2009.11.04 Bad comics survive death of pop culture leader

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

Ray Browne died last month at age 87, but don’t feel too bad if that name doesn’t ring a bell. Browne, a long-time professor at Bowling Green State University, was given credit for introducing the phrase “popular culture.” I find it ironic that he’s relatively unknown today while dozens of undeserving “celebrities” are often referred to as “pop culture icons.”

An Associated Press obit said that Browne “worked for decades to convince academics that much could be learned from studying seemingly insignificant elements of our lives.” These elements included items such as bumper stickers, cartoons, gum wrappers, movies and, yes, even wallpaper.

“The covering of walls has been one of the most important items in housing since the beginning, “ Browne once said. “But nobody ever wrote a book on it.” I’m not sure if he was including himself in that statement as he wrote and edited over 70 books on various areas of pop culture.

Browne taught at Purdue and the University of Maryland, then moved to Bowling Green where he started a popular culture department in 1973.  Now, dozens of colleges offer classes in the subject. In fact, I took one myself back in the day...

While I was going to Adrian College, they tried an experiment in which classes lasting only three weeks would be held between semesters. Professors were encouraged to develop a class based on their personal interests, which would meet every weekday for the three-week period. Students took only one course each year, which enabled you to get really seriously into your chosen subject.

Or not, depending on the class you chose. One year, I ended up in a course called something like “Comic Strips as an Index of American Culture” or some similar momentous-sounding name. So sue me for not remembering the exact title. It was more than 30 years ago.

Amazingly, it took three professors to teach this class. I suspect the idea of creating a class outside their academic specialties was more than they wanted to handle alone so the three of them teamed up to teach the first idea that came to mind. Since there were only about 15 students in the class, we ended up with lots of personal attention.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the class except for the fact that the daughter of one of the professors was in it and whenever we would be having a discussion about the real meaning of Little Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley or some other strip, she would wait until her father offered an opinion, then immediately say, “Well, I agree with Daddy!” This happened day after day, as if discussion should stop as soon as “Daddy” rendered his judgment.  

Then there was the trip to Bowling Green. Already famous for its collection of comic strips, comic books and other pop culture material, Bowling Green State University was chosen for a field trip with each professor driving some of the students. 

It turned out that one of the professors had a driving style that bordered on reckless, and after several flirtations with disaster on the trip to Bowling Green, two students refused to ride back with him. They spent the time at BG not so much checking out the pop culture department, but trying to convince other students to change cars with them for the trip back. Eventually, deals were made and everyone returned to Adrian safely.

While I don’t remember that much about the class itself, sometimes I still look at the comics with a serious scrutiny. For instance, I wonder how the creator of “For Better or For Worse” gets away with being such a poor cartoonist. Sometimes, the characters look different from one day to the next, and none of them have teeth. Why can’t she hire someone to do the drawing? Lots of strips share the writing and artwork.

And is it just me, or does the “Cathy” strip consist of the same 10 or 15 ideas repeated over and over with extremely minor revisions? If Cathy Guisewite has run out of material, maybe a new person should be brought in to help. Other comics have done this. I used to hate the “Nancy” strip, but the people doing it now have made it one of my favorites.

Geez, listen to me talking about comics strips like they were important. I hope that the late Ray Browne is looking down from pop culture heaven and smiling.

  • Girls.on.ride
    NADIYA YORK and Aniston Valentine take a spin on the Casino, one of the rides offered at Wakefield Park during Morenci’s Town and Country Festival. This year’s festival remained dry but with plenty of heat during the three-day run. Additional photographs are inside this week’s Observer.
  • Front.softball
    Angela Davis (2) and teammate Allison VanBrandt break into a jig after Morenci's softball team won its third consecutive regional title.
  • Front.art.park
    ART PARK—A design created by Poggemeyer Design Group shows a “pocket art park” in the green space south of the State Line Observer building. The proposal includes a 12-foot sculpture based on a design created by Morenci sixth grade student Klara Wesley through a school and library collaboration. A wooden band shell is located at the back of the lot. The Observer wall would be covered with a synthetic stucco material. City council members are considering ways to fund the estimated $125,000 project and perhaps tackling construction one step at a time.
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.soccer.balls
    BEVY OF BALLS—Stair District Library Summer Reading Program VolunTeens, including Libby Rorick, back left and Ty Kruse, back right, threw a dozen inflatable soccer balls into the crowd during a reading of “Sergio Saves the Game.” The sports-themed program continues on Wednesdays through July 27.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016