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Con Report: ConnectiCon 2016

Well, and Your Humble Blogger went to a Con for the first time in nearly twenty-five years. This was ConnectiCon, a large (twelve thousand person) pop-culture convention that I went to largely to accompany my Perfect Non-Reader (who will be fifteen in a week and probably isn’t quite up for being dropped off at an enormous convention site and picked up twelve hours later) rather than for my own entertainment. It was a very well-run Con, as far as I could tell, particularly for its enormity, and insofar as the primary purpose of a Con is to make the Mundanes feel old and out-of-touch, it was an enormous success.

Things I learned at ConnectiCon 2016:

  • I have withdrawn from popular culture and I am OK with that. I recognized less than a quarter of the costumes and found less than a tenth of the panels to be on subjects of even mild interest to me. I don’t watch television much and watch a handful of movies a year and don’t play videogames, so I have no cultural reference points with most of the culture. I did at one point read some comics, so I am not altogether unfamiliar with the superhero genre that is so dominant now, but I am essentially unfamiliar with their current film, television and comic book incarnations. While I am not proud of that, and in fact acknowledge that it would be good for me to be more intimately familiar with the culture I live in, I just don’t want to spend my time on it. For relaxation I re-read old YA specfic and play Tetris; keeping up with the MCU seems like work to me at this point.
  • Everything is too loud. This is exacerbated by me being middle-aged; while my hearing is deteriorating slowly, what has really gone is my ability to single out a voice from a muddle of noise. This means that I can’t enjoy conversations in areas with loud music or raucus cheering, even if that noise is bleeding in from nearby rooms. Still, my P N-R also felt that the Con was uncomfortably loud, and that it was difficult to escape the ruckus. Central to this is that the Con was running very loud karaoke all day Sunday (and most of the day Saturday, I think?) in a mezzanine that was part of the public concourse, such that I couldn’t make out what was being said to me in the opposite mezzanine some fifty yards distant. The other big crowd events were held at a tremendous volume too, though, such that I almost was driven out of the room by the intro music to the masquerade (and in fact made it through less than a quarter of the event, but I needed to take some time to work on my lines as well)
  • I still like people-watching the cosplayers. It’s still fun to see all the people dressed up goofily, even if I have no idea what they are trying to look like. It’s fun to recognize the few things I do recognize (one particularly excellent one was the fellow dressed as The Shadow) but it’s also fun to just say that’s a humongous hammer or those people are all identical or the action on those wings is excellent. And in truth the creativity and craft on display are outstanding. It’s sort of like an enormous twisted craft fair where (almost) everything is built onto a human form.
  • I don’t like people-watching the cosplayers as much as I used to. Bear with me a bit, because I’m still trying to work out why this is. Part of it, I’m sure, is just that I feel excluded by my unfamiliarity with the fandoms being celebrated—I am, by any objective judgment, one of the mundanes they are attempting to freak out, and I feel that. Part of it is probably that my own sense of taste is exceeded by the gore factor. (Digression: one major difference from the Cons of my misspent youth is that the costume weaponry now tends to the absurdly oversized. I suspect that’s a combination of Anime/Manga/Videogame styles of depiction and a deliberate effort by Concoms to discourage and/or prohibit realistic-looking weapons. At any rate, my recollection is that in the 1980s, daggers and handguns were far more frequent and there were no twelve-foot triple scythes or 18" diameter laser-cannon arms. Which means that in some sense when you look around the Con it appears to be all about weapons and violence to an extent that was not the case twenty-five years ago, but in another, the cartoonish aspect is less threatening. The makeup, on the other hand, leans to the realistic wounds much more than previously. End Digression.) Part of it is that I am old, and more specifically that I am much older than almost all the cosplayers. They are young enough to be my children, and perhaps coincidentally I am old enough to be their father. While I do enjoy the display of pneumatic female flesh—enjoy it a lot, probably to a problematic extent if the truth be told—I was very much aware that the display was not intended for the enjoyment of this middle-aged man, and furthermore that leering at what I think of as little girls is not so fun and naughty and consensual as all that. I am not decrying the cosplay displays of T&A; I’m just saying that it isn’t for me any more (if it ever was, but at any rate I am currently aware it isn’t for me) so that’s not so much fun.
  • I don’t really know what ‘fandom’ is, but I’m not currently part of it. I went to a panel on Broadway fandom, and, well, first of all I’m really, really old. The musicals discussed were Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Into the Woods, Rent, Wicked and of course Hamilton. My gateway shows were My Fair Lady and Fiddler on the Roof and Annie. But more important than my being old, I realized that the indications of the existence of a fandom for a show were, pretty much, gifs and memes and fanfic and cosplay. And I just don’t have any particular interest in creating or passing along or even seeing gifs or memes or fanfic or cosplay for My Fair Lady or Fiddler on the Roof or even, really, the shows I was so passionate about when I was a teenager: Sweeney Todd and La Cage aux Folles. Would I have had such an interest had memes (in the sense of easily distributable pictures with snarky text) and gifs been available in 1986 and had there been a network of people to share them with? Probably. But it appears that boat has proverbialled for me. And it occurred to me that this is true of the speculative fiction I like as well: the recently-concluded Temeraire series or the Vorkosigan series or the works of Kazuo Ishiguro or James Morrow are not enhanced, for me, by such things. Which places me outside of what fandom does.
  • A spirit-gum-and-crepe-hair beard lasts maybe three hours, four hours at the maximum. Which is plenty for doing a show, but not for a day at the Con. During the day on Saturday, when I was there for nearly twelve hours, I did patch repair work a few times and eventually gave up. True commitment would have meant going in to the CosPlay Repair Room (there was such a room) and starting from scratch, a half-hour or so process. I couldn’t be arsed. In all, my total commitment to my costume was minimal: I played the Roger Delgado incarnation of The Master, which consisted of a black suit, the little beardie beard, combing my hair back off my now-so-prominent forehead, and a necktie that I don’t choose to wear very often. From the responses of old-Whovians, it was effective enough, but then I was walking around with my P N-R, who was far more conspicuously dressed as the Michelle Gomez incarnation of the same character. Still, if I were to do it again, I ought to create a permanent beard with a backing and then stick that on, such that it would come off all at once rather than in patches, and could be reattached in seconds.
  • Tabletop games are Teh Awesome. OK, I didn’t just learn this, but—well, as a mini-Digression, I was thinking that a twelve-thousand-person Con could effectively be divided into a few tracks or mini-Cons (not so mini as all that) such that a person who was interested mainly in, say, fantasy films could pleasantly avoid most of the rest of the circumjacent stuff, and so could a person focused on anime. It seemed to me that the ConnectiCon staff discouraged this rather than encouraging it. They presumably know what their membership likes, and I’m all for that, but I often felt substantially lost and outnumbered. However: the tabletop game area was in a hotel next door to the convention center, and one could happily spend as much time as one wanted, just borrowing games from the vast lending library and playing them, either with your own friends you brought with you or with other interested folk. I wasn’t terribly adventurous, playing only with my concompanions, but at one point after I had fled the CosPlay Death Match (which in truth I ought to have known not to even peek into; I lasted all of fifteen minutes into the event) I just wandered through the thirty or forty tables, seeing groups of people contentedly (and quietly!) playing Munchkin and Blockus and Lanterns and Dominion and Pathfinder and some game I had never heard of. That was the moment—far more than at the Doctor Who Fan Photoshoot—that I said to myself these are my people.

Looking at the above, it would be easy to conclude that I had a miserable time and regret going, which is far from the case. I had a very pleasant time, and enjoyed all the panels I attended, and mostly enjoyed the people-watching, and very much enjoyed the concurrent and adjacent food-truck festival on the Hartford Riverfront, and most of all enjoyed the company of my teenage child and friend, with whom I had a very pleasant time with passions shared and those not shared at all. My only real complaint with the way it was run was about the volume of the karaoke (and, seriously, as far as I could tell it was just straight-up karaoke, not some sort of filking thing, as I initially assumed, and while I’m at it I didn’t notice any filksinging panels/events; is that not a part of Big Media Cons these days?) and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were thousands of congoers who enjoyed it, so they oughtn’t change it just to suit this old man.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

I should mention—I didn’t interact with the Guests of Honor at all during the Con, most of whom I had never heard of, but at one point I saw John Rhys-Davies getting up from the table at which he had been signing autographs, and I didn’t think hey, that’s Sallah and Gimli and he’s right in the room with me but Oh, yeah, getting up from a hard chair with sore shoulders and back, I know what that’s like.

Thanks,
-V.


I think of "a gaming con" as being different from "an SF con", and also different from "whatever kind of con ConnectiCon is", although of course I haven't actually been to a gaming con in nearly thirty years. I imagine the gaming con would seem more like "my people" than the other types.

(FWIW, I went with friends when I was in high school, and spent the night; possibly by 15, since I seem to remember at least once my parents having to drop me off there, whereas presumably one of my friends or I would have driven if we were 16.) (This being Southern CA, we all had driver's licenses, and at least half had a car in the family which, if not strictly "theirs", was available to borrow for the weekend. Although "mine" was a diesel four-speed VW Rabbit, which was not actually safe to drive on the freeway, because it couldn't go fast enough.)


I don’t have any idea what the taxonomy of Cons is like these days. This was in some ways a Big Media Con like I understand Comic-Cons to be these days, only not big enough to draw the biggest stars or bring the studios out to premiere new trailers or whatnot. The programming seemed to avoid prose fiction (although one of the panelists on Kick-Ass Heroines did slip in a recommendation of Cordelia’s Honor) but included panels on tabletop games, both from a players and a creators perspective.

I suspect that next year, when my Perfect Non-Reader is just shy of her 16th birthday, if she and a few friends wanted to go together, I might allow them to do so without a Parent On Site. I'll make that call if I have to…

Thanks,
-V.


Well, at least you know what cosplayers are and the correct term for them: I am trying to work it out from context.


Ah, well. I have a teenager in the house. You have much to look forward to.

-V.


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