Monday, April 09, 2007

Put it in the ground where the flowers grow

I've just returned from the frigid north, Boston to be exact, where I attended the annual Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference. I have been to many an academic conference in my day but going to one designated specifically for popular culture was, in one word, refreshing. In another few words, it really brought out the crazies! One session involved puppets AND a creepy communal prayer performed online by mourners of Joss Whedon's Firefly. One woman in my session brought her own full-length body pillow and lay down on it during our presentations. And the list of oddness goes on, but there was much that I liked.

Being the media whore that I am, I, of course, attended mostly sessions dedicated to television with some internet and music thrown in for good measure, the most salient observations from which I will share below. Being the good tourist/shopper that I am, I also didn't attend very many of the hordes of sessions (the program was 453 pages long) and instead gallivanted around Boston with the husband, eating and walking and having a lot of fun. In all, it was a very satisfying if a little strange trip.

So, the highlights:
  • The pop culture folks love them some Joss! There were whole sessions devoted to the Whedonverse, during which I learned all kinds of new (to me) words like "vid" which is creating music videos to standard songs (we saw Shiny Happy People, which you can click here to see, after you scroll down--pay close attention to the bridge!) using clips from shows and "filk," which is music with a sci-fi theme created and sung by the serious fans (created via a typo of "folk music"). The serious fans of Firefly and Serenity, by the way, call themselves Browncoats, and they are very, very serious about their filking and viding and, well, praying.
  • According to one extremely, umm, jargoned young man, South Park is radically progressive in that its politics are oppositional but ambivalent since it problematizes everything. Yeah, the highlight of his presentation were the clips.
  • VM owes a lot to her foremothers in the detective television arena (some of which mothers happened to be men), follows the classic structure of the renaissance revenge tragedy exactly, is a Machiavellian heroine, upholds the patriarchal order of Neptune, and is one of few contemporary shows moving beyond simply including racially diverse characters to giving those characters substantive, important roles to play in the plot. (Although this was less true in season 3, sadly.) In other words, VM is the greatest thing ever!
  • Reality tv is some scary, scary stuff. Really. People were frightened, especially those who had never seen the reality shows in question (like 10 Years Younger or How Do I Look? or Average Joe, which aren't even the scariest shows out there. I Love New York and Surreal Life, anyone??).
  • Except for America's Next Top Model, which everyone loves. One of my favorite sessions included a woman reflecting on her viewing of ANTM with her 14-year-old daughter and the dynamics of watching a show as a post-menopausal woman with a pre-pubescent girl, who just happened to be in the audience and who was, of course, mortified!
  • The men on Gray's Anatomy turn out to be cut from the new "tender masculinity" cloth in that they are the nurturers, the protectors of the family, the cooks, and the emotionally aware and self-reflective in comparison to their much less evolved and much more traditionally masculine seeming female counterparts (ie Burke and McDreamy in comparison to Christina and Meredith).
  • If you haven't been yet, go immediately to Dinosaur Comics and peruse much.
I had a blast and will definitely return as soon as I can get another department to foot the bill. Oh yeah, and my paper was on Suzy Becker's fabulously hilarious I Had Brain Surgery, What's Your Excuse? about her brain tumor and Marisa Acochella Marchetto's visually stunning and comedic Cancer Vixen about breast cancer, which I recommend wholeheartedly to everyone, particularly those among you (or among your associates) who have had any encounters with similar diseases (for example, Becker describes my post-stroke aphasia with incredible and comforting accuracy).