Links and Thoughts on Geek Conventions

I’ve been working on a really long links post in short fits and spurts over the last few days, realizing part way through that some of these links are thematically similar enough that they might as well be their own posts. Yesterday we got geek typologies; today, links and comments on conventions; and later this week, some links on geek fashion and on being a geeky woman.

Meeting the Web in the Flesh: This weekend is ROFLCon, a gathering at Harvard University of internet meme progenitors. The guest list includes LOLcats creators, bloggers, a ton of web cartoonists, and more. Panels include discussions of topics like dealing with internet fame and making money off a handful of diehard fans. If you happen to attend, let us know how it goes! (There should be a write-up in the Boston Globe soon, as well.)

Missing Old-Fashioned Geekfests: The above-noted convention is arguably fairly narrow in its scope compared to the trend of a lot of pop culture conventions as of late. As Nadine explains over at Angry Robot, many fan conventions seem to be turning into much more broadly-marketed geek conventions. Saddened that the Trekkers seem to have been shut out of the convention scene by rapid expansion and aggressive cross-marketing at events like WonderCon, Nadine explains, “Table-top gaming, video gaming, and comics can all be together, but not with tv and film and anime, that’s too much!”

I can kind of see where Nadine’s coming from, and it’s not just the traditional sci-fi cons getting this treatment. Comic Con International ceased to be a comic convention some years ago, as it now devotes more and more panel and dealer space to TV, movie, and anime people. (WonderCon and Comic Con International are run by the same people.)

This is an interesting concern to me because I actually sought out cons like this in the course of doing my research. One of my initial research questions was what all these geeky media had to do with one another, and going to cons like this seemed a good way to meet a variety of people with any number of interests. But is there something more “authentically” geeky about hunting down the most purely focused events, like WorldCon or DefCon? Maybe the attendees don’t have as much directly in common, interest-wise, but I’d be curious whether there are similarities in how they identify themselves based around their respective interests.

Two Ways to Write About Cons: At Tremble, Todd Levin offers what may be a pretty spot-on description of how most mainstream news providers cover fan conventions. (Link via The Morning News.)

So thank you, journalists, for your intrepid and mocking coverage of Comic-Con. It’s comforting to know that, yet another year, someone (i.e. all 200 of you) had the uniquely great thought that, “Hey, I’ll bet if I went to Comic-Con I could find a ton of nerds dressed all crazy. That might be something someone would want to see.” And thank you even more, for following through on that instinct and bringing a news crew to Comic-Con over the weekend, then pointing your camera at someone wearing an painstakingly handmade Ghostbusters costume so the rest of us can laugh, shake our heads, and say, “yeah, man, those guys are certainly not cool like me. Case closed.” You really exposed the shit out of that one. See you in a few months, at the Celebrity Impersonator Convention.

Compare with the results you get when you go to a major newspaper’s website and search for “nerd” over the last few months.

This may be the template for news stories about cons, but it’s not the only way to go. While this link may veer toward the other extreme in terms of celebrating geekery, you might be interested in a recent Guardian Books Blog post about how the sci-fi fan community—such as those gathered at Orbital 2008—”should be emulated, not lampooned.” (Thanks to Church for the link.) The author offers a little bit of history, some complaint about stereotypes, and a decent summary of the general tone and topics discussed. I kind of got the impression that the writer is a huge geek himself (even before I saw that other recent posts include titles like “Battlestar Galactica has an intelligence rare in American sci-fi”).

5 thoughts on “Links and Thoughts on Geek Conventions

  1. I finally got my reservations in for Portus, The Harry Potter Symposium in Dallas this July. I never did the whole con thing, so I’m not sure what to expect of this. Should be interesting though…

    You should come out! 🙂

    Actually, can you write cons off as a work expense? Seems like you should be able to.

    OK, now I’m just procrastinating the crap I have to do for work.

  2. I don’t think the Trekkies have gone anywhere. Paramount hasn’t done anything with the franchise in a dog’s age, so those guys are probably sporting their new Colonial Jock Smocks, or whatever.

    As for the “too much” problem, I know where she’s coming from, but the reason the big cons do that is precisely because they want to appeal as much to the comic-hoarding LARPer as to the anime-collecting Trekkie. Yeah, the die-hards will cross the country to attend Otakon, or Farpoint, or whatever, but most geeks will just hit up the local WonderComiCon once a year and see what’s up.

    The benefit of that is that it fosters cross-pollination. Trekkies and the like were hip to manga, e.g., long before it showed up on the general public’s DRADIS.

  3. I think the Guardian post is largely true: geeks do tend to be open-minded, willing to consider varied and new ideas, more than the general population. I read somewhere (I think it was the book Geeks by Jon Katz, which is outdated by now but has some good points about geek identity) that one could define “geek” as “neophile”. Or, at least, neophilia is often a characteristic of geeks. This makes sense given that technology is all about newness. Sci-fi, too, is not only about newness but often deals with questioning authority and challenging social norms. So it makes sense that geeks are open-minded.

    Also about the Guardian article… do you think the British are more likely to be accepting of geeks than Americans are? I believe sci-fi is regarded as a slightly more mainstream or “respectable” genre there than it is here, but I don’t know how far that extends into geek culture as a whole.

    Oh. Also, could the open-mindedness of geeks possibly explain some of that “cross-pollination” or the blending of cons? I mean, we just want to find out about all the new geeky stuff we can!

  4. Hm, interesting points, Anne. I’ve seen the “neophile” thing described elsewhere as well, I think … Ah, here it is, Wired editor Kevin Kelly writing for Science on nerd culture as based in novelty: “The Third Culture.”

    I wonder about this. I feel like certain kinds of novelty seem “geekier” than others, and surely there must be other subcultures that crave novelty … but seeing as how this is coming from multiple sources, I imagine there must be something to it.

    As for the British being more nerd-welcoming: Maybe. I found it interesting that the only wide-ranging survey I’ve ever heard of that asked large numbers of people about how they identify as geeks happened to take place in the UK (and estimated that about 7 million Britons identified as geeks).

    Oh, and before I forget: The Weekly Dig has a special ROFLCon/LOLcats-themed issue, downloadable in its entirety.

  5. There is a really great series on XBOX Live Marketplace called Con Trek. Each month the series goes to a new fandom convention and covers all parts of the show that mainstream media skip. There are celebrity interviews but the show also meets the fans in and out of costume, it shows all the merchandise available only at these sorts of events, and checks in with all of the programming and special events at each convention. Everyone should check this out.

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