I have been attending and presenting research at the Popular Culture Association conference since 1985, a total of eighteen times. This afternoon, I will make it nineteen. It is far and away my very favorite conference, the one that has done the most over the years to support and encourage me as a scholar. Later I will post my pet peeves, but I will start with a love letter to this giant, diverse, crazy-in-a-good-way organization.
1. It's two! Two! Two conferences in one! The full name of the conference is the Popular Culture Association American Culture Association Conference. The two organizations were formed separately a few years apart, and publish two distinct journals, but have sponsored a joint conference since 1979. Recently, their governing boards merged. Briefly, PCA represents folks with an interest in popular culture anywhere in the world, while the ACA has an Americanist focus and may include elite as well as mainstream cultural products and activities.
2. Variety. No matter what aspect of culture you study, you will find kindred spirits here. Topics of interest are sorted by area, each chaired by one or two scholars who issue the calls for papers and organize the submissions into conference sessions. Don't see an area that quite fits? If you can find enough people for a session, you can start an area. I mostly attend sessions in my "home" area -- Fashion, Style, Consumption and Design -- but also drop in to see what's going on in other areas of interest, whether professional (aging and Culture) or personal (Beer Culture). Imagine a four-day-long 50-ring circus.
3. Inclusion. Are you an undergraduate or graduate student? A professor or a middle school teacher? A museum curator or a private collector? A passionate hobbyist or fan? All are welcome to share their knowledge and insights. (Although undergraduates must be sponsored by a teacher, something I will discuss more in my quibbles post.) I have heard amazing presentations and terrible ones from folks from all walks of life and levels of expertise. The PCA/ACA does not decide in advance that some credentials or affiliations are worth more than others. To paraphrase the explanation I heard directly from PCA founder Ray Browne, if some professor wants to come here and stink up the place with a half-assed paper, that's on him, not us.
4. Movie night! The Science Fiction and Fantasy area hosts a fundraiser on Friday night that is open to everyone. It's a free movie and a raffle or other kind of contest, with great prizes. I may be biased,because my son won the grand prize several years ago, but it is one of my favorite events, and pure PCA/ACA.
5. Location, location, location! As a gigantic (thousands of attendees) conference, PCA/ACA tends to take place in great, pop culture-rich cities, and take advantage of their unique opportunities. Think vampire culture events and jazz in New Orleans, for example. This makes this conference the perfect trip to bring along the family or significant other. They can attend as a guest for a very reasonable registration fee, or enjoy the location on their own.
My Gender Mystique blog focuses on my work on clothing, sex, and gender. That's not all I do, so this blog is about everything else.