Welcome back, friends and readers, to a very special, multi-part edition of State of Affairs. I had originally intended this post to be a single entry, but given how long and interesting (I hope) it’s gotten, I’ve decided to put it up piece-by-piece in an effort to avoid posting War and Peace – and also, hopefully, to encourage you people to keep coming back. Because I’m putting it up in bits, I’m also going to do something I would normally never do: use headers to denote where we are in the story. Bear with me, it’s an experiment. So here it is: part one of my epic journey to Fan Expo 2009.
WHY I’M THERE
This weekend, as many of you know, Toronto was host to the 15th annual Fan Expo Canada. It’s the longest-running, largest fan convention in Canada, started in 1994 by Hobby Star Marketing and traditionally run at Toronto’s Metro Convention Center. My good friends Brent and Adam, who have appeared numerous times in this blog as the hosts of the fast-growing podcast Two Assholes Talking About Nerd Stuff, attended the con this year as members of the press, and they were kind enough to invite me along as resident roadie/Guesthole.
Granted, most of their gear is borrowed from me, so I didn’t mind coming along to keep an eye on my stuff, but I was also intrigued to see what all the buzz is about – the only convention I have ever attended was a little tiny Star Trek con at the Planetarium about fifteen years ago – so it was in the interest of writing something cool for you, my dear readers, that I descended upon Nerd Mecca for the duration of the weekend.
THE JOYS OF PRESS PASSES
First things first – press passes are like a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory golden ticket when it comes to conventions. It turns out the people who organized this year’s Expo grossly underestimated how many people were going to show up – they expected about fifty thousand people, and more than sixty showed up, so there were a lot of pissed-off nerds standing in line outside the Convention Center. The line on Saturday literally stretched from the Center, down Bremner almost to Front Street. It was insane. When the three of us walked up to the doors, there was a fan arguing that he had already been inside and was just trying to get back in – the security guard was having none of it. We waltzed up to the door and flashed our passes, to which she replied “Press? Okay, go ahead.” I thought Fanboy was going to have a coronary. It was awesome.
Upon entering the convention, I was totally taken aback. All around me was a sea of comic book heroes and villains (fewer Jokers than I thought, but lots and lots of GI Joe costumes, despite the negative reviews the movie received), anime characters I didn’t recognize (because I never did get into that genre), video game avatars, Starfleet, Stargate and Imperial Navy officers, and a host of other costumes I probably couldn’t even name. Nerd culture as far as the eye could see. They were spread out all over the place: waiting in line for tickets or for overpriced autographs from the convention’s impressive list of celebrities, playing table-top roleplaying games on the floor, or just wandering about, idly chatting and taking pictures of one another’s costumes.
A note on costumes. I’ll say this much for the nerd populace: they take their conventions seriously. There was a huge variety of costumes, ranging from the obviously store-bought (you can’t build a stormtrooper outfit like that from scratch) to the obviously home-made, some of which were truly impressive. I can’t imagine the time and money it would take to make some of this stuff from scratch, but suffice to say a few con-goers told me they would be starting work on next year’s costume pretty much as soon as they got home from this one.
RIFFING ON NERDS
That said, I always assumed the stereotypes about “cosplayers” (the colloquial term for costumed fans) were probably a little inflated. I didn’t really believe I would see a three hundred pound man dressed up in Hello Kitty paraphernalia, or an equally-sized girl stuffed rather precariously into a Supergirl costume, replete with tiny miniskirt and physics-defying spandex shirt. But I did – and thanks a lot to all of you, I’ll never sleep again.
My favourite was probably the guy in full Halo battle armor who was so obese, the black spandex underneath the plastic had stretched to the point where the breastplate hugged him like a training bra, and the abdominal cover looked like a solitary dinner plate sitting on a vast black picnic table. (edit: Brent found this picture of him with his equally-overweight sidekick, Cortana)
To say nothing of the Trek nerds – all I can say is apparently Starfleet’s officer’s corps have become rather lax in their physical aptitude training since the show went off the air.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to rag on fat people, and I understand their desire to come in costume to their yearly pilgrimage. But if you look more like Jabba the Hutt than Princess Leia, it might be a good idea to leave the gold bikini at home and go with something a little more size-appropriate. Just sayin’.
On that note, I wanted to mention this one other thing, and then I’ll stop poking fun. It seems to me that nerds as a general rule probably spend a lot of time on the internet. Given I work online every day, I come across their obtuse arguments and closeminded opinions on everything from movies to music to gaming every day, so I can say this with some authority. But if that’s so, you’d think they would be well aware of the public image people hold of their ilk – when you think “nerd” there are a few standard stereotypes that come to mind, undeniably. And if they’re aware, you would also probably think they would try to avoid fitting squarely into that pigeon hole.
And you’d be wrong.
Adam and I were walking around getting sound bytes for the “Alex talks to attractive con girls” segment of the show (more on that in a bit) and I saw this one guy walk out of the washroom. If there were posters for this sort of thing, he could have been the titular “poster boy”. Long hair matted into partial locks along his scalp and collecting around his ears like so much greasy ivy; oily face-sheen beneath spotty pubic-hair beard; Army of Darkness teeshirt fitted just a little too small, exposing doughy man-boobs and a minor pot belly; requisite backpack (doubtless full of RPG sourcebooks) with straps too tight, hiking up teeshirt over broad pancake ass flattened by hours of sedentary PC gaming; Zellers-brand blue jeans two inches too tight in waist and two inches too short in the inseam, exposing dirty tube socks and obligatory cross-training shoes which have never seen a track but instead are worn for “orthopedic” value. I genuinely wish I had a photograph of this guy, but I would have felt bad singling him out that way, so you’ll just have to go with my description.
Honestly folks, all I could think was “motherfucker, do you own a mirror? If so, did you look at it before you left the house this morning? Have you no dignity at all?” I mean, I’m a self-proclaimed nerd, and I don’t look that way. In fact I look rather svelte. And if I can look svelte, there’s no excuse for anyone else dropping the ball. Like I said, I don’t mean to be a complete dick, but just because you spend your days building your level 80 cleric on World of Warcraft interspersed with watching badly dubbed Fruits Basket and debating Star Trek versus Star Wars on forums doesn’t mean you have to look like you do.
Okay, no more ragging, I promise. Let’s get to the good stuff.
[Check back later for part two of the epic journey!]