Media in Transition 5

I just spent the weekend at a conference hosted by MIT, Media in Transition 5. I presented my paper “The Well Dressed Geek: Media Appropriation and Subcultural Style” on Sunday. I just want to make a couple quick revisions before I send along the paper to upload, but you can see the abstract on MiT5’s site; here are my slides and presentation notes, if you’re interested. (Update: the full paper is now available online. I’ll be revising it for publication shortly, so please feel free to email with any comments.)

I really appreciate the mission of this conference, as I’m generally concerned with higher education’s relevance to the world at large. The “applied humanities” approach at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program was in evidence here, with plenary sessions and many full papers available on the web, and talks being free and open to the public. (At most Communication conferences, incidentally, even the presenters usually have to pay a couple hundred bucks to attend.) Check out Henry Jenkins’s blog for links to plenary session audio/video and general comments on how the conference went.

A few of the talks really stood out for me this weekend. Martyn Pedler’s presentation on trauma and continuity in superhero comics was interesting and a good laugh (on purpose). The real take-away for me was the point that Batman is walking just fine despite having his back broken, but Barbara Gordon (formerly Batgirl) is still in a wheelchair after getting a bullet through her spine; the only way you can really hurt characters who must return to the status quo is by messing up their supporting cast. I have some thoughts about how this principle might apply to video games, which I hope to write about soon.

Dan Roy’s presentation, meanwhile, introduced me to the idea of video games helping provide players with identities of mastery. From my perspective, this is an interesting distinction from other constructions of identity, including among self-identified geeks. There may be some sense of mastery when it comes maintaining the most complete collection of something or the most extensive knowledge of trivia, but besides that, I suspect that we might see identities of mastery more apparent among hackers and competitive gamers than among science-fiction and comics fans. Must remember to return to that later…

Hal Abelson’s talk at the third plenary session is a must-see for anybody who teaches in higher education, as it focused on fair use practices in academia. He calls foul on academic institutions for diluting the power of fair use by basically acting like it doesn’t exist out of fear of litigation. This talk inspired a very long conversation between myself and Tony Sindelar, a good friend of mine who’s working on an EdD at UMass, about how education technologies shape the way information is distributed at universities. I’m hoping that we’ll return to that in an article together later (or that he’ll just take it and run with it, as I’m overfilling my own plate here).

Also, in my own panel, Lori Kendall’s presentation was crucial to my own research, so I’m really glad we weren’t assigned to different places at the same time. Here she presents research updating her earlier work on images of nerds in popular culture, demonstrating that nerds are even more part of popular discourse now than ever before, even as stereotypes about computer use gradually diminish. Her work has been pretty influential on my own, so it was great to meet and chat with her. I can’t wait to see the part of the paper that didn’t make it to the presentation, focusing on nerdcore hip-hop.

As for my own talk: I was fortunate enough to present Sunday morning at 9:00 am. Seeing as how Saturday night’s talks went past 9:00 pm, nobody really wanted to show up on Sunday morning, which meant I got to present to a small (and very friendly) crowd, which was a little less nerve-wracking. Here are some things I realized after my presentation, which I should note for future reference:

  1. Always bring a bottle of water to your conference presentation (and ditto for teaching).
  2. Email your moderator in advance to figure out how long your presentation should be. Don’t just infer from the lengths of presentations on other panels.
  3. Bring a highlighter to make sure you hit the important points in your own notes.
  4. If you plug your laptop into a TV or projector and only the upper corner of the slides is visible, don’t just continue on with the presentation that way. Plugging it in resets the resolution to 800×600, but you can still take it out of full screen mode and put it back into full screen to set it right.
  5. Plan in advance where you are headed after your panel ends so that you’re not feeling lost and directionless after the event you’ve been stressing over for days. (Alternatively: attempt not to stress over your talk for days. Your audience isn’t looking for the imperfections in your presentation nearly as closely as you are.)

Indeed, it was a learning experience in many ways. Thanks to conference organizers Henry Jenkins, David Thorburn, and William Urrhichio, and coordinator Brad Seawell.

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