We are days away from this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, the United States’ biggest festival of pop culture and, to be sure, there will be plenty of news here and on other websites about that. But for the moment, I want to take things in another direction and look at what has been called one of the worst pop culture convention disasters in memory: DashCon 2014.
DashCon ran from July 11-13 in Schaumburg, IL and was a celebration of all the fandoms on Tumblr. (It should be noted, though, that it was by no means an official Tumblr event.) There were panels on Doctor Who, Sherlock, anime, and even one on BDSM. As it was the first year for the show, they weren’t able to bring in tons of guests, but they did line up the crew from the Welcome to the Night Vale show and actor Doug Jones. Their initial attendance projects ran upwards of 7,000.
However, on Friday evening of the event, the DashCon folks began requesting additional donations to pay for the hotel space, evidently not having paid it in full yet. Attendees (no official numbers have been released to my knowledge, but no one has estimated more than 1,500 people showed up throughout the entire weekend) managed to donate $17,000 but no one seemed to have a clear idea what the money was being used for. This caused the Night Vale people to question whether or not they would be compensated for the following day’s primary event, and asked for their payment beforehand. DashCon was ultimately not able to do so, and the event was not held. Although attendees were not told about the cancellation until well over an hour after the Night Vale event was supposed to start. But to compensate for those who waited, they were offered an additional hour of time at one of the convention’s other attractions: the ball pit. The very same sad-looking ball pit used as the feature image for this article.
By this point, as most of the attendees were Tumblr users, news of the convention’s problems started going viral online. Memes using the ball pit image were prolific by Saturday afternoon, a “what can you buy with $17,000” site was launched, and former volunteers who dropped out some time before the event started relaying behind-the-scenes details of just how disorganized the whole thing was from the get-go. Not surprisingly, many people began cutting their losses and didn’t bother returning on Sunday, including vendors who had paid for table space.
The DashCon folks have since issued countless apologies and explanations. Most of the explanations amount to absurdly bad communications among everyone involved. It seems none of the DashCon people read their contract with the hotel very carefully, they weren’t communicating at all with each other as problems arose, they weren’t communicating with attendees leading to rampant speculation… Even their extremely lengthy apology letter isn’t very communicative, not addressing several major criticisms that came up (notably that they incorporated in the wrong state and aren’t even legally allowed to hold an event in Illinois, or why the promised attendance numbers were so wildly off-base), keeping details obscure despite saying otherwise (notably, the document showing all the bills paid with that $17,000 doesn’t actually show anything at all, merely that some non-descript charges were accrued against “CC 2014 DASHCON”), and seemingly contradicting themselves (notably, by saying the effectiveness of their plan to ensure the BDSM panel was attended by only those 18 and older was “essentially zero” then going on to say “no minors even tried to get in”).
They still intend on holding another convention next year, hoping to learn from their mistakes. It seems to me that there’s a lot they need to learn about both organization and communication throughout the entire organization before they try this again, though.
What is of particular interest to me, though, is that, despite all of the problems they had (and I didn’t even scratch the surface here of all the problems I read about!) fans still had fun. One summed things up with this: “It was fun for me, but definitely the worst convention I’ve ever attended. The panels were poorly run… if they weren’t cancelled outright. Some of the main attractions (Night Vale, ball pit, Prom) flopped. The best part undoubtedly was the community; lots of cosplayers and people who generally loved their fandoms. It made the disaster enjoyable for me at least.”
And that, it should be said, is the real power of fandom.