April 6, 2008
PCA/ACA: Louis Bosshart, Sports, and Celebrity Culture

One of my most intriguing PCA/ACA friendships struck up over a complete accident. My first year at the PCA, in San Antonio, we had a paper added to our panel at the last minute. Dr. Louis Bosshart, from Switzerland's University of Fribourg (or Freiburg in German), had missed his regular panel and joined a panel otherwise on pro wrestling to discuss his work on what television did and does to sports. I remember that he was intrigued by the fact that I had notes on one index card rather than reading a paper as many people do at these academic panels, and we struck up a conversation afterward.

The conversation turned into an e-mail exchange, and hopes at creating a collaborative project on looking further at how televising sports fundamentally changes the way the competition is structured. In particular, pro wrestling can be seen as an extreme of the importance of mediation in athletic demonstration, because pro wrestling has adapted itself for the spectator to the point it is no longer a competition at all, or at least not in the traditional sports sense. I soon moved to Boston for the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, and Louis came to town once and we discussed the project further, but it never got out of the "ideation" phase.

We used San Francisco as the opportunity to strike the conversation up again.

When I arrived at the conference, I had high hopes to reach Louis and plan some time to meet. Louis and I hadn't corresponded in a while, but I shot off an e-mail and had hopes I would hear from him. As I headed to the room for my soap opera presentation on Friday morning, I was surprised to see Louis in front of me. Turns out, he had made plans to attend my panel and--although I'm not sure how much he's studied soap operas in particular--it piqued his curiosity, and he even had a range of questions afterward.

Amanda and I ended up having coffee with him later, and we discussed his latest project. Unfortunately, Louis' presentation conflicted with some of my other plans an obligations at the PCA, and he didn't have a proper paper he was presenting from, but he participated in a celebrity panel by looking at the making of a beauty queen, for a presentation entitled "To Become and To Be a Celebrity: The Case of the Swiss Musicstars." Turns out, Louis has had multiple students who have become Swiss "beauty queens," and his project looked at the creation of that image, based on some examples he knew personally.

Louis and I discussed striking our project back up, especially alongside some of the discussion around the forthcoming Olympics in Beijing, and we talked otherwise about Louis' invitation to teach courses this summer at Stanford University. If I hear more from Louis about his project on the creation and mediation of beauty queens in Switzerland, or if there is new movement on the sports project we've been so long discussing, I'll be sure to pass word along through the blog, but I just wanted to share some notes on both projects for the larger blog readership, as I thought the interesting work Louis is doing might be of interest to some of our readers.

Louis is part of the University of Fribourg's Department of Sociology and Media.