Some Final Thoughts on Conventions (and a visit to Power Morphicon)

power-morphicon-celebrating-17-years-of-the-power-rangers.5269617.87.jpg Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly from Power Morphicon Last Tuesday, I asked artists about their experiences with conventions. There have been a lot of interesting responses, as well as some advice. Please read the comment thread when you have a chance. The comments made me think about the impact conventions have had on Shannon Cottrell and I as journalists. I had asked Shannon about this and she mentioned, "for that weekend or day it is just a free world to inspire each other." On Saturday, Shannon and I covered Power Morphicon, a Power Rangers convention, for Style Council. As I wrote in the blog post, this was different from most of our con adventures in that neither one of us can say that we're Power Ranger fans. When we go to cons, we're typically there as both journalists and fans. This time, we were just journalists, but after watching the fans, and talking to some of them, we left ready to give Power Rangers another try. Their passion prompted us to reconsider a show that neither one of us had probably seen since the 1990s. It was certainly one of the more inspiring events we've attended this year. There's often a sort of stigma to admitting you're a huge fan of something. You can tell in the tone of voice people will use when dropping terms like "nerd," "geek," and, particularly, "fanboy" or "fangirl." It's okay to like a movie or a comic or a video game, but once you start to appear passionate about the subject, it can be considered off-putting. When you go to a convention, though, all those unspoken rules about how much you can express your enthusiasm about something disappear. Whether you want to dress up as Zelda, bring your favorite ball-jointed dolls to a meet-up or debate the merits of moe anime for hours on end, it's okay. Everybody is a fan of something and those influences help shape who we become later in life. Having a place where we can physically interact with people and not hear something like, "okay, can you stop talking about cartoons already?" helps foster creativity. Cons have had a profound impact on Shannon and I both personally and professionally and I'm happy to have had the chance to tell you a bit about what we do and who we've met. Thanks to Xeni for asking me to guestblog for Boing Boing for the past three weeks and thanks to everyone who kept reading. It's been a lot of fun. I'll be back to blogging daily for LA Weekly's Style Council today and hope to share more with you there. Links: Power Morphicon (photo gallery) "Power Rangers Fans and Stars Gather for Power Morphicon" (blog post) Style Council


  1. My first encounter with Liz’s writing was the great article she wrote about my panel on the history in “Axis Powers Hetalia” at Anime Expo about 2 months ago. I was pleased not to see the fandom journalism I have come to expect from most of my 2 decades as an anime fan, usually an extended “Hey look at these weirdos!” type article. Good on ya Liz!

  2. I really enjoyed reading all your posts… I didn’t get much of a chance to comment (my apologies). My studio, Singed Cat Studios and I go to a lot of cons (and I run the annual how to draw chibis with a twist workshop at Otakon). It’s really cool to view other’s experiences in varying fandoms. As someone who has gone to not just anime cons, but scifi/varied cons as well, it was great to see someone cover these events with enthusiasm/respect,and not just the “omg SHOCK!” or “only for those in the know” factor… though certainly there is a lot of shock at cons. haha!


  3. “but once you start to appear passionate about the subject, it can be considered off-putting.”

    It’s the passionately bland conformism that I find off-putting. Living vicariously through other people’s (commercial) art is just taking consumerism to the next level. Seeing another guy in a Storm Trooper outfit is like seeing football fan in a jersey.

    1. I’m sorry guys. I don’t want to seem overly negative and feel free to argue against this, but there’s something about all of this that is inherently repellent to me. And it’s not that I don’t get it, I do. I’m as nerdy as they come. I watched a lot of anime in college before I figured out how much trash you have to sort through to find something worth watching. I’ve hunted down the cartoons that I once saw Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons in grade school. I even just recently started downloading fan re-edits of popular movies. That’s geeky.

      I see what the appeal is to the fans, but the level of dedication to genre and franchise that we’re talking about here always reeks of human misery to me. I’m not trying to attack anyone here, but the cosplay, roleplay, and dress-up doll cultures just don’t seem to have much merit to me. I know all of the “we’re not hurting anyone” “we’re just trying to express ourselves” “this is no different than _________” arguments. But it is different.

      1. I’m not trying to attack anyone here, but the cosplay, roleplay, and dress-up doll cultures just don’t seem to have much merit to me.

        Admittedly, designing and making a costume and leaving the house to be with like-minded people isn’t as culturally meaningful as sitting at a computer and anonymously criticizing what other people do for fun. But everyone comes with different skill sets, so we should make allowances.

        1. Your snark is appreciated and expected, but I think criticism is the key word here. Should I be sorry for not keeping my opinions to myself? I know that we wouldn’t want an exchange of ideas here or anything (I like sarcasm too). And I don’t think you should overlook the cultural importance of anonymous criticism.

          1. I think you might have to explain how it’s different and why they don’t have much merit. I mean if you have a case to make here, you should probably make it. Otherwise, that’s just stating your opinion, and as they say, cool story bro. I have opinions too! We have so much in common.

            Anyway, sorry, you haven’t really made enough of an argument to be able to reply thoughtfully. I’ll give it a shot though and take what you said seriously.

            First off, those arguments you listed at the end of your other comment are pretty legit as basic premises, and maybe we can agree that they’re essentially true and not worth arguing about. So I think the issue here is whether or not “cosplay, roleplay, and dress-up doll cultures” have merit, I guess.

            So by “have merit”, is it a question of whether the fans contribute to the greater culture? As opposed to being fanatical consumers taking their obsession to an almost lifestyle level out of a lack of anything more meaningful. Or maybe something else? I’m not sure, you might have to expand on this. Again, not much of an argument you’ve made. But let’s just pretend this is what you were attempting to communicate.

            Maybe I’m just super postmodern, but I don’t see obsessing over Power Rangers to be any more crazy than obsessing over Andy Warhol or Daft Punk or the Packers or designer handbags or guns or antiques or flower arrangement or exotic food or 1970s brutalist architecture or any of the other things you can obsess over. I think it’s a testament to the diversity of human interests that just about anything can become a huge part of your life, whether the majority of people think it’s culturally significant or not.

            I mean, I might be biased as a furry (that’s where my anecdotal experience is coming from) but my con experiences have always shown the art, the costuming, the general creativity as a symptom of human joy rather than misery. I was actually super afraid of going to cons because I had the same opinion as you… that it was just a bunch of sad people getting together to reassure each other that they’re not crazy when actually they’re deeply broken people in denial. And uh, when I actually went to Anthrocon this year I realized that it’s a lot of genuinely really fun people who finally get the chance to do the thing they’d rather be doing anyway, only this time they don’t need to spend an hour explain their peculiarities to the uninitiated who probably won’t ever get it anyway but always seem to want a detailed rundown and never let you get away with something that you’re so over caring about! It’s frustrating!

            People can be kind of unreasonable about demanding explanations for certain kinds of behavior, and I’m only speaking from personal experience here, but it’s more than a bit unfair. If passionate fans reek of misery, it’s caused by having to explain their obsession for the 100th time, all the while other peoples’ obsessions are sort of socially sanctioned and they can get away with being a pod.

            I’m nonplussed by watching sports on TV, and yet it seems to be a ridiculously popular passtime. For some reason that’s weird, I guess. But yeah, ask me about fursuits, and I’ll have an opinion or fifty. Natch, only other furries care about the bee in my bonnet w/r/t animal costumes, so naturally, I’ll want to hang out with them. That makes sense, right? For one, I can be very precise with other furries about the topic, I can drop names they’d recognize. In fact, I even got to go fursuiting myself at my first con, and it was an uninterrupted, ideally immersive (and dare I say artistic) experience, and I’d never be able to get elsewhere besides a con. Nobody asked me what I was doing, nobody asked me who I was or what this whole animal costume thing was about. People just kind of accepted it, the way people accept a love of jazz or of Japanese food. It was pretty sweet, and it made me happy in a way that it probably wouldn’t make a lot of other people happy!

            What it boils down to is the message you get as a con attendee, especially one engaging in the kind of fringe elements. You’re reminded that yeah, people are weird, but who cares, because people are much weirder on a day to day basis and nobody blinks an eye. I mean, what’s with CNN’s preoccupation with race? That’s weird. And kind of terrible. Let’s talk about how that reeks of human misery, haha. And I could go on to make more extreme analogies but I think those are a faux-pas. Being nonplussed by a fandom’s convention(s) is pretty natural. I mean, that’s why the cons exist. But saying it’s without merit, that it reeks of human misery, and that it (what is “it” here) is different. What does all that mean? I’ve also heard all of those arguments, and as someone with a lot of (albeit anecdotal) evidence, they absolutely do not hold any water. So I hope you can clarify so that we can have a totally meaningful exchange of ideas.

          2. Now that’s what I’m talking about! Sorry if I was trolling a little bit, but I just get so tired of the bland bland BLAND arguments that internet etiquette facilitates. I hate to say it, but I thought I had to come off as being unwilling and ignorant in order to get an intelligent response. You’re right though, I wasn’t really careful in my use of the word “merit.” It kind of led the discussion into a direction that was interesting to read about but not really indicative of my opinion.

            Just to clarify, I don’t necessarily see “merit” in any human endeavor. I understand the value that we place on our actions and the hierarchy of actions that are valued by society (I know, long-winded). But I don’t accept the viewpoint that any human action has more intrinsic value than any other. It’s like when you hear people discussing what is “natural” or “unnatural” human behavior. It’s all natural!!! If you do it, it’s because that’s what humans do! From the most noble achievement to the most disgusting deed, I don’t think anything can be called “unnatural.” Once again, to inject my own somewhat pessimistic (but I think fair) viewpoint– On a certain level, I don’t think any human behavior has any “merit.”

            What I meant to describe was my own natural repulsion to this subject. That’s why I gave the disclaimer about my own geekiness. I think that I should be more understanding of the people that make these interests a major part of their lives, but I’m not. And that’s what I’m trying to understand! I said, “the cosplay, roleplay, and dress-up doll cultures just don’t seem to have much merit to me.” This probably should have read, “the cosplay, roleplay, and dress-up doll cultures disgust me no matter how hard I try to accept them.” I’m not proud of it, it’s just how I am.

            Civil war reenactment, BDSM, Baseball memorabilia collectors, Barbie collectors, etc. I get it. They’re all the same. But they don’t make me uneasy and annoyed like what we’re discussing does. I think it’s due in large part to the association I make with the many people I know that are a part of this culture. Long story short: The people that associate themselves with this culture that I know are often very lacking in the skills that are needed to function as an adult in society. On some biological level that I can’t control, that is very troubling for me. You can make the argument that there are many perfectly “normal” people that hold these things dear. I would agree because I know a few. But for every one of them there are 10 people that I know who exhibit many of the same behaviors. They are chronic liars, poor at keeping promises, unrealistic in their goals, lacking independence, lacking in empathy, somewhat self-absorbed, and so on. Saying that they reek of human misery might have been pretty harsh, but I wasn’t exaggerating too much when I wrote it. I don’t doubt you have an understanding of what I’m talking about.

            I guess that’s an explanation of my feelings. I honestly think the only way for my opinion to be changed would be for me to meet and get to know (in person, in the course of my life) a very large number of people who identify deeply with this culture and don’t exhibit many of the characteristics I just listed. I don’t see that happening. Reading your post helped though, Swatcher.

            “Nobody asked me what I was doing, nobody asked me who I was or what this whole animal costume thing was about. People just kind of accepted it, the way people accept a love of jazz or of Japanese food. It was pretty sweet, and it made me happy in a way that it probably wouldn’t make a lot of other people happy!”

            That was nice. It helped me and my understanding a little bit. My viewpoint may seem a little petty and ignorant, but I think everyone holds viewpoints like these regarding one thing or another. I’m just trying to talk about it reasonably, maybe helping myself a little. Thanks for that response Swatcher! Sorry about the long post!

  4. I like conventions. Been to Fan Expo 5 years running. After talking to many people who are artists and have booths, there seems to be a disconnect between the organizers and the artists and such. Why are the lanes so narrow that only 2 abreast can get by? I’m not the biggest or widest fellow, and its a chore for me let alone holding my daughters hand and carrying merch. There are a lot of volunteers who are smart and the organizers should listen to them. Oh and for Fanexpo, never go on the Saturday unless waiting for Everything is your thing. I would have spent more money if I could get to the area I wanted to see.

  5. I’m not surprised to see power rangers fan-cons. I WAS surprised to realise it’s been around for 17+ years. Man I feel old now.

    … go go power rangers…!

  6. Haha, thanks for not being a troll, I was kind of worried!

    It’s not a lie that there’s people with bad social skills at cons, or in fandoms or whatever. But I think that’s just kind of a fact of life. Some people do really stupid stuff. At Anthrocon, someone went up onto the roof of the convention centre and dangled off the edge of the building, I guess as a joke. The con organizers shut down the whole rooftop area because of it. There was also some guy streaking around in gold lame briefs. The freedom of the con atmosphere will make people do some pretty wild things, but it’s really the exception rather than the rule! In fact, in my several con experiences (Anthrocon, Anime North, Mysterium and Fan Expo at which I was volunteer staff), the “normal” (if quirky) people outnumber the real basket cases by a factor of 100 or more.

    I think you just kind of had bad luck meeting people? Sore thumbs stick out regardless of their interests. It seems like there’s annoying people everywhere, but that fandom makes them a little bit more visible because they represent such a cross-section of society. I mean, think about your workplace. You don’t get along with everyone there. But it’s not the job that makes people intolerable, you know?

    Anyway, I guess it’s not a logical thing, so there’s really no argument to be had… if cons and con culture aren’t things that interest you, you really don’t need to go to one. Fandoms create a bit of a rarefied atmosphere, and so it’s kind of natural to be nonplussed or even squicked by them. Nevertheless I think they’re a really fun and fascinating thing that people are doing these days! That’s why it’s fantastic that Liz and Shannon are covering cons in such a positive and open-minded way. It’s pretty rare to see anyone in the press go into conventions with the idea that they’re going to have fun and get swept up in the atmosphere. Too often it’s a zoo report about these exotic weirdos that are beyond understanding. That’s lazy reporting. Liz and Shannon really “get it”. It’s nice. :)

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