I’ve finally caught my breath after this year’s exhausting yet insightful Society for Cinema & Media Studies conference in New Orleans. This marks my second year presenting at SCMS (my fourth conference overall), and I came away with a vastly different impression than I did at the Los Angeles meeting in 2010. Little had changed in terms of the meeting’s organization other than location, but, unlike the previous year, I entered having fully embraced Twitter. In fact, it was the postmortems that began appearing in my timeline today that spurred me to blog some of my thoughts on the event, as my take on SCMS seems to depart from that of a number of others that I follow.
My experience of SCMS was, indeed, that of being in attendance at two very different conferences: a cinema conference, on the one hand, and a television & new media conference on the other. This isn’t to say that these two fields are in any way opposed to one another or antagonistic; on the contrary, the people I encountered within both realms—and those who float in between them—were all quite collegial and friendly. I detected the split through the confluence of my Twitter feed and my sleeping arrangements. I bunked in New Orleans with my GSU colleague, Noel Kirkpatrick, and our fellow graduate student, Myles McNutt from Madison (their blogs may be found here and here). Noel and Myles are both TV scholars, and the close quarters of a hotel room offered opportunities for me to gain some insight into TV studies, a world that I, as a rather traditional film scholar, knew nothing of.
If one were to glance at the Twitter backchannel (#SCMS11), she might get a rather limited picture of what was in actuality a quite diverse conference. The TV folks, it seems, are far more vested in Twitter than are their counterparts in film. For nearly every television panel, there were multiple people tweeting the proceedings. For the film sessions, little information made it to the Twittersphere, despite my best efforts. Moreoever, this investment in Twitter seems to have fostered a particularly close-knit group of TV folks, as my conversations with Noel and Myles confirmed.
As a first-year PhD student still learning the ropes of academia, I am, quite frankly, jealous of the community my colleagues enjoy. The distance between senior scholars and graduate students appears decidedly less hierarchical as a result of their online interactions. I don’t mean to suggest that film scholars are somehow un-friendly; rather, I think that admiration and nervousness on the part of young scholars can make approaching established academics more than a bit intimidating. How I’d love to see such esteemed cinema faculty giving and taking via Twitter. Who’d have thought there would be such a pronounced divide in terms of social networking?
This divide between the C and the MS of SCMS is coupled by another one relating to presentation format. The 20-minute presentation model of SCMS was called into question numerous times on Twitter and in conversation around the conference, and, by and large, this sentiment seemed to come from the TV and media studies folks. In its stead, most preferred the workshop and shorter presentation format of FLOW. Most seemed to complain of being “read to” and the lack of interaction and collaboration, and I certainly understand where they are coming from—panels can be exhausting, especially when the arguments are tight and the presentation lacking. However, I think there is a place for both models. As I see it, workshops are ideal formats for “state of the field” conversations and for sharing ideas. And yet, I’d hate to have presented my paper—one that I’ve has been gestating in various forms for nearly two years—in any time less than twenty minutes. Hell, I had trouble trimming it to even that point.
I tend to agree with Mabel Rosenheck’s point that many in TV studies are focused upon “contemporary popular media” and, thus, the audience is likely to know quite a bit about the topic and not need a great deal of literature review or setting up of the aesthetic object in order to “get” the argument. However, in my case, I sincerely doubt that every member of the audience at my panel was hip to Deleuze’s notion of free indirect discourse in sound-image realtions. Such an argument is built on a number of steps and doesn’t lend itself to short formats and give-and-take. I don’t mean to suggest that my discipline is more “advanced” or “sophisticated” than another, and nor do I want to paint TV studies as monolithic. Instead, I’d simply say that certain topics and papers are more natural fits for certain formats.
When I suggested as much to a media scholar who questioned the 20-minute talk model on Twitter, I was told that “scholars should have the skill to present a fully-developed argument in a roundtable format.” I don’t think this a matter of the skill of the presenter so much as it is the goal of the session and the aims of the argument. In fact, I think its quite insulting to suggest that one who can’t shoehorn an argument into less than 10 minutes is neccesarily lacking in skill. There are numerous formats out there to dessiminate schoarlship, from blogs to shorter outlets like In Media Res and FLOW to conference presentation to traditional journals. Therefore, I think one should tailor his or her content to the model to which they are submitting, or, alternatively, propose more workshops as opposed to submitting to the open call.
All things considered, though, I saw some terrific presentations at SCMS (and my fair share of duds) and gained some insight into how the “other half” lives. I’m looking forward to next year’s meeting in Boston. Hopefully by then I’ll have roped a few more film people into contributing to the backchannel.