Back to the Future Day, 2015

In the decades of my life which I’ve spent (as millions have) in eager anticipation of this date, I never expected when it finally arrived to be in the middle of my third year of PhD study, preparing for my comprehensive exams, starting to turn the gears on a dissertation about the undercurrent between DC and Parisian punk, a series of personal pursuits and projects around Knoxville (where I never suspected I’d be living)… and working on co-editing a book about the Geography of Back to the Future. When my friends David, Teresa, and I started the early iteration of this project in 2012, we had grand ambitions to have it out by today, but life, the academic publishing vortex, school, and more life got in the way. However, I am pleased to report the project is still alive, and in the wake of a fantastic panel at AAG in Chicago earlier this year, we have a great, creative crew of writers assembled with contributions. I look forward to having more news to report in the spring. For now, I need to get back to reviewing, writing, planning, and a bunch of other things that aren’t quite as fun as discussing Hoverboards, flying cars, and Marty McFly (though I have written a chapter draft about his home town).

Happy Back to the Future Day, everyone. As much as the production team may have gotten wrong about 2015 (we still need roads), the Bobs probably never anticipated just how excited they would make us all to be here.

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“Save the Clocktower” Panel at AAG

As expected, I returned from Chicago with a seemingly insurmountable pile of work backlogged from the week away. I imagine this is commonplace, as the AAG meeting typically falls late in the spring semester. I cannot move any deadlines or life events that have delayed it, but better late than never, here are some photos and highlights from the first-ever Back to the Future panel! Before I delve into it, I wanted to add that my paper session on Tuesday morning and the first annual GeoSlam (also on Tuesday) were both successful and a lot of fun. Thanks to RJ Rowley and Pamela Sertzen, respectively, for organizing those. Pam and I were already chatting about next year’s AAG GeoSlam, possibly in a SF jazz club? Lawrence Ferlinghetti will probably be too old to join us, but we can always dream.

Anyway, back to Back to the Future

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RJ and I bumped into each other in the hallway outside of Skyway 282, the hatbox room we had been assigned for the session. Considering this was going to be at 4pm on Saturday (when a majority of AAG’s participants have usually left the event), we looked forward to the panel with cautious optimism. Even in a worst-case scenario, we would have a fun group discussion by which to end our AAG meeting. Maybe a small handful of curious conference-goers would find their way to it. We did not get preeminent about the proceedings; we were not expecting a big crowd.

We were so wrong. Even before any of the other chapter authors filtered in, we had a pair of strangers come in and sit down. As 4pm approached, the small room slowly filled up. My colleague Matt Cook, always helpful, went next door and even grabbed a few more chairs to fit into the entryway for the additional people who came in (unless he was violating a fire code, in which case I’m kidding about everything I’ve said in this sentence).

Co-Editor RJ Rowley introduces his chapter to a tightly packed crowd at the "Geographies of Back to the Future" Panel. Notice the packed entryway, including onlookers sitting on the floor. Julian Barr and Lydia Hou,  co-authors of another chapter, sit next to RJ and look on.

Co-Editor RJ Rowley introduces his chapter to a tightly packed crowd at the “Geographies of Back to the Future” Panel. Notice the packed entryway, including onlookers sitting on the floor. Julian Barr and Lydia Hou, co-authors of another chapter, sit next to RJ and look on.

It wasn’t enough. By 4:30pm, we had one longtime follower of the project sitting on the floor, poetry-slam-style in front of us, the room already oriented for a circle discussion. Every seat in there was full, and everybody was at complete attention to each of our presenters. One by one, Greg Pagett, Dr. Chris Dando, Stacie Townsend, Ashley Allen, Dr. RJ Rowley, Dr. Rich Waugh, Julian Barr, Lydia Hou, and myself brought a different idea to the table which the franchise had inspired.

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Drs. Robert Winstanley-Chesters and Torsten Wissman look on as I, Greg Pagett, and Dr. Christina Dando share a laugh with some attendees. (Matthew Cook photo)

After we all went around and introduced our chapters, Dr. Dando presented a brilliant and concise discussion of the panel which will undoubtedly inform our book proposal moving forward. We then opened the floor up to discussion from attendees. A pair of geographers actually thanked us for helping them understand just what Back to the Future has to contribute to the geographic literature and theory. When they said that, it felt incredibly grateful that our discussion struck so many chords across several subdisciplines.

My personal favorite anecdote came from Dr. Robert Winstanley-Chesters of Leeds University, who shared his experience as an immigrant to suburban New Jersey in 1984. His father, a visiting professor at a major NJ institution, was able to enroll him in an expensive private school that year. One of his lasting memories of that school were the three DeLoreans he saw in the parking lot every day. For most BTTF fans, the films represent this fantasy of mid-1980s America; in a strange way,  they represented Robert’s reality. I hadn’t laughed that hard since… RJ and Greg engaged in an argument over who was the bigger film nerd about one hour prior to that. Needless to say, we had more fun than anyone would predict at an AAG panel.

Another highlight came after we adjourned; two attendees introduced themselves and said they had driven up that day from Champaign (over an hour) just for the panel. They said it was worth it, and I was incredibly humbled. Checking the twitter account and seeing positive comments like this certainly didn’t hurt, either:

Thanks again to all the contributors, participants, and even curious bystanders who craned their necks to hear the proceedings from the hallway, who reminded us all that “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to keep tabs on “Save the Clocktower!” at our Facebook page and on Twitter. More updates soon!

AAG 2015 in Chicago!

I’m extremely excited to announce here that I’ll be attending and presenting at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Chicago this week. After a brief visit to see some friends and some colleagues in Wisconsin (Madison and Milwaukee are so much fun), we’ll be heading down to the Windy City this afternoon.

The Blackhawks hadn't just scored. This picture was taken during warm-ups when they announced that the AAG was coming to town.

The Blackhawks hadn’t just scored. This picture was taken during warm-ups when they announced that the AAG was coming to town.

Here are the conference activities in which I’ll be participating, in sequential order:

1. PAPER SESSION

I’ll be presenting my paper “The Flâneur and Flânerie in Geographic Thought” in a special ‘Space and Place’ session with my friend RJ Rowley at the helm. Pasting my abstract below, from the AAG website. 

Tuesday, April 21st, 8am
Burnham, Hyatt, West Tower, Silver Level

“…the ambivalence of the stranger thus represented the ambivalence of the modern world…” (Jacques Derrida, quoted by David B. Clarke in The Cinematic City).
The flâneur, a common literary and theoretical term for the apocryphal urban wanderer, has long been a commonly held analogue in sociological thought. Normally (un)settled in Paris and influenced heavily by the work of Charles Baudelaire as well as post-modernist thinkers like Jacques Derrida as ‘the hero of modernism,’ the flâneur has appeared relatively infrequently in the geographic literature. This seems to be contradictory, as the character is well suited to frame the dialogue over the interaction between individuals and the urban landscape.  In light of the emphasis on interaction and detachment with the city in the concourse of twentieth century thought, this paper examines and rethinks the flâneur and flânerie through contrasting lenses of humanism, modernism, and feminism/postmodernism. While the flâneur may be essentially a “literary gloss” (according to Rob Shields, 1994), the idea of the character and conversations around him illustrate various (sometimes contradictory) perspectives on the changing role and position of the Western urban citizen over the past two centuries.

2. GEOSLAM

I will also be participating in the first-ever GEOSLAM (which is exactly what you think it is). I’ll be doing a reading talking about my obsession with punk rock and Gainesville, Florida. This will be
Tuesday, April 21st from 12:40 PM
2:20 PM at
Skyway 260, Hyatt, East Tower, Blue Level.

A word from the organizers: “Drawing on Ruth Behar’s The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology that Breaks Your Heart, this year’s theme is “vulnerable geographies.” Through these pieces, we want to explore the ways in which we are emotionally drawn to the places and people of our research.”

No more spoilers on this one. And last, but not least…

3. SAVE THE CLOCKTOWER

It’s AAG 2015, meaning it’s time for some discussion on everyone favorite time-travel film franchise, “Back to the Future!” I’m very excited to finally have all of the contributors to Save the Clocktower (RJ Rowley, Chris Dando, Richard Waugh, Greg Pagett, Lydia Hou, Julian Barr, Ashley Allen, Stacie Townsend, and more) in one room to introduce their chapters and discuss the overall contributions that Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and their fictional town of Hill Valley still have to contribute to geography. This will help formulate an introduction to the book in honor of the film’s 30th anniversary as well as Doc, Marty, and Jennifers’ impending arrival this October. Our panel will be closing out the conference on…

Saturday, 4/25/2015, from 4:00 PM – 5:40 PM in
Skyway 282, Hyatt, East Tower, Blue Level

If you aren’t following the Clocktower 2015 project on Facebook or Twitter, here are your links. If you’re in town on Saturday, don’t miss it.
Looking forward to a great week! See you shortly, Chicago.