Unpopular Culture

For the first time in years, I’m not going to Comic-Con. I made my decision almost immediately after last year’s Con, and it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought to resist the pull of the membership presale earlier this year. Once upon a time, I thought that if I prepared, learned the ropes and the tricks, and just went with the flow of the weekend, I was guaranteed a good time. But I didn’t have a good time last year. It had it’s moments, like cons always do, but the stress outweighed the fun, and what’s the point of that?

San Diego Comic-Con has become too large and unwieldy – this is news to no one. A lot of geeks have grumbled about the increase in representation for shows and movies that don’t really belong, like Sons of Anarchy or Shameless. I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t fans of those shows at SDCC. They wouldn’t bother to schedule the panels if the seats didn’t fill. But the focus of the convention has shifted decidedly away from comic books and scifi shows. That’s not a crime, but it is a shame.

The idea behind conventions, whatever the theme, is to give a minority scattered around the country or the globe the chance to come together and celebrate whatever it is they have in common. That used to be a rare opportunity; the internet has changed that quite a bit, but still, the chance to meet up and hang out with like-minded people is a treat for those of us who were loners or outcasts in school. We thought we were alone in our devotion, for example, to Doctor Who. Once a year, we have a chance to change that.

My struggle with the chaos that is Comic-Con comes down to the strange idea we as a society have about ‘pop culture.’ Turns out pop culture isn’t the same as popular culture, or culture consumed by the masses, designed to appeal to the broadest spectrum of people. Pop culture has practically become a proper noun, a beast of a label we stick on everything that is actually considered ‘cult.’ After all, if obsessing over Star TrekBatman, and Joss Whedon was popular, we’d have a completely different school social hierarchy and a lot more nerds elected to prom court.

Comic-Con is billed as a celebration of pop culture, and with its huge panels for Twilight, and Showtime, and Call of Duty, that’s probably accurate. But Comic-Con was once the celebration of unpop culture. The sort of books you didn’t tell people you could quote from memory because they’d laugh at you. The kind of television that was on at odd hours of the night because the networks didn’t really think anyone was watching. The comic books and video games that were only supposed to be for little boys. I went to Con to have the conversations and experiences that I couldn’t have anywhere else, not even on the web. I made the pilgrimage to San Diego to watch as male, female, old, young, and socially awkward geeks came face to face and said, “I love it, too. You’re not the only one.”

I just don’t think the next generation of nerds will get that same life-changing opportunity with San Diego Comic-Con. No one gets picked on for liking Dexter. There probably aren’t a lot of young adults who feel freakish for watching Glee. I won’t even get started on the ‘Brony’ phenomenon. That’s pop culture. It is, by definition, popular. I’ve never been, and never will be popular. I have been unpopular, and will undoubtedly continue to like unpopular things. The word ‘unpopular’ has gotten just as mixed up in its meaning as its opposite. There’s nothing inherently terrible about ‘unpopular.’ It only means that you’re not with a majority, and when you think about it, a majority on a planet of 7 billion people is hard to come by.

Let’s reclassify our world. Let’s refer to our Fireflys, and our Star Wars, and our steampunk as ‘unpop,’ and remind people that unpopular might be another word for different, but it’s not synonymous with suck.

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