Critical Approaches Fandom General

Debriefing SDCC 2016: The Beginnings

We knew Comic-Con was going to be exhausting but man, were we beat by the end of the week. We’ve now had some time to come back home, start to go over what we collected and what we experienced, and think back about the convention.

Hello all! Apologies for falling off the face of the planet – we knew Comic-Con was going to be exhausting but man, were we beat by the end of the week. We would like to start by thanking Dr. Matthew J. Smith for all of his help making this trip possible. Without him, we would not have been able to get started. (Look for a guest post from him soon!) We’ve now had some time to come back home (get the puppies), start to go over what we collected and what we experienced, and think back about the convention.

Bud Goodall once advised a group of aspiring ethnographers to “Live an interesting life and be willing to talk about it.” Those words ring true as we reflect on our first venture into the world of pop culture conventions. San Diego Comic-Con is one of (if not the) biggest conventions of its type and visiting is no small venture. We came away from the Convention with several takeaways. The following are but a few and they will continue to inform this project as we move forward.

Polymedia Events

Conventions are both transmedia and polymedia spectacles. As transmedia events, you can watch as Henry Jenkins’ ideas come to life when panels quickly become YouTube Videos and exclusive trailers flood fan pages on Facebook. The content flows across different media seemingly effortlessly (but it is also clear that many events are fairly tightly produced). As polymediated events, you can see around each corner how that flow is reshaping the nature of the convention itself. When asked about what advice she would give first-time attendees, one of our participants leapt immediately to “Get on Twitter. Just start following Twitter feeds a month in advance.” Twitter had not only helped her negotiate content; it allowed her to connect with people that became her convention “line buddies.” She claimed it was the way she was able to negotiate the line into the vaunted Hall H while also experiencing the rest of the con.

Division Versus Connection

Popular culture is as much a source of division as it is connection. This statement seems obvious, but in many instances the word popular is seen as synonymous with well-liked (think about how we use measures of something’s popularity to prove how many people want or enjoy something). For our purposes, the popular or pop in pop culture has less to do with how much something is liked and more to do with how well-known it is. Whether it is a squabble about DC or Marvel or a serious conflict such as GamerGate, popular culture connects and divides in serious ways. The fault lines along lines of interest, race, class, gender, age, sexuality, and more that exist in these spaces are in need of examination.

Importance of the physical space

Physical space cannot be ignored. As you walk the convention floor, you cannot ignore the ways in which spaces are shaped to both move and stop people. From the security people in the walkways demanding that people keep walking to the intricate mazes created by vendors to get you in and not let you out as easily. Booths mark the horizon within the hall like skyscrapers vying for your attention in a mini-Metropolis (or Gotham if you prefer). The addresses given to each individual vendor mark a genre type and economic class that s profound significance.

Approaching Conventions

To move away from the research-centric topics above, we also learned a lot logistically about how we should handle these trips in the future. What started as something called convergent critical rhetoric by Art and Dr. Aaron Hess has evolved into a method/approach that still needs unpacking. This is the start of what we hope to be a large project involving at least four academic researchers as well as some production experts. For this initial exploratory trip to Comic-Con, only two of us attended. While Alix and Art were able to be fairly productive, a convention the size of Comic-Con merits a much larger team to do it justice. Alix was also attending a course, The Experience at Comic-Con through Wittenberg University, so she had divided responsibilities during this trip. We really appreciate the help and insight of the course’s instructor Dr. Matthew J. Smith, but it also created some logistical considerations for Alix along the way. To be done right, this project is going to require some focus and multiple sets of eyes.

People are amazing!

In addition to meeting some fantastic attendees, we met some people who are also interested in popular culture research. In fact, we may invite some of them to post guest blogs on this site. The aforementioned Matthew J. Smith, Joan Miller, and others are connections we will not soon forget. The importance of having different perspectives in popular culture research is something to which we are attuned. We were fortunate to interact with people that can broaden our perspectives and help us see these worlds from different points of view.

In the coming weeks, we will post more pictures and video that help clarify these and other takeaways from our journey. Hopefully, these will draw you to comment or critique in ways that allow us to continue to expand upon our perspectives and insights. Stay tuned!

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