Dragon*Con redux: Part Deux: The Recap

9 09 2009
 


Thriller creep

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

So just a few days ago, I made my third expedition into Dragon*Con. As usual I was overwhelmed by the schedule, the possibilities and my own physical limitations. It is difficult to stand up for hours and wander around. Heaven forbid that you are wearing a sweaty Klingon outfit and carrying a bunch of memorabilia around. I’d hope these folks have a hotel room that they can retire to.

The impression that I get is the 2009 event was the largest ever. It was super-crowded. We got to do a few things and it was fun, but we had to fight a little and be smart about it. No doubt, the fact that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were making appearances must have drawn in the crowds by the thousands. It was, by all accounts, a magical exchange. I was at work, but I was there in spirit. Now, if only I cared about all these newfangled shows the kids are watching. Im an old-school Trek and TNG fangirl. Buffy, Babylon and Battlestar don’t really do it for me. And the new Star Trek movie? I have to admit, it was a bit of an affront.

I managed to get myself up for the parade (my second year doing this) and enjoyed it, although it was much harder to see than last year. After that, we objectified ourselves by looking at wings, masks, corsets, bellydancing suits and other geeky and nerdy thingamajigs. It was good because one of our non-Con-membership-$$$ friends was able to sneak in with us and buy some things, thus helping the tourist E-Con-omy — someone who otherwise wouldn’t go. That’s how we justified it; I think it’s just like how BART overcharges for travel to SFO airport — because tourist dollars are sought after more than resident dollars. When the Patrick Stewart line had gone through (our mouths were agape at the fact that it stretched through the Marriott and into Peachtree Center mall), I asked the ushers if I could get inside and we lucked out. Captain Picard was on fire, exchanging hot remarks with the Trek Trak show hosts with the sharp, barbed wit of a bald, Shakespearean science fiction actor. We sought coffee and were immediately besieged by geeks with cameras and horrible pickup lines. 

After that, we marched around some of the show areas where art is on display and went to see a concert by Abney Park that was right in the middle of the Hyatt ballrooms. The fire marshall was literally pacing back and forth like Darth Vader, and his D*C minions were adamant that people were to “keep moving” and not linger in the area around the concert. Clearly the demand exceeded supply. I don’t know why the fire marshall didn’t don a villainous constume, because it would have befitted his cretinous ways. I was tired at that point and could hardly see what was going on because the crowd of ewoks and other ridiculousness had gotten thick. I heard some clapping and cheering going on. Turns out, there was a marriage proposal during the concert. Too bad I couldn’t hear. But, congratulations to the lucky couple. We had run into a coworker who was working on a video piece about love and romance at Dragon*Con (not as much of an oxymoron as it seems) and we let him know about this as well.

The rest of the time around then is a little fuzzy. At a later point we were wandering around the art show. And at still another point, we attended a panel discussion by some people who worked at Battlestar Galactica (but were not key players like writers or actors). In the words of a friend, they “towed the company line” in regards to fans’ questions and disappointment about the series ending. I didn’t know what they were all talking about, but I enjoyed getting this sense of the kinds of reactions fans get to work that people put out, as well as a way NOT to act when receiving criticism and affection from devoted followers. It was enlightening nonetheless. I also remember we tried to sneak into the Leonard Nimoy panel just as we did with Patrick Stewart only to find that it was canceled. Oh well, at least we didn’t have to wait in line to find out.

And then, sometime later in the evening, we went to go get some food and had some geeky conversations, and then we attended a panel on skepticism (a bit baffling to me coming from a crowd of folks dressed in Spandex alien suits), followed up by a “filk” concert by Tom Smith. I always forget what filk is, but it’s basically a geeky version of folk music. The music guests that I saw were a lot better last year. Voltaire and folk duo Paul and Storm were there. I know the latter joined the likes of Jonathan Coulton and Wil Wheaton at Penny Arcade Expo this year. Hey, I can’t blame them for wanting to go to Seattle. In fact, I’m thinking if I do a Con again, I might seek out a change of pace by heading out West instead of looking outside my back door.

After that, or maybe before that, my memory fails me, we had some time to kill and went in search of amusement. We found it in a tiny, dark room showing bizarre films. We watched the last act of “Black Sheep,” an apparently foreign film (Australian? I’m going to get myself in trouble here…) about evil mutant sheep that attack humans and try to turn them into additional members of their kind. Yes, I said evil mutant sheep. The film is a hoot. After that, we saw the beginning of a horrible movie about lesbian vampires. Meh. It was kind of entertaining, though.

We closed out the night with a rousing concert by Cruxshadows, a funhouse-mirror reflection of Depeche Mode; I would describe it as the band’s brooding, younger, goth-ier brother — the one who cuts himself for attention. No, but Cruxshadows rocked the carpeted ballroom floors in stylish fashion. The band isn’t all that well-known, so they were hungry to bond with fans. That made this a great show. The lead singer dude came into the audience right in front of us on a couple of occasions, standing on a chair in one instance and doing some sort of a dance in another. And then at the end, everyone jumped up on stage and the singer picked up a young child that had been sitting on someone’s shoulders (!) much to the crowd’s excitement. Everyone was singing along and it was awesome.

That was the conclusion of day one. Day 2 found me sleeping in, going to a brunch at Straits in midtown, venturing out to the Decatur Book Festival, and then heading back intown just in time to join the world’s largest thriller dance. It was chaos when I got there and I almost didn’t get to dance. They were only going to let the first 1,000 go in, and they weren’t giving out any more ribbons. I was lucky that someone in the gift shop heard my pleas for a ribbon and mentioned that her pelvis hurt too much (or something along that line) and soon I found myself with three ribbons in the 400 group. And thus I had admission for my friends as well. It was a good time. The way I see it, the count is MORE accurate this way, even if it’s not the same person.

The dancers included a giant Michael Jackson single shiny glove, Cookie Monster in an orange jacket, storm troopers, zombie Elvis and some other colorful folks. It was a good time. The dance was more involved than I thought. I tried to recreate it for my coworkers the next day when we went wading in a fountain near the office, but was not very successful. That MJ. So talented was he. And such a great zombie.

And then more dinner and talking and a little more gawking and soon I was back at home, celebrating and mourning the end of my Con experience at the same time. Maybe next year I’ll go to PAX in Seattle for a change of scenery. Maybe not. I’m certain that there’s something magical about Dragon*Con and I hope it stays that way.

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Dragon*Con redux part I: My Con history

9 09 2009

Star Trek Experience
  

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

The wonderful magical microsociety of Dragon*Con, contained entirely within the mazelike confines of three connected hotels and one satellite a few blocks away, is something I think everyone should experience once. Do it, if only to get in touch with your inner geek and your secret furry. Everyone has one lurking inside, I like to think. There has to be a part of you that yearns to don a cape and prance around as if you were faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap freight trains in a single bound. If you don’t, you’re probably not much fun to be around anyway.

I remember being an outsider who had never been to a Con save for a couple Star Trek conventions when I was a preteen. It was all for research I was doing for a class, mind you. I remember stuffing myself into the circa-1970s orange bleachers inside the Phoenix Veterans Memorial Coliseum so I could listen to Garrett Wang from Star Trek: Voyager, and John DeLancey, who played Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I found both actors’ schpiels to be engaging and expected such from all cons afterward.

I also had high expectations from having seen “Star Trek: The Experience” at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel, long before the forces of economy and practicality took away one of these old holdovers from Sin City’s drunken flirtations with family-friendliness, whimsy and imagination.

Having long ago left my preteen years in another galaxy, seeing these geeks (an affectionate term) standing on the train platform took me back to those geeky days of my youth when I used to thumb through an encyclopedia of information about “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” There was a time when I could describe the plot of every episode in great detail and tell you all about the various quirks and life stories of each character. I don’t know what happened to that part of me, but I don’t have it anymore and I kind of want it back. Looking at these current-day con lovers made me wish I was one of them. Not to mention that marveling at powerful superheroes’ ordinary means of transit made me laugh. Hard.

Another thing that’s important to consider is that Labor Day weekend is a busy one in Atlanta, and it’s a time when you might find yourself with a decked-out football fanatic on one side and a storm trooper on the other. One year I passed the time on my 45-minute trip intown by making interesting conversation with a chatty pirate’s wench. She had a lot to say about piracy and about life in general. I wished I’d had the gumption to capture that moment on film.

At some point, I’d seen enough of this fantastic tomfoolery and decided I had to be part of it. I decided to give it a shot. The journey began by standing in line for about an hour to buy tickets onsite. Lucky me, I could by a second year’s membership to Dragon*Con for just $10 more (or some ridiculous sum like that). So I did, and by that point, I was locked in for two years of this wonderful nonsense.

My first year at Dragon*Con, I approached the scene with a lot of trepidation. I went by myself into the wild and wooly crowd, armed with a camera and the excuse that I was just a journalist passing through. I told myself, “This year I’m just documenting a scene.” I opted to remain a detached observer of the absurdity around me.

My second year was the best. I had a plan. I even brought an iReport kit with me and interviewed people. With the help of coworkers and friends, I saw quite a bit of things and had lots of fun. Not to mention, I took way too many pictures. Afterward, I made my television debut talking about the event with a viking hat on.

My third year’s expedition to Dragon*Con was predated by an exhausting run through San Diego Comic-Con, which is a totally different animal and yet much the same. The focus is on comics primarily and it’s about twice as big, but not necessarily as cool or fun. I think at some point I just got a little tired. I realized that the Con experience has its limits. I look forward to it, and at the same time, I know that I will be fatigued and frustrated by it.

I’ll want to kick myself, but I’ll go to another con, and I’ll enjoy it. That’s the way it goes. After all the lines and crowds and odoriffic science fiction costumes around you, the memories are what remain.

It’s a unique thing, something you can’t really get anywhere else, and a surreal exploration of that part of us that still likes to dress up and pretend to be someone else. I hope that we can all dig deep and find it within ourselves, even if we wouldn’t be caught dead in Spandex.





Sunday schedule

25 07 2009

I’m planning my schedule RIGHT NOW on the Internet access enabled plane ride over. My belly is full of pretzels, cookies (yes, pretzels and cookies), and cherry Coke (yes, Cherry Coke, on a plane, with refills) and I’m in the right frame of mind. Saturday is up in the air. I don’t have a ticket, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily going to stop me. 🙂

Sunday, I do have a ticket. It’s a short day, so we have to make it count.

Subject to change at any time, below are the programs that I’m eyeing to attend. Of course it won’t be possible to attend them all, but I think I’ll get a well-rounded day.

10:00 a.m.: Tie between Comic-Con film school (postproduction) and the Dr. Who panel. Also Phineas & Ferb.

11:00 a.m.: Lots of great stuff including Women of Marvel, American Dad and Emily the Strange. Also some cartoon voices.

11:30 a.m.: Newspaper editorial cartoonists. I’d love to go to this, but don’t think I”ll make it.

Noon: Random stuff. Good time for lunch.

12:30: Scooby Doo

12:45: Marvel video games? Some recognizable names on that one…

1:00: Ghost Whisperer stars panel will have a few big-shots. Expecting hard time getting in.

1:00 alternate: Comics in Museums

2:00: Future of HP *or* BBC America (Being Human/Torchwood)

2:30: Ethnographic analysis of Comic-Con attendees

3:00: Starship Smackdown

3:30: 501st costuming

4:00: Buffy the Musical





Comic-Con planning in progress

23 07 2009


IMGP7807

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

So yeah, we’re going to be en route to San Diego, CA, for the Comic-Con extravaganza this weekend. I could only get tickets for Sunday but that’s better than nothing.

I didn’t realize how much of a Kind of a Big Deal this was. I admittedly enjoy hanging out at Atlanta’s own Dragon*Con (mostly for the surrounding spectacle and saber-toothed tigers such as shown here) so I assume this will be right up my alley.

After that we’ll head for San Francisco and do some exploring around there. I have a few things on my list to do while in the Bay, and would appreciate any ideas from the wide world out there.

My bank account is emitting a few hunger pains so I am trying to keep the expenditures down as much as possible; and yet I think — to some degree — you have to take a few liberties from time to time.

Speaking of obsessive traveling, I’ll also be heading to Paris, France, yes that Paris, in September, and I think this might be the biggest travel year EVER. Last year was pretty epic, but I think this might top it.





Paul and Storm!

1 09 2008

I’m just learning about Paul and Storm… good stuff. I mean, it takes a lot of brainz to realize that there are a lot of “seamen” on pirate ships.

Good show. Bacteria/disease dolls were given out (so you can “catch” syphillis) and even audio books on tape.

So they called Jonathan Coulton during the performance… based on Twitter exchanges I saw, the comedic routine may have backfired. Paul called and made a lot of jokes teasing Coulton for being at PAX (holding the phone to the Mic) and then hung up the phone mid-convo.

Dana Snyder, Master Shake’s voice, was a guest.

I also saw goth-folk-comedy artist Voltaire perform and he was just great. Plus, there was the added benefit that he didn’t really tick anybody off. He was performing at the last minute after his schedule was changed the previous night. D*C officials or hotel or some peeps deemed him a “fire hazard.”

Paul and Storm – on the phone…, originally uploaded by N-Sai.





*The* costume

1 09 2008

Last year it was Harry Potter. This year… Jokers, nurse jokers, you name it, this was the costume that everyone was wearing.

IMGP7566, originally uploaded by N-Sai





10 Things I Hate About The Dark Knight’s Tale

23 07 2008

SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers!

I tried to think of 10 things I hate about this film because I wanted to make the title work, but I couldn’t really. Some examples of things I hate: 1.) Lack of goofy homoerotic imagery. 2.) Lack of Robin (see No. 1). 3.) Relative reduction in exposed chests as compared to Batman Begins. 4.) Lack of Michael Keaton. 5.) Lack of Jack Nicholson, which I’m willing to live with to see Heath Ledger’s spectacular performance. 6.) Lack of development of Batman, who I like, you know? He’s the good guy, and he’s sexy. 7.) Batvoice. He has this horrible growl in that suit and it bothers me, man. 8.) Clowns. Eww. 9.) Everybody quoting “Why so serious?” all the time. 10.) Part of me misses Tim Burton’s take on the whole thing, I’ll admit, but it’s all good. We can deal. That whole bag was getting tired anyway.

Movie Review Found HereBut getting on with the review, I’m not even going to bother going on and on about how great Batman’s latest installment is. Because you KNOW it’s good. Instead, I’m going to focus on a nitpicky sort of analysis that sticks a metaphorical fork in the whole deal and twists it around so you can more easily digest the many rich themes being fed to you. I mean, what’s not to like about “The Dark Knight”?

You’ve got heart-stopping action sequences, awesome special effects, killer clowns, epic battles, good, evil, pectoral muscles, all the things that make for great entertainment in my book.

This is the kind of film you might analyze to impress That Really Cool College Professor, who let you to work on the project with the intention of fooling you into thinking you’re learning. There are a number of themes popular in the Humanities that are strumpeted about much like codpieces on the Batsuit of the movie industry. Let us examine them one by one:

  • GOOD AND EVIL: The almighty manservant of the whole film, we are watching an epic struggle between “For the Win!” and “Epic Fail!” Or are we? The whole point seems to be straddling the line between the two extremes, a division horribly mocked by Harvey Dent’s gruesome transformation into “Two-Face.” The film is starkly realistic, so much that Two-Face seems horribly out of place. Little subtlety is left to the imagination. This film is more action flick than comic book.
  • REALISM: Batman skips the fantasy and goes straight for realism. Again, this is in tune with the idea that there is no almighty Good and Evil. Therefore, the city itself must be neutral and open to interpretation. Nothing is safe from examination. Gotham City is a near-literal translation of Chicago. It’s been said that Gotham is Chicago, but this Gotham is missing the Gothic that Tim Burton had worked so hard to establish. Johnny Depp will NOT be making an appearance here. Or will he? In a way, the starkness of it all is kind of sad, because I miss those dark touches and the emotional atmosphere (the sense of escape) of the Batman films, but it makes sense in terms of embodying the realism of the film. It’s been stripped of even the stylistic CG imagery seen in “Batman Begins.”
  • BLACK AND WHITE: Although black has traditionally represented evil and white has traditionally symbolized good, this is not a universal truth. Old films such as “Nosferatu” featured “white” villains wearing white makeup to enhance their evil visage. Cultures differ on the symbolism behind this color; it often serves a dual meaning of peace and death. When people die, they lose their color and they turn white before blackening and turning to dust. The colors white and black are intertwined and interrelated, and their meanings are malleable. Thus, a black Batman and a white Joker going at each other is pretty symbolic. What’s even more interesting is these colors were *chosen* rather then given or adopted. Both sides have ordinary human skin underneath, but they assume these colors and these roles arbitrarily and then give them meaning. A clown’s white makeup is creepy because it disguises the face and the true emotions of a person (a theme played with and toyed with as the Joker explored the idea of permanently cutting in a smile rather than just painting it on). It’s also creepy because the white facial makeup is a color that sometimes represents death and evil. Smear the makeup a little and draw an angry face, and a clown is sure to draw a frown or a deep feeling of fear. Batman disguises himself in black, but he is really white underneath. He may be a creature of the night, but he’s just an ordinary mortal man behind it all.
  • ARCHETYPES: The movie systematically mocks the standard-issue archetypes that are commonly seen in films by taking them to an extreme. The Joker’s back story is vague and he invokes several references to his own childhood upbringing inspiring him to commit crimes. You can never tell what he’s getting at. Christopher Nolan didn’t even bother giving Batman a role in the movie, and that’s telling because the movie ain’t about the caped crusader. It’s about exploring evil. Even when Batman is involved, he’s fighting his own evil impulses. Two-Face is a literal two-face, and he seems so out of place in such a realistic environment. Again, someone with a comic-booky aspect to him just doesn’t fit in. He’s clearly a strong archetype, and he meets a surprising fate in the film that is also quite telling.
  • THE OTHER (SOCIETAL): For this term, note that I’m going with two different Humanities definitions, the first of which opposes “the same” and represents exclusion from society. Most comic books are full of this idea because it allows characters to work in isolation and explore parallel societies and secret underworlds without too much complication. In this context, the Joker being a “freak” makes him more plausible because to be that twisted he would have to be excluded from society. You learn to be detached from what happens in this realistic-but-surrealistic underworld because there is such an air of “Other” about it. The concept of the Joker saying Batman is a “freak” like him, and of Batman himself being sort of an outcast (a Dark Knight as opposed to a lawful protector) is important. Batman does what he does because he has no choice. He is The Other. He is different. The message is one of individuality and of finding your own call to be a hero; to persevere even when you aren’t a complete angel devoid of mistakes. Comic books are beloved by so many people because of this message of acceptance and encouragement — embracing both purity and imperfection. Again, the extremes involved here are a sort of mockery of archetypes and the shallow motivations of comic-book characters. Simplicity is killed off, and complexity survives.
  • THE OTHER (FEMINIST): Batman is chock full of manhood (a regular sausage batfest) and the woman is truly “the other” here, although she plays a role in advancing the plot. A lot of hero stories were conceived at a time when women had a more traditional role. In addition, women don’t usually fight physically and they are less apt to want to jump on the battlefield to shoot each other (I know this is a gross generalization, taking into account the emotions I sometimes feel and the behavior I see from some women I’ve met!). In the context of this film, the woman is an object of male adoration and objectification (as are the children). A symbol of love and weakness and home and family. (Granted, there are some strong women in this film, but think overall.) The relationships with women are completely out of whack and thrown down into the dirt or ignored altogether. Harm to women does occur to make a point and create an atmosphere of fear. At least one woman is killed for the sake of the plot, and her death represents the uncertain future that remains in the wake of terrorism.
  • WAR AND TERRORISM: The specter of death looms over modern society just as it always has, but the fear is that much greater because of the instantaneous possibilities. During the Cold War people feared the escalation of nuclear powers into an all-out Armageddon of detonated bombs. At that time, we had “Dr. Strangelove” to mock our fear of complete annihilation. Now, we wonder if we’re going to be the next target of terrorism. And, we wonder if we’re getting the actual real story or if the truth is being massaged to make us feel afraid. We have “Batman” films and the Joker now to poke us where it hurts. The Joker uses explosions and massive destruction just as much as he uses individual deaths, and he laughs about it and finds humor. His destructive nature is quite funny at times; but it’s also cruel. He seeks to kill many at once and wages psychological warfare through the media just as much as he seeks one individual. He is enigmatic and shapeless and able to masquerade in many roles, including as a nurse; he is the force of terrorism — a hunger for destruction that supercedes any need for money or emotional gain. In a way, he wins, and in a way, he doesn’t. Are the terrorists winning, and can good ever win out? Or is there always a terrorist within and thus, our hands are never clean of the wars we disparage? There is a lot of moral ambiguity in fighting fire with fire — war with war — and we become Dark Knights ourselves as we try to outwit the tricksters of this world.
  • MEDIA UBIQUITY: Seen throughout the film is a network called “GCN,” Gotham City News, which is a local affiliate station that seems all too close to certain large media networks. It is everywhere and it is an instrument of the plot; a maker of the story. It not only influences people but changes the course of history. The network shows “disturbing” footage that resembles terrorist tapes that are released online from the Middle East, further adding to the symbolism. The film challenges the role of the media and uses it demonstratively and poignantly (just as many other modern films do) since we all know that news is there to inform and to give people the information they need to take action. It is not a passive force by any means.

In summary, the only thing certain about this film is uncertainty and moral ambiguity; “The Dark Knight” challenges you to strip yourself of self-righteousness and understand the onion-like layers that are nested within each of our hearts.