By Josh Hadley
When did nerd cons move from nerd cons to general pop culture cons and, more importantly, when did cons start to become corporate and calculated media events with the single purpose of fleecing an audience that pays to be fleeced?
Comic Con is now one of the largest media events out there, for just about everything except comics, ironically. Comic Con started out as what you might expect with a name such as Comic Con, a convention dedicated to comic books and the surrounding culture of comic books. Then movies and TV started to creep in and this was all fine since these are at least tangentially related to comic books. After a while though, things started to shift, the guests all started to be those selling major movies, large TV shows, video game releases and even rock bands which had nothing to do with comics, leaving the comics part of Comic Con in this tiny little corner while all of the non-comic stuff was spotlighted. How did this happen and, more importantly, why did this happen? How was a comic book convention co-opted into simply being a showcase for whatever Hollywood decided to puke out that year?
How it happened was right there on the surface: money.
In the late 1980s, movie studios began to notice that their preview or product booths at Comic Con would gain more traction than the comic booths. Fine, fair enough, but how does “Twilight” or “The Expendables” relate to what a comic convention should be dealing with? Yes, there is crossover in their audience but you can say that about pretty much anything. Comic fans are people too, they have interests outside of that niche, but since it became clear in the early 2000s that comics were only a minor concern at Comic Con, this has become more than crossover and it has mutated into simple and pure pandering. Now, you could change the name of the event from Comic Con to Media Con and I guess it would not bother me as much but, then again, the principle is still the same, the co-opting of one thing for another, which fundamentally alters the original into being pointless.
There is indeed a place for media circus events with all of the big budget tripe to be paraded out for the bumpkins but why is that Comic Con and why at the expense of the originating premise? At this point is it even Comic Con any longer? If you change something by 80 percent, is it still the same thing or has it become something else? Gen*Con used to be all about Role Playing Games and now RPG’s are an afterthought to having Sid Haig as a guest or the newest Marvel movie preview. Most horror cons now will take just about anyone that is a name, even if they don’t fit into horror in the slightest. They don’t care in the slightest as long as you keep showing up and paying your money to meet a former celebrity.
This is not all the fault of the big evil media conglomerates either though, you are just as much to blame as anything else. You allowed this to happen and not only welcomed it with open arms, but also encouraged it by either overt acceptance or tacit lethargy. As the comics started to get pushed farther and farther into a hole, did you ever stand up and even ask why this was happening or did you just watch as it happened because you also wanted to meet Bruce Campbell? The fans and attendees must shoulder much of this blame on account of them being the true arbiters of any convention and Comic Con in particular.
The fans are the ones paying to see these affronts to cinema do their donkey show and waiting in longer and longer lines every year to ask idiotic questions of witless movie stars and even more clueless producers. This part has never changed as even in the comic days of Comic Con the vapid and pointless always seemed to gain the most attendance and favor but something is, dirtier about it now it seems. Everyone bitched when “Twilight” would overtake the convention and yet these same people would also stand in line to be at those panels giving that tacit acceptance I spoke of.
Conventions of any kind are completely soulless endeavors bereft of anything save for crass consumerism and vacuous fandom indulging in sycophantic rituals. Conventions used to be a place where like minded people would gather to meet and greet the important people within whatever the genre of the con was, but now it’s all overgrown manchild abortions wandering the grounds of these cons like the fully realized walking id minus deodorant. Cosplay freaks that are so uncomfortable in their own skin feel the need to pretend to be someone else (anyone else) in an effort to feel life. Would-be treasure hunters scour the grounds of cons looking to graft more and more merchandise to resell. Washed up celebrities make heroin money by shilling for products they know to be worthless and for whoring themselves at $50 an autograph, as if on an assembly line. Cons have become a place of scum and villainy equal to that of any prison courtyard but at least the prisons have fewer criminals than the behind the scenes persons of many cons.* These are the people of fan conventions today, fun is an afterthought and money is the sole reason for everything. Now, this is not every convention out there, I am merely speaking of the corporate run facades to fandom, there are many conventions where the fans are the point. Places such as Cinema Wasteland are there for the fans (and largely by the fans) but they are the exception at this point rather than the rule.
In general, fan conventions are no longer about the fans, but about how the fans can (and will) be used to proliferate the propaganda for a particular property. There is a reason that conventions have the awful reputation they have today, because they have earned that reputation through and through.
*Not the staff itself, they are generally fine people; I am talking about the management and the agents/managers of those shallow individuals who make their living at these things. ν