This weekend's conference adapts nerd culture for young women.
My introduction to this year's Wizard World Comic Con came Saturday with lines dotted with Imperial Stormtroopers, superheroes, Drs. Who from a few incarnations, and cosplayers from across the pop culture spectrum. The lines to get in stretched in and out of the Morial Convention Center, but no one seemed to be particularly troubled by this development. Instead, the overall vibe was that they were among their people.
As Noam Cohen wrote in the New York Times:
Never before has the boundary between geek culture and mainstream culture been so porous. Beyond Mr. Munroe’s popularity and the national obsession with Apple products, other examples abound. Whether it is TV series like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Silicon Valley,” or comic-book movies such as this year’s top-grossing title, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” or the runner-up, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” or fantasy-based fiction like the “Game of Thrones” books (and HBO show), once-fringe, nerd-friendly obsessions like gadgets, comic books and fire-breathing dragons are increasingly everyone’s obsessions.
The growth of geek culture has launched a thousand think-pieces—one of the best I’ve read is at The Guardian—and on an episode of The Nerdist podcast, comedian Chris Hardwick defined “nerd” not in terms of what people are obsessed by but the ways their obsessions manifest themselves—an open, enthusiastic sharing of interests.
Perhaps because of that, one of the most interesting aspects of this year’s Comic Con was its girl-friendliness. Pop culture has tended to be as dude-centric as the mainstream culture since so many of its manifestations—comic books, fantasy, and science fiction—tend to reflect bro power anxieties, and Comic Con wasn’t necessarily better in that respect, but it did create a clearly girl-friendly space.
Panels with part of the cast from the CW’s The Vampire Diaries and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) from the Harry Potter movies drew large crowds that were primarily female and young. Creating spaces where young women could admire hunky dudes didn’t seem particularly empowered, but perhaps the sheer numbers helped create a sufficiently safe space that a bunch of young women sat in a circle in an upstairs lobby and played some variation of “Spin the Bottle.”
My class sensibilities were tweaked by the back third of the trade show floor, where those who had the money to spend could get photos with their favorites. Introducing a have/have-not system to nerddom doesn’t feel like progress, nor do the domesticated, paid-for shots carry as much cool for me as a selfie with a star that somehow happens in the world outside the convention hall. But others are clearly less process-oriented, and the moments of contact are enough to buzz them and their friends.
Fortunately, the real action is on the trade show floor, where the cosplayers are the stars, where like Mardi Gras original thought and good craft can temporarily make anyone as a big and as photographed a star as the celebrities curtained off in the back.
Because Wizard World Comic Con is such a fan-oriented event, I’ve let fans tell the story, with a few additional notes along the way.