My MLA Memories

, Don Irvine, Leave a comment

This weekend I attended the Modern Language Association convention for the first time. And what a weekend it was.

I knew going in that the sessions being presented by a host of left-wing professors and graduate students would be one-sided affairs given their political leanings, but even I was shocked by some of the things that I heard during the three days that I attended.

The convention was held in Boston, a very liberal city in a very liberal state, following a pattern of similar city/state venues for the convention, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and next year Chicago.

There were 795 sessions spread out over four days—I attended for three—for the approximately 7,000 left-wing academics to trade their ideas and philosophies. The sessions were spread out between the Sheraton Boston hotel and the adjoining Hynes Convention Center, each lasting 75 minutes, starting at 8:30 in the morning and not concluding until 7 p.m. or later. It makes for a very long day and the effects can be seen at the end of the day with smaller attendance and a lot of dozing off in the meeting rooms.

For the sixteen sessions that I attended, all or in part, the attendance ranged from sparse to sitting room only, which is befitting for a group where many of them cut their political teeth on sit-ins.

I learned that, just like a college course catalog (something that I haven’t really looked at in more than thirty years), the session descriptions didn’t always match my expectations, and were a waste of time, though this can possibly be chalked up to my full lack of understanding in how the left-wing brain sees things.

One such case was “The Dark Side of Digital Humanities” session on Friday, which rather than being a critical look at the discipline, started off with a friendly critique where the first presenter, Wendy Chun from Brown University, said that the dark side is really Digital Humanities bright side, and where Patrick Jagoda from the University of Chicago spent his entire presentation talking about video games and “gaming theory” that prompted one member of the audience to ask how games related to the topic—a question that I know that I was wondering about and that I’m sure others were as well. But when you have a bunch of like-minded individuals in the room, they tend not to get too critical.

I also took a quick walk through the exhibit hall, which was filled mostly with an assortment of large publishing houses like Harper Collins as well as Chicago University Press and a host of other university publishing arms, including the Feminist Press of CUNY, whose titles include The Feminist Porn Book, The G-String Murders, and I Still Believe Anita Hill.

One other thing that I observed was that despite the pro-environmental beliefs of the attendees, there was nary a word spoken about the huge carbon footprint the convention had in getting 7,000 attendees to Boston, most who flew in on those decidedly anti-environment friendly commercial airlines. Nor were there many recycling bins— I counted three in the hotel for the vast amount of plastic bottles that attendees were throwing away.

I guess if you are a left-winger, it’s okay to be a hypocrite.

Overall it was one of the most eye-opening experiences that I can recall having since I graduated college over thirty years ago. I definitely received an education—or is it “edukation?”—that I will not soon forget. I can hardly wait to see what Chicago will bring next year.

Don Irvine is the chairman of both Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.
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