ELAYNE RIGGS: Left Behind
It’s the day before the biggest convention in an American comic fan’s year — the San Diego Comic-Con International. Just about every one of my ComicMix colleagues is heading out there. (Don’t ask me how they got hotel rooms, it’s still a mystery to me.) I’m not. My boss told me a long time ago that I can’t go on vacation when he’s in the country (yes I know, but it’s still better than being unemployed and sans health insurance), and even if I could I just don’t think I could work up the enthusiasm any more for something so expensive and exhausting. The closer I get to pushing 50, the more 50 pushes back harder.
I vaguely remember when I used to have the energy for Events. When I was in college I enthusiastically queued up for a couple hours to see The Empire Strikes Back and was severely disappointed because I was expecting a movie, complete with a resolution, not a chapter. (When Robin expressed much the same sentiment years later on Usenet, I responded with "Marry me," and the rest is history, sort of.) I get the idea of wanting to be a part of a phenomenon bigger that one’s self, wanting "bragging rights" to fill your anecdotage. (I wish I could say I coined that word, but I didn’t, I got it from a Fred Astaire movie and goodness knows where the movie’s writer picked it up.) When it’s organic and unexpected, the Event phenomenon can be quite fun. But what’s really organic today?
San Diego grew out of comic fans’ love for their medium and the people who toiled therein. And then it just grew, and grew, and grew. It’s nigh unto unwieldy now. Before Wizard took over the Chicago Comicon, it too was centered around the comics artform; now it’s just another notch on the WizardWorld bedpost. The more cons grow, the more the fans can convince themselves of the comic industry’s health — but the growth ain’t about comics, it’s about product.
And the same goes for many other events. When Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone first appeared, the book was a delightful surprise that organically became a phenomenon that sucked kids back into reading. Now stores schedule official midnight celebrations and Israel gets in a huff because the debut Event is on a Saturday (deal with it, Rowling comes from a Christian country and admires C.S. Lewis so it’s not like the perspective of 0.22 percent of the world’s religious adherents is going to make a big difference). I can think of lots of product launch Events that started relatively organically and grew into something very cynically the opposite — how did we get from cute little Pikachu dolls to Pokémon tournaments?
And don’t even get me started on iPhones. How ludicrous is it to queue up for hours to buy something that’s not being sold in limited quantities, that’s available in the millions both in stores and online? Just so you can be the first to say you did it? Just so you could Be There?
Being There for the purpose of consuming massively marketed products available in plentiful supply seems, increasingly, to be a way to prove to ourselves that we exist. As Mark Morford observes, it’s part and parcel of "a culture desperate for something to fill the growing void, for the More and the Other and a quick glancing taste of the divine… it’s all about the promise… It’s all about the idea of some deep happy utopian nirvana, a sexy and active and impossibly adventurous land… where our senses are so incredibly acute that you simply must have items around you that can hyper-replicate the world in so much imperceptible detail that you will never have to actually, you know, go outside. Or wake up."
Or maybe, you know, not. Maybe Events are a way of acknowledging our common humanity in a world grown smaller through mass communication while the individuals in that world fear growing more isolated via that same enticing technology. Event gatherings may just be the flip-side of flash mobs, which by all accounts seem pretty organic to me, and of political demonstrations, in which participation is probably at an all-time high despite what the mainstream media would have you believe (hey, it’s either them or your lying eyes).
So where does that leave those of us too cautious to attend any more rallies, too arthritic to walk up and down endless convention aisles, too content with the sheer vastness of entertainment selections out there nowadays to go to first-run movies the weekend they debut, too satisfied with having all the gadgets we need only doing the things we need them to do to even want something that will do more than we’ll ever use it for, too swamped with unread comics and books to feel the need to buy a hardcover we can’t even hold up for 784 pages (yes, I have the British children’s TPB version of the first six Harry Potter books, and that edition of the 7th probably won’t be out for a year so it’ll be awhile before I read Deathly Hallows)?
I think it’s telling that the idea of Event gatherings even finds a home in fundamentalist religion, specifically in the form of modern-day Rapturists who believe they and they alone will be swept up into heaven come the glorious day when their messiah returns, while anyone who doesn’t share every single self-contradicting piece of their dogma will be Left Behind to deal with whatever the opposite of their messiah would be. They put so much stock into this notion that you can even buy Rapture Insurance or sign onto a Rapture Letter database to scold "unbelievers" after you’re carried off. You can’t make this stuff up. Actually, they can and they do. They’ve made up a whole series of books, probably second in popularity only to that other series for which people queue up (and which they, coincidentally, dismiss as evil because it mentions fictional wizardry), talking about what happens to the heathens when all God’s children are in heaven and all’s right with their world. I haven’t read that series but apparently the heathens have some pretty cool adventures.
For me, being left behind means lots more leisure time to catch up on the stuff from which I was left behind last year. Oh, and a respite from the queues, which can only be good for my arthritis.
Elayne Riggs is ComicMix‘s news editor, and will not be in San Diego this year. However, she already peeked on the ‘net and therefore knows who dies in the last Harry Potter book, and as she’d hoped it doesn’t make all that much difference to her, so feel free to discuss it around her.