Friday, June 1, 2012

Kalamazoo 2013 Proposal

The Institute has proposed our first conference session for next year's International Congress on Medieval Studies. The topic seems of especial interest to medievalists, and I hope it is looked upon favorably.


The Magic of Merlin: Reflections on the Television Series (Round-Table) (x2)

Launched in 2008, the British television series Merlin, produced by Shine Television and distributed by the BBC, has become a phenomenal hit and is incredibly popular with audiences of all ages across the globe. The series will begin its fifth season—a record for Arthurian-themed television series in the English-speaking world—in the fall of 2013, yet, despite its acclaim and perseverance, it has thus far received little attention from the academic community. Therefore, in response to this scarcity of scholarship and the overall interest of scholars regarding the series (as revealed this past year at conference sessions and discussions at the Poplar Culture Association Annual Meeting, the Plymouth State University Medieval and Renaissance Forum, and the International Congress on Medieval Studies), the Institute for the Advancement of Scholarship on the Magic-Wielding Figures of Visual Electronic Multimedia is proposing a set of roundtables to further the discussion and debate about this unique example of popular Arthuriana.

Arthurian television (like medieval-themed television in general) has long remained ephemeral, but Merlin represents a new breed of programming existing on screen and preserved on DVD, as well as digital media found on the Internet. The series is also expanded through print media, including adaptations of select episodes, hardback annuals devoted to each season, guides to characters, and an official magazine, and, also, a series of action figures through which viewers can continue the story.  Furthermore, Merlin’s appeal goes beyond our nostalgic impulse towards the Matter of Britain credited for the popularity of Arthurian film, and its generic hybridity suggests fruitful avenues for exploring its impact. The series is only loosely based on pre-existing Arthurian traditions, and, instead, represents a version of the teen drama series—here recast in medieval dress—by focusing on the interactions between characters, their loves, trials, and plans for vengeance. Besides this, Merlin is also a form of telefantasy, and, like Smallvlle, its most immediate inspiration, focuses on the ongoing quest of its hero, a teenaged version of the magic-wielding Merlin, to find his place in the world, a world where (like Clark Kent) difference is seen as deviant from the norm and the cause for much concern in the series, resulting in its frequent recapitulation of the “freak of the week” plot. The representation of magic within Merlin is a topic open to much interpretation. Most intriguingly, magic-wielders and the world of magic itself are often coded as gay or queer, yet the realm of the sorcerous is important both in terms of the past and future of Camelot, as is slowly revealed, and its (re)integration is necessary for a successful community. We hope to investigate these and other aspects of the series through our sessions to gain a greater understanding of its impact as both entertainment and as, perhaps, the most well-known and widely-distributed Arthurian text of the twenty-first century.

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