Identities in Popular Performance

23 January 2017, 17:00 - 19:00

Seminar room SG1, Alison Richard Building

Dr Ross Cole (University of Cambridge)
Dr Broderick Chow (Brunel University, London)


‘A Fraud, A Delusion, A Myth’: Folksinging at thFin de Siècle
Dr Ross Cole

Concentrating on the period 1890–1907, this paper brings to the fore discrepancies between popular song performance in England and the speculative theorizing of folksong enthusiasts grounded in nationalism, primitivism, and evolutionary philosophy. In response to an impasse in the field and a history in which dissenting voices have been neglected, I advocate a postcolonial turn toward gatekeeping theory and the work of Michel de Certeau. Although folkloric epistemology was vehemently contested by contemporaneous writers and never employed by those very individuals branded as ‘the folk’, misreadings of vernacular culture were disseminated and institutionalized during this period by dominant figures with agendas and anxieties peculiar to the fin de siècle. These collectors, I argue, acted as gates through which ‘folk’ culture had to pass in order to be recognized as such, reifying and reclassifying songs in accordance with their own intellectual project. Positioned as a balm for cosmopolitanism, mass consumption, racial degeneration, and the inexorable onslaught of modernity, the talismanic ‘folk’ of this revivalist imagination were ultimately temporal anachronisms––living analogues of a colonialist mentality conjured up via the discursive strategies that claimed merely to describe them.


Becoming an Image: Embodiment, Masculine Identities, and Transformation Narratives in 20th Century Physical Culture Performances
Dr Broderick Chow

The performance of ‘Before-and-After’ is central in physical culture. Transformations stories were regular features in late 19th and early 20th century physical culture magazines and central to performances of physical culture in the late-Victorian and Edwardian popular theatre, with showmen such as Eugen Sandow and Lionel Strongfort interspersing their self-accounts of transformation from weak youths to gods in the flesh with feats of strength and posing. These narratives were the precursors of today’s Men’s Health ‘Ultimate Guy’ contest and #Fitspo selfies on Instagram. Because such stories often associate bodily transformation with moral education and self-improvement, it is tempting to think about physical culture as a disciplinary force, in which the subject becomes the ideal image of masculinity, and thus is inscribed with the social meanings this image brings. The transformation of young Italian immigrant Angelo Siciliano into Charles Atlas, for example, can be read as an inscription onto Siciliano’s body of normative American values of nationalism, whiteness, and heterosexuality. Yet, what if we were to think of such transformations not as inscriptions but as agential and ongoing acts of inscribing, that is, as performances? In this paper, I re-read transformation narratives through the embodied nature of physical culture as a practice and form of performance. I argue that transformation should be read as an ongoing process, in which the image is constantly trained, constructed, and rebuilt through repetitions of movement and gestures. Reading transformation as process enables us to understand the lived experience of masculinities kinaesthetically, where the experience of embodied movement produces the ground for variations and defiance of norms. I put an archive including transformation stories from the magazine Muscle Builder (1924-1926), Charles Atlas’s programme of Dynamic-Tension, intellectual-turned-bodybuilder Sam Fussell’s memoir Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, and transgender artist Cassil’s performance/exhibition Becoming an Image, into dialogue with an autoethnographic discussion of my practice as a weightlifter. 


About the Speakers

Ross Cole is currently a Junior Research Fellow in cultural studies at Homerton College, Cambridge. Prior to this, he held a Temporary Lectureship in 20th / 21st-Century Music at Cambridge and was awarded the Faculty of Music’s Teaching Prize in 2016. His work appears or is forthcoming in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, the Journal of Musicology, Twentieth-Century Music, the Journal of the Society for American Music, and Music & Letters.


Broderick D.V. Chow is Senior Lecturer in Theatre at Brunel University London and Principal Investigator of the AHRC Leadership Fellows Research Project Dynamic Tensions: New Masculinities in the Performance of Fitness. He has published in a wide range of journals including TDR: The Drama Review, Performance Research, and Contemporary Theatre Review, and is co-editor of Performance and Professional Wrestling (Routledge 2016). Broderick is an amateur Olympic Weightlifter and a BWL Level 1 Qualified Weightlifting Coach.



Open to all.  No registration required
Part of the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Performance Network (CIPN), main page

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