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Cracked LCD- Dragon Con 2013 Post-Mortem (or, The Misanthrope among the Tribes)

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It’s late in the afternoon, Saturday at Dragon Con, and I’m walking by Malcolm McDowell’s table in the room of “celebrities” that I like to call the Career Graveyard. This man was Alex in Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”, one of the defining films of my life and one of the great performances in cinema. 17 year old me would have lost his damn mind. But at 37 and having seen him at the past three Dragon Cons I’m completely unmoved, unphased as I push the stroller containing Peter Pan and Tinkerbell past the dim stars of shows I’ve never even heard of. My wife, who works in film and television, is irritated by the phony glamour of it all as we edge past the morbidly obese on their mobility scooters, past the muffin-topped jailbait skanks desperate for attention in what passes for “sexy” in the minds of the socially decrepit, and through the pathetic tribal boundaries between Browncoats, gamers, otaku, steampunks, and furries. Amidst the sleazy aura of desperation and the stench of sweltering bodies, she asks “why do we still come to this?”

For the first time in the 21 years that I have been going to what is billed as the Southeast’s largest celebration of pop culture, I don’t have a justifiable response.

We wander the disaster of a dealer’s room, strolling past table after table of worthless junk. Why is there so much My Little Pony stuff? My two year old daughter, Tinkerbell, loves it. So do 30 year old men, apparently. I’m creeped out. I think back again to 17 year old me shopping at the Con, saving money all summer to buy a $200 Captain Harlock doll or happily plunking down $100 for a copy of Dungeonquest with the Heroes expansion long before Fantasy Flight mangled it. I can’t believe I used to spend so much money at this thing. I’m looking for obscure European science fiction comics, Jodorowsky stuff, but nothing.

I could buy bumper stickers or T-shirts with funny geek slogans on them to show which fandom tribe I belong to, but I actually have what I feel like is good taste and a sense of identity beyond the media that I consume. Most of these people I’m watching do not. They are constructs of consumption, buying more junk for collections that create who they are. I think about the classic Fugazi line- “you are not what you own”. The dealer’s room gives these people a common ground to become who they wish they were by devouring the creativity of others. I keep telling myself “it’s not the people, it’s the culture here”. I’m not trying to tell people that they’re having fun the wrong way or spending the money the wrong way.

I participate. I spend two dollars. Peter Pan spies a bin of Green Lantern rings that were probably comic shop giveaways during the Blackest Night promotion. He picks Guy Gardner Green, Tinkerbell goes for the hot pink Star Sapphire one. It’s the first time I’ve bought something at the Con since 2007. They love them, Peter Pan says he’s going to make a giant hammer with his. I wish inside that he would, and smash this whole display of empty “fandom” into the ground.

I try again to tell myself that it’s not the people. I look around and I see people having fun, comfortable with whatever it is they are. I respect that, I realy do. But then I wonder what makes these people tick, really. Why the obsessions with things others have written, drawn, or created? Why does a person expend so much time, effort, commitment, and (I guess) passion on making a costume to duplicate something from someone else’s fantasy world? Like vampires, they consume, that’s it I guess.

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Common areas packed with gawkers and cosplayers. I high five the guys dressed like Luke Cage and Iron Fist. I laugh at the person with the bill costume (as in “How a bill becomes a law” from Schoolhouse Rock”). There’s a guy dressed like Rick James, totally playing the role. He poses for pictures with some guys in Daft Punk helmets and wannabe Yves Saint Laurent glitter suits. I love it. But I feel remote. I’m not one of these people. Not anymore. Is it really not about the people?

After dinner we browse through the art show, by and large a miserable display of talent and materials wasted. My friend Jason Thomas, of Red Rocket Farms, is doing gangbuster business drawing robots and octopuses and I’m happy for him. Don Rosa has a big sign to warn off people from talking about Duck Tales, which doesn’t stop Peter Pan from yelling “look dad! Duck Tales!” I make my annual visit to heckle this lady’s illustrations of wolf-men with giant penises flapping out of their lace-up breeches. It’s ridiculous. It’s embarrassing. And it’s gross. I’m sorry, but this garbage deserves to be mocked and made fun of if not arrested and tried by a tribunal of wolves. But I can’t find her pictures. An hour later, a friend texts me- “WOLFCOCK FOUND!”

From there, the game room. Where Dragon Con 2013 came to die. It’s packed, its own tribes divided out among board gamers, CCG players, RPG groups, and miniatures tables. For some reason, a group of twenty or so big, hairy overweight men are standing around with their shirts off. My wife surmises that it must be “some kind of fucking gamer bullshit”. I think it might be some kind of “bear” thing. A man rushes past my wife to get to his game table, and he puts his hands on her waist and moves her out of the way. No “excuse me”, just a half-hearted attempt at a grope. I would have had words with him if my kids weren’t there. Another gamer literally steps over the stroller because he just can’t be bothered to wait for us to get two children off the elevator.

Peter Pan and Tinkerbell need to run around a bit, so I let them while my wife talks to our old friends from Atlanta Game Factory. I’m tickling Peter Pan on the floor, and a stranger gets up from a game and comes over and starts tickling my son. I see red. I would have broken a chair over this man’s head if I could have. You don’t go up and touch someone else’s kids. Maybe someone should have broken a chair over Dragon Con founder Ed Kramer’s head before he molested children at the convention some years ago. I don’t know, at this point, if I can really say that it’s not about the people.

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Peter Pan needs to potty, and I check out the bathroom. It looks like what I imagine a truckstop in a rural area of Missouri looks like after the apocalypse. There’s a film of piss on the floor. Someone in that game room defecated and neither wiped nor flushed. The manners, the common decency, of gamers is appalling.

Get off your white horse about stereotypes and generalizations; I’ve been around these people all my life. I’ve seen enough to pass judgment whether you agree or not. At Dragon Con 2013, I was more embarrassed than ever to be associated with gamers regardless of the many awesome, amazing people that I know and love that are passionate about games and playing them. It isn’t all of them, I know this. You don’t have to tell me.

It’s still great to see friends at Dragon Con, almost all of whom play games, watch Doctor Who and read comic books without crossing over into unhealthy or unbalanced levels of consumption/obsession. Texts are sent- meet here, where are you right now, did you see that eight foot tall guy in the Rollerball costume? We eat at a bizarre Turkish place with fire-breathing belly dancers that must have some kind of ties to organized crime. We laugh, we catch up, we remember things that happened at conventions past. We all wonder why we don’t get together more often, why we spend $130 to get together once a annually at a place that with every passing year feels more and more distant from where we are in our lives, what we do with our lives, and what we want our lives to be.

Maybe we were geeks or nerds once, and coming to Dragon Con made us feel at home with others like us. But those terms no longer stand for brainy, smart kids that are outcast from mainstream social circles that gravitate toward imaginative science fiction, strategy games, or more obscure media. Now those terms stand for people that watch too much TV, spend too much time playing video games, or otherwise filling something that’s lacking in their hearts and souls with action figures, ersatz bondage gear, discussing the fourteen episodes of Firefly at length, or trying desperately to be noticed by someone- anyone- at a convention.

We left early Sunday evening after laughing at this terrible “cybergoth” band called Angelspit that apparently never got the memo that 1995 ended in, well, 1995. It was early. I used to stay four days straight, gaming until the small hours and then falling asleep in the video room while a bootleg VHS copy of Spider Baby or City Hunter whirred away in the darkness. This year, I just wanted to leave. I’m not a fan, I guess you could say. I didn’t feel like I belonged.

So this isn’t my usual “yeah, the Con was lame but it was fun because of friends” post, filled with winsome ruminations and a general tolerance for the rudeness, sleaziness, and pervading sense of emptiness that wafts through the hotel halls during Dragon Con. It saddens me that some- but most definitely not all- of the people that like science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other genre media spoil gatherings like this for those of us who live balanced and value these things as part of a healthy mental, physical and spiritual life.

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I left Dragon Con 2013 never wanting to be around anyone in a Deadpool costume again. I never wanted to be in a room full of disgusting gamers again. I wanted to wrap myself in a bubble where being a Star Wars fan doesn’t seem so lame and silly because of the people for whom Star Wars is a more important factor in their lives and personalities than mountains and love are. I wanted to go be someplace where no one recognizes that the tattoo on my arm is from Watchmen or that the one on my leg is a Brian Froud illustration. I wanted to say that it was my last Dragon Con, that this was the point at which my interest in going stopped. I’m just not like the kind of people that make up the majority of its attendance, and I want nothing to do with people that comprise a subculture based almost completely on consumption of media- much of which is corporate owned, corporate controlled, and corporate created. Or worse- fan-made.

It saddens me to say it, but it is some of the people that participate in this bankrupt convention culture that spoil it. Judgmental? You’re damn straight I’m judgmental about people that care more about anime or cancelled TV shows than the health of their bodies or their ability to act like adult human beings. You’re damn straight I’m going to be judgmental about a flabby girl who thinks that she’s “flying her freak flag” or whatever, fat rolls spilling out of a chainmail bikini or a homemade Slave Leia outfit. You’re damn straight I’m going to be judgmental about the guy in some kind of anime costume that I watched for 30 minutes while eating lunch that literally sat there and stared at everyone head-down/eyes-up like he was a psychopathic killer, ready to spring up and tear into the food court with a machine gun. You’re damn straight I’m going to be judgmental about the oafish, probably virginal jerk that wore a shirt with a pictogram of a woman performing oral sex on a man with an arrow pointing down to his crotch under the words “warning: choking hazard”. You’re damn straight I’m going to be judgmental about people that have no sense of class, taste, or dignity. And furries? Should be jailed. No exceptions.

But who am I kidding. These people and worse are really everywhere, not just at Dragon Con or other gatherings of “nerds” and “geeks”. There are sports fans that probably put some of these people to shame.

As bitter and down on Dragon Con and its culture- and ultimately, its population- I am, the reality of it is that I’ll probably go back. Next August, I’ll get the text from my good friend Mike- “what are you doing for Dragon Con?” Then Peter will text me the first day, when he gets in from Jersey- “Mike- at the con- let’s do this old school”. I’ll line up and pay my $150 or whatever to do the same things again among the tribes, none of which I will ever call my own.

Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of Nohighscores.com as well as FortressAT.com. His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

22 thoughts to “Cracked LCD- Dragon Con 2013 Post-Mortem (or, The Misanthrope among the Tribes)”

  1. Three things come to mind after reading this:

    1.) I am stunned – STUNNED – that you are finding an activity that you have participated in for over 20 years, that you used to participate in as a single kid/young man, and that you now participate in as an adult and father, distasteful. Where do you currently come down on benders, sleepless weekends and promiscuity? You, personally, grew up… that doesn’t mean everyone else is fucked in the head.

    2.) A lot of the people at DragonCon are fucked in the head.

    3.) Who cares? I went to DragonCon for the first time this year. For every freaky weirdo, there were six people just having fun with stuff they love. The CROWDS bother me, but the people are just people. My wife wasn’t pawed, my kids weren’t accosted, we all just had a nice day. They actually had more fun than I did.

    In summary, just because it isn’t for grown up you doesn’t mean it’s a cesspool, and I think you would have a hard time convincing me that 19-year-old Barnes wouldn’t have had fun this year. Unless he, too, was afflicted with “can’t go back again” nostalgia.

    Kidding!

    1. Growing up some is definitely a part of all this, sure…but I’m VERY much a kid at heart…I’ll use just about any excuse available to watch cartoons with my kids or buy them a Transformer. I didn’t REALLY buy that Gummi Bears DVD set for them…

      I wish that you were right about it not being a cesspool…but man, in many ways, it really is. I’m not the only person to have commented about the pervading sense of sleaziness and desperation online…the lack of basic manners alone is astonishing, the complete absence of good taste is apalling.

      As to whether all of that makes the offenders “fucked in the head”, well, that’s up for debate. I’m fairly sure that an in-depth analysis of a large section of Dragon Con attendees would likely reveal quite a spectrum of psychological issues that are part of why these people do what they do.

      But there again, you could probably get that from a survey of shoppers at a grocery store too.

      1. In the spirit of sharing, not argument, I would offer the following:

        On Sunday, after the torrential rains hit and attendees were jammed into the hotels of DragonCon, my wife and I shepherded our three kids and our nephew into the very deepest dungeons of one of the hotels to attend a session on Godzilla. My son LOVES Godzilla – he’s nine and he has me for a father… of course he does. The rest of us were there for him as our Godzilla interest was very low to low.

        Anyway, we get the last few seats in the room and the session begins with PowerPoint slides flickering up onto the screen. Ugh. The presenter kicks off with some very basic facts and the nerd hands start rising. A few minutes after that, it becomes very obvious that the presenter knows less about Godzilla than possibly anyone else in the room.

        I admit I was saying to myself – “Shut up, geeks, and let the man speak” – as my frustration from being wet and cramped rose up. But then, something really cool happened. The nerds showed respect, but corrected and shared their information with the room in a very positive, very collaborative way. We all left the room wanting more, and having learned quite a bit as we shared in collective otaku love for this weird creation.

        So, my point is this… I don’t know many places where that could have happened – it never spontaneously does in MY life, I can promise you – so for the very possibility that little snatches of joy like this can appear, I am willing to endure quite a bit of what you describe in your write up.

        1. First of all, OMG have you bought your son the Godzilla: Half Century War comics? If you haven’t GO BUY NOW. The trade is like $10 on Amazon. It is THE BEST Godzilla story ever, including all of the films. The artwork (James Stokoe, who also did Orc Stain) is _amazing_. And there are some really awesome and innovative ideas about Godzilla that I hope someone involved with the upcoming film are paying attention to.

          Thanks for posting that story, I appreciate hearing about something positive. My big positive story like that was also during Sunday’s rain…my wife has a friend that is a voice actor on a big popular TV show that was taking part in an improv puppet show for kids. So we went to go see it, and it was awesome. Kids in costumes hollering at puppets, hollering about LOTR and Spider-Man stuff. It made me feel good, my kids liked it, and it was funny and cool without being skeevy or trashy…and it was a 100% unique creation, not bound to corporate IP properties or “fandom” at all.

          I like the theme of what you posted, that being fans of something can be a collaborative sharing…this is exactly what I said to a friend of mine when were talkign about how utterly obnoxious it was that every third person was dressed like Doctor Who. I said “I express being a fan of Doctor Who by watching the show, enjoying it, and then telling you ‘hey, this epsiode was really awesome, you should watch it and we’ll talk about it.” Not by identifying myself with the show.

          Of course, I could regale you with plenty of stories about panels like that have gone horribly wrong…like the time they did a Star Wars “men behind the masks” thing back around 1995-1996 and fans were asking Boba Fett, Darth Vader, R2-D2, C3PO and Chewbacca questions. One guy asked Peter Mayhew (Chewie) how he- the actor- created the Wookie language. His reponse? “There is no Wookie language.” The whole thing was just very weird and awkward, the actors were clearly embarassed and unsure how to respond to these bizarre questions that were mixing up the fiction of the films and the real world making of them.

          1. Thanks for the recommendation – it turned into a $200 order of DVDs, games and other books, but that’s my problem… not yours. My son’s looking very forward to the comic. I am looking forward to the Pippin, Godspell and new Superstar DVDs. Some of that consumption you mentioned, I guess. ??

            Again, I must have been very lucky as the events I attended were all fun – the Buffy cast, a panel of horror actors, the Godzilla session. I have been to Origins and GenCon a bunch of times and feel the same way there, too. I shop a little, participate a little, talk to the creators of cool new things and make jokes and hang out with my friends and family. I may remember a cosplayer or weirdo here and there, but all-in-all, 99 percent of my memories are positive… and now that my kids are older, their experience is positive as well. My oldest daughter was beaming after the Buffy panel… she loves Spike a whole lot.

            I am trying to make your case, in my own mind, but I am having trouble. Being a creative, and being a consumer, hasn’t really held me back and I just don’t think it will hold my kids back either. I would say “everything in moderation,” but I own a thousand board games, so no go there as the hypocrisy would choke me.

            The best corollary I can draw has to do with romance novels. When I was a young English Lit and Philosophy student, I would see people reading these dumb ass romance novels and wonder why they were pissing their time away. As I got older, the stance softened to “at least they’re reading and not watching TV.” Now, I feel like “whatever makes them happy.” My opinion on the books hasn’t changed – romance novels are an utter waste of time and ink. But, BUT, I can appreciate that it makes the readers happy. Twilight readers fall into this category, too, as do One Direction fans – but it’s harder somehow, ya know?

            Anyway, my point hasn’t changed from above. It may seem too simple, but if it makes them happy… let them be happy.

  2. I feel you one hundred percent about fandom being more and more about conspicuous (media) consumption instead of bringing people together. I haven’t been to a con in years, but the last one I went to in college had the same tinges of excess you’re writing about here.

    I watch a ton of anime, probably more than everyone else I know combined. But it’s just one of my interests, not something that defines me to my very core. I’m not desperate for a place where I can unburden my secret self on like-minded individuals, not any more than with any other of my interests and hobbies.

    1. See, this is what I’m getting at with a lot of this. I think conventions VERY MUCH, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, WERE about getting people together with common interests and they weren’t excessive, hedonistic nerd-orgies like they are now.

      But now, it’s all about conspicuous media consumption…pop culture…it just happens to be a different sort of pop culture than the mainstream media provides.

  3. Barnes reminds me of my Grunge drummer that played with my band back in the 90’s. This drummer always struggled with song selections we made, wondering if it was hip or cool enough. It wasn’t drugs that killed Cobain it was the fact that his music went mainstream. Nothing is worse to this crowd than seeing yuppies shopping for Nirvana CD’s. Well, DragonCon just got too big. People saw all these guys in costumes having fun and they wanted in too! Once it goes mainstream its over for the grunge babies. Their hate for corporate success destroys their joy of the event. Reading through the Barnes article is fascinating because you can feel the internal struggle he is going through, with each exhibit he gazes upon unable to decide if its cool or not. It really boils down to Barnes generation terrified of what people think and unable to truly unleash their passion. Something behind his generation has always held them back and their hatred for posers keeps them constantly on guard and on the fence about making a decision on what’s cool and hip and what is in bad taste. The contradictions on display in Barnes DragonCon disection are staggering but none the less interesting as he wrestles with what is really in good taste and what is bad taste.

    1. I just don’t really care what’s “cool”. I care about what I like, what interests me, and what I respond to.

      The problem with Dragon Con isn’t that the mainstream came calling, it’s that it’s actually become more and more mired in the marginal, twilight world of fandom (I’ve used that phrase twice today). If you look at PAX and San Diego Comic-Con, those are conventions that HAVE had the more mainstream acceptance, press, and attendance. There are reasons (Ed Kramer’s child molestation charges notwithstanding) that the cast of The Avengers, JJ Abrams, and the big entertainment companies go to those shows and not Dragon Con. Dragon Con has become closer to crap like the whole furry thing and esoteric anime than Star Wars and Star Trek. They still manage to pull a couple of big names (Shatner for example), but the whole thing feels very low-end…a lot of the dealers room seems like an indoor Renaissance Festival.

      But let me tell you something, if I’m going to “unleash my passion”, it’s not going to be because of games or science fiction TV. It’s going to be for something that really matters in my life, something that generates a net benefit or effect for myself and my family.

  4. I’m of two minds on this piece.

    On the one hand, I could really do without the blatant slut-shaming in the first paragraph (“jailbait skanks desperate for attention in what passes for ‘sexy’ in the minds of the socially decrepit”) and the fat-shaming further down (“fat rolls spilling out of a chainmail bikini”). A lot of the judgment is warranted, but some parts, like those, come off as just spiteful.

    On the other hand, I’m pretty much in agreement about the sheer banality of nerd culture. A lot of self-described geeks, nerds, fans, and so on have this idea that being outre is in and of itself something to be proud of, that social mores (like not groping women… or personal hygiene) don’t matter, and that’s not okay.

    Furthermore, I agree that the obsession with consumption of corporate media is problematic, not just because of how shallow it is, but because it props up IP farms like Warner Bros., Disney, and so on that are in the process of subsidizing and homogenizing our entire culture. Consuming corporate product isn’t a rejection of the status quo; it actually strengthens it.

    Ultimately, to the author, I’d just suggest that if he’s so disgusted by conventions, he should simply stop going instead of making it a hollow ritual he forces himself to endure every year. There are better ways to connect with nice, smart, creative people that don’t involve 30-year-old men dressed up as ponies and needy assholes in Deadpool costumes.

    1. The Deadpool thing was OUT OF CONTROL this year. It was crazy. I thought “damn, I didn’t realize Deadpool was suddenly so big” but a friend explained that there was some kind of internet thing about it.

      Anyway, you’re right, I shouldn’t go at all and it may be that this year will be my last- or, I may just go down and meet up with my friends that come from out of town for it and not actually go to the damn thing at all.

      You completely nailed the larger social and cultural effect of all this in regard to the corporate commerce angle. I love Star Trek, Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, and plenty of other corporate IP including all the Marvel and DC stuff I read every week…but I watch the show/movie, read the book, and move on. I don’t let those things become who I am.

      As for the slut/fat shaming…I’m just tired of it. It’s totally spiteful, mostly because there’s this silly subtext to it that being ugly, gross, or “different” than what are the social norms is somehow liberating, unique, or rebellious. If you’re unhealthy, you’re unhealthy. There is nothing cool about that, it demonstrates a lack of respect for yourself. There is also nothing cool about young girls exposing themselves (whether they’re in shape or not) at a venue where most of the clientele are 30+ males that will openly ogle anything vaguely female shaped. It’s sad to watch, and there again I’d like to think that young girls were better than that.

      1. Ok, here’s the thing. If there are men there who are incapable of acting appropriately when they see a woman showing some skin, the problem is them, not the woman. You’re putting the blame in the entirely wrong place and then by saying that you would like to think that young girls are “better than that” you’re making them the problem. They are not the problem. The people ogling them are the problem. If one of these women were sexually assaulted at the convention would it be their fault for dressing provocatively? Would they have been “asking for it”? Now, should women go into these situations knowing how the men at the conventions will most likely react and also know that there is the possibility that someone will take things too far? Yes, they totally should but they shouldn’t have to change how they express their fandom because men can’t handle themselves. There is a huge conversation going on right now about creating safe convention environments for all attendees and the answer is not for women to dress like a nun, it’s for men to stop acting the goddamn fool and realize that a woman in a slave Leia costume can dress that way for whatever fucking reason she wants so leave her the fuck alone.

        As for the fat shaming, the notion that the large people you saw were overweight as a way to screw with social norms is totally off base. Many many people struggle with their weight and there is a complex set of emotional, economical and social aspects that go along with that struggle, one of which is people who openly express their disgust of overweight people because overweight people are “unhealthy” or “lack self control”. I live around Atlanta, I know how the traffic is around here. I’m sure that on your way to the show you saw many people who were speeding, an unhealthy activity, or texting while driving, an unhealthy activity. On your way into the convention you probably passed people who were smoking, an unhealthy activity, and while you were eating you probably saw people eating fatty foods, an unhealthy activity. Where’s the mocking derision of these people? They’re engaging in unhealthy activities too, yet you’re not singling them out.

        Weight struggles can be a cycle of shame and overeating and that shame can come from within and it can come from without and calling someone ugly and gross because they’re unhealthy does nothing to help the problem. Granted, it’s not your job to help people lose weight or feel better about themselves, but there’s a difference between hurting and “not helping” and comments like these fall firmly in the former category.

        I’m not looking to turn this into an argument so if I’m coming off combative or argumentative, I apologize. My intent is not to inflame. I now return you to the hating of Firefly already in progress.

        1. No, I appreciate the counterpoints and I don’t disagree with you- not combatitive or argumentative at all.

          I totally agree 100%- the oglers are the problem, not the woman. It’s a _male_ problem in larger culture, and not just American nerd culture. At Dragon Cons past, my wife has had men stick cameras under her skirt, press against her, and outright proposition her. It’s not her fault for being sexy and wearing great clothes. It’s all on these revolting, respectless men.

          But Brandon, when I see 15, 16 year old girls wearing thongs and duct tape in a public place attended by both small children and old men…should that behavior not be shamed? There’s probably some kind of parenting issue involved there. Over the years I’ve seen some pretty “Girls Gone Wild” kind of stuff at Dragon Con including but not limited to public sex acts…things that are the result of poor choices, loose morals, and lack of self-respect…this is all a different issue than whether a woman of any body type chooses to dress sexy, be sexual, or other express something about their bodies or their selfs through their attire.

          But yes, when the men are standing their ogling and giving it undue attention, the blame- and shame- does return to them, agreed absolutely.

          As far as the weight thing goes, it wouldn’t be something I would even comment or notice if it weren’t so damned widespread in nerd/geek circles. And I’m sorry, but if you have the time, effort, and energy to invest in pursuing games or whatever kind of fandom you’re into, then you can invest some of that into taking care of yourself…at LEAST to the point where you don’t have to use a scooter to get around. It’s like the whole stereotype of the giant fat dude sitting in his basement playing MMORPG, eating trash and staring into a screen all day. It isn’t hard to balance those interests and predilections with exercise and better eating.

          Sure, there are complex issues around obesity, many of which are deeply rooted psychological challenges or physiological issues for some people. But when the problem is just bad choices, laziness and misaligned priorities- which is, I’m willing to bet, why there’s so many overweight people at conventions- then yes, I do think that is something that should be shamed. Where I’m _wrong_ about it (yes, wrong) is lumping the two groups together and issuing a blanket statement of shame. But I can’t divide it out.

          You’re dead right that it is actually a larger cultural matter, not just a convention one.

          A good friend of mine is terribly overweight and it’s something he’s struggling with. I don’t harass him about it, I don’t make him feel bad about it. Instead, I encourage him to eat better and focus on making better choices. He knows it’s a problem, he doesn’t just say “fuck it, I’m a big nerd, it’s OK for me to be like this around other nerds”. He’s trying to care of it- and himself. That I totally respect and would in no way shame. I’d like to think that other folks struggling with their weight are making an effort, but many would rather spend the time and energy playing a video game or watching TV.

          The problem is too, and something I am definitely railing against, is that in nerd/geek cultures things like morbid obesity and skeevy girls have become the social norms. I’m not OK with that. Most folks just shrug at it and say “that’s how it is”. I’m saying “this could be better than that”.

          1. I can certainly see where you’re coming from in regards to people who game so much that their personal, social and professional lives suffer because of it. Lord knows I’ve been to enough E3s and GameStops and seen That Guy who won’t shut the hell up about a particular game and it irritates me because that’s not who I want representing gaming to the general public. My son tends to get hyperfocused on things and I have to toe a very delicate line to make sure that I’m not killing his interest in a topic but I’m also letting him know that not everyone is as interested in this thing as he is and that he can’t let other things fall by the wayside as a result in his interest.

            As for the teenage girl thing, man, that’s something I am not looking forward to when it comes to my daughter. If she were to come to me and say she wanted to go to DragonCon as Red Sonja I’d want to have a talk with her about how the men there are going to look at her and does she only want to be seen for her looks and in the process I’d completely ignore the fact that Red Sonja kicks ass and there’s no reason she can’t want to be like her. On the flip side, if my son said he wanted to wear a pair of fur shorts and go as Conan I’d probably tell him to bring a coat because it’s going to be chilly.

            Some of this is me being an overprotective Papa Bear and some of this is a reaction to this country’s need to sexualize girls younger ages every year but at the same time, how much of this is a reaction to the prevailing thought that an attractive woman is somehow less valuable than a smart one and that if an attractive woman is successful her success came as a result of being attractive? I don’t know nor do I know how to navigate the tricky waters of letting her know that people are skeezy and she has to be mindful of that while at the same time fostering in her the understanding that she can be whoever she wants to be, including an attractive young woman.

            I will also use this time to tell her of my plan to meet all of her prospective boyfriends while sitting in my chair and writing said boy’s name on a shotgun shell that gets placed atop the mantle.

            In the end, I think what I object to is the notion of shaming people for their behaviour. The dime store psychologist in me says that if someone games to unhealthy levels or if a young woman thinks that her only worth resides in a willingness to show her ass crack at a convention, they already feel bad about themselves in some capacity and making them feel bad about how they react to feeling bad only makes things worse.

            Honestly I have no idea. I should probably lock both of my kids in their rooms until their thirty, giving them nothing but classical music and the Bible for entertainment.

  5. I went to a similar UK event and have to agree with you to some extent. I was, erm, baffled. Why are people interested in My Little Pony (the mind boggles)? And I can’t understand for the life of me why anyone would waste time writing fiction about someone else’s fictional world unless they were being paid for it. Or dressing up as someone else’s fictional character. I mean, how hard is it to create a semi-original setting based on cliches like elves, zombies and orcs, anyhow?

    It does feel like ‘geek’ has become about media consumption and not about a genuine interest in niche topics.

    1. Oh no…so it’s not just a US thing…

      The My Little Pony thing is just WEIRD. I guess it’s some kind of post-everything irony that middle-aged men are into it and not just little girls. I think it’s awesome that my little girl likes it, the characters are fun and it’s a colorful and sometimes funny show. My wife likes that she’s into it because she liked My Little Pony when she was small. But I should not be seeing dumpy 35 year olds spending $100+ for “rare” My Little Pony exclusives or whatever.

      But there it is, you said- media consumption, not genuine interest.

  6. My husband has started using ‘low geek’ culture to describe people who define their identity by cosplay and watching an approved list of TV shows. ‘High geek’ refers to Silicon Valley culture and stuff like reading the works of Cory Doctorow.

  7. Since I was 18 till I was 27 I went to a little thing called Dagorhir’s Ragnarok. It’s a week long foam fighting (some of you may call it LARP) campout/battle. On my first trip a guy who was a legend in my mind and in the game told me “Ninety percent of these people are degenerates and can’t make it in the world, don’t end up like them.” It took me a few years to see it but he was right. I kept going but I basically stayed in my camp got smashed for a week and then left hanging out only with my group.

    So same story different venue probably bigger women.

  8. As a thirty-something “My Little Pony” fan, I know where you are coming from. In my early twenties, when I was super into anime, I ate conventions up. Three days of everything I loved, surrounded by thousands of people who also loved what I loved. Nowadays, I wouldn’t go to a convention if were right down the street and free to attend. I like what I like, but I hate the fandom so much. That’s why I won’t call myself a ‘brony’, labels are for people wo are desperate to fit in. I’m not one of those people, not anymore anyway.

    Thankfully, the boardgamers I’ve met are a pretty good group of well-adjusted people. Still probably wouldn’t go to a boardgaming convention though.

  9. Michael, I’m totally with you on this topic. This is an old, old problem with fandom, one that goes bag to the early days of comics, games, and science fiction conventions. For some extreme examples, track down a copy of Harlan Ellison’s “Xenogenesis” essay. It’s essentially a keynote speech he gave at a science fiction convention in which he said, “Some of you in the audience are deeply troubled people. Rather than claiming that you’re misunderstood by society for being smarter and cooler than everyone else, take an honest, clear-headed look at the unhealthy aspects of your life.”

    While you and Ellison are talking about a small minority of trolls, misanthropes, blowhards, mental cases, and jerks, the problem isn’t how many of them there are, or how intensely dysfunctional they can be. The real problem is how readily people accept that behavior within these subcultures.

    Here are a few examples that I observed. I’m deliberately going way back in time for them, not to prove that I’m a grumpy old fart, but to show this problem isn’t new.

    “RUNNER!” Back in the late Seventies, science fiction conventions suffered a plague of people dressed up like characters from Logan’s Run, chasing each other down crowded rooms and hallways. Frequently, they’d slam into people, knocking them over in many cases. While the convention organizers usually tried to discourage this behavior, they didn’t treat it with enough of a firm hand to end these “runs” for good.

    “THAT SUPPLY WAGON WASN’T THERE!” At my first boardgame convention, I walked by a table where two guys were playing Terrible Swift Sword. Both were staring intensely at the board when, suddenly, one of them turned red in the face, shouted “That supply wagon wasn’t there before, you goddamn cheater!” and launched himself, fists flying, at his opponent. People interceded themselves, but Mr. Berserko wasn’t kicked out of the con.

    “KIRBY, YOUR ART IS JUST SHIT.” At a comics convention where I was talking to Jack Kirby, a Baby Huey-looking character walked up to the table in the dealers room where Kirby was meeting fans and said, “Kirby, your art is just shit. It looks like a child drew it. I could draw it better with my butt crack. You asshole.” And he left. Kirby shrugged and said, “Eh, it’s not the first time that’s happened.”

    Now, while every social grouping has some percentage of jerks, you probably wouldn’t see the same type of behavior happen as often, or be tolerated quite so much, at a convention for doctors or real estate agents.

    1. Thanks so much for your post Kingdaddy- not just because those three stories from early fandom are freaking hilarious (and sad), but also because you really understand one of the main things I’m getting at with this- that the widespread acceptance of unacceptable behavior within a subculture even by just a few people can ruin the experience for all- and cast the entire thing into a negative light.

      I also love that you brought Ellison into this, because he’s one of my heroes and biggest inspirations as a writer. Back when I was 13, 14 years old I would read about Ellison just going off on fans, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or whatever and think “man, what a jerk this guy is!” But then later on, as I matured, I didn’t necessarily agree with him all the time but I understood where he was coming from and even though I didn’t agree…he wasn’t necessarily wrong.

      I almost didn’t read this because it got beat to death at F:AT by some immature folks that can’t see the forest for the trees (I was actually compared to Westboro Baptist Church hatemonger Fred Phelps, which is just shy of saying “you’re like Hitler”), but I’m glad I did because what you and Ellison wrote here is exactly what I wanted to communicate in my own frustration and distaste for convention culture.

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