Saturday, February 28, 2009

two days in the life of a conference-goer

I'm taking a couple moments to note that academic conferences make for terrific arm-chair sociology and cultural anthropology, by which I really mean terrific arm-chair psychoanalysis. Here at the 11th annual conference of the Society for Phenomenology and Media, there are about as many such opportunities per capita as one might expect, but maybe somewhat less.

I was scheduled for first thing Thursday morning. On the way here, I finally returned a message to the conference organizer, who asked if I would be willing to present later that day. I said I was, and I was grateful, because my loveliest and I had been up since before 4 am, and would be traveling for more than 12 hours, etc., etc. (it's not longer from Turlock to DC than from Helsinki - where our furthest-flung participant comes from -, but you can't get anywhere from Turlock). I was shifted to Thursday afternoon sometime. That didn't sort out, by the time we arrived at the conference, so I was put in a slot Friday over lunch at a café where they do poetry readings and such, as a weird addendum to a panel my theme didn't fit. The problem there was that I wouldn't be able to connect my laptop's audio jack to their sound system to play the ads that are central to my presentation (on political campaign ads and news coverage).

So I would be "sometime in the afternoon," which turned out to be right after a paper, without any warning. I was a little flustered, but got Yaptop (my laptop's nickname) up and running without too much ado. I felt like I was visibly shaking. It took all of my introduction, and showing the first ad and news piece before I settled into the stuff I was doing and could relax (this same thing happens before every single class session, with the significant difference that I usually know when class starts). The ads and coverage went over well. The ads were from the Elizabeth Dole-Kay Hagan NC senate race from 2008, in which Dole, in the final days of a losing campaign (she had to explain why she supported the Bush agenda, which was unpopular even in NC), disseminated ads on TV that insinuated some connection between Hagan and a group called Godless Americans.

The whole trip is pretty insane, and can be seen (along with another, randomly selected news story montage about atheist ads) in a youtube playlist I put together (I can't seem to get youtube to save them in order, so it's not in the order I presented them).

I won't get into the analysis here. It seemed to go over pretty well, too, and generated some good questions and feedback, for which there wasn't time to discuss.

Then we went to a brew pub so loud it was difficult to hear the person sitting right next to you, and which was gigantic in every way - the size of the store, the size of the kettles behind the bar (no doubt as props), the size of the portions and prices, the faces of patrons, the TVs above their heads tuned to various sports and newz channels. It struck me, at the time, as incredibly oppressive. I didn't want to be in noise after my two days.


I'm also thinking about the difference in the way I prepare for a day of teaching and the way I prepare for a day of conference-going - the kinds and levels of tension I feel, where it locates in my body, how it focuses attention, how I dress, how I arrive (walking in both cases, thankfully), and what my expectations are.

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