Phoenix Comic Fest* has decided to up the ante from last year and just blatantly say “fuck you fans, we don’t care about you.”
So, a quick recap of last year’s insanity.
Some lunatic came in with a slew of weapons with the goal of killing the actor who played the Green Power Ranger. Because even at its most lax, Phoenix PD and convention security aren’t unspeakably incompetent, the lunatic didn’t make it very far…but while the powers that be aren’t unspeakably incompetent, they are incompetent. Their genius idea in response to this clearly out of the norm incident was to ban all weapons—real looking, fake looking, wood staffs, plastic blasters, light sabers. That’s really smart because one of them fake plastic lightsabers might be the real physics defying tool of mass destruction and some Sith might decide to just start hacking people apart. It got so bad one of the vendors selling really good collectible lightsabers (still just plexiglass and lights, so not remotely deadly) was escorted off the dealer’s floor. And the company in charge of the event had many contradictory explanations as to why (none of them remotely believable)… because you never know when the plexiglass could magically turn into a stick of deadly plasma hotter than the core of the sun apparently. But it gets better. Every person had to be searched by the woefully understaffed security of the event which meant that people wait in lines…lines that went around the building several times…on Memorial Day…in downtown Phoenix. Yes, more people were harmed from heat stroke last year in line than were harmed by lunatics with weapons in the history of Comicon (I’ll admit I didn’t search every police report, but I did do a search and couldn’t find anything). Also despite the fact that the police requiring this level of security just created a huge mass of stationary targets for any lunatic who did want to hurt people, they also overreacted and instead of realizing the truth that “well we hit the lunatic quota for the decade, probably won’t have any more problems this weekend” as, you know as sane and moderately intelligent person would do, according to several people who spoke off the record, all of SWAT was out on the rooftops ready for action all weekend. As any idiot could have told them before hand, they weren’t needed.
Please do remember this is Arizona, where police give contradictory orders and then shoot to kill unarmed people who can’t follow two contradictory orders at the same time…because Arizona police are both stupid and fucking cowards. They also fire gas on people who protest tyranny.**
But back to Comicon.
In addition to all of this, vendors on the floor also had a lot of trouble breaking even, and I know some aren’t even going this year.
So last year was a cluster fuck of epic proportions.
But the company in charge thought that they could do better this year!
How you ask?
Well in the past most conventions have panels. Lots of panels. They rent huge convention centers and the goal is to fill each and every conference room with as many different panels from open to close to keep the nerds happy. Movies, comics, cosplay, cartoons, games, writing, trivia, dating, blood donation, signups. You name it there was probably a panel for it. Yes, the company running the convention ran through submitted panel ideas, but they accepted anything and everything, let the fans pick the topics, and tried to simply offer as wide a variety of ideas and discussion out there to entertain as many people. It was little more than organized chaos, and it was wonderful because it let the ideas and intellect of geekdom shine in the free flow way the creative process and the love of fandoms relies on.
But letting nerds be nerds was apparently not for Phoenix Comic Fest. What do the nerds know, after all? They’re only the people paying the tickets and the ones coming to see all the stuff.
Please don’t just take my word for it.
Here are the actual words of the Square Egg:
Yes “Themes.” Do they even tell you what those themes are? Nope. They are keeping things so tightly controlled that you need to hold a seance just to know how you goose-step in line with them.
Now I could go off on them…but, the original response to this is so much better than I could ever put it…
My personal favorite was that one of our panels that was turned down because it didn’t meet with the themes/celebrities of the Con was a panel of the political implication of Star Trek…because Star Trek has nothing to do with a convention whose headline celebrity this year is William Shatner. In the 25th Anniversary year of DS9. At a nerd con where Star Trek is always relevant. If that doesn’t leave you going WTF, I don’t know what would. If you want to say the description of our panel wasn’t interesting, that’s fine. That’s a matter of taste. But to say Star Trek isn’t relevant…I have to assume the people who run this shit show have never actually had anything to do with any fandom ever.
Now do they have every right to do this? Yes, yes they have every right to do it. They’re fronting the money for the convention center, they’re booking the guests, they’re the one putting all the risk on the line. So, I’m not going to be a petulant child and scream “censorship” because this is not censorship. They’re not stopping me or anyone else from speaking, they’re only saying the podium they paid for isn’t open to everyone. They have every right. But we as fans have every right to say we don’t like what they’re selling. We liked the free exchange of ideas, not a spoon-fed list of topics. We’d like diversity of thought in what to choose from in terms of what panels to go see. We’d like to see our fandoms have a panel even if you couldn’t get a celebrity from that particular show or movie to make it out to the city which is hotter than seventh circle of Hell. So, this is not censorship, censorship only applies when it’s done by the government…this is the free market, and they have the ability to profit or fail (given their incompetence I would bet against profit, but who knows).
So, if this isn’t censorship, why is any of this important?
If you believe that politics isn’t downstream from culture then this isn’t important. I am just a nerd bitching into the darkness because only one of his panels was approved.
But if you believe that politics is downstream from culture, then it really matters because it means that culture is becoming more controlled than any time I can think of. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Comics and all the other genres that traditionally go along with conventions of this sort were once the bastion of free thinking ideas, of politically unpopular statements, of the voices on the fringes for good and bad. Star Trek is the first place to show a woman of color in a position of power—it may seem all too trite now where mass media slobbers all over itself to put out one formulaic piece after another with all the main minority and interest group boxes checked—but in its time it was a powerful message. Robert Heinlein and Margaret Atwood’s works warned of the dangers of religiously driven populism. The Twilight Zone and Star Trek offered hope in the future. The science fiction stories of even more traditionally serious writers like E.M. Forester, Kurt Vonnegut, and George Orwell offered us warnings about technology and what government can do with it. This has always been some of the richest ground for the seeds of social change and intellectual freedom. But now Disney through Marvel and Star Wars offers formulaic tripe in the form of explosion joke explosion joke explosion joke tied together with a paper-thin plot…and with Justice League DC jumped on that mindless bandwagon. Star Trek has become a poor imitator of Star Trek on the big screen and a teen dystopian novel on the small screen. And speaking of teen novels, the genre that once gave us Wrinkle in Time gave is now spewing mindless YA novels with characterless protagonists that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on and would be an insult to kindling to use as fire starter (and the less said about that Wrinkle movie from a writer and director who clearly never read the book the better). The only visions of the future exist somewhere between the Thunderdome and Battle Royale. The optimism in the human spirit in The Twilight Zone and Babylon 5 has been replaced by the bleak pessimism of Orphan Black and Black Mirror. Hell, even The Doctor has become a bitter and cynical shell of its former self. And while the written has fared a little better, the fact that Martin—with his message that humans are all vile disgusting things—has seen major success, doesn’t say much either. And now the conventions are ensuring that this single line of argument continues by ensuring only the topics they want are the ones discussed.
Now I’m not saying that all these new visions of science fiction and fantasy are bad. There has always and SHOULD always be that strain in the deeper levels of these genres. The problem is that there is yin to the yang. The DCEU under Snyder and Nolan with its philosophical richness was the perfect counterpoint to the mindless entertainment of Marvel. If you didn’t like one you had the other. Now they’re both mindless. The thoughtful science fiction of Star Trek which had a vague understanding of science and powerful social commentary was the perfect balance to the fun space opera of Star Wars. Now you just have mindless fun from both. The Twilight Zone countered the Outer Limits, Babylon 5 balanced Stargate, Buffy was not Xena, Dollhouse was for people who wanted more thought than Dark Angel.
There used to be balance between hope and cynicism, fun and thoughtfulness, utopian and dystopian visions, substance and style. As there should be. But now we’re just being fed the same cynical, stylistic, fun, and dystopian vision from the content makers and being told by even the fan conventions to march lockstep to their tune. The people selling this crap will respond it’s what the people will buy…but Dennis Miller had a response to this for two decades, it’s for the same reason Eskimos eat whale blubber: it’s the only thing we’re being offered. And the fact is that the Snyder vision of Superman made money, that Whedon pile of trash barely broke even.
If you don’t think this both reflects society’s problems and creates those problems, you’re deluded.
Phoenix Comic Fest is a symptom, but it’s a big one. Because if you don’t think this is a trend that will continue if not protested that it won’t spread out almost every convention (because if they can control controversy, you know they will because corporations will almost always fall into playing it safe after being in existence long enough).
I would of course encourage dealers to boycott (you didn’t make much money last year anyway and you’ll make less this year), fans to boycott, and if you agree with argument, maybe encourage the celebrities you were hoping to see to also cancel.
It’s a small thing but so is the start of an avalanche. We need to keep the diversity of thought going. We need to not give into people telling us what to think, read, and enjoy. Because if it starts with what we find entertaining…it will work into what rules we are ruled by. Politics is downstream of culture. This has been true since a Sumerian king embellished tales of his ancestor Gilgamesh to help his own position. It is no less true now. Either we control culture and ensure diversity, or we will deal with all the problem of political conformity (oh wait, we already are).
*It has been renamed from the more traditional Phoenix Comicon because San Diego Comic-con has gone batshit crazy and decided to sue conventions for things that sound like them, as if they have even the slightest shred of intellectual ownership over the word comic or the all too common shortening of convention to con…but how stupid abuse of IP law is getting is a discussion for another time.
**I would really love to support police…but honestly you guys are making the gestapo comparisons just a little too easy. Be the adults in the room, like I pay you to be—grow the fuck up and stop acting worse than the criminals you’re supposed to protect me from. And you good cops out there, your silence in the face of your vile colleagues is not loyalty, it’s to betray to your sworn duty.