This post originally appeared on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog on April 9, 2008.
The soap opera area at the national joint conference for the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association in San Francisco this year was my main reason for attending. Since I did my thesis work on soaps and am currently co-editing an anthology on the current state of the U.S. soap opera (see more on my soaps projects here), I find it rewarding to go to a conference where I can talk with others who are working on soaps in particular.
This year was particularly rewarding, because part of the session was in tribute to an academic who I never had the opportunity to meet personally but who nevertheless had a significant impact on my project and the work of many soap opera scholars. That person was Suzanne Frentz, a longtime soap opera scholar who was the original chair of the soap opera area at the PCA/ACA.
Suzanne was the editor of the 1992 collection on soaps Staying Tuned and a former writer for The Young and the Restless, in addition to her work organizing the presentation of soap opera research each year at the PCA/ACA conference. She was also the best friend of one of my thesis advisors, current Bold and the Beautiful writer and longtime head writer over at Young and the Restless, Kay Alden.
The culminating session of the soap opera area came in the form of a look back at the contributions Suzanne had made to researching soap operas through the years, as well as an account of the lives she touched through the community that had been developed through the PCA/ACA conferences. I never had the chance to meet Suzanne, but her impact on this area of research is undeniable, in that the traces of her work have impact on scholars who have never even read Staying Tuned or who have never even come to the PCA/ACA conference, because of the number of projects which have passed through the soaps area, for instance.
As an academic studying a particular genre, it's always great to find others who are interested in those same specific interests. As I mentioned in a previous post, for all the negatives of a conference being as massive as the PCA/ACA can be, it's also rewarding to be able to have your own mini-conference within a bigger conference like this one. Even if that means people eventually rarely get around to discussions outside their own area, it provides the perfect place for what would otherwise be considered a niche interest to generate some prominent discussion.
After the soap panels were over, Amanda and I had the opportunity to go up to The View at the top of the Marriott and spend some time with those soaps folks. My friend Dave Feldman, author of The Imponderables series and soap opera area regular; Jefferson Community & Technical College Provost Diane Calhoun-French (it's always good to find a fellow Kentuckian researching soaps); soaps scholar and journalist Carol Williams; Mary Cassata and Barbara Irwin of Project Daytime; NYU's MJ Robinson; and Suzanne's daughter and son-in-law and YouTube personalities Sarah Norton and Paul Vato were all there, and it was a great chance to feel some community forming around shows that are built on the concept of community in the first place.