So I'm about to leave for a conference in Albuquerque in a few hours. I'll be presenting on a California culture panel at the 30th Annual Popular Culture and American Culture Association Conference. I presented here two years ago and it'll be interesting to do it again. Last time I did a paper on how three hyperlink films-Magnolia, Short Cuts, and Crash-represent the various aspects of Los Angeles, and this year I'll be discussing horror cinema's relationship with LA.
My presentation is titled "No One Can Hear You Scream: Los Angeles in Horror Cinema." For those who won't be attendance, I discussing what we fear about LA, based on horror films. Oddly, my conclusion is that horror films are largely silent about LA. Most such films are set in the suburbs or in the woods or back-country, focusing on people from the burbs getting attacked by "freaks." I began trying to find any random film I could to make a paper out of and then I realized I was looking too hard for obscure films, ignoring the obvious trend. Thus, my paper changed focus from what the few films have to say (though I do mention them) to a argument for silence. Horror films are known for feeding off the fears of contemporary culture (I say this acknowledging how bad many of them are), and apparently horror film viewers aren't scared of LA. This doesn't mean there isn't unease in the City of Angels. It does mean people, I argue, that the horror film watcher is more concerned with horrors elsewhere. And if "elsewhere" is defined as the burbs or anywhere people from the burbs could be, then what we have going on in the genre is a unique form of segregation.
There's plenty of things going on in LA for people to scared of, but such things are secondary as most viewers might consider the situation an "us and them" thing. The chief demographic for a blockbuster film is the 18-year-old, white, middle-class male, and he wants to see a film that represents him--and representation is often based on ethnic, gender, and economic background. Thus the viewer does not see himself (I'm intentionally using a male pronoun here to prove my point that horror film are not gender or ethnic neutral) in an LA horror film because it is a multicultural place. LA films deal with ethnic issues and horror films are known for avoiding such things in their attempt to remain neutral, appealing to everyone. Or course many have learned that attempts to appeal to a broad audience means silencing the minority view.
This is the premise. I then go on to discuss ways to engage horror films with this in mind, pulling mostly from an idea by bell hooks called "the oppositional gaze," which forces the viewer to discard passive viewing and actively engage a film text.
Unlike the last time I presented at this conference, I didn't write a formal paper. I found that I have about 15 minutes to speak and can do so in anyway I choose. I'm gonna approach it just like a very focused class lecture. Last time, I wrote a 15-page paper and still created a speech with notes. I was so nervous and spoke so fast. I laughed later when I showed up at the conference and found that I was the only one on my panel not reading straight from what I had written. I soon learned that most conferences are done in this way. Yet, there are those who just speak and with the stress of applying to a PhD program, preparing another presentation for Common Day of Learning at APU, and general class prep, it would be easier to treat this conference like a class session. I finally feel confident enough to do this. Of course I'll stutter and lose my place in my notes, but that's no different than what normally happens. At least now I can mess up with more confidence.
That said, the conference should be quite entertaining. There are several panels on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and comic books in general to keep the nerd that I am very happy. I'll probably have a few more books in the collection when I return too. Here's for academic fun. Cheers.