Recently, Denise Dorman, the wife of the great Star Wars artist, Dave Dorman, posted a blog where she described the financial difficulties faced by many of the comics creators who attend conventions. Hers was a sobering account, honest and sincere, but she wound up having to walk it back a few days later. The problem? In her original piece, she vented about the carnival-like atmosphere of modern conventions and wondered whether many of the cosplayers knew or cared about the creators whose work had inspired such conventions in the first place. Like Kirk, Shatner was getting an idea. “There are no podcasts for kids who are eleven … From nine to twelve, there’s no one expressing themselves and engaging other eleven-year-olds in conversation.” The more Shatner talked about this gap in the media, the more his ideas seemed to come together. He proposed that someone like this boy should be asking other eleven-year-olds about their lives, and about why they would rather be in Star Trek than in school. Soon his words were pouring out with the speed and intensity of a Shakespearian monologue:
It’s what’s wrong with our schools, by the way, because at eleven, you should just be … wondering—“The moons around Jupiter are revolving!” and “Why are they there?” and “What is Jupiter?” and “How do we get there?” And all that … excitement is at school and you’re not a party to it, and it’s not your fault; it’s our fault!
He then issued a challenge to the young fan: “I would love to hear you in a podcast talking about why school is not interesting to you and why you’d rather do something else.” For anyone looking for a “moment” from the convention, this was it. It was spontaneous, it was poignant, it had far reaching social implications, and it left both the boy and the whole audience with a new charge—one that didn’t involve Visa or MasterCard. Normally I tend to be jaded and a little cynical, but as I left the ballroom, I felt … moved—even inspired. I had gone into the panel feeling depressed and detached, but when I returned to the main floor I was determined to see things with what Shatner would call awe and wonder. So what did I do? I spent much of the rest of the day taking pictures of cosplayers. It’s a remarkable thing. In the midst of the most commercial, money-driven environment imaginable, here were people who simply chose … to play. That’s the right word isn’t it? It’s what we used to call it—dressing up in costume, pretending to be someone else. These people had come to play. Now don’t get me wrong. I know that many of the cosplayers compete for cash prizes, and I actually had a couple of people give me their cosplayer business cards and ask for tweets. Clearly the “play” gets tainted. But I opted to feign ignorance about all that. Columnist’s prerogative. Because as I marveled at a ten-foot Groot and blinked at a four-foot weeping angel, I had two feelings—awe and wonder—and they felt pretty good.
Congratulations are in order, Greg, because you did something most people on the Internet seem incapable of doing.
Your introduction to this article had the potential to lead into yet another article about negativity in popular culture, something we already see all over the blogosphere but more importantly something of which we don’t need any more. I’ve read a few articles on the reaction to Denise Dorman’s blog post (as well as reading her original post) and i’m inclined to say she planted the seeds of her own backpedaling. Instead of focusing on what her post should have been about, the financial difficulties of creators, she lashed out on another group, cosplayers.
I’m losing focus though. See how easy it is to spiral down to negativity? I’m trying to acknowledge the fact that you’ve written an article that not only celebrates popular culture but cleverly and humorously downplays the money grabbing aspect of it. Genre is big money, and it has been for a long time, but I agree with you that our love of genre is often tainted. I recall another article you have written about the “Silent War on Democratic Arts”. Fans today seem to focus on upstaging other fans in their love of X and/or Y instead of sharing what they love. That of course only benefits the corporations, not so really the creators, and leads competitive fandom.
I don’t so much brag about my Absolute Sandman editions as I talk about Sandman, the comic itself. I upgraded my trade paperbacks to the grossly expensive and luxurious Absolute editions because it’s one of the first comic series that blew my socks off. I didn’t keep my trades though. I didn’t need them anymore but I like to think that the guy who bought them off me enjoyed discovering one of the greatest comic book series of all time. Many of the things you’ve said in this article and others echo some of my own feelings on fandom.
I’ve got a few more things to say but i’ll restrain myself from sharing. Mostly because they’re not all great or originals thoughts. I’ll probably end up complaining and it would be unfortunate to post that under an article in which you did such a wonderful job sharing Shatner’s message of awe and wonder.
Thanks so much for the comment, Mario. I’m particularly proud that you remembered one of my articles from a few months ago. There probably is an overarching theme of anti-materialism in some of these posts. :)