The very first convention of the fannish variety that I attended was a now-defunct event called Castle Con in the summer of 1992. It was not a Star Wars or even a media con, though there were some cosplayers and ANH was part of the rotation in the video room. There were LARPers, some interesting panels and a writer’s workshop, a dealer’s room where I found a black cloak for 20 bucks and a cool pair of earrings for eight (still have both of them), and the opportunity of a lifetime to meet the last surviving cast member of “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” I’d asked him about Ed Wood’s cross-dressing.
A year later I went for the first time to a long-running Star Trek con that’s still one of if not the last fan-run Trek con in America, called Shore Leave. That had a great dealer’s room, filled with fan-made merchandise like zines, art, figurines, etc. alongside the licensed stuff. I’d cleaned up at Shore Leave for years even if most of the panels and the guests weren’t as interesting to me…though there was the time Steve Sansweet came in 1996 to promote the Special Editions. Shore Leave had about 1500 attendees crammed into a smallish Marriott, so it was busy yet chill at the same time. There was no problem seeing or doing anything you wanted. For a period of time there was a summer Trek con in Northern Virginia that I’d attend as well, again mostly for the dealer’s room though I also went to see guests. There were also the occasional Slanted Fedora cons, Vulcon in Baltimore, and whatever Creation con rolled into town.
Still I always felt like I was crashing someone else’s party. I wish there had been such a thing as a Star Wars con, which there really hadn’t been since one had been held in L.A. in 1987. I’d missed Celebration I, otherwise known as the Great Denver Mud Party, in 1999, so Celebration II in glamorous Indianapolis was my first Celebration and the largest con I’d ever been to. While a lot of great things happened, the experience was very much like spending Memorial Day weekend holding on to a pickup truck in the hopes I’d be the last one with my paws still on it by Monday night.
My first SDCC was in 2004 and that was a far bigger con than Celebration. At the time it was remarkably well-organized and it was still small enough where you could pretty much get to see whatever you wanted. Today SDCC feels like Celebration II magnified 10 fold with all of its attendant problems and yes, the feeling of being in a contest with a bunch of other loons determined to hold on to that shiny new pickup truck until they win it or their lifeless bodies are dragged away. Whatever you’re willing to do, someone else is willing to go even further to make it into a panel or an autograph session. While some people consider pavement campouts fun and the stuff of memories, along the way the cost vs. benefit analysis kicks in and once you’ve done this sort of thing a few times, you become more aware that over the long term, there’s ephemeral benefit in return for a whole lot of cost.
Worse yet it encourages conventions to start treating attendees more and more cavalierly, without any respect for the money they’re spending or the experience they’re getting. SDCC doesn’t care at all about its attendees and people keep killing themselves to come anyway. Creation’s shows have long been just cynical cash grabs. I find the events that do treat fans with respect are fan-run, small relaxacons but those are largely the domain of traditional sf/f fans.
There’s got to be a better way.