Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Things I Learned at the Pop Culture Conference

A couple weeks ago I attended the national conference for the Pop Culture Association & American Culture Association. I had submitted a paper to them on a whim-- the conference was in Seattle so why not? I picked my paper on the Hemline Index (the idea that skirts get shorter when the economy is good and longer when it is bad) which I wrote in grad school and have revised a few times. It was accepted, so I gamely looked forward to attending this conference for an organization I otherwise knew nothing about.

With such a broad range of subjects encompassed by "pop culture" and "American culture" most of the sessions didn't relate much to what I do. Some of the topics were pretty niche, but amazing that people are studying this stuff at an academic level. I had a great time just picking things that sounded interesting and learning some weird stuff.

When I went to my first talk I was also trying to get a sense of the typical presentation style. It turned out to be a tough one to start with because speaker didn't use any notes (impressive!) but then it quickly became clear that his talk was...kinda bad. There was maybe a thesis in there somewhere, but mostly it seemed like he just really wanted to tell us about his favorite sketch comedy show and what all the actors have done since then. He also had this to say about a woman on the show:

"She played a range of female characters, from the attractive to the unattractive"

Wow! The prize for the most sexist comment went to the first presenter in the first session! What are the odds!?!

Another head-scratcher was a scholar who was "transitioning" from a retail career to academia, and the presentation was basically just him gushing about how amazing the flagship Ralph Lauren store is. He was an engaging and confident presenter but...what?!

Now, you didn't hear this from me, but I've heard some whispers in the fashion historian community that Ralph Lauren ALLEGEDLY copies a lot of his designs. So I internally giggled when the presenter told a story about how Ralph fell in love with a staircase in a European mansion and requested to recreate it in his store. I wrote down the following quote:

"Can I make an exact replica?" -- Ralph Lauren

One talk that DID relate to my job was about the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. All four presenters were not from the area, so I was VERY intrigued to know how people outside Seattle talk about the fair.  I learned a lot, but my favorite tidbit had to be the fact that the New York Public Library has, in its collection on the 1964/65 New York fair, three whole boxes of documents on the Seattle fair. There was a big rivalry between the two because it was two U.S. fairs in a short period of time, and Seattle had won the official endorsement from the Bureau of International Expositions. The papers document all the drama and the New York committee's plans to go "into enemy territory" by visiting the Seattle fair and plotting to make theirs better. Since the Seattle fair was first, had the official BIE endorsement, and was a financial success, the Seattle committee was basically like:

One really fun session was given by a woman who studies wedding-themed reality television. She actually wrote her PhD thesis on the subject. I mean, sometimes it feels like binge-watching Say Yes To The Dress makes me dumber, but this woman is like I WATCHED SO MUCH SYTTD I NOW HAVE A PHD.

So she is basically my new hero. 

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