I had the interesting opportunity this past weekend to check out a convention that wasn’t my ‘scene’ and it was fascinating.
I lean more towards horror conventions and comic conventions if the truth be told, though I VERY rarely go to shows as a fan. I like the fan experience but loathe crowds and never feel like I have the cash to just go and be a fan and not worry. And really, I like being a vendor. It’s a wholly difference experience but I have grown to like it.
This Sunday my wife and I took her brother to an anime convention and while he did the fan thing we sorta lurked. While I am still very frustrated with the straight up awful communication the show displayed – asking them in a message what their hours on a certain day shouldn’t give you a broad answer and a link to a Google Doc – they put together a huge show that seemed to get the heck out of the way of the fans. There were rules, a LOT of rules, but that’s more of a response to poor behavior by people (some fans, some just lurkers looking to cop a feel or ogle someone in cosplay) than it seems like micromanaging fun. Along with a lot of rules were a lot of restrictions and procedures which definitely feel like overkill but, again, it’s a sign of the times we live in. Being a show that caters to cosplay you are going to get a lot of fans with decorative weapons and safety has to be at the forefront of the people behind the scenes so it’s a tough balancing act to make sure folks have fun but that things are still safe for everyone. I don’t envy them that task as there were a lot of people at this show.
One of the most interesting things for me is that the emphasis was on fun. They had a few guests, and had a few musical acts, and had a few featured artists but all of that seemed like icing on the cake more than the draw. The draw seemed to be the convention itself, which featured a twenty-four hour schedule for fans that wanted to game or party all night. That’s pretty neat. A lot of shows are starting to edge this way, and it’s smart. Some fans drop a lot of money to be at the show, to have the full experience, so it’s good that cons are actually creating a better experience. When I was a kid going to my first conventions you got a weekend pass and basically wandered around for three days. You’d stop in to watch a movie once in a while or duck out to eat or go to a mall, but it was really about being at the show…which could get boring. Now though, you can go game, you watch movies, you can do the guest thing, go check out vendors, or just hang out with fans in some of the open areas and just nerd out.
That ‘nerding out’ was the biggest thing I saw – fans getting together and talking, laughing, taking pictures, being obnoxious, and having fun. And there is the key. All fans really need are the ability to be themselves in a safe environment, and the opportunity to geek out over their passions. You can never please all the fans, never-ever, but you can create an experience that feels genuine and honest and allows them to make their own memories. I realized years ago that once that show opens you can’t control what people experience of feel. Some will have the time of their life while others will hate the time spent there. You can plan and plan and plan and you still can’t think of everything, and you still can’t plan for everything, and you just cannot control the experience others have. All you can do is listen to what the fans are saying, what they are asking for, and see if that makes sense for the show you are putting on. I’d wager a lot of the fans that were at the anime show this weekend spent more time with one another, having fun in their costumes and sitting around talking, than they did inside the convention proper. And that’s pretty awesome. They built the show, provided the space, and got out of the way. I am sure there was drama, and tears, and tantrums, and I guarantee there are fans that had a terrible time but that’s what happens too when people get together, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Some things you just can’t control. And that’s fine.
As an outsider it was great to see a show that tried to embrace everyone and everything as best it could and which let people be weird. You can’t do that with every show, sadly, as once you start adding things like alcohol into the mix that obnoxiousness can turn mean or dangerous pretty quickly, but you can still provided space and experiences and let fans choose their own paths. As showrunners sometimes we overthink things, trying to provide a hundred guests and a thousand movies and a million micro-managed things for people to do when really, what they want is to see and be seen, to have fun, to laugh, to geek out about their given fandom, and more than anything, make memories. The rest of it helps, sure, but in a world that feels awfully dark these days it’s nice to have safe places to go where you can be you – straight, gay, trans, and any color under the rainbow – and you can be as weird as you want and while not everyone will embrace you there, most of the people will accept you. That’s pretty powerful.
I was always trying to evolve our small show we did here in Flint into something more experiential but we never had the budget to really make big leaps towards that so I have a lot of respect for shows that figure out a way to make it work. This wasn’t my fandom, and it wasn’t my scene, but as an outsider looking in, I was impressed.