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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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Could “C” stand for Community?: Musings on the Role of the TCA

In the final piece of his fantastic series of articles on his Comic-Con 2010 experience, Todd VanDerWerff asks an all-important question: why, precisely, do news organizations cover Comic-Con from the show floor? He writes that “the vast majority of the news that comes out of the Con can be covered as well by Sean O’Neal sitting in Austin and posting links to press releases and other reports as it can be by someone sitting in Hall H.” Now, Todd’s fantastic coverage proves that there is value to having someone on the show floor to report on the experience of Comic-Con – more interesting than the news itself is the kind of people the convention attracts and the environment they create. However, in terms of actually covering the news emerging from the panels, the value is comparatively limited, especially when I consider the headaches it seems to have caused the various people in my Twitter feed who attended the event.

It’s a question which will continue to be asked over the next two weeks, as my Twitter feed shifts from the madness of Comic-Con to the madness of the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour (which Alan Sepinwall captures here), and I want to use this as an opportunity to reflect on some of my observations about the TCA over the past number of months. I want to make clear that these are not envious or spiteful thoughts about my lack of membership with this organization: while I may self-identity as a critic, a title which I feel I have earned insofar as one can earn such a title, I am not in any way, shape or form a journalist, and thus do not fall under the purview of the TCA, which “represents more than 220 journalists writing about television for print and online outlets in the United States and Canada.”

This piece is less about my exclusion from the TCA and more about my inclusion within the critical community it broadly represents: through Twitter and other forms of engagement, I’ve come to consider many established critics to be mentors and, at times, colleagues. On a daily basis, television’s critical community includes critics, bloggers, scholars, reporters, unaffiliated intellectuals, and fans who have something to say, collectively forming a living, breathing entity which I’ve come to value a great deal. If I’m at all disappointed about not being at Press Tour, it’s not because I won’t be touring the set of NBC’s Undercovers; instead, I’m disappointed that I won’t be there to witness my Twitter feed come to life before my eyes, to be part of that environment. As various media folk left Comic-Con, their tweets reflected less the panels they really enjoyed and more the people who they got to meet, putting a face to a name or in some cases a name to a Twitter handle. And it makes me realize that the reason I wanted to be at Comic-Con wasn’t because I felt it would result in better coverage, but because I wanted to be in the trenches with my fellow community members.

There was a sense of camaraderie there which feels, to me, like the kind of connection which an organization like the TCA would be interested in fostering, something they could use to demonstrate the value of criticism in the twenty-first century and something which could spurn further interaction and discussion. However, this is where my image of the TCA’s function conflicts with reality: it is, after all, the Television Critics Association as opposed to the Television Criticism Association, or the Television Community Association. It creates a connection between the industry and the people who cover it, a role which helps critics gain access to the material necessary to serve their readers, but for the most part I sense that the TCA is uninterested in the art of criticism, or in the interaction between critics rather than their interaction with the industry.

And, if you’ll allow me to indulge a curiosity, I want to discuss whether or not that should (or could) ever change.

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