Fun Rationing

Posted by on July 30th, 2010 at 4:36 PM

There are times when the old Southern California of free and easy movement will suddenly emerge again, like the sun shining through a cloudy day.  The usual traffic occlusions will for some reason de-scleroticize themselves, and you relive the days when no point in the imperial expanse of Los Angeles was more than twenty minutes away from any other point, and you could get from Los Angeles to San Diego in less than two hours.  This I managed to do both coming and going to the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, and though this had a lot to do with the trip down starting before 7:00 a.m. and the return around midnight, believe me, these days that is no guarantee.  I long ago came to the conclusion that one day of Comic-Con was Comic-Con enough, so unlike those who come for the whole thing I can leave wishing for more of it.  Well I remember what a death march the Sunday morning trip to the exhibit floor felt like, back when I was on the Fantagraphics payroll.

Comic-Con has gotten to be like Southern California itself, in that once its population reached a saturation point the sheer over-subscription squeezed much of the enjoyment out of it.  Ours is a civilization that spoils things.  That which is presently unspoiled is most of the time merely at an early stage of spoliation.  Because the things that are making life good carry the seeds of their own spoliation, spoilage can’t be retarded.  The train that was in Des Moines yesterday is in Chicago today, but Chicago was where the tracks were headed all along.  Your choices are either to content yourself with the remnant of the enjoyment or give it up altogether; the Eden state is gone beyond recall.  What makes it particularly melancholy is that though in the past the good times seem tantalizingly close.  According to my always untrustworthy memory, at the turn of the century the convention was at a happy medium, or a tipping point.  It had the excitement of a mass phenomenon, but the main exhibit hall was still easily navigable and you could get into just about any panel you wanted to, with only two or three true Fuck-It panels (i.e., those which you walk by 45 minutes before starting time, look at the size of the line and say, “Fuck it.”).  In those days Fuck-It panels were strictly the ones where movie stars appeared, and since I never found seeing a movie star in the flesh to be much of a thrill it never bothered me.  Besides, if it was a movie I actually wanted to see I figured I’d find out more about it than I wanted to know.  It wouldn’t be long though before panels I wanted to see moved into Fuck-It territory.  For example, I used to really like going to the Adult Swim panels.  This may be a year off or so, but I think it was 2003 where I got in only by the skin of my teeth, in 2004 I was skunked entirely, and in 2005 I exercised the pernicious practice of sitting through a panel I had no interest in (it was for the TV show The 4400, which I’ve never desired to see a frame of) so I could stay for the Adult Swim panel which followed.  By the next year everyone had figured out that trick, so all it meant was that you’d get on a line just as long and wait another hour besides.  From that year on I just said, “Fuck it.”

It didn’t surprise me at all that the aforesaid pernicious practice was at the root of the famous eye-gouging incident this year.  It’s a mystery to me why they don’t clear the halls after the big mass media events, which shouldn’t be that hard to identify.  Because Comic-Con became such a fun event that the number of people who want to have the fun is limited only by the Fire Marshal.  Under these conditions the fun must be rationed, and the organizers have chosen to ration it according to who is willing to sit in line the longest.  To favor those who will see the event no matter what sort of ordeal they have to go through over those who might like to see it if it’s not too much trouble is probably as fair a way to dole out the fun as any other.  It’s a method that favors the young, who can still see waiting on line as a worthwhile way to show their enthusiasm and subjectively feel they have all the time in the world, but after all, it’s a young person’s event.  I remember they tried ticketing the big ticket events once, and since they only tried it once I assume it didn’t work.  Besides, the long lines serve the purpose of keeping people out of the main exhibit hall, the way the polar ice caps used to store sea water.  I believe the exhibit hall crush was considerably relieved this year by having a number of Fuck-It panels in venues outside the Convention Center.  However, allowing people to sit through from one over-subscribed event to the next defeats the purpose of fun rationing, if not body storage.

While I understand what Tom Spurgeon means when he says “I felt like I was attending the comics portion of [the film and television industries’] show,” it doesn’t really feel that way to me, because of the accessibility issue.  I spent my time in the parts I could move around in and get into relatively easily, and those were invariably comics-related.  I felt rather that there was a comics convention with a parallel film and television convention that was sealed off by a wall of young and infinitely patient humanity. When I look at the programming schedule it still seems to me predominantly comics-oriented.  While the traffic in the comics-related section of the exhibit hall was a bit lighter than in recent years, what is now apparently universally known as the “popular end” was a different story.  I navigated that part of the hall by sticking to the wide outer corridor, and when there was something that looked interesting I would lower my shoulder and enter the scrum.  Even this applied only to about a quarter of the way in at either side.  The inner sanctum was essentially downtown Mordor to me, forbidding towering keeps which I would never enter.

I have absolutely no insight into the thinking of the convention organizers.  What I hope they understand is that Hollywood needs Comic-Con more than Comic-Con needs Hollywood.  Just ask yourself, what other event could Hollywood turn to that attracts this kind of attendance and concentrated media attention?  It seems to me that it’s worth maintaining Comic-Con’s integrity as a comics convention.  The qualifying question for any movie or TV event ought to be “Is this comic book content?”  When you bring in things like Glee or Sons of Anarchy or Dexter or True Blood (even if there is a tie-in comic book), you’ve gone past the associational into the tangential.  It injects a conceptual flabbiness into the event, and the “celebration of pop culture” alibi just makes its ass look fat.  Once studio publicity departments start thinking of you as a subsidiary, that’s what you’re going to be.  (A good rule of thumb question as to whether a panel belongs in the question would be, would anyone on this panel be likely to want to roam around the exhibit hall on his own?  If the answer is no, then it’s just a visit from the celebrity helicopter.)

The great floating question was whether the show is going to stay in San Diego, and nothing could have increased the anxiety level more than delaying the announcement until after the convention.  (You figure if they were staying they wouldn’t delay, then you figure that maybe they just haven’t decided yet.)  I don’t think anyone outside of the Hollywood-people-and-fuck-them thinks there’s any better place for it to be once you step outside the Convention Center.  The problem is, the only thing that will ease the fun rationing problem is increasing exhibit and meeting space, assuming you’re not also going to allow attendance to increase until you have the same problem.  I think the happy medium would be to move it temporarily until the San Diego Convention Center increases its capacity, maybe going back and forth between Anaheim and Los Angeles.  Las Vegas is just nuts.

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