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Cultural Conferencing: “The New Criticism?” at Flow 2010

“The New Criticism?” at Flow 2010

September 30th, 2010

I am currently awaiting the arrival of a late night bus which shall take me to Chicago and to a plane which will deliver me to Austin, Texas (my first time in the city/state) for the 2010 Flow Conference at the University of Texas – Austin.

This is exciting for a few reasons. First of all, Flow is unique in that it is about conversation more than presentation: instead of having attendees present formal papers, each panel member submits a short response to the panel’s prompt which then form the basis of a discussion which includes participation from the collected scholars in attendance. Conferences are usually all about conversation anyways, with the time before and after panels often more beneficial and interesting than the panels themselves, and Flow formalizes that process within its topics, and I am very much looking forward to witnessing some fantastic discussion over the weekend.

However, I will also be presenting myself as part of a panel convened by Jason Mittell (who I often link to) on “The New Criticism? Academia, Journalism, and Digital Critics.” It’s spun-off from a blog post Jason wrote back in March, which focused on the blurring of critical categories, and admittedly discusses my own position within the erosion of traditional boundaries. As a result, I was very interesting in continuing this conversation, and am excited to continue the conversation with others who come at the question from different perspectives – along with Jason and myself, the conversation will include The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray, The New School’s Laura Crestohl, and UCLA’s Sudeep Sharma, and I am extremely excited to expand on Jason’s post (and my own writings on the topic) this weekend and perhaps into the future as well.

It’s going to be an extremely exciting weekend, and I look forward to plenty of discussion, debate, and analysis in the days ahead. In the meantime, though, readers can join in the conversation: the panel is at 9:45 on Saturday (October 2nd), and if you’re on Twitter you can follow the #Flow10 hashtag where members of the audience of this and other panels will be tweeting. You can also head to the Flow Conference site, where you can read the position papers from each of the panelists which will be used to spark conversation. In the short term, however, you can check out my own position paper below the fold.

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Season (Series?) Finale: Friday Night Lights – “Tomorrow Blues”

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“Tomorrow Blues”

Season Three, Episode 13

Leaping forward about six months at the beginning of the show’s second season nearly killed Friday Night Lights – there was a sense that all the time we missed had been eventful for these characters, and their motivations had changed in ways that were not something that should happen off screen. We found a Dillon, Texas that, in many ways, we didn’t know anymore.

What we find in the show’s third season finale, perhaps its last, is a show that has recaptured that time lost, given us a sense of who these people are again. We found a group of people we care about, a group whose futures are uncertain and will be our final goodbye to many of these characters. With the team’s State championship lost last week in the penultimate episode, the finale takes the risk of flashing forward five months to the moment when their present collides with their future.

The result is a finale that defines the ways in which this show is most successful, giving us those moments and emotional highs (and lows, to an extent) that the show is known for. But what is most strange about the finale is that it was less resolute than I imagined: characters we expected to ride off into the sunset (which the episode even ends with) ended up in their own sort of holding pattern. It’s as if, almost, we’re not saying goodbye after all, but to be honest I was so expecting definitive final moments that I almost feel sad about the fate of some of these characters.

I guess it makes sense, really: in what could be a bittersweet experience balancing the joy of getting a third season and the reality of a fourth being quite skeptical, it makes sense that as the show lays groundwork for a fourth season the balance of things would feel at least somewhat out of whack. It’s natural that we get the “Tomorrow Blues” as we transition from one moment to the next, but at least the tradition brings us another fine episode in a strong season.

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Friday Night Lights – “Underdogs”

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“Underdogs”

January 7th, 2009

If you are a fan of Friday Night Lights, “Underdogs” is going to be mightly familiar: as the Dillon Panthers head off to the State High School Football championships, there’s a quarterback having trouble keeping his focus on the field, there’s a road trip to the big game, and there’s a scene where Tami and Eric Taylor find their way to a balcony overlooking the city and remind us how starkly real their relationship really is.

As the episode title suggests, there are things that are different this time around, but “Underdogs” remains partially caught up in its own nostalgic tendencies towards the first season and its unquestionable quality. It’s not that this is entirely unjustified: as our characters begin to move onto the rest of their lives, they are nostalgic for the safety net that the Dillon Panthers have in many way provided just as the show is nostalgic for the days when it was nearly critic proof. But there comes a point where that nostalgia needs to break away, and when the cloud of the Dillon Panthers will peel away leaving behind a collection of confused eighteen year olds and a show that is facing a tough challenge to stay alive.

The message of the penultimate episode of perhaps the entire series comes from Tami Taylor, who tells her husband that, win or lose, the sun is going to shine the morning after. Before the big game is even done, “Underdogs” is able to emerge from the clouds primarily because of that hope of sorts: while the episode may lean heavily on existing patterns the series has dealt with before, it eventually uses that nostalgia in a way that feels organic for most of the show’s storylines.

So while it doesn’t quite excuse the show’s near season-long reliance on recycled storylines, “Underdogs” is a more effective episode because of it.

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