functional and cognitive insights along with corpus research into a theory-neutral, descriptive framework.

Aside from grammar, Joe is a scholar with many interests and eclectic tastes, which include, among other things, semantics, sociolinguistics, urban dialectology, semiotics, computer-mediated communication, and, of course, Popular Culture. Most of Joe’s most recent publications deal with issues of identity and linguistic representation in different Popular Culture channels such as TV dialogs, music lyrics, ads, social media, etc.

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