cons and conferences

From Steve Krause, this post about his recent visit to a gaming con and how it reminded him of doing academic conferences:

Second, I think there’s a lot of similarities between these kinds of conferences– or at least the motivations behind them– and academic conferences. At both, there are presentations, insider lingo, trends, conference badges, and “famous” (for that context) people sightings. People go to both kinds of conferences to attend presentations, to see trends in “the field,” shmooze with people they know only vaguely through email lists and other conferences, and to sell and buy stuff related to the topic of the conference. The outfits at academic conferences tends to be a bit more on the conservative side–not a lot of chain mail at the academic conferences, for example– but there are definitely “outfits/costumes,” and a real insider can spot the differences between the MLA, the CCCCs, and C&W just on the outfits alone– even just the footwear. And let’s face it: most academics treat their work with the same fanatic devotion that most of the people at Origins [the gaming con in question–MLM] treat their hobbies.

As recent Dark Knight posts have proved, I am a geek in the traditional sense of the term (as opposed to Rice’s use of a more general “geekicity”–though I prefer “geekery,” actually), and Krause’s post serves as a reminder that I’m as much a failure at my own geekery as I am at most things: I’ve never been to a comic or sci-fi con.

Why not?  I don’t know.  For a while, I would have told you that I’m not that kind of geek, the stereotypical cosplay geek who can tell you exactly how many issues of The Brave and the Bold were written by Bill Finger before William Messner-Loebs took over (and frankly, I don’t know if BF or WML ever had anything to do TBATB, actually).

I don\'t know what \"brown shirt\" means here.  Is it a Nazi thing?

But one story that I’ve been kind of interested in of late is the popularization of geekery.  Consider these two stories from Entertainment Weekly, a mag that I think here can serve as a bellwether of this trend.  In the first story, dated 28 Jul 2003, attendees at the San Diego Comic-Con are referred to as geeks both in the story’s subtitle (“What happened when sci-fi geeks met Hollywood chic”) and in the caption on the accompanying image (“Berry made a cameo at the annual geek fest known as Comic-Con”).  The story’s first paragraph ended with an image capturing some (admittedly rather stupid) questions fans had shouted at actress Halle Berry:

Berry was on hand to promote ”Gothika,” her upcoming thriller set in a women’s prison, but, this being Comic-Con, she fielded questions like ”Have you ever kissed a girl?” and endured shouts of ”You’re hot!”

Here, the phrase that irks me is “this being Comic-Con,” as though, really, what else could you expect from these hormonally backlogged, undersexed, dungeon-crawling weirdos?  Moreover, the story’s treatment of fans and fan culture pretty much ends there.  The second paragraph details some of the trailers and promos shown at the con, and the third and final pargraph is a snippet of an interview with novelist Michael Chabon (an avowed comic fanboy himself).

The second story, dated four years later on 3 Aug 2007, details another trip to Comic-Con.  This time, though, the word “geek” is almost entirely absent, used once in a quote from 300/Watchmen director Zack Snyder to dismiss the easy caricature of the outsider loser nebbish “geek:”

Comic-Con has gotten a showbiz makeover, thanks to Hollywood marketeers who’ve realized that these hardcore fans are early-adopting, Web-chatty entertainment consumers who wield enormous influence. It was here that cult stuff like Lost, Heroes, and 300 began the march toward mainstream success. Hollywood has learned: Make big waves at Comic-Con, and you can create serious ripples in the world beyond. Says 300 director Zack Snyder: ”The so-called geeks who come here? They’re the new tastemakers of pop culture.”

What?  What the hey?  Geeks are people too–people with money and emotional investments in the properties they love?  I’m not going to go off on the question of whether Hollywood has co-opted geek culture, ‘cos I don’t really care, for one thing, and for another, I think they’ve done a pretty savvy job of it if they have (witness my own advance ticket sales for TDK).  Instead, what interests me here is the way not just EW spins the shift in Hollywood from freaky geeks to “early-adopting, Web-chatty entertainment consumers,” but rather the way EW‘s own coverage reflects that shift.  There is nary a joke at the attendees expense in sight, no “haha, geeks don’t get laid” implication, no cracks that Wonder Woman is perfectly named ‘cos most comics fans will always wonder what a woman looks like undressed.  Instead, the focus is on how sexy the Comic-Con has become in its Hollywoodized incarnation:

Comic-Con’s new status as hot ticket Hollywood happening and potent hype machine was never more apparent than with the 2007 event, noteworthy for its high-watt star power (Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Steve Carell, Nicolas Cage, Edward Norton, Liv Tyler), increased presence of non-nerd TV (including 24) and movie comedies (Superbad and Hot Rod), and glamorous after-hours industry parties, including one thrown by this magazine. But even some of those A-listers have begun to wonder if the convention’s metamorphosis has come at a cost. ”Comic-Con has always been about connecting with the fan — about the ‘common people.’ But you also don’t want people who are just here for the glitz and don’t care about the craft,” says Heroes star Masi Oka. ”There’s a fine balance that has to be struck.’

I’m not really sure what to make of the shift.  On one hand, as a geek, I kind of dig it–even if I now think I’m really missing something by not making my way to any of the big cons.  On the other . . . I don’t know.  I always kind of dug being part of a kind of underground scene–or, if not underground, a misunderstood and often trivialized one.  Do I resent, just a little, the fact that mainstream/non-geek people who see Dark Knight will likely completely miss the nods that Nolan and co. have been making to a larger continuity beyond the films? Yes.  But do I also kind of “geek out” on knowing those things, and knowing that others don’t know them?  You bet.


This really had nothing to do with Krause’s post, but I’ve got things I want to say in response to it.  More tomorrow, perhaps.


2 Responses to “cons and conferences”

  1. Mary Says:

    A question…
    you said

    Why yes? Being a Whovian geek (and let’s face it, as an English major I am ‘always already’ a geek) I’ve had a chance to roam the forums and notice the reactions of those who have been Dr Who fans since the classic days, as well as those who are only fans of the recent revival. This question of how much the non-fans get when Russel T Davis puts in references and nods to the old stuff is constantly in debate. The general consensus (although the membership is so darn huge that there never is a 100% agreement on anything) is that it’s great when ‘outsiders’ don’t get stuff. There is almost sense of pride that only the true geeks get it while others don’t. Getting the ‘in-joke’ and ‘nods’ forms a kind of bonding among the Whovians, a way to identify themselves AS Dr Who geeks, so to speak

    Perhaps Dr Who geeks are more snotty and snobby than the Dark Knight geeks; I’m willing to admit that. But I am interested to know why you feel resentful.

  2. Mary Says:

    oops, forgot to end the block quote! :(

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