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Bring Your Memorabilia: Science Pubs Speaker Avi Santo Probes the Brand Power of Nostalgia

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Avi Santo, associate professor of communication and director of the Institute for the Humanities at Old Dominion University, will host the final Science Pubs ODU event of the 2016-17 school year. If Santo gets his way, his audience will be floating on a sea of cultural nostalgia.

Santo's research focuses on the work cultures of consumer product divisions for entertainment industries. He studies how proprietary intellectual property is converted into cultural commodities and integrated through branded consumer products into daily lived experiences.

At the event Thursday, April 20 at Tapped Gastropub at 1550 Laskin Rd. in Virginia Beach, Santo will argue that memorabilia from our favorite comic books, films, TV series and video games are more than mere add-ons to these popular franchises.

The event is free and open to the public, but advance online registration is strongly encouraged. The first 25 guests to arrive will receive a free beverage ticket.

Santo says: "These products are central to brand owners' desires to sell children, parents and increasingly adults on the roles these franchises can play as lifestyle brands available to consumers looking to express themselves through the products they adorn and surround themselves with."

That means the products are carefully managed to ensure they reflect and project the values inscribed on the characters they feature, Santo says.

"There is an overt effort to align the potential economic value that Superman or Moana possesses with social and cultural values prevalent in our society at any point in time, including navigating one of our deepest societal contradictions: the desire to simultaneously stand out and fit in among our peers."

The discussion will focus on the meanings embedded in the branded material and how corporations and individuals use them to transmit messages about lifestyle and self-expression. To provide points of entry, "I strongly encourage folks to show up wearing their favorite branded T-shirt and prepared to be called on to tell us why," Santo says.

The Science Pubs ODU series offers an opportunity for the community to engage with University researchers in an informal setting. A curious mind is all that is needed to take part in the lively discussions.

This year's Science Pubs ODU speakers have included political scientist Jesse Richman, discussing the presidential election; Michelle Covi of Old Dominion and Virginia Sea Grant, speaking about sea level rise modeling, and graduate student researchers, who gave mini-talks about their work.

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