Positive Cynicism – San Diego Comic-Con cheapens us all

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

No, I didn’t go to SDCC this year. I’m poor. I’ve always been too poor to go. But it was a dream of mine for years and years to make the journey from Illinois to go to the biggest comic book convention in the country.

But it’s not anymore. It hasn’t been for a few years now. Because as Comic-Con gets bigger and bigger, it’s morphing into little more than a Hollywood trade show.

Now, granted, I think it’s fantastic that Hollywood has come to realize the power of the fan demographic. It’s kind of intoxicating being ponied up to by the studios who realized that, hey, maybe these guys who have been following the legal wrangling over the possibility of a Spider-Man movie since they first read about it in Comics Scene and Starlog in the 80s would be interested in what the unnecessary reboot of Spider-Man with people in their late twenties playing high school students will look like. (Apparently, exactly like the video game spin-off of the first Sam Raimi flick.)

It’s kind of cool that there’s this whole “geek chic” movement and all of this “nerds are a force to be reckoned with” kind of strength at the box office. When I go online, I see more genre stuff than I ever did growing up and being one of a very small number of Star Trek fans who lived in my area or one of a lonely few going to the local comic book store. I remember a time when I could barely find anyone who knew who the X-Men were.

But just looking at some of the stories coming out of SDCC makes me realize we’ve achieved critical mass on this. It’s going to implode. It may not be immediate and it may not be fast, but it will collapse in on itself.

What the hell is Steven Spielberg doing at Comic-Con? He doesn’t care about fandom. He’s just selling his awful-looking, creepily-animated Tintin movie.

What are all of these actresses doing there? You want to talk about how much this thing has become a Hollywood trade show event? I can tell you what Ashley Tisdale, Anna Paquin, Kristen Stewart and Kat Dennings were wearing, as they posed for what are essentially red carpet pictures, but I can’t tell you anything about any, say, comic books that were represented there. Where any new creative collaborations announced? Any new series? Did Jim Lee have anything to say about the creatively-dead DC Universe reboot that didn’t sound as idiotic as everything he’s already said about it?

Those are things you didn’t see in the news because the news doesn’t care about comic books.

I have to wait and find out from fans with blogs or dedicated news sites who find it more charming and interesting that Lego has got the license to make DC and Marvel minifigures than what’s going to happen on the next season of Shameless.

And seriously? Shameless? The awful – nigh, unwatchable – Showtime series about a poor family in Chicago that no one would even be interested in watching if low-tier Anne Hathaway clone Emmy Rossum didn’t show her tits? THAT had a presentation at Comic-Con?

Nothing to do with genre, nothing to do with “geek chic,” but it still has a presentation at Comic-Con. Why? Because nerds love Shameless? No, because nerds are easily exploited. Hey, you’ve got a big, captive audience thirsting for mainstream acceptance, sell ’em everything you can.

Why do you think Kat Dennings was even there? She was pushing an upcoming CBS sitcom about waitresses, but she was in Thor, so hey, she must be nerd-friendly.

That’s why I don’t love the idea of SDCC anymore. In fact, I pretty much resent it.

This whole endeavor came out of a love of comic books and toys and science fiction and horror and fantasy. And it grew because companies that make comic books and toys etc. reached out to their fans (and their consumers; I’m not stupid — it’s good business sense for such companies to provide these kinds of outlets). I mean, maybe I’m naïve and overly-idealistic, but I’ve been to a lot of conventions, and until a few years ago, there really was the sense of shared fandom.

And even if you’re one of those people arguing over what’s better, Babylon 5 or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there was still the sense of everyone being there to celebrate what they genuinely enjoyed. Whether you were cosplaying or waiting in line for Harlan Ellison’s autograph or trying to fill in the back issues of your Fantastic Four collection, we were all there to immerse ourselves in the kind of like-mindedness that is all too rare in a world where sports fans wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey while playing Fantasy Football make fun of comic book fans wearing a Spider-Man shirt while playing Dungeons & Dragons for being weird.

These were places where Marvel Comics had to come and unveil its new titles and new creative teams in order to connect with fans outside of Comics Buyer’s Guide or Wizard, because it’s not like they were going to get a section in Entertainment Weekly for anyone to care. And now Entertainment Weekly has a giant reporting section at SDCC, not because they love comics and are interested in them, but because it’s hip to say that Watchmen is Important Contemporary Literature and because they want to be on the front lines of the Avengers Media Over-Excitement.

Right now, mostly on the strength of some blockbusters, it’s cool to like superheroes and to be interested in their media spin-offs. The actual business of comic book publishing? They don’t care. They’re just following the consumer and following Hollywood, who in turn is simply there to exploit the nerds and whip up excitement for whatever property they’re turning into expensive movies that they hope people will actually go pay to see instead of pirating them.

It’s an old practice. It’s just that before, when studios were being so cheap about an X-Men movie that the big action climax took place in the gift shop of the Statue of Liberty, you didn’t have Steven Spielberg showing up. Now there’s a whole contingent of paparazzi floating around to snap pictures of the Twilight cast or to report on Rhys Ifans drunkenly shoving a security guard, because Hollywood is bringing its worst excesses with it in its expensive efforts to turn the nerds into a willing source of money.

I don’t know. I understand it. I get why this makes good business sense for the studios. But I feel like it cheapens all of us fans when we’re so thoroughly enjoying being exploited in exchange for what I still suspect is a fleeting mainstream acceptance.

Hey, I warn you in the title that I’m cynical.

I used to dream of going to SDCC. Then I stopped wanting to go. Now I hope I never do. When Maxim has a booth at Comic-Con, it feels like it’s time to close the whole thing down and go back to meeting in garages to talk about the latest issue of Batman.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com

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Comments (1)
  1. Dar July 28, 2011

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