Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 18, 2014
I’m hitting the Salt Lake City Comic Con FanXperience this weekend. I just got through the first day, and only a few hours after-work at that, but I had a pretty good time. I was pondering on the whole geek-gathering thing while sitting in the hall munching on a sandwich for dinner. I have coworkers and neighbors who just don’t get it. What’s the point? What’s this about? I thought a little bit about Wil Wheaton’s speech on being a nerd at a Comic Con last year, which was cool, but didn’t quite put a finger on things. I watched all the Star Fleet officers and Princess Leias, Jedi Knights, superheroes, supervillains, Minecraft Creepers, Doctor Whos (or is that Doctors Who?), Master Chiefs, zombies, demons, steampunks, and pirates go by. I thought, “These are people who really love geek culture things, and get together to celebrate it.” But that wasn’t it, either. And besides, “geek culture” is kind of a circular definition.
I’d just attended James Marsters’ spotlight (he played Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), and he talked about the strangeness of fan conventions. He said that hearing someone talk about themselves is one of the most boring things ever – but at conventions people cheer when he talks about himself. Then he said he’s been there, too – he was at an early convention in the 1970s when he was dressed up in a Star Fleet uniform, with Vulcan ears and his eyebrows dotted up like Spock’s, with the most awesome balsa-wood phaser of anybody at the convention. And he had the same experience – going nuts in reaction to Spock’s “Live long and prosper” sign.
So what is it? What brings these geeks together to share their weird hobbies?
With a few exceptions, the thread of commonality is that all these “geek culture” items are works of imagination. Science Fiction, fantasy, super-heroic, supernatural, you name it… the common thread is that they don’t really exist. But when we share these experiences – these fantasies – with each other, they become real on several levels (as anybody who has been in a “raid” in an MMORPG can attest). You can argue that anything that two people can share together is “real” in some ways, if for no other reason than it is something that brings people together and gives them some kind of common bond.
A lot of other people “don’t get it.” When those of us who are into these things talk about these fictional worlds, fictional people, who are meaningful to us in one way or another, and we get weird looks from those people. Sure, okay, maybe they saw Lord of the Rings, but they don’t get what the big deal is about it. So we get together with other people who do get it, who understand and share these kinds of interests and loves. We all have stories and costumes and other bits of invented memories and artifacts to share, too. We make it real – at least real enough to make it a topic of discussion, or even arguments. When we share these experiences, we breathe yet more life into these objects of imagination, and add new aspects to these creations which are otherwise static without our participation.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s a not-insubstantial part of why these cons exist and are so successful.
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