I had hoped for a more detailed take to offer everyone here, looking at the entirety of the weekend with an eye to summarizing and reflecting. But the one thing I’m taking away from it all is that I’m *tired* — as I told a friend on the phone tonight, it’s only been today I’ve started to feel more in balance, and even then it’s a conditional one. I’m still feeling like I’ve not had much sleep, and honestly can’t wait for the weekend to arrive.
Now in part this was because of the birthday party I attended last night — and another one to come on Friday too! — so arguably I haven’t had a full and comfortable night’s sleep in some time (nothing again where I was staying in Seattle, of course — but a couch is a couch, not a bed!). But EMP as an experience is always mentally exhausting, in both the best and worst way. Worst because you always feel like you have to engage to follow it all to any reasonable extent, and because so much is offered in so short a space. Best because it IS all there for you, a series of often amazing gifts, whether it lies in the discoveries or the snippets or the analysis.
I felt both of that when doing all my transcribing, a constant disbelief that I was able to keep up as well as I did while also making sure I did my damnedest to do just that. But I also wanted to make sure that I enjoyed myself, which I did and then some; as mentioned a few days back, it is the social aspect of the conference as much as its content which makes it attractive. It helps that I have a preset context to enjoy Seattle, with so many friends there and so many visits under my belt; I won’t pretend to truly know the city but I can sense my way around things reasonably enough and familiarity has proven to be an increasing advantage. Combined with catching up with friends and colleagues who I hadn’t seen in months, and in some cases a full year since the previous conference, was its own reward as well; others who couldn’t make it were sadly missed.
It’s been interesting gauging the debates and thoughts on the conference’s overall success or lack thereof this year as well. I haven’t really touched on it so far but there was quite a bit of discussion of the keynote panel in the days following, and a lot of it was negative. Robert Christgau’s thoughts in his first EMP post on the panel were of disappointment, but many other comments were far more angry and aggrieved. Unpacking it all would take a while — and there were a few things said during the panel itself that had me scratching my head a bit as I was blogging it — but quite honestly much of the panel discussion was incredibly familiar to me in both academic and SoCal contexts. I don’t want to ascribe much of the reaction to the panel as being simply one of annoyed surprise and yet I’d also say that I’d be willing to guess those of us who work in those environments (or, like myself, both at once) probably felt a bit surprised by that surprise. As ever, context is all, and the contexts of the attendees all differ more than you might guess.
As for the overall conference itself, good friend and my Seattle host Mackro had this to say about it, and it strikes me as a fair take given the conference’s somewhat politicized theme this year. To quote a key part:
The ironic dearth: less engagement, less discource, less conflict. I think people were more AFRAID to say anything during the q&a’s this year than before. Then again, it’s safe to say most of the conference attendees this year were pretty much on the same side of the political spectrum, so there was less to argue against.
BUT I noticed this during one of the more benign panels. Some guy in a Social Distortion T-shirt said at the end of a Clash presentation “Who cares about The Clash?” That’s when about two dozen people raised their hands to ask the *presenters* questions. That Social D guy successfully did what was needed. He actually POKED people. Before that, no one wanted to ask questions. People were more afraid to “poke” this year than before. Why?
This is an interesting take that I haven’t seen voiced much elsewhere, if at all, though I can’t pretend to have read every one out there. Mackro is slyly calling a bluff here in understated fashion — are we all, after all, only speaking to ourselves in the end (something I’ve often always wondered about while moving between venue to venue and room to room while the ‘regular’ EMP visitors go through the exhibits and participate with the play-it-yourself attractions — it’s a subtle psychological separation that I’ve always found interesting for what has recently become a free event, though I understand the reasons for the distinctions made) — but also is I think underrating the potentials for conflict and disagreement within that audience. In the piece I linked above, Christgau details a few of those conflicts — academics/journalists and who presents more effectively, for instance, or the argument about, at one panel he attended, “whether the graduate-school postmodernese in which the dreadful previous paper was written constituted a dialect of English whose effect and/or intent was exclusion.” (I had been at said panel earlier and had heard something went down after I left; in retrospect part of me wanted to see it but part of me also knew that if I got onto that particular hobby horse I’d never get off it!) Bald-men-and-comb stuff, some might argue, but in keeping with my own hopefully improving perceptions of political nuance it was refreshing to sense that the monoliths are so rarely that — a lot of people brought a lot of different things to the table, no matter how much or little they were directly stated.
But to step back to Mackro’s point — elsewhere in his post he notes the question of fatigue, physical and mental, and I don’t think it’s any great revelation to note that the Pop Conference guiding spirit, Eric Weisbard, openly wrestled with the question of how many papers to include and what the length of the conference should be in the future at a couple of points throughout the weekend. As is always the case during the conference I try not to monopolize his time — it’s a bit like the folks who organize the Terrastocks, they do all the work, rush around and everyone’s always asking them at least a few questions every other minute — but you could tell he was feeling it a bit like most of us were.
Of course, it could simply mean that I’m getting old and less energetic. But that can’t be true, with me planning on living forever and all. I’m a realistic person, after all.
Anyway, to conclude on a positive note — it was, as always, well worth it, and everything from meeting everyone before the opening reception to the concluding post-conference meal at Tamarind Tree, followed by the launch party for the new issue of Yeti, made it all the more worth it. Mine was just one experience of many, a slightly cockeyed lens to read it all through perhaps — but if any of this sounds like it would have been at all interesting, come out for next year’s conference. You’ll find yourself rewarded.