convention cultures

June 23, 2014

I spent the weekend and the official start of summer — most of the entire last week actually — very sick with what I thought was a cold but turned out to be a “viral sore throat.”  The doctor diagnosed and basically looked at me and said, “Sucks to be you.  Oh, and don’t kiss anyone.”  Thanks, science!  I don’t know if I caught it at Denver Comic Con or someplace else, but it’s terribly funny to me that after a stretch of six conventions since the end of March, I get horribly ill after the one that was the closest to home and that I spent the least amount of time at.

I had a good time for my one day at Denver Comic Con — I even got to listen to some other programs, like Edward James Olmos’s spotlight.  He’s a sharp and passionate guy, who’s had a hell of a career.  You don’t realize until you line it all up — Blade Runner, Stand and Deliver, Battlestar Galactica, and so on.  He talked about it all.  And he really seems to love leading the audience in a nice round of “So say we all!”

I also spent the day thinking about how much conventions have changed.  I went to my first convention in 1988, I think — Starcon here in Denver, one of the predecessors of the current incarnation of Starfest.  It was small and kind of insular and really good fun, and it had everything most modern conventions have — a dealer’s room, actors on the big stage, a masquerade, a film room, an anime room, panels and activities like “Jedi Jeopardy” and “Build an Alien.”  In fact, it had everything a modern comic con has — but a bare fraction of the attendance.  There’d be maybe a couple thousand, and it would be the nerdiest of the nerds.  There’d be a handful of costumes — a lot of Star Trek uniforms and a few “out there” ones that would get a lot of attention because there were so few people dressing up.  There’d be an award for “best hall costume” as well as awards in the masquerade.

So last weekend, I was thinking about what’s changed so that we have essentially the same thing going on, but with 86,000 people (DCC’s final attendance count was around that) instead of a couple thousand.  What’s covered by conventions has expanded, sure.  A lot more people know about them — back in the day, I think a lot of people just didn’t know conventions existed.  But more than that, genre is everywhereThe Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are super popular, anime airs everywhere on TV and you don’t have to actively track it down like you used to, gaming is everywhere, the biggest movies are all superhero movies, etc.

Conventions have always given people a deeper access to the things they love — meet the actors, buy the T-shirts, network with other fans, etc.  There’s just so much more of all of it now, and comic cons stepped in to fill that need in a way that Starfest and the nerdier, longer-running conventions haven’t.  25 years ago, dressing in costume was something different and odd and only some people did.  Now, it’s getting to the point where the last few conventions I’ve been at, more people have been in costume than not.  It’s becoming an essential part of the experience.

Conventions have always had an air of the mystical.  The very strange and mystical way people treat the actors, for example — even just a glimpse of Adam West seems magical, and why is that?  I kept thinking, this, the whole convention, is like church.  Pop culture church.  People wear special clothes.  They spend lots of money.  All of it in worship of the special things they love.  So what’s different now? What is it about comic cons now that wasn’t there 25 years ago?  I’m not sure.

What I do know is now, it’s all cool.  People don’t look at you funny when you say you’re going to a convention, like they did back then.  They think it’s cool.  How about that?  If you went back in time and told that to my high school convention going self, I never would have believed it.

 

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4 Responses to “convention cultures”

  1. Griggk the goblin Says:

    Earlier this year, a local high school produced a play I wrote. I was invited to work with the school as consultant/advisor. I was shocked by the number of kids who were overtly enthusiastic about comic books, anime and fantasy/sci-fi. If geekery isn’t exactly mainstream, you don’t get beaten up in the restrooms by the jock clique anymore.
    The kids thought I was pretty cool for writing a fantasy play. I told them no one thought so wen I was in high school, but it turned out I was beta-testing Cool.

  2. Jo Anne Says:

    Has the ratio of women to men changed?

  3. Thomas Stacey Says:

    Fascinating to hear how it’s changed over the last twenty years.

    @ Jo Anne, I expect it has at least some. I know when I went to Starfest last year there were quite a lot of women there, including one who was dressed up as a Little Sister from Bio Shock and was there on (and possibly for) her birthday.

    I wonder if it’s turned into more of a family activity as well over the years as the older geeks are passing it along to their families and the next generation.

  4. Griggk the goblin Says:

    I didn’t conduct a poll at the high school, but my “I am a Paladin” t-shirt prompted three young women to tell me their favorite D&D experience stories, and my Batman shirt initiated a fierce discussion between the comparative merits of Marvel and DC comics with two other young women. I’d say that the ratio is still far from 1:1, but the gap is narrowing.


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