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Skidmore College
Music Department

2013 Inaugural Tsou Scholar: Deborah Wong,
University of California at Riverside
Thursday, October 2, 8 p.m.
Helen Filene Ladd Hall, Zankel Music Center

Lecture: “The Summer of 2013: White Heterosexist Performance and the Critical Consumer (or, What Was Miley Cyrus Thinking?)”

What’s been going on with American popular music over the last few months? I will argue that an active critical engagement with the mediated public sphere is more urgent now then ever. In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, the Supreme Court rollback of the Voting Rights Act, and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I will consider how particular histories of white pleasure are activated in performance. How does heterosexist desire and longing drive our expectations in popular music, and how is it powerfully racialized? Was Miley’s twerk-tastic dance racist? How and why is the erotic/exotic a powerful white performance paradigm? How are unspoken ideologies of difference dependent on our willingness to enjoy them without questioning their terms? I will show abundant video footage, will reflect on the breakup of The Civil Wars and Miley Cyrus’ MTV Video Music Award performance, and will close with some loose guidelines for how to be a progressive, feminist, anti-racist critical consumer of American popular music without (somehow) despairing or disengaging.

About the Speaker

Deborah Wong is an ethnomusicologist and professor of music at the University of California at Riverside. She specializes in the musics of Asian America and Thailand and has written two books, Speak It Louder: Asian Americans Making Music (Routledge, 2004) and Sounding the Center: History and Aesthetics in Thai Buddhist Ritual (University of Chicago Press, 2001). She served as President of the Society for Ethnomusicology from 2007 to 2009 and is very active in public sector work at the national, state, and local levels.

Wong serves on the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Advisory Council, which oversees the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and a number of cultural policy efforts. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. She is a series editor for Wesleyan University Press’s Music/Culture series and sits on the Editorial Committee for the University of California Press.

Asian American issues and activities are a priority for Wong. She has served on numerous committees addressing issues in Asian American studies curriculum as well as Asian American student needs. She has studied Japanese American drumming (taiko) since 1997 and is a member of Satori Daiko, the performing group of the Taiko Center of Los Angeles. Wong holds an M.A. and Ph.D. (1991) from the University of Michigan and a B.A., magna cum laude (1982), in anthropology and music, from the University of Pennsylvania.

Wong's UCR website:


Classes visited:

“Writing as a Musical Act” (MU 363.002 Senior Seminar) Professor Deborah Rohr
“Music & Culture” (MU 208) Professor Elizabeth Macy
“Racial Identity Theory & Praxis” (SO 361) Intergroup Relations (IGR) Professors Kristie Ford and Susan Layden
 “Taiko & The Asian American Experience” (MU 205) Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant
“Music & Culture in East Asia” (MU 310) Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant                     
“Ethnomusicology Seminar: Music & Tourism” (MU 344B) Professor Elizabeth Macy