I was listening to an episode of Geeks Without God over the weekend and they were talking about CONvergence 2013 and all the fun things they were planning on doing at the convention. As I was listening, I was remembering what conventions used to be like for me, back when I was young.
See, I used to be big on sci-fi/comic/literary conventions, back in the day. During convention season, which is usually late spring to early fall, I’d go to 2-3 conventions a month. Of course, there were some conventions that fell in the off-season and I’d hit those too.
Loscon, San Diego Comicon, Westercon, Worldcon, you name it, I went to it. I’d get off work early on Friday and either hop a plane or jump in the car and drive there, depending on how far away it was. These were the days before any of these conventions were all that big. My first year at SDCC was 1974, back when it was held at the El Cortez hotel. I got to watch it grow and evolve into the monstrosity it is today.
Of course, it was also the days before the Internet and I think that changed everything. Back in those days, if you wanted to find anything odd or unusual in your area of collecting, the convention was the place to go. Wanted a classic comic book that wasn’t on the wall at your local comic shop? Hit a convention! Want some toys that are no longer on toy store shelves? Go to a convention! Want to meet the author of your favorite book series? Get yourself to a convention! That was back in the day when the fan had little choice but to wait for a convention. Oh sure, you might look in the back of Starlog or something for someone advertising their wares, but it was even hard to know what was out there and conventions provided the best opportunity to discover new, interesting and unique collectibles that you’d never know about otherwise. However, with the advent of the Internet, that was no longer the case. You could get online any time and shop to your heart’s content, you can discover a dozen websites talking about the most obscure collectibles and anything you can imagine is just a credit card number away.
So conventions really stopped being about buying things. Oh sure, you can occasionally find something you didn’t know about, you might take a want list to a con and hope you can find things at good prices, but that’s not the primary purpose. So what else is there to do at conventions? See people you don’t otherwise get to see? Meet online friends? Talk to famous people? Well, that was once a thing to do.
Before the dark times. Before Hollywood. Largely I do blame Hollywood for the behavior that goes on at conventions. See, it wasn’t too long ago when well-known authors, comic book artists and writers, TV personalities, etc. just wandered the floors at conventions and talked that came by. They didn’t have security, they didn’t wear disguises and by and large, they didn’t get mobbed. I don’t know if it’s society that’s changed or the Hollywood mentality, it’s probably a little of both, but something went seriously wrong and now, you don’t get that kind of open interaction. Whereas in the old days, I got to be very good friends with a huge pile of my favorite authors, TV producers, etc., today… nothing. It’s all so controlled and sterile, you stand in lines, hoping to spend a few brief seconds talking to someone and maybe get an autograph, at $40 a pop, and then it’s gone. Where’s the fun in that?
Yes, I do think that the reason to go to conventions, especially a lot of them, has gone. Sure, there are still a few small conventions that have some of the feel of days gone by, I think that the first year of Wondercon Anaheim felt like that, but that’s mostly gone now, replaced by the same kind of rigid business regimen that we see at the big cons. It’s so rare to find a convention, put on by people who just love conventions, most of them are big business and I can’t really blame them, in the modern litigious society, they have to keep tight controls on everything, keep people away from the celebrities, because if some crazy fan does something, they’re on the hook for millions.
I think that kind of thing has largely killed most of the fun that I had growing up and it’s sad.