Cultural Analysis Forum Series 1, 2023
Introduction: A Rapidly Changing Landscape
At the start of 2020 Cultural Analysis staff was expecting business as usual. We were close to celebrating 20 years of publishing and continuing to publish two volumes a year. We work across all parts of the United States and Europe, over three different time zones, and yet we have managed a constant schedule. We knew what Zoom was before it became a household name and used it regularly for efficient communication. Little did we know our ability to digitally collaborate would allow us to shine during the pandemic. All in all, the start of 2020 presented nothing too exciting or out of the ordinary for us.
During a Zoom meeting on March 6, 2020, we acknowledged the existence of possible delays due to COVID-19; but really did not have any grasp of the future situation. From our internal notes:
“Covid19: talked about having a plan or thinking about our strategy if authors, peer reviewers, responders or any on us, come down with the virus or have to take care of someone?
Little did we know the term “rapidly changing landscape” would dictate much of our daily lives for the next few years.
The World Health Organization announced on March 11, 20201, less than a week after our meeting, that this was a pandemic. From an American perspective, March 2020 was the month everything changed. Shelter-in-place directives came. The phrases “social distancing” and “flattening-the-curve” became commonplace. Suddenly, public schools sent their students home to study and many places of work suddenly shifted to having employees work from home. Our world had suddenly become smaller, due to the shift to work and instruction at home. On March 17, Kiesha Oliver, website manager, sent out an email to the editors to see how things were, noting “It sounds like things are going to get worse before they get better.” Other editors were quick to email how things were fairing in their lives. Comments of toilet paper being rare (and what Alan Dundes would say about that), food disappearing off the shelves, children at home (and playing outside!), were intermixed with early and difficult experiences with online instruction. Little did we know how things would change in this pandemic landscape.
COVID-19 seeped into everyone’s everyday lives. As a journal internally we witnessed the possibilities of articles, at first focusing on optimistic topics, like singing from balconies in Italy, internet memes, socially-distanced celebrations, and foodways like making your own sourdough bread. However, as the pandemic rolled on into 2021 with more variants arising, sometimes the viewpoint seemed dim. Basic protections against COVID-19 became points of contention, like masking, and whether or not to be vaccinated became a political, not a healthcare choice. Racism reared its ugly face, as crimes against Asian Americans in the United States surged 145% over the previous year as published by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Cell phone towers were vandalized and destroyed, due to ill-conceived conspiracies that 5G was causing COVID-19 (Reichert). The constant growth of COVID-19 related rumors and conspiracies emerged not only through person-to-person interactions, but also becoming dominant topics discussed, and even spread, by news outlets and those in political roles. All in all, COVID-19 brought a multitude of unique, albeit sometimes negative, experiences worldwide.
In June of 2021, Cultural Analysis solicited articles, critical reflective essays, notes, reports for this issue, then tentatively titled the Pandemic & Politics Issue: Hindsight 2020. We acknowledged that while the pandemic continued to be the epicenter and catalyst for worldwide change, the year 2020 itself developed a distinct mnemonic temporality. We received great interest and a wide variety of submissions. As the pandemic and fallout of 2020 continues to play out, we acknowledged internally that we should strive to make this a “living volume” with periodic new updates and responses to previous published items. After much discussion, we hope that this opens the door for a new type of living volume, featured at Cultural Analysis, putting the journal more in line with being “an interdisciplinary forum on folklore and popular culture.” We are proud to formally release Cultural Analysis Forum Series 1: Pandemics & Politics.
For this inaugural first series rollout we are proud to release the following articles and essays. The first essay, Becoming Folkwise: Sustaining Digital Community While Socially Distant , introduces us to a group of self-proclaimed “early-career” folkorists who take the lead in analyzing digital engagement and community. Making Sense of the Pandemic of Racism: From the Asian Exclusion Act in 1924 to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in 2021 by Juwen Zhang places the pandemic in the context of historical racial injustices against Asian-Americans (with a response by Fariha I. Khan). Lucy Long's essay, Refrigerators, cupboards, and canning jars: Emergent meanings and subversive practices in food preservation and storage during the Covid-19 Pandemic (with a response by Janet C. Gilmore, Emeritus Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison) takes us to the United States and foodways. God is My Vaccine: Religious Belief and COVID in the United States by Andrea Kitta explores those who are vaccine hesitant, vaccine refusers, or vaccine hostile in the context of religion and freedom. Levi Bochantin and James I. Deutsch, in their essay, The Folkloric Roots and Pandemic Popularity of the QAnon Conspiracy Theory, explores some of the troubling folk beliefs and conspiracies that arose due to the events of 2020. Finally, we present Malay Bera’s Interrogating Social Distancing: Pandemic and Farmer’s Protest in India , explores the complicated relationship of protesting, social distances, and the pandemic.
We ask that you keep in mind when reading these articles and essays, that they were written through the lens and life events of 2021. At this point in the pandemic, the northern hemisphere had emerged from a winter dominated by the Delta variant with record breaking deaths and hospitalizations. Vaccines were limited in rollout in the U.S. until summer. In a sense, parts of these essays are a snapshot in time in a rapidly changing landscape.
As of February 2023, the pandemic itself is seen by many as “over” as many people now strive to live in ways that were before the pandemic. It should be noted that in September 2022, over two years after the start of the pandemic, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, declared the end of the pandemic, but acknowledged “We still have a problem with COVID” (Archie). New variants are emerging, but no longer making headlines. In December 2022, China’s reopening led to mass casualties and worker unrest, due to their COVID Zero Policy. This winter was a fear of a tripledemic between RSV, flu, and COVID-19, in which hospitals found themselves crowded and full again; the resurgence of RSV and flu due to the precautions of the previous years (Anthes). The death count from COVID-19 also continues to grow, as of the time of this publication, the worldwide death toll stands at over 6.8 million people.2 Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 is intertwined in world events now and for many more years to come. There continue to be impacts of the everyday lives of many, we find that certain behaviors, rituals, and beliefs developed during the time will continue to be intertwined with our futures. We hope that even if you may not be reading these in a purely academic sense, you will be given some ideas to ponder over and find that they may relate to your living experiences.
As our first inaugural open series, we will be accepting rolling submissions, whether they be articles, essays, reviews, or responses, relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Future submissions are planned to be published in waves. We will expand this series as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a meaningful impact in our future and our lives. The pandemic landscape may no longer be changing rapidly, but nonetheless it will continue to change, for better or for worse. We look forward to hearing from you.
Each installment in the Cultural Analysis Forum Series remains open for subsequent submissions in the form of original Research Articles, Essays, Scholarly Responses (to published Series contributions), Author Addendums, and Reviews of literature and media relevant to the Forum Series topic(s). For inquiries and submissions contact Cultural Analysis Editors at email@example.com.
1 For a brief timeline of the first year of the COVID-19 Pandemic, see Yale Medicine’s Timeline: https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/covid-timeline. [ Return to the article ]
2 This number is continually updated on Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center Dashboard at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. [ Return to the article ]
Anthes, Emily. 2022. “‘Tripledemic’ Rages On: Fever-Filled Weeks Lie Ahead.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/22/health/covid-flu-rsv-winter-surge.html. Accessed December 26, 2022.
Archie, Ayana. 2022. “Joe Biden Says the COVID-19 Pandemic Is over. This Is What the Data Tells Us.” NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/09/19/1123767437/joe-biden-covid-19-pandemic-over. Accessed December 26, 2022.
“Covid-19 Dashboard.” 2023. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. Accessed February 28, 2023.
FACT SHEET: Anti-Asian Prejudice March 2021 . 2021. Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism. https://www.csusb.edu/sites/default/files/FACT%20SHEET-%20Anti-Asian%20Hate%202020%20rev%203.21.21.pdf. Accessed February 28, 2023.
Katella, Kathy. 2021. “Our Pandemic Year-A Covid-19 Timeline.” Yale Medicine. https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/covid-timeline. Accessed December 26, 2022.
Reichert, Corinne. 2020. “5G Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory Leads to 77 Mobile Towers Burned in UK, Report Says.” CNET. https://www.cnet.com/health/5g-coronavirus-conspiracy-theory-sees-77-mobile-towers-burned-report-says. Accessed December 26, 2022.