Tuesday, October 27, 2009

RIP Professor Ray B. Browne

You probably never heard of Ray Browne. Chances are though that you've heard or read him quoted before.

I learned yesterday that Ray Browne died last week. I read it in the Anniston Star - a paper from the not-too-far-away town of Anniston, AL. I was saddened to read of his death but even more saddened by the shitty AP article the Anniston Star published instead of a proper obituary. The article didn't even mention that Ray was from Alabama or that his first work in the field of popular culture was done here. Not just "here" in Alabama, but "here" in rural east Alabama - where hardly anything of note ever happens. I'm guessing no one at the Anniston Star even knew who he was. Probably just had some empty space left on the obituary page and pulled something off the wire.

Here's another - much better - obituary that was published in the Toledo Blade. And, unlike the Anniston Star, the Toledo Blade doesn't require a subscription to read it. But I'll put the text here anyway for those of you too lazy to click. Go ahead. Read it. Then I'll tell you what this has to do with Spenardo del Sur.

RAY B. BROWNE, 1922-2009
BGSU professor began popular culture center

BOWLING GREEN - Ray B. Browne, 87, who created an academic discipline and a national movement by studying the stuff of everyday life - whether comic books, fast food, pop tunes, or situation comedies - died Thursday in his home of congestive heart failure.

"He's the father of popular culture studies," said Gary Hoppenstand, a professor of American studies at Michigan State University, and a popular culture graduate student at Bowling Green State University and protege of Mr. Browne's.
"He's done more to affect studies in the humanities than any other individual the last 30 or 40 years."

Mr. Browne began the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in 1968 at BGSU. The Popular Culture Library followed.

In 1973, despite detractors, he began a distinct department of popular culture. His history of the popular culture movement's early struggle is called Against Academia.

"Ray opened the windows of the academy, just opened them up," said Michael Marsden, one of the department's first faculty members, now dean and academic vice president of St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wis. "We have the people's culture being studied, and we're learning how complex and wonderful and significant it is."

The BGSU department was the first of its kind.

"Today there is a course in popular culture studies in every major and minor university in the country," said Mr. Hoppenstand, also editor of the Journal of Popular Culture Studies, founded by Mr. Browne in 1967.

Mr. Browne's expertise landed him in the popular culture. Reporters from all media, worldwide, sought him out to decode the latest pop phenom or the enduring - detective novels, soap operas.

"My dad was very much a populist," his daughter, Alicia Browne, said. "While he loved Dickens and Melville and Shakespeare, he thought it was far too hoity-toity to think that only those few people created anything of value."

"He might not personally have liked it, but if someone is reading it, if someone is singing it, or saying it, he believed there was value to it, or at least we should understand it," she said. "[He was] endlessly curious about anything."
He arrived in 1967 at the BGSU English department intending to bring the study of popular culture to the academy.

He retired in 1992 and was a distinguished university professor emeritus. He worked until recently and had agreed to write the foreword to an anthology being edited by BGSU popular culture faculty, said Jeremy Wallach, an associate professor in popular culture. The book will be dedicated to him. "He has a very robust legacy," Mr. Wallach said.

Mr. Browne was born Jan. 15, 1922, in Millport, Ala. The Depression ruined his father, a banker, and the family was poor. With the help of an older sister, he went to the University of Alabama and received a bachelor's degree. He served in Europe during World War II in an Army artillery unit.

Afterward, he studied at universities in Birmingham and Nottingham, England. He received a master's degree in Victorian literature from Columbia University in New York City. He taught at the University of Nebraska before he attended the University of California at Los Angeles, from which he received a doctorate in English and folklore.

He taught at the University of Maryland and Purdue University.

Surviving are his wife, Maxine "Pat" Browne, whom he married Aug. 25, 1965, sons, Glenn and Kevin, daughter, Alicia Browne, and three granddaughters.
Visitation will be from 6 p.m. to 8 pm. Tuesday in the Holman Funeral Home, Ozark, Ala. Graveside services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Woodlawn Memory Gardens in Ozark. Bowling Green arrangements are by the Dunn Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to the Browne Popular Culture Library at BGSU.

Back in the early 1950s, Ray Browne traipsed across Alabama, collecting and recording rural folklore from rural folks. One person he interviewed during his travels was my grandmother.

About five years ago, when I first started going through the things left in my grandmother's house, I found the following letter from Ray Browne sent in the summer of 1953:

Dear Mrs. Mitchum,

Thank you very much for your answer to my article in the paper about folklore.

I don't know at this time exactly when I shall be up to see you but surely intend to come in the next few weeks. I would appreciate your thinking about this old material at your leisure during the next few weeks, and I will surely see you before too long.

Very truly yours,

Ray Browne

He did come to visit her. Over a dozen stories she told him that day were eventually published in his book "A Night with the Hants and Other Alabama Folk Experiences." (By the way, Amazon still has one copy in stock if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas...)

I can just imagine the two of them in the kitchen, Ray with his tape recorder and grandma with her endless stories. That kitchen is now the East Wing of Frankencoop - home to twenty of my chickens. So you see, this was relevant after all.
(Though sometimes I think I can make any subject come back around to my chickens.)

In other news, I am oh-so-pleased to announce that I have a new computer! Well, new to me anyway. My friend, Dean, and his wife in San Francisco donated their Mac Powerbook G4 to me when they bought a new laptop. It feels great to have one foot back in the 21st century again. I'm looking forward to finally being able to post photos again. That clunky old Windows 98 dinosaur is going back into storage, hopefully never to be used again (except maybe for target practice).


Montana said...

Thanks for this lovely tribute to Ray! His loss is deeply felt by many of us here in the Department of Popular Culture. I'm going to link to your post on our Twitter page: http://twitter.com/PopCultureBGSU
Dr. Montana Miller
Assistant Professor, Department of Popular Culture Bowling Green State University

R said...

I learn something new everyday. Thanks, Raena