No moment was quite as intriguing while in San Francisco for the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association joint annual national conference last month than the moment that two of my worlds collided. I knew going into the PCA/ACA that I would spend most of the day Friday in the soaps panels. I arrived Wednesday afternoon, and the conference ended on Saturday, so I wasn't sure what all I would be able to cram in. Instead, I just started lining up one-on-one meetings, to make up for the fact that I wouldn't be able to attend many of the panels I'd theoretically be interested in attending (especially since a good many of them fell on Friday against the soaps festivities).
I ended up trying to line up a variety of meetings, some more successful than others. For instance, I never was able to make plans with fellow Comparative Media Studies alum James Nadeau, despite various attempts, until we both realized we were still located in Boston and could just make plans to meet here when we got back. But, of course, there was just something special about being at the same conference together...it just wouldn't be the same. (We'll see if James and I can make good on our dinner plans before I declare complete defeat in that regard.)
But my coffee with Sue Clerc and Bob Lochte was the apex of my scheduling.
Bob is a professor at Murray State University. I met him while I was doing undergraduate work on pro wrestling at Western Kentucky University. There was a regional honors roundtable event, and Bob came to hear my paper on professional wrestling. We struck up a conversation that began then and hasn't stopped since, even if there are long lulls. Bob teaches courses in journalism and mass communication at Murray, and he primarily only travels in the broadcasting panels at the PCA/ACA conference these days, as he put it himself. We were planning to have coffee at some point, and he ended up coming by the soap opera panels earlier in the day--rare to see him breaking outside of broadcast, of course--to tell me we'd meet up for some coffee after the soaps festivities were over. (See Bob's book on the history of Chstirian radio here, and see his work on Nathan B. Stubblefield here.)
Sue Clerc has an interest in fan studies and similar media tastes, so we have crossed paths several times. It began, unbeknownst to me, when she sat in on parts of a panel I presented on dealing with pro wrestling a few years ago. We started corresponding based on some work that she did with Catherine Salmon on pro wrestling slash fanfic communities which appeared in Nicholas Sammond's Steel Chair to the Head from Duke University Press in 2005. Sue even managed to come up and spend some time with my pro wrestling course at MIT last year. Aside from the WWE, we also share an interest in As the World Turns, The Colbert Report, and fan studies. Sue and I met up when the soap panels were over. I didn't see Bob around at first, so Sue and I made our way over to Starbucks, striking up a conversation about the latest with the WWE, what's happening at the Consortium, how the soap opera panels went, and Sue's own latest work on fanfic--particualrly on fan fiction "officially" published in books, such as fanfic on media properties in the public domain. (See more on that work here.)
We had run into Bob on our way to Starbucks, and he said he'd come join me in a little while. But then a funny thing happened. My conversation with Sue wasn't finished when my discussion with Bob started. So the three of us struck up a conversation about the power of soap operas, the coastal biases of the media industries, the red state/blue state divide, and a variety of other subjects I covered recently in my post on Victoria Johnson's Friday Night Lights presentation at SCMS.
The moment only lasted a few minutes, and I suppose there's a good chance Bob and Sue will never cross paths at PCA or elsewhere again, but it was a great moment. It reminded me of that dinner Amanda and I had when we were graduating from WKU in which we invited probably 30 or more professors out to a Mexican restaurant for a farewell dinner before we left town. I had majors in three different departments on campus, so faculty ended up coming from the English, communication, economics, agriculture, foreign languages, the School of Journalism and Broadcasting...and many of these people had never met before, despite teaching at the same institution for years or even decades. Again, they probably went back to their daily lives on the Hill at WKU after that, never crossing paths again, but it is just intriguing to be at that moment when interests intersect for a moment and to hear the conversations that strike up.
That moment, perhaps, encapsulated both the joys and the frustrations of the PCA: the ability to create an environment that brings so many interesting people together; to host so many niche interests that would rarely, if ever, be given a dedicated conference of their own; and then to contain so much untapped potential as well, because we all want to stay close to our own interests...
But to Sue and Bob, thanks for a wonderful conversation. Perhaps it can even happen again next year in New Orleans.