Secret Pop

Apr 7, 2013

You see one crowded, polluted, stinking town...

There's something about Comic-Con. Something that populism does. A kind of infiltration of cleverness and irony into what would otherwise be sincere and earnest. It's as if regular folks -- you know, the kind that tease the truly nerdy and ostracize them from their cliques -- can't allow themselves to unironically attach their passions to something fantastical. They can't BELIEVE in superheroes or apocalyptic mega-monster threats. But if you mash up something they can't believe in with something that a jock or a prom queen can relate to, all of a sudden, those jocks and prom queens are Comic-Con fans, and they're putting vinyl character decals on the rear windscreens of their SUVs. And they're standing behind me snarkily commenting on everything with haughty scholarliness and a certain air of entitlement and understanding. As if steampunk came to us by way of the New York Yankees and a Sergio Mendes song. And frankly maybe it did. What do I know. I almost never wear brown.

I guess I'm talking about the t-shirts with a hipster mustachioed Captain America or Hello Kitty as Cthulhu. You know: the shirts your mom would wear. And wearing them would make her feel like she relates to you*.

I love cute. I love super. I love sci-fi. I love robots. I love anime. I love cartoons. I love video games. But I think I prefer them in their separate rooms. And maybe part of it is that when my tastes in entertainment might have caused me to be an outsider, I chose that path brazenly. I watched Star Trek in high school. I read science fiction with a vengeance. I never ever had a poster of a TV actor in my locker. I never wrote popular guys' last names after my first name on my Pee-Chee folders. I owned my otherness. And maybe on some level, I felt superior because I had chosen something different and unexpected.

But now that it is all broad and mainstream and populist, where is the hard-won badge of geek honor? Everyone goes to Comic-Con now. And everyone watches superhero movies. And everyone dresses their toddlers up as Wolverine.

The true test of course is how a Comic-Con attendee reacts to die-hard expressions of true genre fandom even when it's empirically distasteful. It's one thing to take a picture of the mercenary booth babe dressed as Catwoman who probably has no idea whether she is modeling Eartha Kitt or Julie Newmar. But what do you mutter under your breath when you see an extremely large sweaty man dressed as Ultra Magnus and you can't help but note that through the damp white spandex you can see more ingrown hairs than you knew a human chest could host? Do you applaud his commitment? Or do you wince and wonder aloud about his Type II diabetes? [Side note: I saw the guy in this not-at-all hypothetical costume every year for a long time. And I have long suspected that the curtailment of that faithful yearly sighting can only have been brought about by death itself. Or the inability to afford a Hoveround.] Anyway, the point is, popularity has an uncanny habit of ruining things, and it sometimes saddens me.

We all get this. We all have a little over-precious possessiveness about a band only we know or a show only we watch. Or a convention only we -- among our friends -- ever used to attend. There's badge value in "first." Especially when the thing becomes extremely popular and mainstream, and suddenly no one remembers that you were on board in early days. No one rewards you for liking that song before it ended up in a Target commercial. Once it's in everyone's playlists, it doesn'y belong to you anymore. Once it's in everyone's playlists, frankly, it's probably not going to be in yours for much longer. Right?

Anyway, I'm grateful for Comic-Con. I truly am. But I miss the days when it was an exclusive-if-somewhat-foot-smelling club that I could attend without ever feeling unwelcome or ineffectual. I miss the days when I didn't feel the need to take umbrage when overhearing someone who is not a Comic-Con familiar explaining what Comic-Con is but clearly does not get it at all.

It's strange to feel superior to people because you have what you perceive to be a more authentic connection to geeky stuff. Ironic, even. There was a time when one might not volunteer the admission that one had played role-playing games. Or that one had been vexed on account of not knowing HOW Psylocke got Jean Grey's telekinetic powers. One might have kept such things under wraps. But today, when virtually everyone flies their geek flag proudly -- ersatz though it may be -- it's hard not to be iconoclastic about it all. I mean, how will children of the future know the character-building pain of being an outsider if everything geeky is cool? Well, I guess there will always be acne.

I began writing this a short time after Comic-Con 2012. And if I even go this year -- which depends mostly on whether I can get a hotel room for the love of Pete -- I'm sure I will have even more of these thoughts crystallized. The noteworthy thing is that I'm still planning to go. I invite you to wish me luck, snob that I clearly am.

*It should be noted that the "you" in this scenario is actually me. And my mom would never wear a t-shirt of any kind and has no desire to relate to me. She is perfectly comfortable giving me advice from Judge Judy and second-guessing my menu choices.


RMBurnett said...

About fucking time.

Great to have one of my favorite writers back.

Forrest said...

SF/Fantasy conventions were once exclusive affairs. It was an event that "Mundanes" as we used to call them, could scarcely understand and barely tolerate. This is when we nerds/geeks could all let our hair down, shed our conformist ties for one weekend end enjoy Sci-Fi (not SyFy) and Fantasy. And now conventions are mostly big mega-media shows, designed to sell "Product" to the teeming masses. It kinda makes me sad too.