With heavy heart I write to inform you that our colleague, friend, mentor, and diva, Jane Feuer, passed on 8 January 2021. For decades Jane was one of the central figures in the Film and Media Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Jane was a path breaker. She studied at the University of Iowa with Dudley Andrew among others. Her peers included Mary Anne Doane and Phil Rossen in a cohort that would go on to transform film and media studies. Her 1978 dissertation The Hollywood Musical: The Aesthetics of Spectator Involvement in an Entertainment Form went on to become a book and in subsequent editions it continued to set standards for research into the musical film genre. Her work on television, including MTM: Quality Television (London: BFI Publishing, 1985), helped define the field of television studies. At a moment when many scholars turned away from the products of the “culture industry,” Jane delighted in showing us the significance of popular culture, its liberatory and utopic potentials. Indeed Jane was a welcome interlocutor in England as the discipline of Cultural Studies took off. In 1989 she was one of the founding members of Console-ing Passions And she developed deep friendship with other path breakers like Steven Cohan, Richard Dyer, Jane Gaines, Meaghan Morris, Lynn Spigel, and Mimi White among others.
Jane blazed many trails in and outside academia. For ten years she served on and chaired the University Senate Anti-Discrimination Policy Committee, among other things establishing domestic partner policies and changing the environment at Pitt. Indeed Jane made life in academia easier, more welcoming, more prepared to welcome people from diverse backgrounds, and was an inspiration for lesbians, gay, queer, and non-conforming scholars. She was quick to respond to scholarly pretensions with her irreverence, treat institutional standards with skepticism, and subject attempts to quell dissent with her renowned sharp wit. Jane taught at the University of Pittsburgh as one of its most beloved teachers from 1981 until her retirement in 2017. Julie Nakama wrote touching tribute to Jane on the occasion of the symposium held in honor of Jane’s retirement: https://web.archive.org/web/20200131001729/http://www.english.pitt.edu/feeling-tribute-jane-feuer.
Jane’s interests and engagements went well beyond academia. She had incredible fashion sense and stunning eyewear, remarkable cat glasses, vintage and new. She held the honor of acting as a judge of local high school musicals. She had a passion for all things Christmas with a particular collection of bulbs and cards. Jane’s care for cats, her work rescuing and helping set up adoptions was legendary. Colleagues at Pitt have beloved companion animals in their lives because of Jane’s engagement.
On a personal note, as someone who spends a great deal of time in Europe, my experience of telling people I taught at the University of Pittsburgh, frequently resulted in the comment: oh! That means you’re Jane Feuer’s colleague. Jane enjoyed Germany, having been the Fulbright German Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen in 2009-10. She developed contacts and friendships there especially with Vinzenz Hediger at the University of Frankfurt. Living in Berlin, Jane wanted to see me, but she explained, to my surprise, that she wasn’t interested in Berlin. I asked her what she wanted to do instead, and a month later I found myself driving full throttle down Germany’s Autobahn headed toward the tiny town of Lauscha. I had never heard of it in all my years, but after we had wend our way through the Thuringian mountain roads, I found myself in the Christmas and doll capital of the world. I learned about the history of Christmas ornaments made originally by impoverished glass blowers, saw people painting decorations like they had for decades and decades. I laughed and laughed and saw a world that amazed me that I only learned about because I had the good fortune of driving Jane on a road trip. This year I pulled out the kitschy bright birds and fish and put them on my tree and recalled with joy that time spent with her. I am sure all my colleagues and all who knew her would be quite capable of telling their own stories of utopia made somewhere because of time with Jane.
In July Jane’s wife Kathie Ferraro passed. And two weeks later Jane began her struggle with pancreatic cancer. During her illness she carefully received visits from friends and family. Our colleague Nancy Glazner cared for her. For those of you who may not have had the good fortune of knowing Jane, I assure you that we are all diminished by her passing.
Director of the Film and Media Studies Program, the University of Pittsburgh.