Friday, June 13, 2008

Slayage 3 is complete

Well, Slayage 3 has come and gone. The jangled nerves are finally settling down a bit. The office may never be clean again (yes, I know it was never very clean to begin with, but when you put all of the remainders of things in it, it becomes nigh impassable). The sleep debt has begun to be repaid. There is still a bit of paperwork that lingers – books to be closed and bills to be paid and the like – but, I must say, I’m as proud of the people who helped pull this together as I have been of anyone in my life. Since I have had many reasons to be proud of folks in my life (quite fortunate in that), it’s saying quite a bit to put the buttons-bursting pride I have in the people who put this together at the very top.

Before I go on much further, let me say that this blog is more about the behind the scenes part of the conference and less about the conference itself. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to go to any of the papers, but I have heard magnificent things about them and the reviews have been outstanding. Several folks will be receiving emails from me in the next days asking for copies of the papers so that I may indulge my academic interests in the conference at my leisure. The one presentation that I got to hear in full was Nikki Stafford’s keynote at the banquet. Fortunately, she has already posted the text of it on her blog at She also has some very nice things to say about the conference and Arkadelphia and Henderson. I must say, we led with our strength. All of the keynoters were housed at the Captain Henderson House Bed and Breakfast. Like I told Matthew Pateman as he was departing, when you lead with that, either everything else pales in comparison, or, if you’re lucky, it sets everything in just the right context. Given that Clark County is dry, thus limiting the ability to imbibe a pint of Guinness at a local pub (we really must work on that), and given that it is the summer doldrums (first summer term had just started, but HSU and Arkadelphia are dead during the summer), things went pretty well. Nikki seemed to capture the feel of the place in only a couple of days – indeed, she captures much of the local sentiment – affection mixed with frustration and bemusement – quite well.

There has been quite a lot of interesting press about the conference. Out of the blue, CBS National Radio called me on the Friday morning of the conference and I got to do a 15 minute on-air interview with them. No sooner had I finished that then KUAR (the local NPR) station called. Within 15 minutes of that, the Arkansas Radio Network called. Several people have called, emailed, and/or written that they heard the interviews. I kinda hope that somewhere they are saved as I haven’t gotten to hear them. All of this, I suspect, was inspired by an AP Wire story that went out and was picked up everywhere. On, the coverage was called “ubiquitous.” That kinda made me smile. There have been some amusing misidentifications, as well. As my faithful reader(s) knows, there is an actor with the name “Kevin Durand.” The most amusing thing of the weekend was the befuddlement about how the Canadian actor could also be a philosophy professor at a small, liberal arts school in southwest Arkansas. The E!online message board was brought to my attention: The neat thing about the coverage is that it has focused on the academic side and the scholarly bona fides of the conference. There were some amazing discussions outside of the sessions and I look forward to perusing some of the papers.

All this is getting ahead of the story, though. That Slayage 3 came to Henderson at all is an amazing thing. I’d like to take all the credit, but that would be so very false. In 2004, I thought, “hmmmm, wouldn’t it be neat if we could do something like that at our place?” But, I really wasn’t sure whether the conference had legs or would survive after the demise of the twin shows that made up its engine – Buffy and Angel. Then, in 2006, when the conference was at Gordon College in Barnesville, Georgia, I thought to myself, “Self, Gordon is smaller than Henderson (in size, though roughly equivalent in student population). We could pull this off.” At the banquet, I talked with Rhonda and David about tossing our name in the hat. They said that seemed reasonable, but there was already a likely site for the 2008 conference (I don’t really know where that was and didn’t ask). About two months after the 2006 conference, I got an email asking if Henderson was still interested and whether we could do it. I jumped at it.

One of the things that I knew we’d need was a shuttle system from the airports and from the Caddo Valley hotels. And, I knew just who to recruit for oversight of that system – Brent Linsley. I’ve known Brent for years and two of his essays will be in the book, Radical Interpretations: Reading the Buffy Text. Within moments of mentioning the possibility to him, he said definitely yes and we were off. I remembered from the Gordon College experience that there would need to be someone who could be the point person for people to send in registrations and the like and that that person shouldn’t be me. Enter Kathryn Zawisza. Knowing how feeble my mind is and how desperately necessary efficient organization was going to be, I recruited another dear friend, Mary Leigh, to serve as my brain. She’s not the biggest Buffy fan in the world, but she’s brilliant at keeping people inspired, on track, and calm. Thanks to her, my brain did not explode.

After the central functions were handled, it was time to round up the best people I know and press them into service. This sometimes involved begging. At times there was pleading. But, Melanie Wilson, LeaAnn Alexander and Ashley Parker made the souvenir area run so smoothly that there was no need to even consider micromanaging them. I did micromanage the shuttles, but only a bit. Jeremey Beasley, James Leigh, Michael Bell, Ryan Dickson, and Stuart Bailey were brilliant. Without exception, they made things run smoothly (with great leadership, again, by Brent). As schedules shifted and morphed and we had to monitor and adjust, Mary kept a steady hand on the wheel while I raced about and did problem-solving with rooms, the A/V, the chairs, the food, and the like. Hayley Miller floated for us, but one of her contributions was simply amazing. She had already worked up the cover art for the book mentioned above, but she graciously allowed us to use it for the program. Speaking of artwork, the poster that David Stoddard worked up was easily the best poster of any of the Slayage Conferences. Easily the best. Tommy Cash and Erica Ash were a pair of late volunteers who did absolutely phenomenal work and were always up for anything we needed them to do.

It’s unclear where Slayage 4 is going to be. At least two universities have made mention that they are interested. Here’s my advice to them (I’ve given it directly, but I offer it here as well). Make damn sure that you have a large, capable, and dedicated team of people. You can do the conference with a team of 10-15 people that you can absolutely depend on. You can also do it with 100 folks who will flake on you. But, it’s better to have that dedicated cadre of people. We had that and because of that, Slayage 3 worked.

I should take a brief moment to mention the only downsides. I got one email (of Friday night – after the AP story had run like wildfire across the newspapers of the world from Germany, England, Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Taiwan). The email said something like this – the is proof positive that academia has too much time and tax payer money on its hands? (Yes, there was a question mark at the end of what was clearly a sarcastic statement – but, the sender of the email was a dimwit to begin with, so, as my grandmother once said, “there’s no medicine that can cure stupid.”) I got a call on Monday afternoon (waking me from my nap, incidentally) from the PR folks at Henderson. They had gotten a call from the newspaper in Chattanooga, Tennessee asking how many tax payer dollars had been used on the conference. As the answer to that question is a big, fat ZERO, it was kinda fun to nip that in the bud. But, geez, people. Get a life. Let me point out that Plato was fond of the theater. Indeed, part of my argument in “Canon Fodder” (yes, there’s only supposed to be two “n”s in “canon”) is an application of one of his arguments in the Phaedrus. Plato wasn’t fond of those who interpreted plays and the like without systematic and analytic thoroughness. However, the popular culture of the day was perfectly good grist for the academic mill. So, much as Plato used the work of Homer and Aristophanes, so we can use the work of Whedon and Plath and Baum to do much the same thing. The questions remain the same – what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live a good human life? What is the nature of good and evil? The insights, however, can be striking. So, take heart those of you who are true scholars of popular culture, there is a good historical foundation for our activities laid out for us.

Enough of that soapbox. The Slayage folks – the folks I’ve met at earlier ones and who are some of the leading scholars in the field (David Lavery, Rhonda Wilcox, Stacey Abbott, Matthew Pateman, Lorna Jowett, Bronwen Calvert, Janet Halfyard – just to name a few) are kind, generous, and witty. Additionally, they are brilliant scholars. It was amazing to have so many truly gifted scholars on our campus. Mayhaps other conferences and scholars will come our way…

It was an amazingly hectic weekend – my nerves were frayed from the beginning and only began to knit themselves together sometime on Sunday. And, it wasn’t until the last of our merry band found their ways through security at the Little Rock airport on Monday, that it hit me – we pulled this thing off. Celebrations began with a latte. They have continued with basking in the glow of its completion. Here is my sincere and eternal thanks to all who made this conference such a rousing success.