I seized the opportunity afforded by the Popular Culture Association conference being in Indianapolis this year to attend the conference for the first time, and in fact presented a paper. Doing so was a fantastic experience – but also gave me a greater appreciation for the AAR/SBL annual meeting, which is much larger and is better organized in certain key respects. For one thing, the conference app was not available as far in advance as would have been ideal, making it hard for someone who had never attended before to plan their days. And even on the conference website, basic information about where and when to find the registration desk (to pick up one’s name badge and so on) could not be found. I did not find out that there was a reception for newcomers until I was already home at the end of the first day and had time to flip through the program book. And so better communication – at least to those attending for the first time – would greatly improve the experience of first-time attendees in particular, but probably everyone.
On a much more positive note, the book exhibit, while miniscule by comparison to that at AAR/SBL, was incredibly cool and different. Searching for items directly related to specific areas we are interested in at a huge conference resembles the proverbial quest for the needle in a haystack. At the PCA conference, each table was fun and fascinating and held my attention, drawing me in. That includes books on topics that I do not work on and am never likely to, but which simply sound incredibly interesting (science fiction in classic rock is but one example). And then there were current and forthcoming books that either relate to things I work on, or suggest avenues that I should and want to explore (here a good example is a forthcoming McFarland book about reading the Bible after Superman).
There were a lot of entire sessions and individual papers that sounded genuinely fascinating, so that (just like at AAR/SBL) there were hard choices to make between options. Among them, the range of approaches and depth resembled what I have seen at AAR/SBL in papers about intersections with popular culture. Some were content to list episodes and note pervasive themes. Some engaged in theory-heavy analyses. Some were focused on the story worlds purely as narrative, while others adopted a more activist stance, both looking at social commentary in particular franchises, films, and episodes, but also going further and engaging in social commentary themselves. For instance, in an exploration of the relationship between dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, it was suggested that the seemingly juvenile tendency to think it would be cool to carry guns and fight zombies instead of having to work can be read as commentary on capitalism forcing us to work in jobs we hate doing things that we feel have no real positive impact on the world.
Let me conclude with a few photos from the book exhibit (and glimpses of Indiana Comic Con). I’ll put all but the first of them on separate pages, lest this post take annoyingly long to load.