11 January 2010

Musings Part II

It feels great to be back. I know I haven't updated in a week, but both myself and the webmistress felt we needed some time away, to recover after the holidays and plan more things for the site. Now I have returned, I feel refreshed, I'm blazing through questionnaires like mad, and I have a new batch of musings to share. The Con Year may be over, but my work never is.

“Rain is god’s way of reminding otaku to take showers.”

It’s true because Jesus told me this one. I can make ruminations here about the infamous “con funk,” but honestly, anyone who has ever been to a con probably has a story about their first experience meeting an unwashed otaku. Yes, I have met people who believe that a jump in the pool is a substitute for a shower (I roomed with one, too), yes I saw people at Anime Next this year standing in the rain, soaking wet, and saying they were clean. And no, it does not count. Kudos to those cons that have implemented “smell stations” to find and force attendees to bathe. I know that cons are a vacation from life, but they need not be a vacation from basic hygiene.

“I like to see who comes out of the elevator.”

People watching is very popular at cons. Be it admiration of cosplay or gawking at skimpy clothes, it is always an adventure to see who is walking around the con. And no matter what size a con is, or where it is located, there will always be a variety. Especially of late, since the trend to cosplay as popular shows seems to finally be dying down. I have always admired people who take time to create elaborate outfits, or who choose to cosplay obscure series, because it not only shows creativity, but also adds to the flavor of the con. It allows for the cosplayer to demonstrate their love for something they feel strongly over. Not to say that the Kingdom Hearts, Naruto or Bleach cosplayers do not. But I will admit I get a tingly feeling when I see a D, or a Gendo (who is much rarer than you might think), or an “obscure” Doctor (like myself) wandering the halls of a con, enjoying themselves. For a community that thrives on expression, seeing who comes out of the elevator is highly rewarding.

“More mainstream people judge otaku as weird, but everyone is obsessed with something. You might pay $4000 to see [a band], but you wouldn’t think that’s weird.”

Truth, plain and simple. Nobody has a right to judge one’s hobbies or expenses when they themselves gave something they feel passionate about. It is universal among all fan cultures.

“I judge a con by how friendly people are. We’re all otaku, so why are you going to snub people.”

Very common complaint, with no clear reasons to explain it.

Cons are, above all else, community. That’s why they began, that’s why they persist. Despite the fact that a large chunk of anime culture originates and sustains itself via the internet, there really is no substitute for personal interaction and networking. There is only so much you can gain from instant messenger, web forums, and IRC. Gatherings of fans, if only for the reason that they are able to meet new people and immerse themselves fully in their hobby, are a necessary part of fandom. It’s why science fiction conventions got their start, it’s why people are willing to drive hours over hundreds of miles for a three day getaway. Unlike the internet, where people eventually have to log off and go back to real life, cons are truly escapes from reality. I plan to make mention of this in the next few weeks, it is a large part of the research that cannot be explained in a few sentences, but as long as their is a fandom, there will be conventions. So honestly, why would someone wish to leave their old life behind, travel to a gathering of like minded individuals, only to cause drama and be antagonistic? This, by the way, is a rhetorical question.

“Did I do everything? Did I make a fool of myself? After the endorphins wear off, I get paranoid. Any one can be neurotic.”

Part and parcel with my explanation on con existence, this feeling runs abound. I doubt there is any attendee anywhere that does not feel at least a bit of regret after the convention is over. By their nature, cons offer so much to do that it is impossible to do it all. Even after a whirlwind year of 9 cons, I always leave one wishing I had gone to this panel, hung out with that friend longer, tried out this costume or bought that piece of art. Even if you have another con coming up next week, there will always be the sense of regret and longing that comes with the return to the “real world.” Con withdrawal, for lack of a better colloquialism, is a bitch.

“When you’re at a con, you’re in the mood to buy stuff.”

When I set out to explain a convention to another person, I often use this analogy: Take a foreign entity, drop it into Middle America and add a healthy dose of commercialism, and you get a con. American consumerism mixing with Japanese products. I feel it explains cons fairly well, or at least it used to.

As much as cons have changed in the present, one must always understand that one of their original functions was to sell things. As much as community is a part of cons, a con without a Dealer’s Room or Artist Alley is somewhat flat. Even though the internet has made acquiring items easier and often cheaper, there are always things that cannot be bought without physical contact and always things like art and food that are unique to the con themselves. Factor in that not everyone has access to the same range of goods locally, and it makes the Dealer’s Room that much more important. Add to this the idea that the escapism offered by the con itself lends more liberal justification to spending habits, and you have an economical juggernaut that can be the center of any con. It’s no wonder why one vendor I spoke with told me he can make as much money in one weekend at a larger con then he could in 3 months at his store. And having worked for vendors myself, I can testify to that.

“Everyone is so nice and welcoming, you feel right at home.”

Right up there with the idea that a con is where you meet your best friends. Community, exposure to like minded people, networking, it goes by so many names, but the underlying concept is sound: if you feel you are alone in your hobby and love for all things Japanese, after your first con, you will never feel that way again. As one person I spoke to told me: “Other cons have been great, but nothing felt like that first Animazement. I felt truly at home.”

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