Conference Report: Console-ing Passions
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This year marked a historic milestone for Console-ing Passions (CP), as the international conference on television, video, audio, new media and feminism celebrated its 25th anniversary in East Carolina University (ECA) on July 27–29, 2017. This was the third CP conference I had submitted to, and as we collectively reflected on the significance of this intellectual home for feminist media scholarship over the course of the weekend, I was reminded of the ways in which solidarity, mentorship and egalitarianism pervades the event. For me, my time at ECU not only cemented Console-ing Passions as a site for top notch interdisciplinary research on the myriad ways gender, race and sexuality intersect and shape media production, reception and circulation; it also brought home how the conference functions to provide feminist media scholars with a level of academic recognition, feedback and support that we may not find anywhere else.
The need for this knowledge-building community was a driving force in the development of the first CP conference at Iowa City in 1992. In honor of the conference’s 25th anniversary, the organizers at ECU planned a “Founders Conversation” for the opening plenary and reception. Here host committee chair Amanda Ann Klein moderated a discussion with two of the founding members of CP, Mary Beth Haralovich (University of Arizona) and Lauren Rabinovitz (University of Iowa); they were joined by long-time board member Brenda Weber (University of Indiana). Haralovich and Rabinovitz emphasized the inspiration for creating Console-ing Passions: the desire to create a community that honored and appreciated both feminism and studies of broadcasting, two research areas fighting for legitimation in the late 1980s.
Today, the scope of the conference has come to include new media like video games and online platforms as well as traditional film studies, while also encompassing an intersectional approach to race, sexuality and class.
The opening discussion also included a frank talk about the job market, reminding us that the search for a position in the academy can be daunting. However, the pioneers of feminist media studies have done a lot to make that job search a bit easier over the years. After all, most of the founders of CP are canonical media scholars, and their work is taught in media and communication departments that now regularly offer classes in gender and sexuality. This is a drastic shift from the environment our foremothers found themselves in as they planned the first Console-ing Passions in 1992 at the University of Iowa. 25 years later, Console-ing Passions continues to play a role in expanding the field and visibility of feminist media scholarship within academe. Thus, in the opening plenary, the founders emphasized feminist solidarity whilst navigating the market, urging young members to use CP as an opportunity for networking with senior scholars, a value practiced by Console-ing Passions’ panel design, which actively attempts to build panels that bring together junior and senior academics.
Feminist solidarity was also theme of many panels this year. For example, in her paper “Female Community as Means of Empowerment and Narrative Subversion in Contemporary American Cinema,” Stefanie Dullisch (University of Duesseldorf) considered how films like Whip It (2009) and Life Partners (2014) are examples of homosocial female communities that lack normal societal restraints. Similarly, the panel titled “#squadgoals: The Gender Politics of Aspirational Collectivity in Contemporary Media Cultures” featured work by Elizabeth Affuso (Pitzer College), Taylor Nygaard (University of Denver), and Suzanne Scott (University of Texas at Austin); each scholar focused on the politics and representations of female friendship as a form of branding, and as resistance to hegemonic patriarchal norms. Solidarity and inclusivity was also evident in the spirit of the conference as a whole, as it brought in scholars from across the East Carolina University campus, such as Rachel Roper of Brody School of Medicine, who presented on gender bias.
Inclusivity, solidarity and feminist politics was also apparent in the broad range of intersectional approaches to feminism and media. Several panels demonstrated how CP now attracts cutting edge queer scholarship, including the panel “Situating Pleasure,” which featured work on desire, pleasure and queer spectatorship by Ian Funk (University of Maryland), and the gamification of queer pleasure, discussed by John Stadler (Duke University) in his paper titled, “Cock Hero: A Critique of Heteronormativity and Homosociality in a Queer Game of Failure.” The “Queer Online Spaces” panel brought together work on the commodification of gay affect on YouTube, as well as YouTube’s transgendered politics and Autrostraddle’s queer utopia by Austin Morris (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Jordan Miller (Georgia State University), and Lauren Herold (Northwestern University), respectively. And Zachary Harvat (Ohio State University) introduced a theory of queer historical play as an alternative research method that emphasizes the vitality of queer life while gesturing toward possible queer futures in his essay “A Wrinkle in Queer Time: History Beyond Hurt in Transparent.”
The ways in which race and gender are configured together were explored in a paper by Jacqueline Land (University of Wisconsin-Madison), whose work examines the Indigenous podcast Métis in Space as a form of decolonizing feminist critique of white male geek culture. Lars Stolzfus-Brown of the Pennsylvania State University presented an essay on race, representation and labor in the context of the Netflix original animated series Bojack Horseman.
The closing keynote talk was given by Michelle Lanier, director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission and senior program director of Traditions & Heritage at the North Carolina Arts Council. The paper, titled “Pine Straw, Tobacco Fund & the Secret/Sacred ‘Beading Bees’: Making Place and Meaning on these Afro-Carolina Landscapes,” was bold and breathtaking. Lanier is a folklorist who studies cultural expression, and she presented visual narratives of Greenville and eastern North Carolina’s African American histories, including images of black slaves harvesting turpentine, as well as the story of Laura Marie Leary—the first black student to graduate from ECU, whose main source of support on campus was groundskeepers and other staff members of color. This talk was a stunning conclusion to an invigorating schedule lovingly crafted and painstakingly put together by a hardworking team.
Of course, all of the research at this conference serves to emphasize the significance of intersectional feminist media studies in our current cultural landscape. This hit me most profoundly during the discussions of “HB2” and Trump. Two roundtables were organized to discuss North Carolina’s recent The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as House Bill 2 or HB2, which is anti-LGBTQ legislation the state passed in 2016, one outcome being that transgendered individuals are required by law to use restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. These discussions drew quite a crowd, as did the panel on “Trump Four Ways,” which was standing room only. Console-ing Passions 2017 also embodied a commitment to intersectional feminism in its use of local vendors whenever possible and coordination of a social event on Friday, July 28, the second day of the conference, which raised money for ECU’s LGBT Resource Center’s Student Scholarship Program.
Overall, Console-ing Passions 2017 was a conference that nourished the mind and the body. The organizers offered free shuttle rides to and from the airport to the conference dorms, as well as free breakfast, lunch, coffee and snacks and low-cost dormitory accommodations. Replete with a karaoke “after party” at the host’s house, this host committee will be a hard act to follow. I left Console-ing Passions’ 25th anniversary hoping that this conference will continue for another twenty-five years, and that I will be able to attend every one.
Eleanor Patterson is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies Department at the University of Iowa. She researches and teaches broadcast history, media industries and cultural studies, and her work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, including Feminist Media Studies, Media, Culture & Society and The Historical Journal of Film, Radio & Television. Eleanor can be contacted at eleanor-patterson@uiowa.