I’ve fallen a couple of days behind in my conference posting, Readers Mine, but once you read the next couple of posts, you’ll understand how a fella could get a bit distracted.
Day two of the PCA/ACA national conference began at the crack of 9:30, so we could make it to an 11:30 panel called Civil War and Reconstruction: Images of the War: Photography, Iconography, and Cultural Tradition. This was a big one on my list, having just spent a semester delving into the craft of using photographs as historical evidence and writing a term-paper on a series of photos taken by Timothy O’Sullivan during the war. I was not disappointed. Jennifer Lynn Gross started things off with “Confederate Widows: Icons of the South,” in which she examined the strange cultural phenomenon after the war where the widows of Confederate general-officers became something like professional widows, and saw themselves as owners of their husband’s stories. These remarkable women were responsible for writing their husbands memoirs, founding the Daughters of the Confederacy, and taking an active role in what would become known as the Lost Cause presentation o Southern history. Next James Lundberg took a different look at the times surrounding the war with “Picturing Manhood, Picturing War: Photography and Facial Hair in the American Civil War.” Lundberg became fascinated with the truly incredible facial hair sported by American men in this period, and proposes that the reason may not stem from years of camp life and missed opportunities to shave during the war, but may well have been at least partially the result of photography itself. The primitive technology tended to wash out a clean-shaven face, the bright light required for photography often erasing subtle facial structures. Structures which were enhanced and given more shape and shadow by, you guessed it, moustaches, beards, goatees, sideburns, and soul-patches of every possible description. A really well researched, fun paper. Finally, Pamela Venz wound the panel up with “Survivors in Silver: Photography’s Relationship with American Civil War Medicine.” Venz focused on the attempt by photographers, newspapers, and the Army to show the modern, clean, and up to date medical care the troops were receiving both at the front and in hospitals back home. Of course, such photographs were all highly composed and carefully staged, but their very existence reveals the concern with the availability of medical care for the Union soldiers.
From the Civil War we proceeded to fan studies for the panel entitled “Fan Culture and Theory: Reimagining Convergence.” this turned out to be a really interesting panel. First, Lincoln Geraghty spoke about the strange transformation of collectables, from action-figures to autographed photos of favorite series actors, into objects of memory in the hands of their possessors, showing how a collectible figure purchased at, say, Comic Con, becomes not merely evidence of one’s pleasure in the show or comic or whatever represented by the figure, but also a key to memory of Comic Con itself, and moving from the commercial to the purely personal. Then the incomparable Tanya Cochran delivered a stunning presentation, “’Past the Brink of Tacit Support’: Fan Activism in the Whedonverses.” Suffice it to say that Joss Whedon and his fans provide a really fascinating example of a fan base that practices activism well beyond the realm of “save our favorite show,” and into the realms of real-world political, social, and cultural activism. There’s a story to how this activism began, but Mockingbird’s Nest has it better than I could put it, so follow the link. Cochran is working on a book focusing on this fan activism, and from her presentation, it’s going to be a must read. To wrap things up, Stephen Andon talked about a different, but equally dedicated type of fan activism. With “Sports Apparel DIYers: Circumventing Corporate Authority and Subverting Hypermasculinity in Sports Fandom,” Andon presented the audience with a look at a group of dedicated fans, particularly baseball and American football fans, who spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and effort to hand-make their own jerseys. In these hyper-regulated sports where the NFL will land on you like a ton of bricks if you try and sell merchandise and aren’t Nike or Adidas/Reebok, individual fans are making unique, high-quality gear for their personal use and thus avoiding the corporations that “own” the teams, merchandising rights, etc. We’re talking about very manly-men taking the time to learn to sew like professional tailors, and whose attention to detail is incredible. These men take great pride in their work, and may be using it as a way to claim their own “ownership” of the teams they love so much. Good stuff.
At 3:00, I ate, rested, and reviewed my paper, “’No Half Measures’: Violentization and Emotional Realism in Breaking Bad” which I presented in the 4:45 session.
My co-presenter (our third didn’t make it) was Carlen Lavigne, who’s “Two Men and a Moustache: Masculinity, Nostalgia, and Bromance in The Good Guys” gave us a look at a show that had an all too brief run and which I had honestly never heard of. Lavigne delved into how the show played with nostalgia for 1980’s cop-shows, riffed off of modern conceptions of the “sensitive man” and connected with the long history of buddy films and television shows in the US. Excellent paper that made me want to watch the show. My presentation went well too. I was using Lonnie Athens’ theory of violentization to illuminate the characters of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad and how such a realistic portrayal of violence creates a level of emotional realism that draws the viewer into the show and evokes a feeling of emotional complicity in the violence portrayed. I was very pleased with the Q&A session afterward, where the questions were excited, probing, intelligent, and let me know that the audience were definitely wanting to hear more. I left floating about 6 inches off the floor. Good day!
Finally, we took in the 6: 30 session The Works of Joss Whedon: teaching, Translating, and Tracing Symbol in Whedon’s Buffy. Jeffrey Bussolini led things off with a funny and intriguing look at how Buffy is dubbed into French and Italian. It turns out that the Italians do a better job with all the various “Buffy-isms,” colloquialisms, and oddities than do the French, though both seem in desperate need of Oreo cookies, as the cookies popular in Europe have chocolate on the inside and vanilla or something on the outside, and thus mangle one of Willow’s better jokes. Next Nikki Fuller gave a Campbellian reading of Buffy with her “Death and Sacrifice: Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” examining in particular the episodes “The Body” and “The Gift” and the gang’s forced confrontation with the facts of death and life, sacrifice and loss. It was a brilliant, poignant presentation, and a nice look at Buffy’s particular hero’s journey. Finally, Erin Waggoner approached Buffy in the classroom directly, looking at visual rhetoric in “Hush,” where the town is struck silent by the uber-creepy Gentlemen, and everyone must figure out non-verbal ways to communicate, and where the audience and cast/crew of the show much communicate non-verbally as well. It is a reminder of how we really do speak to one another, even when using all of those troublesome words.
After that, Mock’ and I decided that it was time for some TexMex, and so strolled down San Antonio’s beautiful riverwalk until we found the Lone Star Café, where we snarfed down huge plates of enchiladas smothered in cheese, gravy and with sides of real, fresh, refried beans. To top it off we retreated to an upper-level ice cream parlor and sat on the balcony watching the people and river go by as we cooled down with some cold sweets. Which was (and is) pretty much a perfect ending to a fine Texas day!