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Attending conventions. Dragoncon 2019 - Five days in a kilt. Day 1

Dragoncon- from sub culture to mainstream

I've been attending the Dragoncon convention ( in Atlanta, Georgia for over 10 years. I've lost count.

I initially was invited to attend the convention by my friend, Greg.

It sounded like a fun convention - a little bit of a lot of things. Movies - sessions where movie stars talked to 'fanboys' and 'fangirls' about their experiences and sessions for film makers to learn their craft and share their movies. The same diversity was there for visual arts, TV shows, literature, etc. You could meet world class authors and chat with them or you could attend a panel led by superfans of an author where they'd dissect and discuss the shared author or topic. As with most new experiences, it's hard for veterans to explain to new people what the experience is like. Sometimes, you just have to buy into their excitement and jump in; and I jumped.

When we first started attending, the attendance was around 50,000. They were die hard fans of their particular interest topics and levels. They looked and acted like the social stereotype for geeks and nerds. It was a place we could feel safe and accepted by others who shared our interests - wearing t-shirts and costumes showing our interests to others in a knowing circle. And inside secret jokes shared among those who would smile and nod and acknowledge the common interest.

We were the ones who were made fun of in school for watching Star Trek or Star Wars. Who would debate Kirk vs Picard at the lunch table. Who discussed Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books and their multitudes of characters, giant numbers of pages, and how many books you read in the series before you gave up.

There were even sub cultures in attendance that were beyond the fringe of the fringe, and while the rest of us may not have understood their particular subculture, they were welcomed because we understood the need for a place to be accepted.

We were nerds. But we were nerds who partied. A lot. There was a lot of drinking.

Over the years we sensed a shift in the force. It became larger, now totaling I believe over 80,000 people, taking over the entire convention area of downtown Atlanta. But it became obvious there were non-nerds in attendance. A lot of them. The people who used to make fun of our interests were now standing next to us in line to hear a celebrity talk about their experiences on a show, and answering the standard questions like, 'what was your favorite line?" Or "in episode 4 of season 2, when you said the line, 'in all things, you must prevail' what were your feelings as you said that line?" (spoiler alert, it's usually one of two answers, "I knew as that character, that would be the defining moment in the establishment of that character and my understanding who that character wasn' or 'I'm an actor. I just read the lines the writers wrote. If you want to know, maybe you should invite them here.')

The shift of the nerd culture to mainstream culture is evident by the abundance of Stormtroopers (from Star Wars) or Avengers or other hot genre-now-mainstream movie/game on water bottles and notebooks I see every day in my college classrooms. Characters no longer being carried by just kids who got bullied for carrying them, but by students of all kinds. Or by the huge box office tallies of movies based on comic books, and the ensuing debates between the die-hard comic readers who have been reading them decades before they were turned into mainstream movies and people who only know the characters based on the stories told on the screen (and soon to be told on streaming services.)

Greg and I stand around every year and discuss how the convention had changed. There are more 'nonnerds' here, turning it into a party that has a convention in the background, and how well the con has done at transitioning to continue bringing in relevant guests and speakers, recognizing the cultural shifts, appealing to a broader market, and still maintain enough of the deep nerd and geek interests that we don't feel completely ignored.

There's still enough of the deep nerds and geeks for the slight smirk and acknowledgement of an obscure reference or costume to be there.

As I started writing this post on Friday morning, the first official morning of the con, I was checking the list of panel discussions and sessions going on that day. I had to narrow down the display to the particular tracks (areas of targeted interest, such as Brit Lit, Digital Media, Animation, etc. There are over 40 tracks at the con) to keep from being overwhelmed by content. One of the tracks was Sci-Fi Lit and they were having a panel discussion “Being a Fan: What It Means, How It’s Changed” and I thought, “this is what I’m thinking, I should go see others’ perspectives.”

The panelists were authors and editors Trisha Wooldridge, Aubrey Spivey, Jessa Phillips, and Rosie Judd. They brought up many of the points and perspectives I had already contemplated, but they also brought up some points I hadn’t considered. The big one - the impact of the Harry Potter books had on bridging the gap between SciFi / Fantasy fans and general population readers. I hadn’t considered the Potter books’(and movies') role in bringing nonnerds into the genre.

I attended sessions on such varied topics as the technical aspects of streaming content and podcasting, and the history of the Rankin / Bass stop motion animation classics. I saw amazing costumes, both around the hotel lobbies and at the costume contest. I had exceptional moments and disappointing moments.

After day one, my brain is stretching, as it always does when I come to Dragoncon. It takes awhile for me to find my footing and finding the right tracks to follow and reading between the lines on the session descriptions on if I will get what I am expecting from a session. And reminding myself, many times while my expectations are met, there are times reality takes my expectations into wild and new directions. It’s usually because they go off in interesting directions and information I hadn’t even known I needed to know.

As the con progresses, my sessions selections will become better attuned to my interests this year. And finding guests for PFS podcasts (and possibly streaming in 2020!) and directors of movies and shorts to add their productions to our content.

Are you a Dragoncon attendee? Are you a long-time attendee? Have you sensed a shift in the force? Do you attend other cons? What are your experiences?

After the first day of the con, Tim

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