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SCMS Dispatches: Of Crowds and Socializing

Everyone who attended the 2013 Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference can remember this scene: everyday, for the fifteen minutes between subsequent panels, an impossibly large crowd would form in the small elevator vestibule in the lobby of The Drake Hotel, effectively blocking all circulation. It wasn’t just people trying to go up to their room or to one of the suites-cum-conference rooms, but also those trying to get to various rooms around the lobby or to head out of the hotel — everyone brought together in a small area for a short amount of time before setting off on their own individual paths. At times it felt like this scene could represent the conference as a whole: people brought together to one place for a short amount of time before they all head off in different directions. While this sometimes meant that SCMS felt too big and too crowded, it also gave off the sense that people were coming together who otherwise wouldn’t have. For instance, this was the case of the two or three papers that absolutely blew my mind by being well researched, methodologically sound, and seamlessly presented. That their topics — porn, philosophy, and art — had little to do with my research interests meant I wouldn’t have come across them otherwise, and made their discovery all the more impressive. On the downside, this coming together of people from various fields sometimes felt like a lot of panels were a struggle to define where one medium of study ended and the next began. However, these instances were largely the exception and the conference was at its best when if didn’t feel like a cacophony of voices speaking past each other. My own paper went by without a hitch, and passed the conference test (i.e. having more people in the audience than in the panel), but I quickly realized that the paper was just an excuse for attending and partaking in the rest of the events. In fact, what I found most exciting were the many official and unofficial social events going on every evening and night. Some seemed like exclusive get-togethers, while others were impromptu plans that took you places you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. One of these impromptu plans introduced me to The Chicago Diner, one of Chicago’s finest vegetarian restaurants, and one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, a DAGWOOD CLASSIC with corned “beef”, “turkey” and bacün style seitan. These social events presented chances to unwind, recharge, and sometimes, meet new people; however, the latter wasn’t always easy. Even for those of us versed in the socializing crutch known as Twitter, I have to admit that getting to talk with everyone in person was sometimes a struggle. On the one hand, the conference is so big you don’t get to see everyone unless you make the effort to set up a date. On the other hand, people returning to the conference are here to catch up with friends, so making time for new people is not always possible. If I had one criticism of the conference, it’s how its size makes it frightening to tackle at times — but paradoxically it is also what makes it more exciting to discover. Overall, my first SCMS conference was somewhat overwhelming, increasingly tiring, but ultimately very rewarding. I suspect the better aspects get intensified with every edition, as you get to know more people, and more people get to know your work. In that sense, I can see why people want to keep coming back, to be packed with all their colleagues into a small space for a brief moment in time, every year.