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Southwest Popular Culture Conference

February 24, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Last week was a busy one for me, even though the majority of it was spent in a chair. I attended the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference (SWPACA). Dr. Deborah Deacon, HMU Dean and Tutor, attended with me as we both had scheduled presentations. In addition to presenting, we had a blast with the variety of topics and discussions. I just wanted to give you a hint of what they offered this year in case you too have an interest in mixing the classics with popular culture.

Though we sat for three straight days, the wheels in my brain never stopped. Many presenters make fantastic, interdisciplinary correlations. I feel that these endeavors enlighten and enrich our everyday experience of living. Our current world can feel so chaotic, and yet, I found it really interesting that in attending a diverse platform of discussions, similar threads ran through many of presentations.

Dr. Deacon and I met at a number of discussions, though she focused on art and war, while I focused on art, literature and creative writing. In these seminars, many people presented on ideas that seemed laughable on paper. Yet, in the construction of a narrative, they found some inherently complicated idea at the heart of what seems silly or esoteric. Groups discussed the Grateful Dead, Native American rights, Computer Culture, Joss Whedon, Fandom, and Harry Potter (just to name a very few of the topics).

I presented a paper about translating wheat breads into wheat-free breads. Our culture has termed this type of bread "gluten-free". I discussed the idea that by foregrounding wheat as the essential category, any other grain is thus limited to a category of lack or deficiency (insinuated by removal of something from gluten, as if gluten is the original). Dr. Deacon presented on female artists who depict the many layers of war. She focused on artists such as Nancy Spero, Shirin Neshat and Mahwish Chishty. Through the lens of food, or art, or creative writing, or zombies, or whatever, conference attendees became highly aware of current cultural rhetoric.

In her 2010 TED Talk, Neshat said: “Culture is a form of resistance...but also, culture risks to be a form of entertainment.” And I believe this is the spirit which breathes life into conferences such as SWPACA. The idea that if we think of popular culture as entertainment alone, devoid of meaning, then we risk losing an ability to analyze where we come from and who or what we are creating. Many frivolous sounding experiments, such as analyzing food or young adult literature become absolutely absorbing when placed in social and political context. In a digital world, our landscape changes quickly and this conference offers one way of navigating the chaos. I am already plotting next year's entry.....

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