Matt Thomas

Born and raised in Seattle, Matt Thomas received a B.A. in American Studies from the University of Southern California in 2003. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the University of Iowa working on a dissertation about life hacking.


"From Counterculture 2 Cyberculture and Back Again"

For much of his career, Prince openly fantasied about panracial and pansexual utopia. The 1980 song "Uptown," for instance, trades on the sentimental mythos of the city as melting pot: "Black, white, Puerto Rican, everybody just a freakin'." Such attitudes have their roots in the counterculture of the 1960s and '70s. In the mid-'90s, Prince's countercultural sentiments got transmogrified by a particularly virulent strain of cyber-utopianism, and Prince became the first major pop artist to really embrace the Web.

Far from being just a forward-thinking, post-Warner Bros. business move, I see Prince's online exploits as an extension of his countercultural sympathies. The Web at the time was billed as the ultimate utopian space, and one Prince strongly associated with freedom. For over a decade Prince used the Net to distribute music. Then, in 2010, as quickly as he had embraced it, Prince turned on the Web, declaring the Internet "completely over." As tempting as it is to dismiss this remark as just Prince being Prince, I think it deserves to be taken seriously. Prince is saying the Web failed to live up to the hype. It's an expression of disillusionment. Prince's journey maps strangely well on to Fred Turner's "from counterculture to cyberculture" narrative. Prince's anti-Web stance thus might be read as a critique of cyber-utopianism, and his recent multi-night gigs in London, New York, and Los Angeles seem to suggest that he thinks the alternative to the Web is … the city.

Two Paper Presentation:

Prince, bizarrely, apart from a few things here and there, has never been the subject of the sort of sustained academic or crticial inquiry bestowed on artists of comparable musical and cultural importance. Our presentations seek to join the nascent wave of Prince scholarship in correcting this oversight by exploring Prince's music in light of the conference themes and in so doing model new approaches to him and his work.