I have never been to the city of San Diego, much less attended the increasingly well-known “nerd prom” known as San Diego Comic-Con. Honestly, it’s gotten large and crowded enough that I personally don’t know that I’d like to go now, but I still get a minor twinge every year when I see and hear about people’s fantastic trips there. It’s not really the show itself that I feel bad about missing, but the opportunity to meet up with so many people I know in/around/because of the industry. That’s ultimately what fandom is about, after all: being part of a community that likes and appreciates similar things.
Despite missing San Diego, I have attended several conventions this year already. I’m going to another small-ish one this weekend, and I’m trying to plan for a couple of significant out-of-town ones later in the year. Plus I’ve gone to several signings and talks, and I don’t doubt that I’ll attend many more. And at the majority of all these, I will take some time to meet with people I know. Friends and colleagues who share similar passions to my own.
A number of people have noted the relatively recent proliferation of pop culture conventions across the United States. Wizard World alone has gone from just a few cons in 2009 to having one almost every other weekend in 2015. I had friends start skipping local shows back in April and May because they had already gotten exhausted from hitting so many of them this year. This is a significant change from as little as a decade ago when conventions were few and far between.
What that means is that people now have a greater ability to live their lives as fans. While fans have pretty much always had their fandom as a part of their identity, it was often held back in relative isolation. Fandom was something in which you would partake only in finite amounts. The term “GAFIA” is an acronym for “Getting Away From It All” and, though it’s not used much any more, originall referring to the notion of escaping the mundanity of life to spend some time absorbed in your fannishness. The convention environment provides a more socially acceptable venue for public displays of fannish interests—you don’t see many people walking around in cosplay outside of a con environment, for example—and their proliferation has helped bolster the notion that you do no longer have to use fandom as an escape from your regular life, but rather that fandom can in fact be your regular life.
That’s not to say that everyone can earn a living wage from fandom, but that people can be a fan as their primary identity. They are no longer an office worker who works on a fanzine in his/her spare time; they are a fanzine publisher who does some office work to pay the bills. Their role in life is not tied to their job, but to their passion. The rising prevelance of conventions certainly did not cause this type of shift, but it does help to enable it. So while this proliferation does decrease the significance of shows as a means to relay news and announcements, the experiences fans have at shows helps to focus their sense of self-identity on what they love instead of what their jobs force them to do.