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Conference Notes: SCMS 2011

2011 March 11
by Shared by Steve Rust

The 2011 meeting of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies is currently underway at the Ritz-Carleton hotel in New Orleans.  The theme of this year’s conference is “Media Citizenship”.  As in recent years, there are a  number of papers and panels focused on environmental and ecological themes.

The first panel I attended on Friday, “Playing the Apocalypse: Re-imagining Science Fiction through Video Games” featured a talk by Kara Anderson (Brooklyn College), titled :”Saving the World One Game at a Time: Environmental Disaster in Video Games”. Anderson focused on a 2006 Nintendo game called Park Patrol. The game’s primary character is a robot named Chibi-Robo who cleans up debris in parks and battles toxic villains using a boom box and spoon and wins the game when he defeats the villain with flowers and a tickle fight.  Not only does the game pre-figure Pixar’s Wall-e, but “offers the possibility of habit-training” in children which promotes environmental consciousness. The games villains are shown to be directly influence by human pollution and other forms of environmental degradation.   Andersen argues that the video game, by focusing on the clean-up in the aftermath of environmental collapse, achieves what films like The Day After Tomorrow cannot – instilling in players a sense of the long term effects of human disruption of environments. Interestingly the game was exclusively marketed in the US by Wal-Mart as part of that companies efforts to minimize perceptions of its own environmental impacts. Other games mentioned as having environmental themes include, Spore, SimCity 2000, Pickmen 1 & 2, Oddworld, Endless Ocean, City Rain, and Rune Factory.  Andersen calls Park Patrol an example of the “robot pastoral”, a term coined by Ursula Heise to describe a specifically Japanese conceptualization of the role of technology in environmentalism.

On Friday afternoon I chose the panel “Rewriting the Language of Cinema: 3D’s Return in the Digital Age.” While none of panelists directly addressed environmental concerns, several speakers focused on the particular relationship between 3D and the human body.  Of particular note was Alison Whitney’s (Texas Tech) presentation, “The History and Legacy of IMAX 3D”.  Whitney provided a very detailed history of the development of Imax 3D and included technical footage of the projection process, which is specifically designed to minimize viewers’ nausea, a common concern in early Imax 3D beginning in 1985. Imax viewers, Whitney explained, are essentially watching two film simultaneously, one with each eye.  The science of perception has led to many technological advancements, leading James Cameron, for example, to invest in duel lens cameras for Avatar in order to reduce physical tension on viewers.   Whitney’s talk was complimented by her outstanding incorporation of visuals. I particularly enjoyed putting on my paper 3D glasses (the old blue/red design) to take in images from 1980s 3D films as she led us through the history of this important technology.

On Saturday morning I chaired a panel titled, “Post-American Film Genres”, which considered the tension in American movie-going that has arisen over the past decade as Hollywood films have become increasing global products while the American mediascape (particularly news media) has been moving in a nationalistic direction since 9/11.  My paper “Ecorealism” argues that the depiction of contemporary socio-ecological concerns withing the affective space of blockbuster melodrama has been the most significant aesthetic development during this period.  Patricia Oman delivered a paper on the ecological aspects of Spielberg’s 2005 remake of War of the Worlds, arguing that the film negates American identity in the face of alien conquest.

Saturday afternoon featured two panels of interest.  “Media Citizenship” featured three papers that explored new ways of looking at environmental concerns. Alison Trope (USC) examined Warner Bros. corporate responsibility website and critiqued the positives and negatives of the studios efforts to recycle and install solar arrays in their sound studios.  Trope interviewed an executive at Warner who was very “cagey” and concerned that Trope would be examining this issue.  Makes you wonder how what’s really motivating the studio.  Nicole Seymour (Louiville) analyzed the 2009 indie film Wendy and Lucy, arguing that David Ingram’s definition of environmentalist cinema needs updating to include films that are not overtly environmentalist. Instead, argued Seymour environmentalist films must call attention to the ways in which the camera is implicated in domination of the environment.   Claudia Springer (Framingham) argued that Avatar is a particularly troubling film for calling attention to environmental concerns while eliding its own environmental footprint.

The second Saturday panel was a bit troubling.  The panel sounded very promising because it was titled, “When Good Pets Go Bad: Eco-horror’s third wave”.  Of course, I hadn’t realized there was a first wave of eco-horror and was very excited to attend. However, only one of the panelists discussed pets and none of the panelists addressed the panel’s subtitle.  When a questioner asked the chair during Q&A to explain the third wave, the chair admitted that she had chosen a sexy sounding title to draw people in and said, “I guess you didn’t get your money’s worth did you.”  No we did not, but I guess it says a lot about the relevancy of our work that even media scholars are prone to greenwashing. This panel was particularly upsetting as I’d skipped a panel on “Natural Histories” featuring Akira Lippit in order to attend “eco horror”.

Saturday afternoon I did not make it to a very promising panel, “Urban Informatics, Geographic Data, and the Media of Mapping” because I felt compelled to attend “Navigating the Job Market.” Signs of the times.

Sunday morning I found my way to “Geek Media and its Tropes” because I wanted to ask why so few geek protagonists in recent films identify as environmentalist. The answer is that geek heroes typically desire to control women and their environments rather than defend them. Sensitivity and affect in the geek are seen as weakness, whereas “studs” use their power over women and space to enact dominance, which the geek seeks to emulate rather than displace.

The final panel I attended, “New Media Citizenship” was supposed to feature a very exciting paper I “Where Nomads Dare to Roam: Inuit Videography and the Turn to Ecological Sustainability, from Nunavut to the Internet and Beyond” by Nadia Bozak (U Toronto). Unfortunately Bozak was unable to attend but I hope to contact her and see if she is willing to share her paper on our site.

Sunday afternoon – Swamp Tour!!!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Elena permalink
    March 14, 2011

    Thanks for the report, Steve. I’m sorry to have missed the conference, but it’s great to hear about all the ecomedia contributions!

  2. Salma permalink*
    March 15, 2011


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