U.S. Intellectual History Blog

A Conversation with Ally Sheedy

On behalf of the 2019 conference committee for the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, I’m pleased to announce some delightful news: author, actress and activist Ally Sheedy will be joining us at our conference in New York City this November.  We have planned a plenary session featuring a conversation with Ms. Sheedy covering a range of topics, followed by audience Q&A. Our indefatigable conference chair, Natalia Petrzela, is working with The New School to make sure that this event is accessible to as broad an audience as possible.

Our conference theme this year – “Intellectual Traditions of Protest, Power, and Patriotism” — is a perfect setting for a conversation with Ally Sheedy. In the history of American thought and culture, Ms. Sheedy has a unique perspective as a “participant-observer” whose professional work in film shaped and channeled the sensibilities of an era, sensibilities that she is now in a position to examine and critique as a public intellectual and a college professor.  Among her recent projects is a stage adaptation of Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom, the remarkable story of Civil Rights activist Lynda Blackmon.  Indeed, Ms. Sheedy began a career in writing before she began acting professionally, and she continues to write, act, and teach, most recently as a professor at CUNY…and as a voice of kindness and critical engagement on Twitter.

I don’t remember when I started following Ally Sheedy on Twitter, or when she started following me, though I think it must have been some time in 2015.  We were commenting on some of the same issues and shared some of the same views, and some combination of mutual followers or a chance retweet or an algorithm flagged our feeds for one another.  Throughout the 2016 presidential election, I saw something take place again and again in Sheedy’s twitter feed and her mentions.  She would express her views on an issue of public concern or public debate, and some random man  – right-wing, centrist, or left-wing – would hop into her conversation and tell her to “stick to acting,” or some variant thereof.  Sometimes these dismissive calls for Sheedy’s silence would come wrapped up in a bow of aggrieved masculinity – I thought you were great in X, and now my adolescent fantasy is ruined by finding out you are a grown woman with ideas of her own. How dare you.

Beneath the self-importance reflected in these censorious comments from complete strangers ran a current of meanness, a meanness of mind regarding the place of public discourse and the idea of who deserves to engage in debate in the public square.  “Stick to acting,” “shut up and dribble,” “shut up and sing” – these are all expressions of a peculiar kind of entitlement. Those who live vicariously through the performances of highly talented people are allowed to have opinions on anything and everything; the talented people themselves must stick to their day job. This ethos of instrumentalism – “you exist for my use” – seeks disproportionately to silence or dismiss Black voices, women’s voices, feminist voices, queer voices.  How dare any creative or talented person use the platform afforded to them by the patriarchy to critique or challenge the patriarchy!

Ally Sheedy dares. She is a thoughtful and gifted and interesting public intellectual, of a kind that those of us in academe sometimes don’t take seriously enough as interlocutors or as thinkers or as fellow truth-seekers and truth-tellers.

But ideas are everywhere, and even famous people have them, and those ideas – and people – are worth our interest and attention.

So, in this week’s installment of sentences I never expected to write, I’m looking forward to a wide-ranging conversation with Ally Sheedy in New York this November.  Hope to see you there!

4 Thoughts on this Post

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We ask that those who participate in the discussions generated in the Comments section do so with the same decorum as they would in any other academic setting or context. Since the USIH bloggers write under our real names, we would prefer that our commenters also identify themselves by their real name. As our primary goal is to stimulate and engage in fruitful and productive discussion, ad hominem attacks (personal or professional), unnecessary insults, and/or mean-spiritedness have no place in the USIH Blog’s Comments section. Therefore, we reserve the right to remove any comments that contain any of the above and/or are not intended to further the discussion of the topic of the post. We welcome suggestions for corrections to any of our posts. As the official blog of the Society of US Intellectual History, we hope to foster a diverse community of scholars and readers who engage with one another in discussions of US intellectual history, broadly understood.

      • Hmm. That’s not the first film that comes to mind when I think of AS’s ouevre. But honestly, I think “Short Circuit” would be particularly relevant in this historic moment. Did you notice how many commercials during the Super Bowl featured sentient robots? It was excessive to the point of being creepy, and doubtless reflected broad cultural anxieties about AI. Short Circuit comes from a different moment of anxiety about robots and people, dating from the same years as the panic about Japan’s economic dominance / “takeover” of iconic American real estate properties. I would surmise that, on a rewatch, Short Circuit would have a lot to say about American culture, ideas of race and gender, economic anxiety, etc.

        I really will take a look at it — but first I need to screen The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, and High Art.

        [EDIT: And War Games. Just ordered that on DVD — perfect for teaching the late Cold War / rise of the internet]

  1. Yeah, this is one of the more delightfully serendipitous developments in my strange career as an intellectual historian and I’m really looking forward to this event as well. And major, major props to our conference chair, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, because when I asked her if she’d be open to / interested in including Ally Sheedy in our conference program, she was 100% on board. Like I said on Twitter, we’ve got range!

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S-USIH Comment Policy

We ask that those who participate in the discussions generated in the Comments section do so with the same decorum as they would in any other academic setting or context. Since the USIH bloggers write under our real names, we would prefer that our commenters also identify themselves by their real name. As our primary goal is to stimulate and engage in fruitful and productive discussion, ad hominem attacks (personal or professional), unnecessary insults, and/or mean-spiritedness have no place in the USIH Blog’s Comments section. Therefore, we reserve the right to remove any comments that contain any of the above and/or are not intended to further the discussion of the topic of the post. We welcome suggestions for corrections to any of our posts. As the official blog of the Society of US Intellectual History, we hope to foster a diverse community of scholars and readers who engage with one another in discussions of US intellectual history, broadly understood.