Peering into the silver screen — UI professor releases new book focusing on Hollywood’s ‘abnormal’ body types

Russell Meeuf has always been fascinated with movies and television.

So much so, the University of Idaho professor and self-proclaimed “film nerd” dedicated his career to studying it.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of my time in old, independent video rental stores — renting stuff, watching stuff,” Meeuf said. “I thought if I could have a job where I get to professionally watch movies and talk about movies and kind of what they mean, it’s a pretty good gig to get.”

University of Idaho professor Russel Meeuf is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Media. He has written four novels as well as several freelance peices. 

Meeuf’s newest book, “Rebellious Bodies: Stardom, Citizenship, and the New Body Politics,” explores how popular media portrays, perhaps unrealistically, a society of cultural inclusivity and economic mobility through so-called deviant body types. The way mass media uses feel-good stories from celebrities of diverse backgrounds to cite a societal shift toward cultural inclusion is problematic, though, Meeuf said, and keeps society from achieving real policy change.

Meeuf’s case studies for exploring this problem concentrated on six very different actors, who each tell a different bodily tale — Melissa McCarthy, Laverne Cox, Peter Dinklage, Betty White, Gabriella Sidoubey and Danny Trejo.

He said McCarthy offered a lens into weight and femininity and Cox, from “Orange Is the New Black,” gave insight into transgender issues. While “Game of Thrones” actor Dinklage, led into a discussion on male sexuality relative to disability. White opened the door for ageism in Hollywood and “Precious” actress Sidoubey paved the way for a study of the supposed post-racial identity after the 2008 election. He also gave readers a glimpse into the Latino immigrant experience through Trejo, who is best known for his role in “Spy Kids.”

The chosen celebrities challenge stereotypical conceptions about what it takes for a body to be considered ‘normal.’ He said they serve as examples, used by popular media, who despite all odds and unconventional appearance, attain some level of success in Hollywood.

The novel is essentially an extension of his work, Meeuf said, which centers on popular media and culture research, focusing primarily on celebrity culture, popular cinema, masculinity and disability studies.

Meeuf said he had been working on “Rebellious Bodies” for the past three or four years.

During this time, he said he also co-edited “Projecting the World: Representing the ‘Foreign’ in Classical Hollywood” with Anna Cooper, a professor at the University of Arizona. Both novels were published earlier this year.

He said “Projecting the World” is comprised of several essays that demonstrate how Hollywood films interact with, as well as reflect, international culture and politics, especially through the Hollywood’s classical era between the 30s and 60s.

Meeuf earned his doctorate in film studies from the University of Oregon before coming to UI’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences in 2010, where he is currently an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Media. He has written a total of four novels – two standalone and two collaborative – as well as submitted several pieces to literary journals like “Cinema Journal,” “Third Text” and “The Journal of Popular Film.”

Meeuf also recently helped to create a new degree in film and television studies at UI, which partners together JAMM and the Department of English through CLASS. He will also serve as the program’s executive director, and the major will be offered starting in the fall.

He said his next project will focus on contemporary horror films during the Barack Obama administration. Meeuf, along with UI professor Ben James, have been drafting several essays on the subject and hope to publish a complete anthology in the next year or so.

“I’ve been busy,” Meeuf said with a laugh.

Olivia Heersink can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @heersinkolivia


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