[A couple weekends back I was in Niagara Falls for the 54th annual Northeast Modern Language Association Convention. Longtime readers will know well how much I love NeMLA, the organization and the convention alike, and this year was no exception. So as usual, here are a handful of reflections on a great NeMLA convention!]
On takeaways from the two great papers (and, yes, mine too) from my session on Niagara Falls in American pop culture.
1) Vaughn Joy on honeymoon films: University College London History PhD candidate Vaughn Joy has become one of our most prominent and prolific public scholars for her Twitter threads & thoughts on all things Hollywood, and she brought that veritable expertise to this panel with a great talk on Niagara honeymoons on the silver screen between 1940 and 1980 (Superman II, natch!). She also historicized those cinematic representations with analysis of changing views and realities of marriage, premarital sex, and gender roles over these mid-20th century decades. Really productive and powerful blend of Film and American Studies, and one that helped us all think further about the place where we were, literally and figuratively, geographically and symbolically.
2) Jamie Carr on short stories: While Vaughn crossed an ocean to join our conversation, Dr. Jamie Carr came just down the road from Niagara University, where she’s Professor and Chair of English. Her scholarly work has focused both on place and identity overall and on writers and Niagara Falls in particular, and for this panel she linked those subjects to a pair of evocative stories from a particular contemporary and local writer, Stephanie Vaughn. Everything about Vaughn’s stories sounds well worth our time, but I was especially struck by the way they and she evoke the histories and legacies of the region’s nuclear sites (operating and then waste disposal), which I had never thought of as a very distinct frame for the area’s waterways, the Falls, and the ground itself.
3) Me on the famous sketch: In my September blog series on APUSH I wrote about the famous “Niagara Falls” comedy sketch, and specifically there the Three Stooges version. I had a vague sense at that time that the sketch went far beyond that one version, but it was only when researching this talk that I really learned both the breadth of those versions and how fully they connect to the 20th century history of comedy and culture in America. From contested Vaudeville origins to competing 1944 sketches from Abbott and Costello and the aforementioned Stooges to TV adaptations from Lucille Ball and Danny Thomas to meta-commentaries from M.A.S.H. and Steve Martin to a disco song from Divine, “Niagara Falls” is just about everywhere in American culture—a fitting conclusion for a great conversation about its many tendrils!
Next reflection tomorrow,
PS. If you were at NeMLA, I’d love to hear your reflections too!