Cons in pop culture

by Gail Z. Martin

I just finished reading Carole Nelson Douglas’s Cat in a Kiwi Con, a very tongue-in-cheek mystery set in, of all places, a sci-fi convention.  Having met Carole on a panel at DragonCon (she’s also been on my Ghost in the Machine podcast and is a big favorite of mine), I had to laugh all the way through the book at how spot on it caught convention life as viewed by a mundane suddenly pulled into the action.

It reminded me in some ways of my favorite con send-up, Galaxy Quest.  Only someone who knew and loved conventions could create such a funny and gentle parody that poked fun without making fun.

My kids didn’t really “get” Galaxy Quest until the first time we took them to DragonCon.  We made a point to come back and watch the movie again afterwards.  They laughed so hard now that they were insiders.

Cons are our chance to step into an alternative universe ruled by the fen.  Yet even in our con revelry, there are still touchpoints with those outside of the family.  I was reminded of this at Ravencon where we shared the hotel with a high school prom.  I don’t think it occurred to the seniors at the prom that they were every bit as much in costume as we were, or that it was just as much of a fantasy for them as for us.  (I was, however, very impressed by the Klingon in a formal purple outfit with a parasol.  Nice touch.)

Cons are really a tribal thing, just like football games, NASCAR races, NCAA basketball games and hockey.  Those who get it, get it.  Those who don’t shake their heads and wonder.  I always look at the hotel security cops who patrol at cons and wonder what on earth (or elsewhere) they make of it.  Of course, it’s not so very different from the Renaissance Festivals where I do signings, where everyone speaks some form of Shakespearean English and corsets rule.  (Even Scooby Doo did a take on a mystery at a Renaissance Festival.)

Sure, sometimes pop culture mocks fandom.  Then again, it also mocks sports fans and enthusiasts of just about anything (mocking subcultures has made Wayne Farrell a rich man).  So when you think of it that way, fandom isn’t really quite as isolated as we fen sometimes think.  One man’s beloved subculture is another’s weird gathering.  Viva la difference!

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