My wife talked me in to attending the annual NEPCA conference at St. Michael’s College in picturesque Burlington, Vermont last weekend. Primarily, I was the designated driver for the weekend, as the location was about 4 1/2 hours from home and she doesn’t like to drive such distances unaided. The College is quite lovely. To the right is a photo of the campus with Lake Champlain in the background.
I had no idea what popular culture was before last Friday or that it was a subject of scholarly interest, but I sat in on a number of panel discussions while I was there and enjoyed the presentations. I ever learned a few things. Here is a link to the catalog for the event, listing all of the 45 presentations offered during the conference.
I learned about how websites like FaceBook and Twitter handle the death of a member. Another presenter focused on the use of sound cannons for crowd control, such as at the Occupy Wall Street encampment last year. Then I sat in on my wife’s presentation about the Ron Howard movie “Rush”. The promoters created two trailers for the movie – one focusing on romance and sex for American viewers and a completely different version highlighting the racing for European audiences. It’s hard to believe both were talking about the same film!
I also attended a fascinating session dealing with the travels of Frederick Douglas throughout Ireland and England. Fearing that he might be captured and returned in chains to his master in Baltimore, his supporters spirited him out of the country until it was safe for him to return several years later. Oddly, Douglas was so fixated on the abolishment of slavery, he took no notice of the dire social conditions in Ireland at the time – conditions that would soon motivate millions of Irish to migrate to America.
On Saturday afternoon , I chanced upon a session featuring travel and tourism and was astonished to learn that an entire industry has grown up catering to the fans of “The Shawshank Redemption”. Filmed in Marion Ohio at the former Ohio State Reformatory, people come from all over the globe to see the iconic prison, the famous oak tree and the room where the character Brooks hung himself. What is fascinating is that each year, more people rent “Shawshank” than “Rocky”.
Lastly, I learned about a community in western New York called the Lily Dale Assembly, where spiritualism first began in the United States. If you believe in reincarnation, the transcendental philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson or The Singularity, Lily Dale is a “must see” destination. Each year, more than 22,000 visitors find their way to Lily Dale, though I had never heard of it before.
Looking back on the weekend, I was more than a little skeptical of what I would find at a Popular Culture conference. Probably a bunch of pinheads nattering on about ephemera that would only be of interest to….well, you know…..pinheads! But I found, to my surprise, that I really enjoyed the experience and that the discussions were spirited and thought provoking. The conference next year will be at Providence College, which is just 30 minutes from my home. I am already looking forward to attending.