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Eric Kasper, associate professor of political science and director of UW-Eau Claire’s Center for Constitutional Studies, has two new books out that focus on pop culture and politics.

UW-Eau Claire Communications

The role music plays in presidential elections and how the U.S. Constitution is portrayed in movies are the topics of two recently released books by a UW-Eau Claire political scientist who also is an expert on how pop culture and politics intertwine.

Both books are timely given that 2020 presidential campaigns are getting underway, and the U.S. Constitution continues to be the focus of multiple political debates and legal challenges, said Dr. Eric Kasper, associate professor of political science.

“You Shook Me All Campaign Long: Music in the 2016 Presidential Election and Beyond” looks at the role music played in the 2016 election, as well as how it likely will influence the 2020 campaign, said Kasper, who is co-editor and a contributing author to the book.

“As politicians are declaring their candidacies for the 2020 presidential election, now is an excellent time to reflect on how national campaigns use music,” Kasper said. “Music has long played a role in American presidential campaigns as a mode of both expressing candidates’ messages and criticizing the opposition.”

Although music has long played a role in presidential campaigns, 2016 was a banner year for the use of song, with music being more in the forefront of the campaign than in any other campaign in recent memory, Kasper said.

In the last presidential election, a significant amount of popular music was used by campaigns, many artist endorsements were sought by candidates, ever changing songs were employed at rallies, instances of musicians threatening legal action against candidates burgeoned, and artists and others increasingly used music as a form of political protest before and after Election Day, Kasper said.

Calling the 2016 campaign a game changer, Kasper compares it to the 1840 presidential campaign, which saw “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” help to sing William Harrison into the White House.

The new book puts the use of music in the 2016 campaign in historical perspective and then examines musical messaging, strategy and parody.

“The book ultimately explores how music and musicians affect presidential elections, and how politicians and campaigns affect music and musicians,” Kasper said.

“You Shook Me All Campaign Long” includes 10 chapters from faculty experts — including Kasper — commenting on music as it relates to several 2016 candidates. Kasper’s chapter examines how several candidates used music to express their respective interpretations of the Constitution in 2016.

The musical expression of constitutional themes by presidential candidates dates back more than 200 years, but the U.S. Constitution was particularly prominent in 2016 campaign music because of the Supreme Court vacancy that existed after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016, Kasper said.

The U.S. Constitution also is the topic of Kasper’s second newly released book, “The United States Constitution in Film: Part of Our National Culture,” which he co-authored with Quentin Vieregge, an associate professor of English at UW-Eau Claire — Barron County.

“The U.S. Constitution often is depicted in popular films,” Kasper said. “Sometimes it’s at the center of a movie plot, and sometimes it is in a film’s theoretical background.”

The role films play in helping to shape popular perceptions of the U.S. Constitution is an important and timely topic given the ongoing political discussions around it, and how it relates to the government’s structure and citizens’ rights, Kasper said.

Films are sometimes used to teach viewers facts about the Constitution, and other times movies are created to express a certain political belief about the meaning of the Constitution, Kasper said.

For example, he said, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” teaches viewers the constitutional requirements for how a bill becomes a law, “12 Angry Men” demonstrates the importance of the right to a jury trial, and “Lincoln” focuses on the process of amending the Constitution, while “Selma” highlights how social movements are tied to civil rights and voting rights, “ Dirty Harry” warns about the dangers of expanding the rights of the accused too much, and “All the President’s Men” and “The Post” emphasize the importance of the freedom of the press.

“These films offer empirical information about the Constitution, but they also sometimes take normative stances on how the Constitution should be interpreted,” Kasper said. “The book will help readers understand how constitutional themes are expressed in film, which will help them to better understand the use of the Constitution the next time they go to the movies.”

While the book examines how films have been used to teach viewers something about the U.S. Constitution, it also exposes myths that exist in film, highlights how Hollywood’s constitutional lessons have changed over time and compares films to what the Constitution says and how the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted it.