Daughter of Convention: The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Con


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It’s a rarely disputed fact among the geek contingent that conventions, by and large, are a kind of rite of passage. (If you haven’t gotten the convention achievement, you really should get on that, by the way.) And what’s not to love? There are as many conventions these days as there are fandoms, all across the United States and Europe and beyond, of all sizes and flavors. Like gaming? There’s PAX and GenCon. Prefer literature? Try WorldCon or World Fantasy Con. Want to go the fandom route? There’s always Comic-Con (in various incarnations) and Dragon*Con, just to name a few.

For the uninitiated, though, especially those outside the geek world, conventions can be altogether overwhelming and even a little frightening. Heck, they frighten me sometimes. But if by approaching any convention with an open mind and, probably most importantly an open schedule, I’m of a mind that nearly anyone can have a good time. The bigger the convention the less likely you’re going to get everything done as you’d like, so a certain amount of flexibility goes a very long way. Chances are, if you don’t see your favorite author there’s something else going on.

Still, there’s room for criticism and for change. Exhausting and overwhelming as conventions can be, I’m still a big fan. But at the same time I’ve become aware that many of the things I truly love about conventions I also can’t stand. So I’m in a bit of a paradoxical situation here. Let me show you what I mean:

The Crowds

The good: Having recently returned from Dragon*Con, one of the largest east coast conventions, I can speak to this rather well. The crowds are amazing. There is something altogether glorious about that many geeks descending on one city. I love watching regular people espy our Darth Vader costumes and who-the-hell-knows-what costumes, their minds absolutely blown and having no context whatsoever. I love meeting new people and feeling a part of something that has a real impact. It gives me quite the shiny geeky feeling.

The bad: That said, crowds can be managed well and they can be managed badly. I went to three conventions this year, and the best crowd control goes to PAX: East, hands down. Sorry, Dragon*Con, but even with new skyways to different hotels, the crowds were out of control. Not just out of control, but I found people to be generally less courteous. Sure, it might have something to do with the heat and having to wait forever for their pre-registration passes, but still. The excitement of seeing the geek throng really faded away quickly this year in light of the bad crowd control. Not to mention the questionable hygiene and a sense of general unfriendliness in some cases by both attendees and volunteers.

The Costumes

The good: People spending time making costumes that absolutely blow your mind. Getting to walk around in costume feeling like you’re projecting the spirit of Mal Reynolds for the whole convention to see. Watching ensemble costumes come together; enjoying costume contests. These are all good things. Especially at fan conventions, the costumes come with the territory. It just wouldn’t be the same without them, and I look forward to them every year.

The bad: At Dragon*Con this year I noticed two rather curious trends. Now, typically I go around during the day in regular clothes; I cover these conventions for various blogs, and I save the costuming for when I’m not “on the clock” per se. But I noticed a whole lot more people this year at Dragon*Con who were simply not in costume. At any point. In years past I always felt a little out of place in street clothes, especially considering there are folks who practically wake up in their Superman costumes and walk around the Hyatt at 9am looking for coffee. But that just wasn’t the case this time around.

The second trend is simply this: the slutty costume. This is not a fan costume of any sort. It’s simply a person—or group of people—dressed in little else than pasties and bodypaint, parading around the convention trying to get attention. It’s not that I’m opposed to people dressing as they want. That’s their choice, not mine. But this is a science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of slutty character costumes and subcultures to choose from! Walking around half naked doesn’t count.That’s just being cheap.

The Programming

The good: OMG! When else do you ever get to see this kind of programming? Whether it’s live D&D with the Penny Arcade contingent or a panel with Stan Lee, conventions have you covered. That’s sort of the draw: bringing you closer to your heroes than you’ve ever been before. And when you can get in to see them, it can, for some, be as profound as a religious experience (or as disappointing as losing your faith in other cases when that hero of yours just doesn’t measure up in person).

The bad: Bad panels. Long lines. Overbooked rooms. Last minute rescheduling that you just didn’t get. There’s nothing so disappointing as dropping some sincere cash, spending time traveling, organizing everything to the best of your abilities, and not getting to see that panel you wanted to. While some conventions are pretty good about scheduling multiple panels, like Dragon*Con, others aren’t so good. If you miss it, you miss it. Or you’re at the mercy of powers above you and just aren’t informed. That’s not really fair.

All in all there seems to be a trend toward the mainstream in conventions, which I think explains some of these issues. Maybe all of geekdom is going more mainstream; it has been argued as such. But while that will bring along its own set of issues, I think it’s important that people keep in mind what makes conventions successful in the first place. Mutual respect—for fans, for guests, for volunteers—is a great place to start. Then add some common courtesy, a dash of “don’t be a dick”, and stir well with a heap of good fun. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Tell us about your good and bad convention experiences this year. What conventions can’t you miss? What was your first convention?

[Image CC by vladeb via Flickr]







9 Responses to Daughter of Convention: The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Con

  1. I don't really see how its a big deal for people to dress sexily. Its weird and kind of slut shaming to call them cheap. I have always seen conventions as the chance to get out of the box, and just dress up regardless if it's cosplay or not.

  2. I'm going to my first official con next month (October, GMX) and I cannot wait. It looks small (this is only its second year), so I'm not expecting a HUGE crowd which will probably help me ease my way into the bigger cons later when I get the money.

    I do enjoy to Cosplay, and where I live it's rare to see that. My freshman year (fall 2004) of college, I cosplayed as Miroku from Inuyasha around campus and NO ONE got the reference…much less even dressed up on HALLOWEEN. Yes, I dressed up on Halloween and I think people just laughed at me.

    But at a con…I feel like I could dress up and get away with it. Like I said, this is my first and I'm scared to dress up (even though I'm only going as Matt Smith's 11th Doctor) because it always seems like I'm the odd man out.

    By the way, anyone from Geeks are Sexy going to GMX this year?

  3. If the immenseness and expense of ComicCon puts you off, there's two very good alternatives here in San Francisco..,actually more fun because you aren't a sardine in a very large can, and can enjoy the vendors, exhibits, and get into the panels and events. Check out both WonderCon and the Alternative Press Expo. APE is in a couple of weeks – http://www.comic-con.org/ape/ – and WonderCon is held in April at Moscone Center. Both are a lot of fun.

  4. My first and only convention is a small one in the south of france mainly Japan/manga/anime oriented. Last one I went to (went there 3years in a row) I really wanted to cosplay! but having a red mowhawk, not much cash, or time… I couldnt find which character to do… I just came up with a last minute naruto ninja looking guy (naruto as in the manga not the character) so I think it s fine not to make an actual character, I still chose to stay in a setting that was the naruto manga and had the props to do so (village bandana/kunai/bandages) now I do agree that if you want half naked women there's car conventions! I have nothing against those and the naked ladies are as important for those shows as costuming for us geeks… I find it sad as well that cosplaying isnt as big as it used to… I was supposed to work that one day, I didnt go, my manager saw me in costume get some lunch in town…. BUSTED! but yeah I agree with most things said in this article! coming up in Sydney soon is another convention I forgot the name but it s pretty wide in terms of topics. seems like manga/comics/geek shows and movies or litterature… seems like it s all gonna be there! I do plan on taking the bus in my black spiderman outfit or maybe my joker outfit depending on wether I find a job soon and if they like green hair or not xD!

  5. I've been to Dragon*Con a handful of times. I enjoyed the first few so much that I invited my family to come with me a few years back, after I hadn't been for a few years. I don't know if it was just the year we went, but the panels sucked. My favorite track is the writing one, and every other year the panels had been varied and fun. Naturally, the year I take my parents along is the year that we couldn't find enough good panels to fill our time, whereas before I had always had to choose between multiple awesome panels that ran at the same time.

    Oh, and the sluts. Love the costumes, no problem with the revealing ones, but the chicks wearing nothing but body paint and parties do seem desperate. They reek of the kind of gal who can't get any attention at home and so dresses up (or down, rather) for the attention from girl-starved geeks. Of course, the girl-starved geeks don't object, but I bet they would change their tune if a bunch of guys were running around with everything hanging out. Just saying. ;)

    Not that the experience made Hubby and I dislike Dragon*Con. Hopefully it was just a bad year, rather than a bad direction. We would have gone this year if both cars hadn't died within a month of each other. There is always next year.

  6. My first con was JACON (Orlando, Florida) and it was the perfect con for me. I think I've been chasing that ever since. Everybody was either dressed up or in cosplay, it was small and I don't remember doing anything but enjoying seeing everybody all dressed up.

    But I also always go to Metrocon. And ever since JACON went away, Metrocon has become my main event of the year. Not to say that it's good. Few people really try at their cosplays; there's all sorts of time issues; it's crowded; and the weather kills. But the fans are nice, the guests are some of the best people to hang out with, and I couldn't ask for a better vacation.

  7. yes please be kind to D*C volunteers as they are exactly that :volunteers. Also I do believe it was a bad year all around, things just didn't seem right this past year. Heres hoping for a good show in 2011