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2024 Panel on Adaptation, Politics, and Social Media – Presentation Abstracts

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    Leah Anderst

    MLA Panel 608: Adaptation, Politics, and Social Media, Leah Anderst, presiding

    Saturday January 6, 2024 – 5:15-6:30pm Franklin 7 (Marriott)


    Phillip Zapkin “Staging Oedipus and the Arab Spring in Utah: Weber State University’s Adaptation of Ali Salim’s The Comedy of Oedipus”

    Ali Salim’s 1970 play The Comedy of Oedipus drew on Greek myth to critique the strongman rule of Gamal Abdul Nasser. So, it is appropriate that when Weber State University staged one of the few English language productions of Salim’s play in 2013, directed by Jenny Kokai, the performance depicted social media use to reference the events of the Arab Spring, which had toppled Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak just two years earlier.In Kokai’s production, the people of Thebes are constantly using digital tech (invented by Oedipus, who in the play develops centuries worth of technology). They Tweet responses to the events of the play. They surreptitiously question official narratives. They communicate with one another beyond the scope of the secret police. All of these things directly evoke how the Arab Spring protesters utilized social media to communicate, organize, and eventually overthrow Mubarak. Although the Arab Spring in general did not successfully create democracies in the Middle East, these uprisings embodied Tiresias’ wisdom to the Thebans: “The people must undertake their own defense against the beast. If there is to be a struggle, let the people go out and fight in its own defense.” Salim satirized the notion that a strong ruler could single-handedly save the people, instead advocating for a collective approach to problem solving. The Arab Spring protesters embodied this collective approach, and by incorporating social media into the 2013 production of The Comedy of Oedipus, Kokai updated Salim’s critique of Nasser to reflect a critique of Mubarak and the hope that the Arab Spring would give way to a democratic Middle East.

    Bio: Phillip Zapkin is an Assistant Teaching Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, with a PhD from West Virginia University. His scholarship largely focuses on contemporary adaptations of Greek drama. Phillip’s first book Hellenic Common was published by Routledge in 2022, and his articles have appeared in PMLA, Modern Drama, Comparative Drama, Limina, and elsewhere.

    Robert Nguyen, “Zing!: Adaptation and Social Media in The Circle”

    In James Ponsoldt’s film adaptation of Dave Eggers’s novel The Circle, the social media platform Zing is adapted into a cinema-friendly form. Where Eggers describes in prose the Tweet-like messages that appear in protagonist Mae’s feed, Ponsoldt’s film displays them for the audience as on-screen graphics: red speech bubbles with white text, in one scene blipping onto existence around Mae’s head as she wakes.I argue that adaptation’s formal structure—what Linda Hutcheon has called its “theme and variation”—allows here for a critique of the doubly public and private nature of social media. In both film and novel, the imagined Zing platform is a remediation in the sense used by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin: a representation of media in other media that emphasizes both its immediate and hypermediated nature. The latter draws attention to the varied viewing and writing practices social media platforms facilitate: audiences’ individual experience reading about the Zings in the novel mediates the private consumption of social media, such as scrolling on one’s phone or desktop, while audiences’ shared cinema experience of seeing Zings appear around Mae’s head emphasizes the highly public and frequently alienating nature of social media (as one Zing in that scene reads, “I would die if 2 million people saw me wake up every day”).By analyzing these scenes through lenses of adaptation, visual, and media studies, I argue that these works critique how social media simultaneously positions its audience-writers as both isolated and as compulsively, even oppressively, never alone.Robert NguyenMLA 2024 Submission to Adaptation and Social Media PanelMarch 15, 2023

    Bio: Robert Nguyen is a doctoral candidate in English and Visual Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. His dissertation project examines repetition in literary, film, and television representations of Silicon Valley. His writing has been published in Configurations and is forthcoming in Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.

    Kailin Wright, “Othello, The Prequel”: Adaptation, Race, and Resistance in Djanet Sears’s Harlem Duet As Thomas King reminds us, “you have to be careful with the stories you tell. And you have to watch out for the stories that you are told” because “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” But what happens when the stories we retell and adapt—the stories of Shakespeare, Homer, and North America’s colonizers—fail to reflect, or even to acknowledge, diverse experiences of women, people of colour, and Indigenous peoples? A diverse field of political adaptations are transforming the stories we tell by giving a voice to previously marginalized characters. If, as Linda Hutcheon suggests, adaptation is repetition with difference, then political adaptation is repetition with announced, extended, political difference. I adapt Michel Pêcheux’s and José Esteban Muñoz’s theories of identity to argue that political adaptation performs disidentification by simultaneously identifying with and against a source narrative in order to transform the dominant cultural imaginary from within. This paper uses disidentification and adaptation theory as a lens to argue that Djanet Sears’s play Harlem Duet (1997) promotes adaptation as a mode of resistance against racism. In her stirring prequel to Othello, Harlem Duet features an all-Black cast and imagines Othello as a present-day Professor in Harlem who abandons his Black (Sears capitalizes this word throughout her play) wife Billie in order to “White wash his life” and marry the “alabaster” Mona. The poster for the Stratford Festival’s 2006 production of Harlem Duet features Shakespeare’s face on the advertisement like a stamp of approval to explain that Harlem Duet is “Othello, the prequel” (Komporaly; McKinnon). The play at once maintains its relationship to Shakespeare’s play and highlights its distance; as the main character expounds, “the Shakespeare’s mine, but you can have it.” With Harlem Duet, Sears not only disidentifies with Shakespeare she also models disidentification as an effective strategy. Harlem Duet, after all, has been credited with helping to change the way performers and scholars approach race in Othello (Dickinson).Set at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Malcom X Boulevards, Harlem Duet adapts Shakespeare’s Othello in order to argue for the intersectionality of identification strategies (identifying with and against a dominant subject) or adaptation itself as a tool of survival and change. Harlem Duet’s main characters represent opposing identificatory strategies, both of which fail on stage: while Othello represents identification with white culture and even paints his face white, Billie counteridentifies with whiteness and descends into madness. In this way, Harlem Duet dramatizes the failure of identification and counteridentification in order to showcase the radical potential of political adaptation as a form of disidentification (or simultaneous identification with and against a dominant source). Harlem Duet is a self-reflexive play that advocates political adaptation as a strategy of disidentification and a mode of surviving within a racist system. Bio: Kailin Wright is an Associate Professor, Jules Léger Research Chair, and award-winning teacher at St. Francis Xavier University. She is the author of Political Adaptation in Canadian Theatre (McGill-Queen’s UP 2020) and Carroll Aikins’s The God of Gods: A Canadian Play (2016) as well as articles in Theatre Journal, Theatre Research in Canada, Canadian Theatre Review, Studies in Canadian Literature, and Canadian Literature. She holds a federal grant for her research on reproductive justice and theatre.


    Julie Grossman

    This looks fantastic, Leah.  I wish I could be there!  All best, Julie


    Thomas Leitch

    Congratulations, Leah, and thanks for all the work behind this post. Here’s hoping the stars align more favorably for Philadelphia than they did for San Francisco. All best, Tom


    Douglas Lanier

    Looks terrific!! Thanks for your work in putting together this panel and keeping the adaptation flame alive! Cheers, Doug Lanier

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