ESU Professor Takes an Active Role in Understanding Pop Culture

Dr. Andrea McClanahan, a professor of communication studies. Photo Credit / William Cameron
Dr. Andrea McClanahan, a professor of communication studies. Photo Credit / William Cameron
Dr. Andrea McClanahan, a professor of communication studies.
Photo Credit / William Cameron

By William Cameron
SC Contributing Writer

The constant bombardment of information is an inescapable consequence of living in the modern world. The long-reaching influence of pop culture goes far beyond the basic perception of sight and sound. Progressive researchers like Dr. Andrea McClanahan seek to advance the understanding of what those hidden messages contain.

As a professor of communication studies at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, McClanahan dedicates her time to educating students about the more subtle effects of modern media.

McClanahan pointed out that “it’s okay to simply enjoy popular media, but to understand what is really being said you need to analyze what you’re consuming.”

Her work with popular culture isn’t limited to education, however. McClanahan has also spent the past four years devoting her skills to the Northeast Popular/American Culture Association (NEPCA), an interdisciplinary organization of scholars focused on promoting the interests and research of popular culture.

Her committed service to the NEPCA has earned her the recent election to its executive council. This opportunity allows her to take the work she conducts to a higher level.

“Scholarly research on pop culture often just sits on a shelf because it’s too dense and loaded with terminology to be digested by readers outside of academics,” McClanahan said.

She continued, “I wanted to make my work more available to everyone.”

The appointment to executive councilmember has given her the chance to have “more one-on-one interactions” with her colleagues and “a more direct involvement with the direction of the organization.”

“Academic researchers have a tendency to seek a community of agreement, but an interdisciplinary community offers a more diverse opinion,” she said.

McClanahan explained, “The critical feedback I receive from the organization gives me a broader perspective of my own work.”

Her research on the depiction of alternative lifestyle choices in American television led to census data revealing the statistic that “20 percent of women age 40 to 44 are child-free.”

This discovery prompted McClanahan to ask the relevant question: “where is this represented in media?”

This question became the foundation of her article, “No Need to Mother: Childfree Women by Choice on Television,” presented last month at the organization’s annual conference. The article references characters from popular TV series like “How I Met Your Mother,” “Sex and the City,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

McClanahan also pointed out the distinction between “childfree” and “childless.”

She said, “Childless can imply that someone lacks something essential by not having children. Childfree suggests a state of choice.”

Some of McClanahan’s other articles cover topics such as the misrepresentation of teenage fathers in shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom.”

Her article, “Teenage Fathers: The Disruption and Promotion of the Heterosexual Imaginary,” remarks on the disparity between the perception of adolescent fathers perpetuated by editing and the actual opinions expressed by mothers in the hit TV series.

McClanahan addressed the inaccuracies of media portrayal of “real people” with the question: “what do we do about this misrepresentation?”

She elaborated, saying, “People want to see themselves in media. It provides a form of escapism through the imaginary, but viewers also want to see themselves as real characters. They want to see how someone like them could find resolution to the problems they encounter, real or fiction.”

In addition to her published research and current role on the executive committee, McClanahan has also served on the NEPCA’s Graduate Student Paper Prize committee and Peter C. Rollins Book Prize committees.

The Graduate Student Paper Prize selects a winning submission written by graduate students involved in areas of study related to the organization’s focus. She notes a touching response to her colleague Amos St. Germain written by last year’s winner, Lisa Silvestri. The letter demonstrates the personal impact of the association’s projects.

Every year, the NEPCA reviews and ranks books related to American or popular culture for the Peter C. Rollins Book Prize. The winner of the cash prize is selected from a variety of books submitted from around the country.

McClanahan wrote the official review for the past year’s winning book, “Indians and Wannabes: Native American Powwow Dancing in the Northeast and Beyond” by Ann M. Axtmann. McClanahan adds that her role as a reviewer for the competition has exposed her to an array of excellent readings in areas outside of her own expertise.

McClanahan imparted that her participation with the NEPCA has been immensely rewarding: “In many organizations, initiation is a long process. The NEPCA was immediately welcoming. All of the members are so nice and very encouraging.”

She added that the association’s most valuable quality “is that everyone is so receptive. They’re open and eager to hear each other’s perspectives.”

For more information, contact Dr. McClanahan at

McClanahan’s review of the 2013 winner of the Peter C. Rollins Book Prize:

A touching note from the 2013 winner of the NEPCA’s Graduate Student Paper Prize:

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