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Top tags: SCMS  Blog  Boston  Conference  Day One  Grad Student  New Members  New Orientation  Panels  Preparation  Respondent 

The "Benefits" of SCMS: On New Member Orientation Strategies

Posted By Myles A. McNutt, Friday, March 23, 2012
Updated: Friday, March 23, 2012

As the "New Members Orientation” session began yesterday morning, a good distinction was made: while we generally refer to "SCMS” as the conference itself (given that we are as "SCMS 2012,” for example), technically there remains a larger entity to which the term refers.

It’s easy sometimes to forget this: while those issues of Cinema Journal show up on our doorsteps four times a year, the day-to-day engagement with SCMS is limited for me, which makes the term far more associated with this conference than with any broader entity.

This session seemed designed to reinforce the existence of the society at large, focusing less on questions and more on the "benefits of membership,” which I found interesting if also somewhat disappointing. Of course, I am not myself a "new” member having joined in the run-up to last year’s conference in New Orleans, but I nonetheless felt there was something missing from the meeting that would allow it to best serve as an orientation: dialogue.

To be fair, there was a Q&A which ended the session, but by that point it had been roughly ninety minutes of fire alarm-interrupted panelists speaking about different areas, and I think everyone was thinking about the next panel (or, just as likely, lunch). They spoke well, and I am sure the people in the audience learned something given that I learned many things I didn’t know. However, to me it seems important to start with questions and work from there: the formal presentation style ensures that everything gets discussed, but working from audience concerns and questions might be able to activate a more focused conversation and better engage with specific anxieties that come with the conference.

To be fair, there were very few questions during that Q&A, which might suggest that the presentations answered any questions they might have had. However, and this is just speculation designed to perhaps help improve these meetings in the future, it’s also possible that they felt they had been given so much information that there wasn’t room (or time) for more questions.

The next event I attended yesterday was a workshop on Teaching the Negative Representation (which Chris Becker will write about as part of her post about yesterday’s events), and it made me wish that the New Members Orientation was treated more like a workshop than as a formal presentation. It would be the first workshop that many members might attend, and it could allow them to acclimate to the society within the more casual dynamics of a group of people in a room talking about something important rather than two groups of people (speakers and listeners) laying out the society’s bureaucratic functions.

I fear this may sound too critical of the people who were part of the orientation, as they were well-informed and passionate, and I doubt anyone at the orientation session would say that it was a waste of time. Indeed, I’d even suggest that others who didn’t make it to yesterday’s session should consider heading to today’s session (2:15pm in Statler) if they want to learn more about how Cinema Journal works or what goes on within the Conference Selection committee. However, I feel like it could be more helpful if the balance was shifted from one end of the long table at the front of the room to the other – when I dropped in on the TV Studies Special Interest Group meeting later in the evening, the conversation dotted through the room at a quick pace, the kind of dialogue that pushed us towards a better understanding of how we operate. While that sort of productive anarchy may not work at an orientation, it’s still something I would strive for.

I left the orientation with a better understanding of the intricacies of SCMS, and a good sense of the future vision of Cinema Journal under incoming editor Will Brooker, who spoke about plans to create online relationships between CJ and other online publications like Antenna and In Media Res. I learned about the different caucuses, and I heard about the evolving website, and I generally know more about SCMS than I did before I attended the meeting.

However, I do wonder if "information” is the ideal goal of an orientation setting – this is likely just a matter of opinion, but the best orientation strategy is a more casual environment. At various points, a few panelists shared stories of their first SMCS, and I wished that we had heard similar "origin stories” from each panelist. Instead of talking about the benefits of membership in a structured environment, show them the value of being a part of the SCMS community by inviting them into a less formal conversation between the people who make it run about what made them want to run it.

I am only speaking for myself, however, and I’d welcome anyone else who attended the session as a real "new” member to let me know what you thought. You can leave a comment below, or you can send me an email at mamcnut@wisc.edu - would love to hear from you and pass any feedback on to others for future sessions.

Tags:  New Members  New Orientation  SCMS 

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Lessons in SCMSing: Day One in Boston

Posted By Myles A. McNutt, Thursday, March 22, 2012

What do we learn at SCMS?

First of all, we learn that the complete lack of any sort of lunch break means your stomach winning a battle with your brain over those 12pm panels you were considering attending.

We also learn that when wireless internet passwords are spread like a state secret, it gives you good reason to enjoy some pre-panel small talk with those who have been given the responsibility of those clandestine characters.

However, we also learn how to "SCMS” (in this case using SCMS as a verb, because I’ve long ago given up on respecting the boundaries of the English language). While I always find that I learn a lot intellectually at the panels and workshops I attend at conferences, the main takeaway often ends up being about the actual process of attending, presenting at, and generally engaging with conferences like this one.

This is especially true on the days when I am myself presenting, as I’m constantly thinking about my own paper and what I could do to improve on it. With a 4pm slot yesterday, it was a real challenge to keep my brain from obsessing over the paper to come, and I ended the day feeling like I had accomplished nothing but self-torture. In the end, as is inevitably the case, I wasn’t entirely happy with my presentation, even though my fellow panelists gave provocative and important papers and we had an incredibly gracious audience who dealt with a bit of time overrun and stuck around for some additional conversation. The day I present at SCMS is always a day I leave looking forward to the next time I present at SCMS, where I will hopefully fix those things I felt could be better (just to, of course, find new things to have problems with next time around).

However, while this mindset can be a bit soul-sucking, I do think it forces you to think about the little things. I greatly enjoyed the two full panels I was able to attend in addition to my own today in terms of the papers delivered and the conversations we had, but there’s also something to be said for how those conversations were shaped and formed, which is where my takeaways for the day lie. I do not want to suggest I hold any grand knowledge about a conference I have only attended twice, but I do want to share at least a few of the observations I took from day one.

In the case of A5’s "The Television Procedural,” the only television-focused panel in the timeslot and thus the immediate magnet for a television scholar (especially given my own interest in genre), I saw the benefit of a three-person panel. Not only did it allow more time for conversation, but it also framed that conversation more broadly, giving us time to delve into each paper (or explore connections between papers) more readily. Claudia Calhoun was forced to limit her presentation on "Civic Architecture and Civic Instruction in Postwar Police Procedurals” to the Civic Instruction side of the equation for time purposes, but the additional time in the comments meant I could push her to discuss the architecture, nudging the panel at large (including both Jonathan Nichols-Pethick’s work on the procedural and network branding logic and Kathryn VanArendonk’s take on Bones and the Victorian procedural) to consider similar issues of space and place (as was my master plan, given its connection to my own research). The room was small, the group intimate, but it felt like more than just a Q&A emerged: it was a conversation. [Noel Kirkpatrick has a Google Doc with some notes he took during this panel.]

The same can be said for the next panel I attended, C6’s "Art, Capital, or Both?: Media Management and Creative/Commercial Tensions,” although there was in this case less time for questions given a four-person panel. However, something that chair Erin Copple Smith did which I really liked was to provide an overview of why the panel was put together: while this would not work with constituted panels featuring open call papers, there was something really effective about hearing why these questions and why these answers. It pushed me to think about the big picture throughout each paper, and I feel it eventually led to a fruitful discussion that crossed multiple papers but within the same umbrella of how we are balancing art and capital within discussions of marketing and branding. We may have been talking about product placement (Erin), fan engagement within the marketing of The Dark Knight (Rises) (Kimberly Owczarski), Disney’s branding struggles with Jim Henson’s Muppets (Caroline Leader), and the mobility of HBO Go (Darcey West Morris), but we were also talking about a larger question, and the reinforcement of that question beyond simply reading the title of a panel was a really nice touch that I wish I could have emulated with more grace later in the afternoon when I tried to follow Erin’s lead on short notice.

What our panel did have, however, was a respondent, something I have never had on a panel before. Call me a believer: Georgia State’s Greg Smith offered an eloquent and provocative response to our papers, providing an outsider’s view for what was a potentially insulated project. As I noted in my own presentation as part of the "A Case for Criticism: Journalism, TV Studies and the Television Critic” panel along with Karen Petruska, Chris Becker, and Cory Barker, I am likely too embedded in this world of critical navel-gazing, and so to have someone come in and offer a larger perspective was honestly invaluable. As much as I love the free-flowing conversation that stems from these panels, and as much I appreciated all of the tremendous questions from those who came out (especially those who stuck around after the panel was running a bit long to continue the conversation), there’s something about a respondent that immediately makes your work feel actionable. After Greg’s response, I immediately wanted to rush home and start working on revising the larger project, which is exactly the kind of impulse you want to have when you leave a panel even if it’s happening simultaneously with the self-critical voice mentioned earlier. [Noel was also present in this panel, and has shared his notes.]

I don’t know how universal these lessons will be, and it’s quite possible that others might feel differently about some of this (and I’d love to hear from you in the comments if so), but it’s definitely got me thinking ahead to the future in ways I wasn’t when the conference began.

Tags:  Boston  Day One  Panels  Respondent  SCMS 

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"I'm an SCMS-er": On Blogging SCMS 2012

Posted By Myles A. McNutt, Saturday, March 17, 2012

Every year at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, the show opens with various actors sharing details of their experience within the industry, each ending with "My name is ________, and I’m an actor.” I’ve always been taken with this opening (which Charlotte Howell details nicely in her response to this year’s awards at Antenna), and in "introducing” myself and this blog, I find myself wondering how the practice would play out if we were to replace actor with "SMCS-er."

On a personal level, I’ve only been a member of SCMS for a little over a year, having come to the area of media studies late in my education after forcing English professors to let me write about television for a few years. When I first visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a prospective PhD student, the department was in full SCMS preparation mode for the 2010 conference, and it became quickly apparent that SCMS was very much a part of their academic "life,” as it were. It was honestly a bit intimidating, albeit also encouraging in the promise of a larger community of like-minded individuals gathering together to grapple with the kind of issues we individually grapple with every day.

However even though I went into my first SCMS, last year’s conference in New Orleans, with this mindset, it was still somewhat overwhelming. Despite attending countless panels and workshops, and doing my best to ask questions and take notes, I never felt entirely comfortable. While the SCMS conference holds the potential to bring together scholars at different points in their careers, that doesn’t necessarily manifest itself on every panel, or in every workshop, or in every awkward hallway conversation.

At the same time, though, I realized during last year’s conference that I was in a privileged position: as part of a program with a sizable representation of both current and former students within the organization, I can rely on seeing multiple familiar faces at each conference. Similarly, I’ve met other scholars through Twitter or Facebook who have become good friends, making SCMS into a reunion of sorts from previous conferences. It doesn’t necessarily keep me from occasionally feeling out of my depth as a graduate student, but it connects me with people who are in the same position, or who have been in the same position in the past, which is invaluable during the conference whether it’s your first, third, or thirtieth.

However, there are likely a large number of graduate students who come to the conference alone, as part of small programs or new programs or international programs. While I will likely be blogging about a number of different subjects over the course of the conference, I do think the "graduate student experience” is a key one, and something that I hope to be able to capture in at least some detail. I’m also looking forward to spending some time in the newly established Grad Student Lounge (which I don't believe has a location yet), a space where I hope I can meet many of my fellow graduate students and take a brief respite from the sheer scale of SCMS.

That respite seems far away at present, of course, as we finish papers and pack our belongings and hope that the Genius Bar is capable of fixing our malfunctioning Macbooks at a reasonable cost (lest we be forced to purchase a new one). Once we come to Wednesday morning, however, the chaos becomes if not more manageable then certainly more enlightening, a chaos of dialogue and collaboration. It is a chaos that I hope pushes me out of my comfort zone, and a chaos that I hope to be able to distill into some sort of meaningful discourse on this blog as the week wears on.

You can also follow me at my blog Cultural Learnings, where I’ll be cross-posting some of these entries that my regular readers might be interested in responding to, and on Twitter (Username: @Memles) – I am looking forward to being a part of the blogging team for this year’s conference, and hope to meet many of you as we gather in Boston in the week to come.

Tags:  Blog  Conference  Grad Student  Preparation 

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