Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Gathering of Nerds

I am in Los Angeles for an annual gathering of those of my professional ilk. A nice excuse to get away from the lousy weather, to go sit in drafty over-air-conditioned conference rooms to hear panels with titles including words and phrases such as performativity, digital ecologies, virtual queer sexualities, haptic versus optic, or, for those struggling to hold on to the Canon, sexed up titles such as: What is new about Rembrandt? Frankly, who gives a shit, when I can go have sushi with West-Coast friends, or look out my window to a tiny view of the HOLLYWOOD sign?

The best are this year's proliferation of panels about second life, web 2.0, and of course my drug of choice, Facebook. It's fabulous to see 30 and 40-something nerdy academics theorizing the life out of absolutely anything and everything, including Facebook or Twitter. Then people like me can feel ironic smugness as we blog about them. Because my tolerance for self-surveillance, addiction to over-share, and exhibitionism have not yet gotten to the level of Twitter. And hearing last night that GOP members of Congress were Twittering during President Obama's "don't panic even though the USA is in free-fall" speech did not encourage me to try it.  

A friend of mine told me that her husband goes to a tech conference in Las Vegas each year that fortuitously coincides with a meeting for those in the porn industry. Thus, computer geeks and purveyors of porn's worlds intersect (in person, we know that they do privately via DVDs and the web) as nerdy white guys pass pierced, tattooed, and silicone-enhanced performers in the halls of cavernous conference centers. The next time this happens, she and I are meeting there to witness this marvelous event, and to visit the Liberace Museum, the Holy Grail of historic homes, if you ask me.  

I don't know about Mid-western college towns but I can tell you that New York City was suddenly drained of its nerds, it was like a giant Bermuda's Triangle that opened up in the heart of town. I think the neurosis quotient of the city will drop to dangerously low levels! Shrinks will sit listlessly with nothing to do, alternative cinemas will see a drop in ticket sales, and students everywhere will celebrate canceled classes, as mine did. 

I recall one such meeting in San Antonio many years ago. It was my first such conference and I was eager to attend as many panels as possible, running to and fro to catch certain talks in simultaneous panels (known as panel surfing, no, actually, I just made that up, it's probably the jet lagged induced delirium), exhilarated at the thought! A funereal hush spread all over the cheerful Texan city, as black-clad masses descended on it, like a plague of near-sighted locusts. The best was visiting a gay bar, where white guys in full cowboy regalia danced with handsome African American men, and fabulous butch femme couples played pool. They were very welcoming of our nerd posse as we rolled up in our black suits, fancy footwear, and aggressively over-designed eyeglass frames. (at this moment, mine are red and geometric) 

Besides the panels there are also job interviews, awkwardly held most of the time in hotel rooms. A colleague once told me that these marathon interviewing sessions made her feel like a hooker: waiting in an anonymous hotel room for strangers to come in for 45 minutes to an hour and then on to the next, all day. Now I have thankfully never experienced this on the receiving end, but will be in the position of interviewing people in a hotel room for the first time this year. The other event that takes place is the product placement, besides the human kind, there is our version of porn, academic porn, the book fair. The last day is the best, as you see black clad nerds practically ripping each other's eyes out for the deeply discounted newest volume on ghostly hauntings of cyborgs in visual culture of Eastern Europe. It's not as vicious as the Super Bowl, but close. 

More on the nerdolicious adventures later......