what belongs at Comic-Con? And who decides?

*This post was written for and appears at Hothouse Magazine.

With Comic-con wrapped up for the year, the reflections are rolling in. Todd VanDerWerff at Grantland has an an excellent read for those interested in the Comic-con culture and its ever expanding reach: A Day Inside Comic-Con’s Hall H: Worshipping in the Ultimate Movie Church. Particularly interesting are the notions of ownership and belonging at the event.

“The popular theory — one I hear advanced in line over and over again — remains that Twilight ruined Comic-Con, because it turned a whole bunch of people who wouldn’t have noticed the Con in a million years on to its existence. It’s coming up again today because one of the big events is the Comic-Con debut of the Hunger Games franchise, complete with Jennifer Lawrence and everything. In general, geek culture seems more OK with Hunger Games than it was with Twilight; the former is, after all, dystopian science fiction, which is more palatable to the average geek than paranormal romance. And yet the young adult fiction antipathy persists every time an ocean of people descends on the city of San Diego and forms an orderly queue.

The idea is that Twilight ruined Comic-Con because it took Comic-Con away from its natural constituency and handed it over to some other audience entirely. The target of this audience always shifts, but it is almost always young, and it is almost always female.Twilight makes a convenient scapegoat because it’s a franchise that’s not beloved by critics or the general populace, and it’s possessed of sexual politics that are just horrifying enough to provide a shred of cover to anyone who wants to assault it primarily on the grounds that it’s aimed at a woman’s inner 14-year-old girl instead of a man’s inner 14-year-old boy. (Before Twilight, Harry Potter was the “ruined Comic-Con” franchise of choice, attacked on similar grounds.) Comic-Con itself has admirable policies on sexism and harassment, but many of its attendees cling to an outdated sense of what “belongs” at the event, particularly in Hall H, which is the inner sanctum.”

comic-con

One need not stretch the imagination to grasp VanDerWerff here. This is our gathering, what are these teen-romance fans doing in our comic-con?

But it’s tiring to continually encounter the idea that convention life is a boy’s affair. Such an idea enables young men to retire further away from the grand diversity of creative inputs within genre-culture. I’m not much for excluding.

Keeping with VanDerWerff’s Church metaphor, I’m all about spreading the Gospel. I love science-fiction. Love it. And I have a life-long love affair with comic-books that ebbs and flows with the tides of life. The sci-fi and fantasy and comic-book stories I have encountered are valuable and provide meaning and vision and adventure to my Midwestern life. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found these things mean even more.

And something that is deemed valuable is better when shared. No one wants to see the things  they care about in the hands of manipulative marketers or shallow entrants; as a result we have a natural tendency to protect what we have given so many hours to. Still, we should strive to remain inclusive rather than exclusive.

The more varied, and by turns, diverse, that our segmented culture becomes, the richer the experience we can garner. I’ve attended my share of conventions, starting in the early ’90s (though it’s about 10 years since I’ve made one), and the shifting demographic nature of those events, as well as the broader interest from the wider public has resulted in far higher quality sci-fi/fantasy/superhero stories reaching audiences, on film and television at least. Which has turned more boys and girls (and men and women) on to the treasury of Americana that is our comic-books.

This has also inspired a more varied array of female, LGBT, and non-white artists and creators to enter the business, the source of a wonderful positive feed-back loop of creative diversity that reaches more people throughout the world.

If the presence of Twilight fans is tedious to some, their presence reminds con goers who the arbiters of Comic-con culture really are. It is not the fans in the line; it’s the dollars spent the rest of the year. It is and always has been the machines of business that drive the presence of any cultural property at Comic-con.  Panels on “Women who kick ass” which include discussions of sexism in the business are signals that the machines of industry are moving in the right direction.

As such, the lamentations about how Comic-con has been ruined and the groaning about a “Women that kick ass” panel continues to mark the disgruntled and possessive males as the problem. It shows we can love Starbuck and forget about Ms. Sackhoff, who is the reason we love Starbuck in the first place. Starbuck is brilliant in BSG. But Katee Sackhoff, well, we are all better off because Katee Sackhoff attends our comic-con panels and tells us that a man once pulled her arms out of her sockets while filming. When she says: “This business in our world is hard on women,” maybe we should take note, and encourage the girls in line with us, in hopes that when one of those girls is on a panel in 15 years, she can say this business is less hard on women than it was for Starbuck.

And besides, there will always be a title that is blamed for ruining Comic-con.  If that title forces the young adolescent comic-obsessed male into the same physical space as the young adolescent Twilight-obsessed female, well there are worse things to worry about. I’d have been happy to suffer through that problem 20 years ago.

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