L. and I go home tomorrow from DragonCon, the biggest convention I’ve ever attended. We came down a day early and are leaving the day after, which is somewhat excessive in the final analysis – but it gave us an opportunity to get acclimated up front and have a relaxed vacation day on the back end of the trip.
It appears as if we will be coming back again next year, assuming that I pass muster; but there is every indication that I shall.
It is probably oxymoronic, and simplistic, to characterize DragonCon as huge. The official attendance is supposed to be something like 60,000, but unofficial observers with whom I spoke suggest that mark was passed years ago, and a wink and a nod with fire marshals and city people means that 90,000 or so turn up every year – celebrities, professionals, artists, vendors, exhibitors, fans – there are hundreds of Deadpools, Wonder Women, Batpersons, colorfully-haired anime characters, et cetera, roaming through the three principal hotels at every hour of the day and night. The lobbies, particularly the Hyatt and Marriott, are an absolute nightmare to navigate. Woe betide the panelist who must go from one hotel to another given a half-hour gap. Elevators are similarly crowded and uncooperative.
DragonCon is loud. There’s no escaping it. Sometimes unearthly howls emerge from the din, but generally it’s merely the constant conversation of thousands of closely-packed Deadpools, Wonder Women, Batpersons, etc.
DragonCon is organized. The overall tenor of participants is chaotic to some extent; people with no particular commitments roam about, particularly if cosplaying; it seems that the average attendee will spend an inordinate amount of time moving from vendor areas to hotel lobbies to meetups to panels to gaming to headline events (masquerades, celebrity appearances, autographing, and so forth. Anyone who puts in a full day at the con and doesn’t come home exhausted is just not doing it right. But underlying all of this is a level of organization that is only modestly visible. There are lots and lots and lots of volunteer traffic cops, information providers and other helpers; traffic patterns are remarkably well-defined and enforced; anywhere that people are likely to stay for a while will have (1) security, either uniformed or from the convention, and (2) food vending, especially bottled water – Atlanta is hot in early September. To make any of this work (and it does work) requires all of these resources to be planned out and deployed and monitored and active. This is in part because DragonCon at its center is a corporate hierarchy, not a committee of volunteers, building from scratch in a different venue every year.
DragonCon is all-encompassing. Everything in a two- to three-block area is engaged with the convention, it seems. Every restaurant, every hotel (the participating ones and all of the “satellite” ones), every shop, every city institution such as transport and police and paramedics is involved and aware. This is a huge commercial plus for the downtown area. Con attendees need to be fed; they need to cross streets; they need to be safe at all hours of the day and night. There is a large amount of alcohol consumption. But in five days I don’t think I saw anyone violently ill in public, or involved in a fistfight, or under arrest. There were street performers and panhandlers and one energetic street preacher with a megaphone suggesting that we repent of whatever sins of which he deemed us inherently guilty; but if there were pickpockets or hooligans I didn’t see them. Even cosplayers of violent or sociopathic characters seemed to be quite aware of the boundary between the performance and the reality. (Folks fought with light sabers, sure, but that was often just to get photographed.)
DragonCon is very young. Not just because there were so many people: there were so many people 35 or younger. That is not to say that they were not, by and large, appreciative of the genre(s) – there were a crap-ton of program items about things from every era of sf/f and they were well attended. People were completely willing to strike up conversations about their favorite fandom with complete strangers. It’s the sort of welcoming nature that ‘true fandom’, whatever the hell that’s supposed to be, claims as its defining characteristic.
DragonCon, as far as I can tell, is not especially political. Ask anyone at Worldcon – where I was a couple of weeks ago – about DragonCon, and they’ll have an opinion, often a disparaging one. It’s too big – too non-fannish – too attached to celebrity, or media, or something that isn’t ‘true fandom’. Literature has no place there. Fine: those are opinions, sure, but often held by people who have never been here. Now ask anyone at DragonCon what s/he thinks about the huge kerfuffle over the Hugos this year, and most of them won’t answer because it means nothing to them. The tribal struggle over the rocket is of no consequence to most of 90,000 people who, you know, read books. And buy books. And overall are not graying out like ‘true fandom’ clearly is. Want to know how to prevent fandom from dying off, and get it passed to the next generation? Don’t fight it. Join it. This is where the fan base is growing, even if the die hards sneer at how they approach it.
After one day at DragonCon I wondered why the hell I would want to fight my way through it and deal with the crowds, the noise, the logistics and the hassle. It took a while to become accustomed, and we’ve concluded that we’ll need to make some changes in our approach to the convention to be comfortable – but for all of that, it’s clear that this is a place to be, to meet fellow pros and readers of my work. This is the future, and I believe that ‘true fandom’ had better get used to it.
BLOW BY BLOW
My Facebook posts on DragonCon (and other things) can be found here.