My name is Ben Pettis and I am a PhD student in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In broad terms, my research considers internet culture—with a particular emphasis on the individual user and how their interactions and practices relate to larger platform and corporate entities.
When I discuss my research, it is not uncommon for it to be met with nervous laughter or even outright disbelief. Given that my past objects of study have included the Pepe the Frog meme, 4chan threads, and private “finsta” accounts on Instagram, I have come to expect these kinds of responses. I knew that my work often fell outside most perceptions of what counts as of “real scholarship,” but I wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously. However, I’ve come to realize that this reaction is actually a good thing, and has become one of the things that I love most about the work that I do. The sense of disbelief stems from the fact that the media texts I study are often so deeply embedded in every life that they become overlooked. When a cultural object or practice becomes so normalized and accepted, it becomes even more important to probe its history, functions, and outcomes.