If you’ve been here a while, you’ll know that I’m not a huge fan of academic pop-culture studies, which seem shallow, too infested with postmodern obscurantism, and bad in that they replace more substantive material that can actually make students think deeply about things. Pop-culture courses seem to me to be an easy way for professors to attract students by tapping into their t.v.-watching and music-listening habits.
At any rate, on Friday our university hosted an academic conference on Jersey Shore studies. (I posted about the upcoming conference last May.) In case you’ve been in Ulan Bator for the past two years, Jersey Shore is an MTV series that follows the lives of eight Italian-Americans as they booze, copulate, and fight their way through vacation stints in various localities (I think they’ve recently taken their shenanigans to Italy).
The New York Times reported on the conference yesterday, and I went to two lectures myself. Here are two pages of the four-page program:
- Waste of time and the money used to fund it. I know readers will contest this, and I did go to only two talks, but both were dire, boring, and completely unenlightening. It was a deadly combination of postmodern theory and pop culture. It’s harmless to talk about this, I suppose, but it’s a question of how to prioritize academic funds—and scholarship.
- The titles of papers in this conference, as in many humanities talks, almost always included a colon. They’re of this nature: “Attempted witty title: explanatory subtitle.”
- Every paper I saw—and I looked in on several more talks than I heard in their entirety, involved the presenter reading their paper instead of talking to the audience. I’ve mentioned before how deeply this annoys me. First of all, there’s a difference between written prose and spoken prose, and the former is often dull and deadly when given as a talk. Why on earth don’t the speakers do what scientists do: either have some notes and talk more spontaneously to the audience, or use a Powerpoint presentation as notes. It is stultifying to watch a speaker gaze intently at her paper, not looking at the audience, as she reads what she wrote. And talks are, as we all know, not only interludes of edification, but interludes of entertainment. It should be engrossing and somewhat fun to hear a good talk. One should have one’s eyes on the speaker as he or she emotes, not on a Powerpoint screen or a downward-pointing head reading pre-written lines.