Rehak explores nostalgia, media and the role of the fan

Assistant Professor of Film & Media Studies Bob Rehak delivered a lecture discussing the effects of fan objects models and figurines on the world of media. (Allegra Pocinki/The Phoenix)

On Thursday, Jan. 26, Professor Bob Rehak of film and media studies delivered a lecture as a part of Swarthmore’s Faculty Lecture Series. Following his lecture, Rehak then took questions from the audience. This was the first talk of the spring semester in the series, with future events featuring speakers from the departments of sociology and anthropology, psychology, art and educational studies.

Rehak’s talk, titled “Materializing Monsters: Fan Objects and the Fantastic,” discussed the role that models and garage kits based off of media phenomenons have. “My talk looks at the phenomenon of monster models and garage kits in the United States, exploring how these scaled-down versions of fantasy figures reflect a larger history of objects based on fantastic media,” Rehak said in an e-mail. In his lecture, Rehak put forth the argument that “unreal” media make themselves real through the use of materials, such as action figures, collectible statues, prop replicas and wargaming figurines. Discussing how models are able to personalize mass objects, Rehak claimed that models are “objects that merge the mass and the personal.”

However, the lecture also spoke of the more sinister components of the culture that often accompanies models. For instance, in asserting that “boy culture comes perilously close to rape culture,” Rehak displayed an advertisement for an Aurora model, known as “The Victim,” which featured a scared woman running away from a monster.

Peter Haury ’13, a double major in film and media studies and economics, found the lecture to be enjoyable to listen to, even though he only came at the end. Haury, who was previously a student of Rehak’s, said in an email that he was “excited about [the lecture] because Bob is a professor of mine and fascinating to listen to.” Haury says that an additional reason he went to the lecture was that he is interested by Rehak’s “approaches to discussing popular culture and fandoms.”

Another student in attendance, Tayarisha Poe ’12, who is a special major in visual ethnography, was also interested in the lecture as a result of having had Rehak as a professor. “I’ve been in several classes and many conversations with Professor Rehak and am continuously astounded by the depth of his cinematic knowledge, so when I learned of his lecture, I knew I had to attend,” Poe said in an e-mail. While Poe was only able to make half of the lecture, she said that attending “changed the way I think of the generational nature of well-known cinematic moments.”

In an email, Rehak said that he first became interested in models as a result of his childhood experience with them from the ages of eight to thirteen. “As a child, I built models constantly — almost all of them monsters or science-fiction kits like the Enterprise from Star Trek or the droids from Star Wars.” Rehak plans to continue his research in the area. He said that his lecture was the “cornerstone” of his next book, which will discuss “how contemporary fantastic media generate and rely on objects at different points along their lifespan, from making movies, television, and videogames.” The book will also talk about the ways in which fans interact with these models.

Rehak said that he enjoyed being able to deliver a lecture at Swarthmore. While he joked that the best part of delivering his lecture was “getting to the end,” he added that, “More seriously, the chance to share my work with interested colleagues and students is a rare and delightful thing.” Rehak said that he was “pleased” by the number of people who came to attend the lecture and “pleasantly challenged by the questions the audience asked.”

Rehak also discussed the differences between presenting at Swarthmore and elsewhere. “Swarthmore is a friendly and supportive community, which is not something you find everywhere. So in one sense, speaking in public is less stressful, because you’re not worried that people are gunning for you. At the same time, you need to put your best work forward, so you really have to bring your ‘A’ game — it’s pressure, but not unpleasant.”

Should students be interested in learning more, Rehak suggested that they take courses in the film and media studies program. Additionally, Rehak said that Maya Nadkarni’s course, “Anthropology of Mass Media” in the sociology and anthropology department and Tim Burke’s course, “History of Play and Leisure” in the history department, could also give students a greater understanding of the subject.

Students in the Art History Majors Workshop discussed Rehak’s ideas Wednesday in class. “There is currently a debate amongst art historians about what qualifies as art,” said Declan White, an art history student. “In one hundred years time will figurines be deemed by art historians as art, nostalgic objects or just another item that must be included in the expanding academic field that is visual culture? I found it all very interesting that something as ordinary as a monster figurine could have implications for both visual culture and a current debate amongst art historians.”

The next lecture in the Faculty Lecture Series will be delivered by Farha Ghannam, an associate professor of anthropology, on Thursday, Feb. 9.

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