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[personal profile] bustedsneakers
The drive to Wisconsin was everything promised to me: long, flat, mildly interesting in the horrifying way, with the rotten cherry of Detroit in the middle. The deer carcasses and open-heart surgery billboards that distinguish the Midwest from the Northeast are my clearest memories of the drive, that and the Sears Tower rearing unexpectedly from its surrounding plain. Chicago, even in drive-by, is a city that desperately wants to impress you. It is totally successful. The architecture is astounding, even from the freeway at 5:33pm in the middle of Memorial Weekend Friday traffic. Madison also wants to impress you, but it might be trying too hard. Also, there is something a bit funny about it. If it were a person, it would always get very good grades and have totally acceptable friends, nice hair and a wonderful personality. You might wake in the dead of night to find it watching you in quite perfect silence, just... looking ... with glorious blue eyes. In the dark. Madison might be a pod person.

I guess it's true what they say, that television based on the Midwest accent of Chicago set the ideal of normal for the entire country. It has to be, because it was a thirteen hour drive to get to Wisconsin, yet it felt not much different at all. The difference should have been unsettling. At ten hours and a time zone away, something should have changed, but everything was unsettlingly familiar. It was barely even uncanny, the familiar undermined. It felt like someone made a lot of effort and was only partly successful at whatever they were aiming for. Madison is beautiful, well dressed, well planned, and expensive as all get-out. It is worse than New York, and sublime in its blandness. Beautiful capitol building and an underlying sense of being in a false place, one devoid of actual experience. This is possibly because Madison is a government and university town, a lot like Ottawa, which owns a similar sense of un-place-ness. Ottawa, an option on the road to Montreal or Quebec; Madison, an option on the way to Anywhere Else.

WisCon was tough to handle. Midwesterners are the until-now-apocryphal shy Americans. Perfect manners, or perfect Toronto manners anyway; the crew from Chicago blended too well with my Torontoisms, better than they should have for that much driving. There were lots of bruised people in attendance, people who you'd like to describe as broken but are really more like damaged fruit on the tree; still good, but requires careful handling to prevent further harm. Surrounded by the china shop of terrible possibility, it's best to be as pleasant, guarded, and good at small-talk as possible. Someone eventually told me I'm not a nerd. It might have been because I didn't have a lot to say about the topics at hand, namely RaceFail09, MammothFail, and Universal Solutions To Problems, in which I do not believe.* That combined with a reluctance to engage with the visibly wounded kinda scotched the weekend. I had fun anyway, I learned a lot, I'm not terrific with saying anything critical for-real about the conference; it just wasn't my thing. Like visiting a quite solemn religious incident while being only an associate member of the faith, the conference deserves my respect, but also my discomfort.

A large part of the discomfort with the actual content of the conference was the emphasis on preaching to the choir, rather than reaching out to opponents, and a lack of secondary research anywhere. Panel topics were mostly well thought-out - we missed one of the best by merit of Chicago traffic - but it seemed as though it was less a conference about exchanging ideas and topics in science fiction/contemporary academia and more a conference for the sake of the conference, under a nominal banner of research and mutual interest. The con is 33 years old. This calcification is probably fine. Pretending it isn't there maybe not so much.

The best panel I attended was the Terry Pratchett one, which ended up being more of a lecture on Pratchett's influences and the difference between being a feminist and merely liking women enough to get realistic ones - well, differently-stereotypical ones - to star in your books. I really enjoyed the talk by Farah Mendelsohn, who is distinctly able as a speaker. The rest of the conference is a little blurry, though I attended a lot of panels. I may or may not return.

*I believe in good manners, bad manners, and publicly declaring when you're being an asshole. Also, it's great if you want to be a priest of the PC, but I do not, so please no PM's about the use of the word retarded on the internet. Ever.

We counted 16 deer carcasses on the highway back, and drove through Flint, MI to get to the border. I clinically determined that your little girl should only be named Madison if you want her to come off as pleasantly, unsettlingly artificial. American Wasteland Tour 09 - Complete!

Date: 2009-06-13 04:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] captals-avatar.livejournal.com
at a decent sci-fi convention there should be at least one crazy person talking about alien abductions and anal probes. (cf. Daria 3x11, The Lawndale Files)

Date: 2009-06-14 03:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pretentiousgit.livejournal.com
I... absolutely adore that episode. Man, this was a weak article. REWRITE BEFORE PUBLICISING.


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