Sidekicks and Underlings - Oct. 3-4, 2014 - Bordeaux, France

full name / name of organization: 
CLIMAS, Université Bordeaux-Montaigne, France

Sidekicks and Underlings
Université Bordeaux-Montaigne
Bordeaux - Oct. 3-4, 2014.

CLIMAS (Cultures et Littératures des Mondes Anglophones), the research group in Anglo-American Studies of Université Bordeaux-Montaigne, organizes a conference titled "Sidekicks and Underlings" to be held in Bordeaux on October 3-4, 2014.

We expect submissions from specialists of literature, arts, popular culture, history, politics in the English-speaking world.

The role of the second has a long, rich history and sidekicks can be traced back extensively (Agamemnon to Menelaus, Horatio to Hamlet): avoiding a mere inventory of case-studies, we will thus examine the interests of that unequal pairing, the crucial functions of sidekicks and underlings – from comic relief, to faithful support of the hero, to intradiegetic embodiment of the audience, a kind of intermediary persona variously mediating and modulating the access to the hero. We will also explore the nature of the specific links between sidekicks and genre fiction (it seems indeed that detective fiction, comedy, fantasy constitute favourable grounds to sidekicks), as well as the particular relevance of the figure in classic popular literature – sidekicks often playing the role of the lesser intelligent character in order to highlight the flamboyance of the hero. Sidekicks are also crucially a way to elaborate on the identity of the hero: sometimes supplying for a lack (Dr. Watson making Sherlock Holmes more humane for example), sometimes highlighting a specific aspect of their counterpart. They introduce a duality in the self, and allow for a reflexion on the notion of identity, and may thus extend to inter-gender and inter-ethnic constructs.

We will also be specifically interested in what could be called the modern prominence of sidekicks and underlings, and the complication of the pattern. It first seems that the role of sidekick might well be a convenient unassuming mask, a harmless decoy to hide eminently powerful characters or interests, and that the respective positions in typical pairs are less static than it seems, more interchangeable, and reversible even. This pattern is valid both in fiction where secondary characters overshadow or even outdo the hero, and in history or politics: the position of the sidekick is indeed a strategic one, a sort of convenient, protected rear base that typically gives less visibility and thus more freedom. Eminences grises and underdogs in politics will also come under scrutiny, as well as the several strategies to minimise one's position in order to better achieve domineering aims.

It finally reads as if sidekicks and underlings had gradually gained ground, as if in some instances, they did not need a hero any more, and did not define themselves as the lesser character in a pair, but as the central focus – heroes being sometimes radically done up with – we might think for example of the Judd Apatow movies, that typically present the audience with a palatable collection of multiple sidekicks, that colonise the movies, and break the convention of the hero. Examining the many examples where sidekicks and underlings attract the limelight will enable us to reflect upon their modern rehabilitation, their glamorous return.

Please submit proposals (in English or French) by May 31, 2014 to: