Keeping it reel — A look at Prof. Russell Meeuf and John Wayne
As a faculty member of the University of Idaho’s School of Journalism and Mass Media, Russell Meeuf is not afraid to admit his great love for cinema and how it relates to pop culture.
“It’s always been an interest of mine. I’ve always been a cinephile, all my life,” Meeuf said. “I love movies. Even as a kid, when I was in junior high, I tried to watch all the AFI top 100 films. I just always loved movies.”
Meeuf developed a keen interest in the study of film when he was an undergraduate at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore.
“When I was an undergraduate, I was an English major, but I minored in film studies (because) I was really interested in thinking about film and analyzing film,” Meeuf said. “Then I just decided that’s what I wanted to focus on when I got to graduate school. For me, studying media and cinema and pop culture in general allows me to look at a whole host of different issues. That I get to talk about movies but I also get to talk about the historical context for movies.”
As part of his work at UI, Meeuf said he gets to delve into issues of diversity and the relation of cinema to the world around us.
Meeuf said he has been with UI for about four years, two of which he has spent with JAMM. Currently, he teaches courses on Crime and the Media, Visual Literacy and Media Aesthetics, and Media Writing. He also teaches Integrated Seminars.
Kenton Bird, JAMM director, said the school was thrilled to have Meeuf as part of the team.
“He has been a great addition, not only because of his own background and his academic studies of film and popular culture, but because of his personality,” Bird said. “He has added a lot to our third-floor culture and is a good participant on committees and in faculty meetings. He, I think, always has good information and good insights.”
Bird said Meeuf’s teaching can act as a bridge for connecting students in and out of JAMM to different aspects of media and culture.
“Russ’s teaching neatly bridges the gap between those two parts of our curriculum — that he is able to help our students get a good understanding of, say the historical significance in international film of John Wayne. Who is well known for his contributions to American culture, but not so well known for his contributions to international not only culture but politics and political economy,” Bird said. “But at the same time, what Russ can do is help interpret the media to students outside of JAMM. And so, I see him as a bridge to the rest of our college, particularly faculty members in other units like history, sociology, English, film studies, that are perhaps a little interested in mass media, but don’t really know how to get into it.”
In addition to his work at UI, Meeuf recently published a book titled “John Wayne’s World: Transnational Masculinity in the 1950s.” The book deals with the side of John Wayne that Meeuf said is overlooked, especially considering Wayne’s worldwide popularity during the 1950s.
“So, what I’m really trying to get at here is to uncover that kind of historical aspect of John Wayne, and think about John Wayne’s projection of masculinity,” Meeuf said. “Not just as an inherently American form of masculinity, but what that says about the expression of U.S. global power, what it says about emerging forms of globalization, what it says about modernization theory — which is a kind of a prominent theory guiding U.S. foreign policy in the 1950s — to try to situate his masculinity and his kind of broader, global contacts to try to understand how and why John Wayne came to resonate so much around the world in the 1950s.”
Part of the side Meeuf attempts to uncover includes seeing Wayne apart from what he said is our current romanticized vision of him.
“We often think of him as like this ideal father figure family man type, and that’s a very romanticized vision,” Meeuf said. “Throughout the 1950s in particular, he played men with horrible relationships with women, with horrible relationships with his family, he very rarely raises his own children. Often times, it’s rationalized.”
Meeuf said understanding this side of Wayne is key to understanding the tensions in masculinity globally and in the U.S. in the 1950s.
“As we see the emerging idea of the domestic man becoming more and more prominent,” Meeuf said. “John Wayne becomes this insistent idea that we need to create a world where men can be professionals together, without women, and maintain those types of homo-social bonds with one another and kind of divorce themselves from the smears of domesticity that are going to make men soft.”
Meeuf said he is currently working on a project considering society’s beauty norms with non-normative celebrity bodies, as in the cases of Peter Dinklage, Melissa McCarthy and possibly even Betty White.
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