Saturday, March 22, 2008

San Francisco, Part One

I meant to post more often, but there’s this perverse inverse relationship between the “niceness” level of a hotel and the possibility you have to pay for Internet. And since I’ve been attending so many panels, it didn’t make sense until today.

I moved over to the conference hotel on Wednesday. Due to a glitch in my registration (it got sorted out), I missed the panels, so I spent some time exploring my neighborhood, which is SoMA (South of Market). I wanted to soak up some of the atmosphere of this magnificent city, which is very different from where I live – much more cosmopolitan (ohhh, look! Skyscrapers!) and far more “green” – nearly every restaurant proudly announces that they recycle or the menu has suggestions for how diners can reduce their impact on the environment; that sort of thing.

One of the highlights of my mapless walking tour was visiting the California Historical Society which is hosting an exhibit on the role of the Chinese people in California – a subject never covered in my Southern seasoned history classes. Enough to make you shake your head at the sheer inhumanity of mankind. The Chinese were welcome so long as they “kept their place” as cheap, docile labor, but whoo-boy! how that changed when they began making demands for such things as dignity and a living wage.

I had dinner with the two San Franciscans I had met in the customs line in Istanbul – they’re not popular culture folks; just wanted to show off their town. We had dinner at a tapas place (think a dinner made up of appetizers), which is also something I can’t do at home.

On Thursday, I dove into the panels. Since my work centers on Joss Whedon, I was looking through the phone book sized program for panels that focused there – I was surprised to see some scheduling conflicts. Whedon is no longer the “exclusive property” of the science fiction and fantasy area, so I had to make a few heart-breaking decisions, since I have yet to figure out how to be in two places at once. I don’t discount panels that don’t deal with Whedon, however. Science fiction and fantasy in general are genres that are willing to tackle the question “What if?” instead of being so tied down to realism – one of the reasons the storytelling can be so very creative. It’s come a long way from ray guns and silver minidresses.

Actually, one of my highlights was a Doctor Who grouping that discussed the older production values and strength of storytelling versus the shinier new version and what, if anything, got lost in translation. (Personally, I agree with the presenter – there’s an undeniable charm in some of the older, rubber-suited-bad-guy episodes. Amazing things can happen when you have to be creative!) Another focused on the single-minded focus of human couch potatoes on constant entertainment as being a Dalek-like trait.

Outside of that panel, I heard presentations on Battlestar Galactica that addressed genocide and human agency (as opposed to being so outside human experience as to be “monstrous”), President Roslin’s cancer as a disability and different views on that element of her character. I heard discussion on the role of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls as both advancing and deconstructing the myths of the American Dream. Some great stuff on The Sopranos and the view of women - whoa! the Emmy tribute will make you shake your head when you juxtapose the lyrics being sung with the images being shown! And there was an especially nice presentation on the portrayal of sex and gender in sci-fi television.

I presented my paper Friday morning – it went well and I was pleased to be chairing a panel that was so well attended. Rabb and Richardson’s work is always a highlight and, as area chair, Tanya provided a draw for the session as well. Her work centers on fans-as-activists, which is a very interesting topic. Why do fans adopt the cause of their favorite celebrities? How much impact do these actions have?

I stayed for the Harry Potter panel which followed ours. Wilcox’s work on the film version of Azkaban and especially the director’s use of mirror images throughout the film to represent different perspectives and stages of maturation got me to thinking.

Then the “true” conference began. Honestly, much of the best of a conference occurs between sessions – that’s when the honesty starts about what’s been going on, what directions our work is going in, what roadblocks we’re running into and so on. A gaggle of us wound up having lunch at a very civilized tea lounge called Samovar. Far beyond simple orange pekoe, I had a tea that had been aged in bamboo and promised to lift “the dark shroud of oppression” or something like that. It was very strong and smoky, almost earthy-tasting. It was very relaxing to sit and chat and not rush and fret. A quartet of us then went sightseeing down to Fisherman’s Wharf where we meandered around, getting snapshots of the piers and boats and the Golden Gate Bridge. We wound up at Ghirardelli Square, where we bought chocolate for souvenirs and sensuously ate gigantic chocolate-dipped strawberries. We rode the streetcars to get there and back and had a whale of a good time just being in this marvelous city on a dazzling day. A larger group of us had dinner at John’s Grill, a very masculine restaurant that was featured in The Maltese Falcon. (That explains the picture.) They have a replica of the famed bird upstairs – they had one of the originals from the film, but it was stolen last year. It’s bigger than you’d think, so no one snuck it out under a coat.

I’m sorry this is so long, but it’s the first chance I’ve had. Subsequent entries will be shorter and more readable, I’m sure!

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