Seventh Doctor, You Were My Doctor: Me and Sylvester McCoy, Dragon*Con 2012
I did not have a great time at Dragon*Con this year.
It's taken me over a month to post this because I felt almost guilty saying that, as if it would make me seem...ungrateful? Most people don't get the chance to go to a con of that size, and a part of me feels like I "should" have gotten something more out of it, but it was a far more frustrating experience than my memories of attending that con for the first time in 2006.
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that any complaints I have aren't of the "those aren't real fans" variety. I know that's been an issue in fandom lately, but I don't doubt that everyone attending Dragon*Con this year had a sincere interest in one or more of the things going on there.
There were just too many of those people.
Despite the fact that I was (once again) visiting my friends Scott and Kimberly on this trip, they didn't join me for the con itself. Not only did I catch them right between a trip to Scandinavia and a trip to this year's Democratic National Convention, they were busy with work such as Kimberly's column for LitReactor. Perhaps I should have taken this as a warning sign, but they had also clearly (after several years of attending the con as locals) arrived at their own point of frustration and indifference with how crowded things had gotten.
Most of the con felt like an assembly line--particularly at the Marriott, where it was hard to move around at the best of times and the staff were jerks about it to the point that it seems like they resent having the con there in the first place. (That hotel seems all the jerkier now with their announcement that reservations for next year's Dragon*Con require a non-refundable deposit.) Dragon*Con's attendance was pegged at fifty-five thousand this year, so I often felt lost in a sea of bodies rather than excited about all the new people I could meet. One of the promises I made to myself this year was that I wasn't going to spend hours upon hours waiting in line for just one thing...which meant that I missed some of the most high-profile guests and panels. (To be fair, I also missed out on a lot of smaller panels, like this one about media tie-ins.) In fact, I didn't even physically see some of the people I was most excited to encounter, such as Gillian Anderson or Stan Lee.
Although I finally got to meet one of the actors who'd played The Doctor (as you can see up top), which was awesome, and others such as the dreamy John Barrowman (hey, I'm secure enough to say it) and John Rhys-Davies, the only Firefly castmember whose autograph I went for was Jewel Staite, despite the presence of Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher in the very same room. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd voluntarily turn down the chance to meet anyone associated with that show, so I definitely knew there was something off at that point. (Then again, I have my own shifting feelings about Browncoats and their attitude towards the franchise that probably justify their own entry.) Oddly enough, the guest I got the most out of seeing was Muppeteer Peter Linz, who wouldn't exactly be considered a traditional genre celebrity.
There were certainly bright points on a social front. I got to see carencey77 and kradical for the first time since Shore Leave in 2007, though both meetings were fairly brief, and I was impressed by Caren's group cosplay of the regulars on Lost Girl, a series which doesn't get enough attention in that department. (She's playing Bo, second from left, in the picture above.) Some of my best social experiences came from random conversations on the MARTA going to and from the con, as well as hanging out with a group who (like me) couldn't get into a certain panel. On the other hand, I'd anticipated seeing many more people I already knew back when I was debating which con I should travel to next, and I missed out on some people I intended to meet, such as a friend of cattchan's who is apparently a prominent cosplayer in her own right.
Speaking of cosplay in general, I was also disappointed to find that Dragon*Con's cosplay offered more in quantity than quality--which may come as a surprise to people like reddheart and seweccentric, who have friends at and/or a prior connection with Dragon*Con. There was absolutely some really impressive cosplay there (and I know I lack the skills to participate), but much of it was not at a level above what I can see at a con in Winnipeg or what I saw in Atlanta in 2006, and a lot of it was repetitive. Another promise I made to myself this year was that I wasn't going to stop to photograph any costume for a character I'd seen done before...which meant that I wasn't stopping very often.
All of that left me feeling a combination of annoyance and boredom throughout the weekend. Kimberly feels the con is just greedy (and it is for-profit, contrary to popular belief), lacking more paid staff or any motivation to cap attendance, but all I know on a personal level is that it no longer has whatever it is I'm looking for from a con.
What am I looking for from a con, then?
I'm not sure I know how to answer that question, and this experience has made me ambivalent about my place in fandom. Everything I wrote above sounds an awful lot like the disappointment I felt when I went to ConVergence in 2010, but I clearly continue to be motivated to travel to large conventions elsewhere (despite the growth of Winnipeg's Central Canada Comic Con). I might feel like I've "outgrown" local cons, but going further afield is expensive when I have to take planes and not trains or automobiles, and it hardly seems worth it if I'm going to keep having a "meh" reaction to those trips.
I'm starting to think I might get a more positive social experience by going in a group, as Caren and so many others do, but convincing a group of locals to head for a big convention seems like a tall order. (Could I even find enough people around here who have both the motivation and resources to get something out of it themselves?)
For those of you who regularly attend larger cons (especially if you've gone to Dragon*Con at least twice), have you noticed a similar shift towards the impersonal over time? Do you care? What do you get out of attending a con, particularly a large one, in this day and age?