Thursday, August 2, 2012

Reflections on the EUPOP Conference (Part 1)

This is the first of two posts on the EUPOP conference. In July, I attended the inaugural conference of the European Popular Culture Association (EUPOP) in London and had a brilliant time. I have attended the Popular Culture Association conference in the USA before, but because this conference was more intimate, I had the opportunity to see many panels on topics not related to romance. I tweeted during the conference, but this post is a longer reflection on some of the papers I saw. I was, unfortunately, only able to attend for the first two days, so missed some great-sounding panels, including one on class and popular culture and a fantastic-sounding panel on Monty Python. I am sure others will have attended these panels, though, and may have written about them online or in print.

The first day of the conference began with an introductory keynote from Pamela Gibson-Church, who magnificently organised much of the conference. She briefly posed the question: ‘what is European popular culture?’, a question which clearly frames the conference.

The keynote was followed by the first panels of the day, including one called Romancing Europe in which I gave my own paper. The panel featured four presenters, who each discussed various aspects of popular romance in Europe.I have previously blogged details of this panel here.

The panel kicked off with An Goris whose paper, entitled ‘From Local to Global: Reading Category Romance in Europe’, discussed the translation of romances, arguing that Harlequin’s cross-cultural appeal is based on its simultaneous use of both localising and globalising strategies to achieve success in the culturally, linguistically and nationally diversified European market.

An’s paper was the perfect frame for the second speaker, Artemis Lamprinou, whose paper ‘Breaking the Rules: Translating Emotions in European Popular Romance’ considered the representation of emotion in popular romances translated from English into Greek. Lamprinou offered a detailed discussion of the apparent disjunction in emotional intensity between romances in Greek and in English.

The third paper was my own, entitled ‘A Very English Place: The Intimate Relationship Between Britain and Arabia in the Contemporary Sheikh Romance’. Examining the setting, content and authorship of some twentieth and twenty-first century sheikh romances, I argued that far from being geographically indistinct, sheikh romances remain deeply rooted within British imperial interests.

The final paper was by Tom Ue, who made a late change and gave a very up-to-date paper on the film The Amazing Spiderman which was released this summer. Tom discussed non-linearity and the protagonists’ inability to articulate. This was the only romance-related panel at the conference (a big contrast to PCA in the USA) and was well attended, with an interesting discussion afterwards.

After a well-needed coffee break, I headed to a panel entitled Narrative, Nation, Screen and Costume. The first paper was by Pam Cook whose paper was entitled ‘An American in Paris: Sofia Coppola and the new auteur’. Cook discussed the film director Sofia Coppola as a ‘commodity auteur’, considering the role of her celebrity in her work, focusing on her complex relationship between her feminine image and feminism. Cook concluded that Coppola’s work is ‘commodity auterism’ which breaks down the opposition between commerce and art, opening a way to think about cinematic authorship as gendered response to specific industrial, cultural, economic practices and shifting the idea of autership away from a male heroic model (as represented by figures such as her father, Francis Ford Coppola).

The second paper, by Helen Warner, was entitled ‘Fashioning the Past: Gender, Desire and Costuming in UK “Quality” Drama and focused on costumes in Downton Abbey, tracing their historical accuracy, audience reception and analysing key scenes demonstrating the emphasis on the visual in the series. As perhaps the only British person who hasn’t seen Downton Abbey, this was an interesting paper, well illustrated with clips from the show.

The third and final paper was given by Claire Jenkins, entitled ‘Doctor Swoon: Masculinity and Sexuality in Doctor Who series’. Jenkins analysed the ‘new’ Doctor after the 2005 reboot of the TV show, contrasting his sexiness with the asexuality of previous incarnations of the Doctor. According to Jenkins, the new doctor is a damaged, scarred hero, an emotional new man whose masculinity is presented in crisis, in flux. His status as a war veteran parallels renewed anxieties about the War on Terror, yet he has also become a romantic hero at the same time as his masculinity has come into crisis. This incarnation of the Doctor was first exemplified by the leather jacket-wearing Eccleston, whose attire moved away from the traditional ‘British’ costume of older Doctors, towards a more modern, everyday look: Jenkins posits that Eccleston’s Doctor could be ‘one of us’. 

The newest Doctor, played by Matt Smith, is immediately constructed as a sex symbol, seen through the desire of Amy Pond, his companion. This reputation is enhanced by his tabloid reputation as a bachelor playboy, linking his real-life identity with the identity of the Doctor he portrays. Jenkins asserts that Smith’s Doctor’s quirky fashion sense points towards the  metrosexual male, yet is not emasculating. Smith’s heterosexuality is initially in flux, but the series is quick to point out his natural aptitude for normative masculine pursuits, such as football. 

The final panel I attended was Branding, Advertising and the Media which featured four diverse papers. The first was given by Katerina Marazi, who talked about ‘Branding the Batman Franchise’. Marazi discussed film as franchise brand, and considered the debate of adaptation vs. fidelity to the original. She concluded that Gotham, as a brand, represented a malleable reality, a mix of real and artificial in its construction in Nolan’s Batman films.

The second paper by Antoinette Larkin discussed ‘The Temptation Myth in Haagen Dazs Ice Cream Advertising Campaigns’. Larkin showed us some very sexy print adverts Haagen Dazs ran in the early 1990s which made use of the Eve temptation myth which, she argued, extends a negative image of woman as temptress. The third paper, by Martina Eberle, entitled ‘Creativisation: Look, Ritual, Stage’, talked about design value and the commercial value of creativity. Eberle gave the example of H&M joining forces with Marni as an example of the tangible fiscal value of design. The final paper traced the development of the ‘Czech Tabloid Press’, offering a comparison with the British tabloid press, and was given by Jana Dorèáková.

 My impressions of the first day of the conference were of the sheer range of topics currently being researched in Europe in the field of popular culture. I could not attend every panel, as sessions were running concurrently, but I would have also liked to have heard Claire Monk’s paper ‘Merchant Ivory’s Maurice and Contemporary Online Fandom’; Sarah Gilligan’s ‘”You can be who you want to be, even if it is only for one day’: Sherlock Holmes, cosplay, and gender performativity’; and Armelle Bin-Rolland’s paper ‘Self-adaptation from Bande Dessinée to the Screen: Bilal, Satrapi, and Sfar’.

An account of the second day of the conference will follow in Part 2.

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