Dragon*Con is this weekend (as is Burning Man) and I'm stuck at home, working all holiday weekend. But it's all right- it's been another rough summer and I don't know if I'm up to the rigors of a con.
Thousands of people spend their entire lives planning for these pilgrimages, their only relief from the dreary oppression of consensus reality. And although the drama queens and agony aunties of this cosmic prison wring their hands and gnash their teeth at these isolated outbreaks of individualism and blissed-out imagination, both may yet be spoiled by success.
San Diego Comic-Con once offered a weekend getaway for the world's dreamers (there was nothing quite as soul-crushing as returning to the real world after a glorious San Diego blowout), but now it's simply a display case for Hollywood and Silicon Valley. And every year the weirdos and misfits are sent further and further to the back of the bus. It's cultural gentrification of the most depressing kind.
But misfits and weirdos are a resourceful bunch by necessity (they invented this technology we're using here, after all), and a new generation is pursuing more idiosyncratic routines and visions at venues like APE and MOCCA. And unlike geeks of my generation (X), the daycare generation takes to socializing and confabbing like ducks to water. So anywhere you have a few thousand determined fans within a 300 square-mile radius of a decent-sized city, you'll probably see a viable con pop up and put down roots.
CNN took note of D*C (and with big ups to my main man JML*) this weekend, and as much the sad little geek in me appreciates the validation, the sober adult in me is terrified of the unwashed hordes that may descend upon it (as if long-time con-goers there don't look at people like me as one of the despoilers, but I digress). But since D*C is more a lifestyle con and less a media showcase, it may be a more-the-merrier situation. We'll see next year.
Fan conventions have been around since at least the 30s (Jack Parsons was a regular at the LA sci-fi con) but it was fallout from the 60s counterculture that really kick-started the modern phenomenon. The need to create alternative spaces and the do-or-die entrepreneurial spirit of the post-hippie era converged with the incredible explosion of new mythology (Star Trek, Marvel Comics, Lord of the Rings) and the new thinking inspired by the drug cultures to imagine a new generation of geek gatherings.
But it wasn't until the rise of more female-friendly memes like cosplay, Manga and vampire culture that cons really exploded. Back in the early 80s you could go to a comic con and count the women there on your fingers, but girls may yet outnumber boys in the future megacon reality. A lot of fan culture is still literary, and we live in a society where boys are subtly but inexorably discouraged from reading.
It's amazing how similar to the ancient festivals some of the cons are - never mind Burning Man and its clones. But our new mythologies are so incredibly potent and so many people are so incredibly passionate about them (or against them- longtime SD con-goers are in open revolt against the Twilight 'tweenies) that getting together to share them becomes inevitable.
Fandom is becoming a de facto, worldwide religion in all but name (it's amazing to see how people take what are essentially corporate properties and bend them to their needs, exactly as Medieval saint cults did). And fan conventions may well become future generations' furlough of choice from the grinding, Black Iron Prison of 21st Century life.
UPDATE: Here's a big old photofeed from this year's con. The problem with these things is you can't appreciate the hugeness of it all. Dragon*Con is like walking into Oz. But as you can see, cosplay is not the sole province of the sedentary and well-nourished. No, not at all...
* That Dawn/Two-Face pic is synchronistic for me. Back in my hippie days, I had a weird reaction (that fungi allergy thing) and broke out in hives, but only on my left side. It was really bad on my face- I literally looked like Two-Face. My new age guru friend was delighted by it- he said the rash was revealing my "dual nature." Sure enough, I later became friends with Dawn's creator and found that he was also friends with some of the people I was running around with back in those days.