SFRA 2010, Saturday, Avatar and Empire

Saturday, June 26, was Yufang’s and my big day at SFRA 2010. We missed the first part of the conference, because we were called to the Cleveland branch of USCIS for Yufang’s green card interview. Luckily, we arrived in time for the last full day of the conference and Craig was nice to arrange the panels so that we were able to participate.

Our day began with the 11:00am paper session: Avatar and Empire. Mack Hassler expertly moderated the panel, which included presentations by me (“James Cameron’s Avatar and the Machine in the Garden: Reading Movie Narratives and Practices of Production”), Yufang (“A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema Concerning White Males, the Military, and the Alien Other: A Reading of Avatar Against Apocalypse Now”), and Jari Kakela (“Robots, Rationalism, and Endless Growth: The Role of Frontier Expansionism in Asimov’s Work”).

In terms of the theme of the conference, Jari’s presentation was right on the money. I enjoyed hearing his reading of Asimov with Turnerian manifest destiny. Before I made the switch to more contemporary science fictions, I cut my teeth with Asimov at Georgia Tech and in my first SFRA paper. Jari demonstrated that Asimov’s robot and Foundation stories still have much to offer us in thinking about the continuing American project of frontier expansion.

Yufang and I each had terrific responses to our essays. Janice Bogstad, Andrew Hageman, Richard Erlich, and this year’s Pilgrim Award winner Eric Rabkin, among others, provided some insightful comments and tough questions. In particular, Eric’s observations on the positive aspects of Avatar are important to keep in mind–even for us who made critical analyses of the film, but Janice was quick to point out the difference between our works, particularly Yufang’s, as analysis and readings versus attacks. We had a fantastic discussion during the panel, which carried over into the hallway afterwards.

I should also say that this was Yufang’s first SFRA, and it was the first time that we presented together at the same conference (though we have presented together before at the AGES Symposium before at Kent State).

After the panel, we went to lunch with Mack and Sue Hassler, Adam Frisch, William Sun, and Jari. Then, it was off to the 2:00pm roundtable on Immigration, Alienation, and Arizona SB 1070.