Every year in early April a warm and happy buzzing grows in me not entirely unlike what a kid feels just before Christmas. The reason? Norwescon. I love it. I always have a great time.
So, here I am a few days away from the con, and the buzz is upon me in full force. And I’m wondering, what is it about scifi and fantasy conventions that makes them worthwhile? There are all kinds of conventions from the professional to the fan-run, from big and boisterous to quiet and conversational, from general interest to almost fetishistic in specificity. Some are not at all my cup of tea, Earl Grey, hot. But they each have something to offer their target audiences.
I didn’t always appreciate them. Once upon a time I thought they all sounded like extract of lame. I’m thinking back more than a decade now, to some role-playing friends in Tacoma talking about how much they were looking forward to a convention. I thought they were crazy. Great, I thought, you get a bunch of social misfits dressed up as Federation officers and vampires and have to spend a long weekend full of bad imitation British accents and arguments about physics. Hu-fuckin-zah.
My friends assured me that while those elements are undisputedly present, they hardly make up the whole picture. I would have fun, they promised. In the end, I relented and agreed to go for one day. One day and no more, mostly to shut them up.
The first person I saw my first moment of my first con was a Klingon. Not just any Klingon, mind you, but a massive, impressive Worf-plus mountain of a fellow in full, painstakingly recreated battle dress and very thick glasses.
The glasses threw me. Two thoughts occurred straight away. Why go through all the trouble to make the armor and still wear glasses? And would Klingon society even allow someone to become a warrior with astigmatism?
The second question shows what a total nerd I am, a fact I immediately admitted to myself then and there. My aloof behavior was therefore nonsensical. And just like that—pardon me for pulling a Carrie Bradshaw—I realized that for all his regalia, I wasn’t really so different from the bespectacled Klingon dude. The only significant distinction between us was that he had fully accepted his inner Q’pla and I was still closeted, despite a lifetime of less public geekery.
I felt more than a little ashamed at my prejudices against people who were so much like me. I decided to shed the bias immediately, and spent the day admiring the efforts con-goers put into their costumes, listening to fascinating panel discussions (including a few arguments about physics), flirted with a vampire girl (whose British accent was terrible) and really didn’t want to leave at the end of the day. I had come to the convention a bitch and left a lifelong fan.
That’s not to say I’ve loved every convention I’ve been to. But I understand why they’re important. I understand why people spend months and months in preparation, and why it's worthwhile.
I suppose you could dismiss the whole scene as a need for validation. But hey, is validation really such a small thing? I don’t think so. Of course, in the long run we validate ourselves. That said, social approval and appreciation are nothing to sneeze at, especially to those of us who feel like the odd man out most of our lives. I have a head full of jokes my coworkers will never get, literary observations most of my relatives don’t relate to, and so forth. Moreover, I crave the euphoria that comes with new ideas, on subjects that those around me don’t always offer. I get that elation in large doses at conventions.
You know the theme song to Cheers? Well, not everyone at a convention knows my name. Hell, they don’t even know the pseudonym on my badge. But sometimes you wanna go where everybody’s cool with you wearing a Homestar Runner shirt and a kilt.
Photos courtesy of DJ Wudi.