Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Convention Culture Shock - Part 1

I'm Sue.  I once skipped school and snuck into a teachers' convention.  And I am an Anomaly.

I've been thinking a lot about the "convention" aspect of geek culture lately.  In their early days, conventions brought geeks - outcasts from the "mainstream" - together in celebration of a shared passion.  But now that it's more socially acceptable to be a geek and easier to find other people who share your passion via the interwebs, logic would say that the need for conventions isn't what it used to be.  Instead, conventions are still growing, both in attendees and actual number of Cons, not to mention length of time and breadth of topic.  They've become something more than initially intended, and they are absolutely astounding events.  I've decided to take this in two parts, first sharing my background as a con-attendee, and then discussing the different types of Cons I've attended are their distinct atmospheres and cultures, as I see them.

Me and an unknown Klingon, 1994.
I went to my first Star Trek convention in August 1994 in New York City.  I was 11 years old.  After that, I don't think a year went by until I was out of High School that I didn't attend at least one Star Trek convention.  Mostly, I was able to do so because of my location, my friends, and public transportation. I tended to see the same people in lines, and we said hello and caught up while waiting for admission or autographs or whatever.  Those were the days when the only conventions I was aware of were those run by Creation Entertainment (which is still around, by the way), and there was just one stage and a dealers' room - maybe an autograph line in a separate location, if it was a "big" con.  The concept of a convention that covered multiple fandoms or that was fan-run never even crossed my mind.  My brother, would occasionally go to gaming (board/puzzle) conventions, but I didn't really pay much attention to those at the time.

When I went to college up in Boston, I would check the Creation homepage every now and then, but nothing ever seemed to come nearby.  I never thought too look for anyone kind of convention, so I didn't come across Arisia or any other Boston-area cons (PAX East didn't start until I'd moved away), and I started to get busy with other things and didn't care so much about conventions.  Plus, from what I'd heard online, Creation conventions were going downhill fast, and no longer worth the time.

Then, my brother told me that World Con would be held in Boston in the fall of my senior year!  I didn't know what World Con was, but Terry Pratchett was the guest of honor!  I checked out the website and did a bunch of reading and got super psyched.  But it was a completely new experience.  I was used to a show room and a dealers' room - you either saw what was happening on stage or went shopping.  This con schedule had so many things happening at once in different rooms that I didn't have a clue how to begin making decisions!  It was an incredibly busy weekend, and it was a blast.  (Somehow, I was still unaware of Arisia that winter...)

And then, after a few months of enthusiasm, conventions fell off my radar again.  I was looking for a "real job" and a place to live, and paying bills, and so on.  But I kept hearing about this thing called "Dragon*Con" on podcasts and in internet forums, and it seemed like the place to be if you were into... well, anything.  And in early spring of 2010, I was once again speaking to my brother (clearly, he's the instigator in our relationship) and we discovered that we were both interested in checking out this Dragon Con hullabaloo, so we each booked flights and got a room in an overflow hotel, and dove right in to the deep end.

After my first year at D*C, I knew I'd be back, and I booked my 2011 room less than a month after returning.  And, I started paying attention to other convention announcements.  Anne's New York Comic Con report later that month piqued my interest in that event, and I submitted a press application for 2011 as soon as I could.  That winter, WorldCon was officially announced for Reno, NV (where that pesky brother lives), so there was no way I could pass that up.  Suddenly, I was scheduled to hit 3 conventions in 6 weeks, and they turned out to have three very different atmospheres.

To be continued....

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Jen said...

I attended my first con in 1993. And you're right, cons are so different today. The first one I attended was so tiny by comparison to even the smaller con's I've gone to recently.

Granted, the first con I went to was in San Antonio, Texas...not New York City and that could have a lot to do with it. The guest of honor at the event I attended was John de Lancie, the actor who played "Q", in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He signed a pencil sketch I made of him, but back then, they herded us past the speaker like cows headed for the stockyards and if we were allowed to talk to him face to face it was just to say "hi".

He smiled broadly when he saw my drawing and I could tell he liked it. John looked around to see who did it, but I we were out of sync...I was already rushed past him. I never got to say a word to him.

Fast forward nineteen years to Wizard World ComicCon in Austin, and my meeting of Gates McFadden. I spoke to her and got a photo with her. Then I heard her speak at a panel with Marina Sirtis, where all the questions asked by my fellow geeks were great, and there wasn't a single "do you prefer being omnipotent or mortal?" question. OK, so someone who attended the next panel asked the TNG men, whether they wore boxers or briefs, but that was funny and it offset by a great number of awesome questions.

Whether we like it or not, Geek is in style now, everyone is piling on, and unrelated genres seems to be lumped into the category (wrestling? For realz?) But aside from that, I think the fact that geek is now cool, has brought some good things to the quality conventions and, for the most part, respect. Do you agree?

Great post Sue. Looking forward to the next part.

Sue said...

I don't mind wrestling at cons, or anything else, for that matter. I've always believed that you can be a geek about any topic - it doesn't have to be SF/F - because geekiness is about passion. And I believe that the heart of geek culture is an inclusive nature. We're the people who were bullied in high school, so we more than any other subculture should understand the importance of inclusion.

And I think the diversity of topics and interests at cons in fantastic! As long as there's someone passionate to run a fan track, bring it on! Of course, not all conventions are inclusive, sadly. But that'll be in Part 2...