This post my take up a bit of your time. POPCAANZ16 was my first academic conference ever! I didn’t present. I went to sus it out-network etc and to see if I could present next time. POPCAANZ stands for the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand. It was so fab. Every presentation I went to was interesting and somewhat exciting. For me it was like an ideal SF convention where all the panels added to the view of my world and filled me with excitement that people were actually talking about stuff, about pop culture things that are relevant to the now.
There are a number of streams ranging from fashion, movies, television, gothic horror, crime fiction, creative writing etc. Unfortunately there was no romance fiction stream as they were undersubscribed or so I heard. Also about half the people were from New Zealand.
There were three streams per day and sometimes the choices were difficult to make. Also, all speakers presented their paper and then there were questions so generally once in the room you were likely to stay. My first stream was the Disability/Gender & Queer on Wednesday morning. The first paper was one on Beauty Contests for Landmine Survivors by Fran Hassencahl. She talked about a documentary about Morten Taavik’s beauty pageant that challenges our concepts of beauty. Apparently Cambodia pulled the plug on the documentary as the victims were symbols of shame. Fran was saying that as a Buddhist country there is a strong sense of Karma and that the victims somehow deserved their fate either in a past life or this one. This translated to very little opportunity for being reestablished in society, work etc. I was quite struck with that. Also that only intact women compete in regular beauty competitions. There have been in recent years some entrants with impairments, such as a contestant being deaf or wearing in insulin dispenser. But visible impairments not really. Fran was saying that Morten wanted to draw attention to these women’s plight but also that everywoman deserves to feel beautiful.
The next speaker was Michaela Baker talking about Mental Illness and Artistic Creation. She talked mostly about David Bowie’s concept album, Outside. This was an interesting piece about depictions of madness and provided insights into Bowie’s creative process.
The next paper was on Mental Illness in the X-Files by Kimberley McMahon-Coleman. This was an insightful analysis of the show. The role reversal between Scully and Mulder. Scully is the scientist, the skeptic, the logical one a role traditional ascribed to the male protagonist and Mulder is the intuitive, feeling one. However, Mulder is invariably right. Scully gets kidnapped a lot. What Kimberley was highlighting in her talk was the medical model of mental illness with the immediate listing of symptoms, that anyone with a mental illness was immediately discredited/testimony discredited by Scully and then proved right by Mulder. She also talked about the depiction of Autism and how wrong that was. That Autism wasn’t a mental illness but a communication disorder.
The last paper in this stream was on post-racial feminism by Holly Randell-Moon. Holly used a portion of Angela McRobbie’s (2004) paper in her paper and also about recent debate about People of Colour (POC) and about how whites don’t acknowledge their whiteness. My thoughts on this paper was that some delving into McRobbie’s position. I’ve read McRobbie (some) and she’s very interesting but she reads to me like a radical second wave feminist, using Marxist analysis. I also think that as a white from a dominant white culture we don’t want to draw attention to our privilege. Just my thought there.
After a nice lunch where I tried to talk to people I didn’t know and succeeded, I went to the Film stream. First up was Sequential Multimplicity in Franchise Cinema by Tara Lomax, a phd candidate. This was the most technical of the papers for me and also interesting. I mean Marvel right? She talked abit about Marvel’s transmedia strategy and the groups of writers that keep track of the stories and copyright etc. Apparently DC didn’t want to copy Marvel’s strategy but that may be changing. This speaker was very enthusiastic about her topic and ran out of time. Next up was Exploded Views by Pansy Duncan. My notes are going to fail me here, but the essence of this for me was the study of explosions on film from the 1900s to the present and how they have evolved and that the new ones were going in upwards directions instead of down. Apparently in Independence Day movie, the first came down, the second just hovers, but in Xmen Apocalypse the bits of Earth go up. I’m going to keep an eye out for those. Seeing the Future of American Industry by Christian Long. He talked about John Carpenter’s film, Escape from New York and the politics in there. He discussed the crime rate in the 1970s in New York in the lead up to the film. He also talked about in this future envisioning, the USA could live without its financial centre.Inside the prison of New York lack of industry lead to problems. Kurt Russell (Snake) was to rescue the president to make world peace. The irony is that when saved the president shoots the baddie with glee. A very enjoyable paper and I must watch more John Carpenter.
Next I ducked into the Fiction:Words on paper stream. “It’s all in the detail” Historical crime writing by Jean Anderson. Jean talked a lot about the paratextual in historical crime novels, that is the text on the outside of the book, blurb, about the author etc. In the novels she discussed there was an effort to establish the author’s authority through the non fiction they published or academic career etc. Some part of the talk was on the recipes in some of these novels and also how if an author gets this wrong who responds. Most readers won’t notice but some do and will let you know. Jillene Bydder talked about Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriaason and the detective Erlendur. I know have to read all these books and the Icelandic sagas. Jillene did a comparative analysis of Arnaldur’s books and the Icelandic sagas. I’m to start with Jar City because that talks about the DNA project that is going on in Iceland. Next was Beatrice Dahl: JG Ballard’s Hidden Heroine? by Tracy Clement. Again an excellent talks. Tracy is doing her phd on the book, The Drowned World. I recall she said it was a fine arts degree which included sculpture and her doing an additional chapter of The Drowned World. Utterly fascinating and another book on the to read pile. Next up was In Search of Australian Noir: by Leigh Redhead. More books on the to read pile. Hannah Kent Burial Rites. Anyway, for me an introduction to what noir is. Negative ending.
I was a bit late. Bus caught in Sydney traffic so I only caught the end of the first session and I chose the big room because I would be less conspicuous on entering. This was the performance stream and I only caught the end of Tilda Swinton: Performing Fashion. Apologies to Karen De Perthuis the presenter. Lorde, Lady Gaga and ‘Authentic’ David Bowie tribute by Alison Blair was entirely enthralling. An analysis of the two performances and the reaction, particularly on twitter. Lorde’s performance being the most appreciated. The crux of the matter for me was that Lady Gaga was performing David Bowie and sensationalizing him and Lorde performed as herself singing Bowie with a low key and respectful performance. Who knew this stuff was so interesting and complicated? Costume, Condertfeit in Neil Armfield’s ‘King Lear’ by Julie Lynch. I met Julie first up and she’s from NIDA. Her first time at this conference too. This was an eyeopening talk that discussed the costumes used in this performance but also a bit about the Sydney Theatre Company, particularly under Cate Blanchet and co.
Next session I ducked over to the gothic horror stream. Dining at the table of (cultural) horrors by Lorna Piatti-Farnell. Some interesting preamble about eating and manners and how we have manners because eating is violent. Loved it. She talked about a move, The Sushi Girl. Another movie for the to watch pile. She deconstructed some horror tropes for me which makes me thinks I could watch some. The Gothic Heart of ‘Hinterland’ by Emma Doolan was an exploration in settings and liminal spaces. She discussed the series Hinterland set in Wales and yet another DVD series to watch. To end that session was (Im)moratlities of Style in ‘American Horror Story’ by Samuel Finegan. Again for me a refreshing look at a genre that I don’t gel with normally. He explained this so well and how ‘camp’ the horror was. We have some of these at home so they have been star rated for watching with my partner, Matthew, who loves horror movies.
After lunch I switched to Television because of Zombies as you do. First up was LIving with Zombism in ‘I Zombie’ by Kayleigh Murphy. I hadn’t really been aware of this show. And yes another one on the to buy pile. This was an interesting analysis of this TV show and what zombies are embodying-social fears etc. I Zombie apparently is about stigma and living with disease or something else that can be hidden but is not socially accepted. It is a show that is focused on young people too. I won’t spoil it for you but I’d love to read this paper. Hopefully it will be in the conference proceedings. Gender in ‘The Bachelor’ New Zealand. Interesting and I guess typical of those shows. Performing gender. Lots of good quotes for Judith Butler which I appreciated. Thank you Ximena Smith. Utipic Spaces and the Rewritable West in Mad Men by Grace Torcasio. I’m not a watcher of Mad Men but I have heard of it. This talked about the spaces New York and California and how California served as a type of holiday space, a place where the character (Fred?) could reinvent himself. I hope I got that right. I’m working off memory here.
The last sessions were hard to pick but I left Gothic and Horror and chose History/journalism/religion mostly because first up was Ritualistic Societies and the Neo-Victorian Perspective by Matthew Thompson. He talked about Downey’s Sherlock so I’m cool with that. Second reason for this stream was Sue Green’s talk Knitting Needles as Weapons of War. I’d chatted to Sue before but I’d already picked this session. I mean Knitting Needles! So yes this was fabric, textile paper with a feminist perspective. It was quite eye opening as it discussed knitting patterns and how they were used to manipulate women, even in their language. Women knitted socks and other bits for men at war. One million in WW1 and 3 million in WW2. Also was the change in patterns after the war, particular WW2 when they changed from utilitarian to lacy, feminine things. Also the new look and corsets constraining women back into the home after working in men’s jobs during the war. Loved this. Please, please universe put this paper in the conference proceedings. Some great historical images in this talk too. IN the program there is a session listed, The Dispute is Not About Oil, by Michael Potts. I’ve got nothing for that. I was either transported to another reality while he spoke or he wasn’t there. Last up on day two was Warhol’s Religio-Secular Incongraph by Jewell Homad Johnson. This was fascinating. I had no idea Warhol was religious! Ta daa! And I had no idea someone tried to kill him and that person was from SCUM (society for cutting up men). Now I have to read the manifesto because I had no idea. Interesting piece. Nice work Jewell.
Day three (last day)
Filled with the proceeding day’s awesomeness and post Alex Caine Series book launch at Galaxy Book shop, I made it in only a little late. Again bus, traffic etc. The first talk was Gothic Wedding Cake Decoration by Carmel Cedro. This garnered so much discussion. I decorate cakes as you know. I’m probably the kind of person who would put a bleeding heart on my wedding cake. I’m geek and I’m proud to be so. Apparently goths express their identity with these cakes. Carmel said the rest of the ceremony is very traditional except for the cake. Just google gothic wedding cakes and you’ll see. It’s a thing but mostly USA centred apparently. The Frankenstein Myth and Deals with the Devil by Naomi Von Senff. This was an interesting talk. The only problem was the speaker spoke so quickly, reading off her paper that it’s impact was lessened. Naomi did a analysis of novels with the Frankenstein myth but said there wasn’t much in recent novels. If you know of some let her know. She’s on Twitter maybe. I have two unpublished books that deal with the Frankenstein myth…as in resurrected monsters type thing. Weird Tales and Monstrous Subverions by Cory R Walden. I’m drawing a blank here. There were pictures! Sorry I’m going from memory. He did do the talk but I need a hint to trigger my memory.
After lunch which was very yum, (Great catering at Sydney University Village) was the visual arts stream with Socialist Realism (un) popular culture by Ryszard Dabek. This looked at socialist realism in art and architecture. Those North Koreans are weird. Soda_jerk’s science fictional Aesthetics by Andrew Frost. I have to look into this art work, by these two anonymous artists. Apparently they mine the edge of copyright infringement taking bits of film and reworking it. Fascinating. Hurrah for Art! 20th century popular culture by Eric Riddler, which was a picture stream with commentary that was very encompassing. Last up was Arabic Appearance in a Predominantly Anglo Culture by Cherine Fahd. A very striking paper about how we use visual cues to judge, probably incorrectly. The main part of her presentation was a series of photos in black and white with white background with men with dark hair and beards. The men wore the beard by choice not for religion and not all were of Arabic/middle eastern/sub continent decent. The main upshot from this presentation was could hipster beards coexist with the jihad beards. Some mentions of people being beaten up for having a beard and being mistaken for middle eastern or jihady or terrorist beards. A thought provoking session all up.
Last sessions were on biography & life writing and girlhood. The Militant Suffragette by Anne Reddacliff and Rachel Franks provided a good overview on the Australian suffragette story with a focus on the holdings from the State Library of NSW. Some excellent sources provided. Hateful Eight Contains the Uncanny Power of Girlhood by Juliette Peers. This was an amazing presentation but somewhat over long. This was due to this session not having a chair or the chair not being able to communicate with the speaker. Not sure which. I haven’t seen Hateful Eight, nor Carrie or The Exorcist, which were part of the analysis. After hearing the talk and the images I don’t want to either. Juliette put a pretty powerful argument about this movie. Little Miss ANZAC by Anita Callaway was an interesting exploration of a (for me) lost work. A children’s story that features a beleaguered wooden doll. It was very evocative of the effects on war on men, I think, but as Anita pointed out, the illustrator died before the war and the book was renamed. She also showed us illustrations from the author and the illustrator (I think) but very interesting stuff. Finally, Hashtag Skater Girl: Pop Culture and Extreme Sports by Jessica Jackson. As an aside I introduced myself to Jessica and we got talking. She’s a writer too. It was her first conference and her first presentation. She’s African American, the elder of identical quadruplets who were adopted. I’m going to check out her books. She and her siblings are writing books together. Link below. Jessica had to have given one of the best presentations at the conference. She didn’t read from a paper but spoke to her slides very eloquently. I was very impressed obviously. Her talk was about skaters, what we call skateboarding, and also surfing and snowboarding. She looked at the treatment of girls in the sports by men, the funding arrangements which prejudice women and the lack of take up of the sports by women. (I hope that is right, Jess). And what a way to end the conference.
So I’ve only given a very short impression on what these sessions were about. I was engaged throughout and I wish to thank the organisers for all their hard work. Great venue, great speakers and topics. Also, I should note that there is GANZA, The Gothic Association of New Zealand and Australia. ganza.co.nz and they are on twitter @GANZA_Official
There is currently a call for papers for their conference in Auckland in January.
Also, what the hell is the Uni of Sydney doing closing the Sydney College of the Arts!
And if you want to keep in touch with Jessica and her three siblings, her blog is here.