Console Your Passions: A 2014 CP Conference Report
From April 10-12, 2014, scholars from around the globe converged on Columbia, Missouri to support, critique, and shape an ever-widening community of feminist media scholars at the Console-ing Passions conference. Hosted by the University of Missouri and organized with great care and attention by Melissa A. Click (organizing chair), Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, Julie Passanante Elman, Hyunji Lee, Holly Willson Holladay, and Amanda Nell Edgar, this year witnessed CP turn twenty-two years young. First held at the University of Iowa in 1992, Console-ing Passions was initially dedicated as a space where feminist scholars could present work that interrogated the place and investigated the importance of gender to the study of television. Since then, CP has broadened its scope with respect to both objects and critical orientations. Conversations within and between panels tackle television, video games, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other digital/new media platforms with consideration not only of feminist concerns, but also those of queer theory, affect theory, disability studies, and critical race theory.
This penchant for intersectionality made for a particularly provocative opening plenary in which Nancy Baym (Microsoft Research), Radhika Gajjala (Bowling Green State University), Katherine Sender (University of Auckland), and Beretta Smith-Shomade (Tulane University) were asked to reflect upon the current strengths and weaknesses of feminist media studies and what that field must focus its attention on in order to remain both academically effective and politically relevant. Baym called for an increased attentiveness to labor in feminist media studies and offered the reminder that “no matter how much we love each other, there are economics behind our relationships.” Gajjala stressed the fact that questions of future feminist research are also deeply entwined with questions of future feminist praxis. For Sender, new media technologies have begun facilitating reflexivity in new ways that feminist media studies should take care to notice. And Smith-Shomade was adamant about the fact that the role of women in history still waits reclaiming and reframing, warning that we continue to layer history without understanding what came before.
As a second-time attendee, one of the things that has and continues to impress me about Console-ing Passions is the accommodation of both breadth and depth among panels and workshops. At this year’s conference, two of the most prominent topics across the conference program were questions of fandom and digital gaming culture. The former was exemplified in panels such as “Queer Fandom, Resistance, and Identity,” “Scenes of Fan Labor,” “Gender, Race, and Transnationality in Music and Fandom,” and “Performing Fandom in Online Communities,” while the latter came to the fore in “Monstrous Moms, Undead Dads, and Bossy Boyfriends: Gender, Gaming, and the Ties that Bind,” “Gender and Sexuality in Games and Gamer Culture,” and “Gendered Spaces in Gaming.” But if there was an objet/texte du jour at this year’s CP, it was surely ABC’s primetime drama Scandal, with provocative, animated, and insightful papers given by Kristen Warner (University of Alabama), Alfred L. Martin, Jr. (University of Texas at Austin), Suzanne Leonard (Simmons College), Rebecca Jurisz (University of Minnesota), and Brenda Weber (Indiana University).
Comparing my two experiences thus far at Console-ing Passions (2012 and 2014), I was particularly struck by this year’s emphasis not only on the heritage and pedigree of the organization (i.e., where have we been?), but also on assessing the future contours of feminist media studies as a field (i.e., where are we going?). This dichotomy was taken up with particular rigor at a workshop entitled “Who Do You Think You Are?: Academic Lineage and Disciplinary Boundaries Across Media Studies” that included participants Elana Levine (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Melanie E.S. Kohnen (New York University), Courtney Brannon Donoghue (Oakland University), and Matthew Thomas Payne (University of Alabama). For Levine, studying television as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was doing feminist scholarship, among a group of colleagues and faculty that were primarily invested in the relationships between TV and social identity. Kohnen’s remarks regarding making space for queer and feminist scholarship and pedagogy at conservative institutions asked such important questions as “How do we teach queer and gender studies when we always expect resistance from our students?” and “How do we invite students into difficult conversations without alienating them?” Donoghue’s comments focused upon the difficulties of teaching global media in a cinema studies department, encouraging us to “get beyond medium specificity not just with our students, but also with our colleagues.” And Payne truthfully admitted that his participation in this workshop was to “proselytize on behalf of play,” on behalf of the freedom and innovation that play and agentive experimentation can bring.
As an ABD graduate student preparing to enter the academic job market while completing a dissertation, no network of colleagues and friends has provided me with more support than Console-ing Passions. To that point, I was thrilled that this year’s conference placed an added emphasis on mentorship, particularly of graduate students and junior faculty. A mentorship luncheon, the brainchild of organizing chair Melissa A. Click, was an event that I hope will continue well into the future and foster other mentorship opportunities as Console-ing Passions continues to grow as both an organization and a community.