Friday, March 8, 2013

Convention Culture Shock - Part 2

Hi, I'm Sue.  I was checking out a book description on Goodreads the other day, and I read "Romulan Empire" instead of "Roman Empire", and it took me way too long to realize that didn't make any sense.  And I am an Anomaly.

Welcome to Part 2 of my random thoughts about conventions! (Click here for Part 1)  The way I see it, there are two major types of conventions:  Industry-run, and Fan-run.  And each has another layer of division.  Industry-run cons can either be broad-topic, or very specific.  But I divide Fan-run cons a different way. Even though those too can be broad or specific, I find the culture at the con changes more based on whether the organizers are inclusive or exclusive.  Each con, of course, will have it's own rules, so I'm not going to speak to lines or rooms being cleared, or any of the logistics.  This is purely about the culture of the con.

So, broad-topic Industry-run cons.  That's easy - any of your comic cons are the perfect example here.  I've never attended "The" Comic Con out in San Diego, but I have hit up New York Comic Con.  To me, this type of con is all about marketing.  The goal of the panels is not to celebrate shows or books or games your already love, but to make you want to spend your time/and or money on new releases.  Everything is a sales pitch.  Being at a comic con, I felt like I was just being hit with a constant barrage of advertisements, and it took a lot of sifting through the ads to get to the information that I was actually interested in.  And the attendees were single-minded in pursuit of swag, con-exclusives, or play tests.  Even though it was incredibly crowded, I felt no real sense of community.

I have to admit that I have not been to a specific Industry-run con is over 10 years, and that would have been a Star Trek convention (I think my last one was a "Four Captains" con).  But these types of cons can cover one book series, one sub-genre, one TV show... pretty much anything.  From what I remember, they share some of the consumerist aspects of the broader cons (everyone wants to sell you stuff) but, their very purpose is to celebrate some specific aspect of fandom (and capitalize on it), and that inherently creates a community among attendees.  You're clearly all there for the same purpose - because you already love something.  You're not going to get hammered with movie previews and panels about new shows.  You're going to talk about things you already know and love and see the people who made it.  And, sometimes, the marketing and sales pitches even stay confined to the dealers' room.  Unfortunately, though, it seems like these types of cons are becoming few and far between.

The epitome of the fan-run convention, for me, is Dragon*Con.  And I will not hide that it has become my favoritest con.  The wonderful thing about a fan-run convention is that it exists because the fans want it to.  Everyone involved is doing this because they love it.  And, in my experience, the organizers of Dragon*Con are very inclusive.  If you want to help out, you can.  Volunteer, run a track, be a panelist, suggest a topic.  As long as there's someone who wants to put in the work, they'll continue to add more fan tracks.  I've always felt welcome and included at Dragon*Con, as a panelist and as an attendee.  The culture there, even though there are 50,000+ scattered over 5 hotels, is such that you can walk up to just about anyone and strike up a conversation as if you were old friends.  And fan discussion panels are as much of a draw as the stars in attendance.  Over the past year or so, parts of geek culture have sort of forgotten than geekiness and inclusiveness go hand in hand - that has never been forgotten in Atlanta over Labor Day Weekend.

Unfortunately, when it comes to fan-run conventions, you don't really know whether you'll be dealing with inclusive or exclusive organizers until you're there.  I've been to a fan-run con where the organizers are incredibly exclusive.  They claimed to run a general "science fiction and fantasy" convention, but really only scheduled panels that interest them.  I saw long time attendees of this con being openly derisive to people they didn't seem to think were "the right kind" of fan, and there was palpable discontent in the atmosphere.  I even attended the wrap-up session, in which a rather heated argument broken out between organizers who claimed they wanted to attract a broader audience and attendees whose proposals for new panels had been shot down by these same organizers.  It became uncomfortable.  I found myself siding with the dissenters (go figure), and spoke to some afterwards who told me that this same argument had been going on for years, but nothing had changed.  I was shocked by that whole experience.  I'd attended that con before, but it was several years earlier and in a different city, and I didn't get that vibe at all.  But I was so disappointed by my more recent experience, that I'm not likely to give it another chance any time soon.

Of course, the generalizations above are just based on my own experiences over the last 19 years of on-and-off con-going.  Your experiences may differ.  Every con has a culture, and that culture and how you respond to it will affect your enjoyment of the experience.  But I think it's important to know what type of atmosphere to expect.  I certainly would never going to NYCC with my laid-back approach to Dragon*Con - I did that my first year at NYCC and felt like I'd been hit by a bus.  And while I've pretty much decided that D*C is the con closest to my hear, I'm certainly not going to rule out possible comic cons, gaming cons, or maybe even a Star Trek convention here and there.

But whatever con you attend, there are some good rules of thumb that apply to all:
1.  Eat leafy greens and drink lots of water.  And it's probably worth it to invest in some vitamin supplements as well.
2.  When taking photos of cosplayers, get their permission first.  They'd probably love to pose for you.  It can be as simple as meeting their gaze from across the room and holding up your camera, and getting a little nod back.  Don't take candid shots.  It's not cool.
3.  Just like in real life, they way someone is dressed is not permission.  For anything.  No, not even a costume.

See you in Atlanta!

Staff Writer for Anomaly
Co-Host of Anomaly Supplemental
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