There comes a time in every sci-fi fan’s life when they have to make the hard choice: do I go to the convention or not?
It doesn’t matter what convention, really. There’s always going to be some sort of carefully staged gathering poised to take advantage of a sci-fi fan’s deep, desperate love for shows with the word “star” or “Buffy” somewhere in the title. I was thinking about this last night when I discovered that something called Jump Con is coming to Detroit and the featured guests will be Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell.
I’m not sure if you know this about me, but I really like “Battlestar Galactica.”
So my first reaction was, “Awesome! Sign me up.” And my second reaction was, “Oh man, every time I go to one of these, I just come home feeling sad.”
Now, I need to clarify that I’m not talking about mega-conventions like Comic Con where you get to see previews of great new movies, comic books or TV shows. And I’m not talking about gatherings like Origins where people are interacting with each other and having a good time previewing new games and competing. I think that stuff’s fun.
But I’ve been to a few other types and, well, that word “sad” just keeps coming up. In college I went to a “Star Trek” convention with some friends on a lark, just to see what it was all about. While it was great scoring a copy of Brent Spiner’s surprisingly entertaining singing debut and checking out the merchandise booths, there was also an undeniably large amount of brightly-colored velour and middle-aged men with their mothers.
A few years after that, I dragged the husband to an X-Files convention. On the awesome side, there was Charles Nelson Reilly in slippers telling the most wonderfully ridiculous stories, and William B. Davis being Canadian and regaling us with tales of his water skiing prowess. You have to admit – you don’t see those two things every day. On the downside, there was Doug Hutchison trying to pick up college girls by telling them, “I played Tooms, you know.” And by the end of the day, I kind of felt like I was in some weird X-Files celebrity zoo.
That feeling was heightened earlier this year when I exercised my nerd duty and went to the Motor City Comic Con. Again, on the plus side, I saw a lot of great new artists and discovered some new authors that truly intrigued me. On the “wow, this is sad” side, I saw Mickey Dolenz (who I loved as a child), Erik Estrada and Lou Ferrigno sitting in little booths – not unlike at a petting zoo – waiting for people to come up and pay for their autographs. And I felt bad because I thought that Erik Estrada training to be a police officer in rural Indiana for a lousy reality TV show was as crappy as a career could get – until I saw him sitting in a booth in suburban Detroit with me walking by not willing to pay $10 to tell him how "ChiPs" made me afraid of motorcycle cops as a kid.
So maybe it’s the celebrity side of these conventions that bothers me. It’s the paying to meet people and have awkward 30-second conversations with them that just makes me feel weird, like I’m engaging in a high-end, rapid-fire act of fully-clothed prostitution. And please don’t think I’m being snobby and saying, “I’d never get an autograph that way” because trust me, I have. Mickey Dolenz and I had quite the awkward mini-conversation back at 1987’s Autorama car show and I’ve got autographs from Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn to prove I didn’t leave that “Star Trek” convention empty-handed. And don’t even get me started on book signings: I’ve collected the signatures and disdain of many of America’s greatest writers. Mostly, I think I make these situations bad on my own. I’m notoriously terrible at human conversation in general. Put a celebrity in front of me and I become exponentially more socially retarded. Nine times out of ten, there’s a good chance I’ll fall down. In fact, let me describe for you what me meeting Mary McDonnell at a convention might look like: I would likely attempt an ill-advised joke about not being gay just because I think she’s awesome. And she would look at me like, “What the fuck?” And then, like a fainting goat, I would fall down.
I’m sure millions of people have a great time at these conventions. And I’m sure the actors who take part in them have a blast, too. It’s got to be great knowing so many people enjoy your work. But you know at some point, there’s going to be awkwardness and weirdness. At some point, someone’s going to stand up and ask Olmos to read their BSG/Punky Brewster crossover fan fic and everyone in the room is going to die from the collective shame. And everyone who bought a ticket will feel tainted by association.
So, with the prostitution vibe, my own social awkwardness and the guarantee that roughly 20 percent of the other attendees will be really weird and lacking the requisite shame to keep it to themselves, I’ve just soured on the experience.
Who are we kidding though? You know and I know I'll probably end up going to the damn thing anway. God knows, there's nothing else to do in Detroit. So if you hear about a woman falling down in front of Mary McDonnell, just pray for my shame-filled soul.