Sunday, June 13, 2010

Slayage 4, Part 2: Personal Impressions

Slayage 4 was a heady weekend for me, Readers Mine, and terrifically busy, so this may wind up being something more along the lines of a series of vignettes rather than a coherent narrative. Also, there were a lot of really talented, scary-smart folks at this conference, some of whom I’ll be mentioning by name here. Instead of linking to their books or sites and making this post look like a massive advertisement, I’ll just leave the text inactive and urge anyone who may be interested to Google the names and buy and/or read their books and papers, they’re all well worth it. So. Onwards!

Personal Impressions: Mockingbird and I arrived a day early to settle in and theoretically have a chance to see some of St. Augustine, and were picked up at the airport by one of the conference organizers, Tamara Wilson, who Mock’ has known for a few years now and who I’d met at last year’s PCA South in Wilmington, North Carolina. The hour drive let us catch up on what had been a busy eight months for all, and time spent in Tamara’s company is always fun. This go round we got to meet Tamara’s other half, Jim Wilson, who turns out to be both a MST3K fan, and to have been a non-traditional student like yours truly. Fun, brilliant, funny people, though I really would pay good money to see Jim (who’s at least as tall as my own 6’4”) riding that little kanji-covered scooter of theirs to work!

What stands out in and around the conference sessions proper are the people I met. At the Thursday night reception Matthew Pateman commented on how many people seem to have a very personal connection with Joss Whedon’s works in one way or another, including him (and including me, for that matter). Maybe this goes some way to explaining the passion these people bring to their study of Whedon, and to how wonderfully willing everyone at Slayage 4 seemed to be to make new friends, and welcome new faces. A lot of Whedon’s work has community at its core, and everyone I met last weekend seemed to be an enthusiastic participant in creating, growing, and tending this particular community of scholar-fans/fan-scholars, and in keeping it healthy and welcoming, of which more later. Don’t get me wrong, there was ego and ambition aplenty at Slayage 4, but it seemed to be the healthy kind and well balanced by humility, humor, and a deep support for one another.

Highlights of this atmosphere include: David Lavery and the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” revealing Joss Whedon’s consistent interest in “poo” across numerous interviews. Nikki Stafford trying (and failing utterly) to keep a straight face while citing Wikipedia, followed by Matthew Pateman’s response of “Wikipedia: the 21st century equivalent of ‘a bloke at the pub told me’.” Mike Starr’s eerily accurate impression of Spike’s singing-voice at the sing-along Friday night, as well as the even eerier fact that every male in the room (myself included, O’ Readers Mine) seemed to have a deep familiarity with the lyrics to “Mandy.” When Alyson Buckman could not be present due to illness, Rhonda “the Mother of Buffy Studies” Wilcox happily stepped up and presented her paper. David “If Rhonda is Momma Then I Must Be Dad” Lavery took time to carefully consider what to recommend to me as reading for someone just starting to learn about television studies, and the two of us discovered that we have similar feelings about the Confederate States of America. Then there was the meeting of the G3 over university café sandwiches where Mike Starr, Marcus Recht, and I examined global issues and in the great tradition of international diplomacy identified several problems, solved none of them, and then broke for smokes and chewing gum. Sunday afternoon wrapped up the conference with lunch for 30 and goodbyes where I’m afraid I gushed a bit in thanking everyone for a wonderful weekend.

Why the gushing? Readers Mine, I’m an undergrad (granted an older, slightly grizzled undergrad), and I was mixing with people who tend to have bowls of alphabet soup trailing along after their surnames, and who are truly well educated, frighteningly intelligent, and highly experienced. Deep waters. Yet I never felt anything less than welcome, or that anyone wished me anything but the best. Maybe it says more about me than anyone else, but I had this image of academic conferences as being places of vicious career politicking, dark ambition, and general meanness. Instead I encountered something quite different: genuine warmth and welcoming, and an intense desire to bring in newcomers and give them support and encouragement, to help them and the entire field of study grow together, and to guard against becoming exclusive and excluding while maintaining the highest quality of scholarship. The effect of such an atmosphere is electric, inspiring, and deeply moving. This is the kind of scholar I want to be, and the kind of people I want to be associated with professionally and personally. I still have a long row to hoe to get there, but now I know what I’m sowing, and why.

Next time: details of the conference proper and (hopefully) and wrap up of Slayage 4.

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