The sixth Popular Culture Conference at the College of St. Joseph hosted serious academic discussions on Saturday on everything from the way the Civil War is portrayed in popular movies to the use of popular abbreviations in young adult literature to the “Hope for the Future” embodied by the cartoon, “Steven Universe.”
About a dozen people attended the conference to take part in panels on topics like “The Future of Gaming,” hosted by Christopher Towle, director and head coach of the eSports program at College of St. Joseph (CSJ) and Tamara Robitille, a resource mentor at the school.
Robitille, who was presenting the “Steven Universe” panel, said it was about how “cartoons are made and the stories those tell are made to fit the times in which they’re told.”
“In looking at ‘Steven Universe,’ it’s really interesting to see, that we’re seeing this progressive movement of just acceptance for everyone and truly caring about everyone for who they truly are,” she said.
English teacher James Curtis organized the 2019 conference. The first conference was organized by David Balfour, vice president for academic affairs, and Jonas Prida, one of Curtis’ predecessors.
This year’s theme was “Studying the Past, Defining the Future” which Curtis said was important in defining his approach.
“I think the conversations around popular culture and where we are as a society is not only a conversation that should exist in academia but it’s a conversation that should exist everywhere. I think oftentimes we are passive recipients of popular culture, especially cultural artifacts like TV shows, films, any kind of art really, and we don’t often talk about why the specific components are represented that way,” he said.
The most recent popular culture conference was intended to encourage students and other attendees to deconstruct the popular culture they consume and learn what it says about the experience of being an American in 2019, Curtis said.
Balfour said when he and Prida had the first conference seven years ago, the goal was more modest and included topics that interested the two academics. But he said there was also a lot to be learned about the history of a society bases on what interested its people at different times.
For instance, he said the presentation from Towle and Robitille was of interest as current events to the people at the conference but 100 years from now, the record of their presentation might be a valuable artifact.
Andrea Tumielewicz, of Rutland, a senior and English major at CSJ, is a member of the international English honor society, Sigma Tau Delta, which was hosting the conference.
She said the goal of the conference was to get people together to share ideas.
“Just getting people together and talking intellectually,” she said.
Speaking about halfway through the conference, Tumielewicz said there had been “amazing presentations so far.”
“I’m very enthusiastic of how it turned out,” she said.
While she acknowledged there wasn’t a large attendance, she said the number of audience members at some of the earlier conferences had been uneven. With an intimate audience, there was more engagement between the speakers and the audience, Tumielewicz added, “which is a thumbs up in my book.”
Curtis pointed out the event was unusual because most academic conferences are not open to students or the public.
“It’s important for everyone to have these kinds of conversations, thinking critically about things like popular culture,” he said.
Balfour said the conference has also been something that in past years has drawn a good representation from the Rutland area.
“This is accessible. I’m a medievalist and we could put on a medieval studies conference. I think it would be important and I think we would get medievalist who are interested but that’s not going to be accessible to a lot of people in the general public. If you’re talking about games or fantasy novels, that’s something I think a lot of people can relate to and it is significant. It’s an important part of who we are,” he said.