Convention Reactions – CONvergence 2017

I’m having quite the year this year; my partner and I are attending (at least) five fandom conventions, both local and distant. To some that might not seem like that many, but to us, factoring the time, travel, and funds, it can become quite the undertaking. I’ve been much more about self-care over the last couple of years, and so I’ve begun to acknowledge that, even if I attend several conventions, it’s not in my emotional or physical best interest to be running a lot of events at all of them. So while I was in charge of several panels and a couple of big events at Anime Detour earlier this year, I decided to take it easy at my other local favorite convention, CONvergence.

CONvergence, or CON as many of us tend to call it, can be difficult to nail down in terms of theme. While I think its origins were within the realms of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, it’s now more of a geek media convention with programming devoted to books, television, anime, video games, horror, science, and many other things that comprise a pretty substantial list. On any given day you could attend a discussion panel devoted to your favorite geeky show, watch a genre film in the movie room, listen to live music, check out any one of dozens of room parties, or spend your cash on geek swag in the merchandise, dealer, or artist alley areas. There’s a lot going on at this convention, and that’s kind of what makes it so much fun.

I didn’t attend CONvergence last year for a few reasons that could make up an entire other post. There was an incident involving some other attendees, and I just needed a break to regroup and consider whether being in that environment was going to be healthy. The fact that I was depressed the entire weekend last year made it clear to me that the convention still held a lot of draw and appeal, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me to go. That, and it’s one of the only times and places that I see some of my friends; though it might seem like I never want to leave the house or talk to anyone, that actually isn’t the case most of the time (just the way things end up – I’m kind of an introvert).

I had originally considered going into great detail about all of the events I attended, but I went to quite a few panels and could probably write a novel’s worth of words about several of them. Because of that I thought I might just give a highlight reel of the good things I saw and did, and maybe talk generally about some suggestions or critiques for future years.

Highlights

Beyond the Magical Girl – This panel was a discussion of women’s roles in anime, and how they have expanded or changed throughout the time the panelists have been anime fans. I enjoyed hearing the panelists talk about what makes a woman a “strong” character in anime. I think it’s an important conversation to have, and something to consider especially since, culturally, that answer may be different between the US and Japan. My one (kind of big, now that I see what I have written) critique is that the panelists focused a lot on “kick-ass” women, meaning girls and women who are strong fighters with kind of a badass attitude. Personally I think the fact that we can name several of those characters means that we’re only really half-way there – these characters are physically strong, a definition that fits in well with a patriarchal definition of what having strength means. It’s kind of the same way I feel when people talk about how to be traditionally successful in business – be “assertive,” stick up for yourself, demand compensation, talk over people… that might have worked well 30 years ago, but we’re much smarter about the value of emotional intelligence nowadays, and that’s a realm that’s been traditionally classified as feminine (and therefore, in some people’s minds, of less value).

I think we should reframe our thinking regarding our definition of strong characters who reflect all manner of positive traits, whether that be physical strength, kindness, generosity, assertiveness, work ethic, or joyfulness. Have multiple women in a cast, don’t tokenize them, and give them some kind of agency, and you’re much of the way there. Otherwise, all you’re talking about are “strong female characters (tm)” and I’m sure you can tell what’s wrong with that.

New Anime – A yearly panel devoted to talking about anime suggestions from the past year (give or take a few seasons). I’m not really sure I’d qualify the panel itself as a highlight; there were some issues on the back end that I was privy to since my partner was one of the panelists, and there was some poor behavior at the panel by one of the other panelists, so there were some issues. But as this had been a panel I’d been involved with in the past, it did get me to realize that I have something to offer to the fandom community, that something being quality panels run well in an open and hopefully mostly non-judgmental environment. I think maybe next year I might try to sign on and do some anime-focused programming at CON; CONvergence is definitely not anime-focused (nor does it have to be) but I think there’s potential for outreach and I would like to be a part of that.

This Canon is Fired – This panel’s topic focused around what we think of as the “must-reads” of genre fiction, and how the traditional sci-fi/fantasy canon has historically excluded works by women and authors of color, diverse sexualities, and various other identities, or the works focus on protagonists who are straight, white, and simply don’t reflect the great variety of human diversity. This has been my problem with “traditional” literature classes also; while I had some teachers in high school and college who tried to reach outside this realm, if you take a literature 101 class oftentimes people insist on Dickens and Shakespeare to the exclusion of authors with diverse experience. The discussion was great in this panel, and I came away with a list of new books to check out (always a plus!).

Introduction to Hip-Hop as Literature – This was a really interesting panel, though perhaps not for intended reasons. About halfway through the panel, the panelists who were actual artists in hip-hop (an emcee and a DJ) came to the conclusion that whether hip-hop does or does not “qualify” as literature doesn’t really matter, and that sat pretty well with me. I think trying to qualify and grade something that exists as a response to majority culture by the standards of the majority culture is kind of a screwed-up thing to do, and doesn’t have any bearing on the actual quality of the work itself. In any case, there was some good discussion on hip-hop history after that, including some local history and clubs that had come and gone, and one panelist even debuted some new rhymes at the end of the panel. I was happy to see that the room, was packed; I’m glad that there’s interest in this kind of media within the CON community. I also took down some suggestions for artists to check out (some of whom I was already familiar with; feels good, man).

Pixar’s Story Writing Rules – This was just a great all-around panel; entertaining, well-run, with a lot of excellent perspectives. The focus was a set of twenty two rules that Pixar’s writers use when creating stories. The panelists were all authors of some flavor (novels, plays, etc.) and gave their perspectives on some of the more controversial or strange-sounding ones. We made friends with one of the writers and even bought her book afterwards. That’s one of the joys of conventions like this; it’s big enough that it attracts some cool professionals, but small enough that you can interact with those professionals if it happens to work out that way. Anyway, it’s hard to describe further just what was great about this panel beyond just the awesome discussion and subject matter. I usually don’t spend much time with the writing track at CON since I’m not a fiction writer (though some readers may argue that my opinions are largely based on fiction, because they don’t agree with what I have to say), so this was a nice surprise.

Twin Peaks – So I haven’t talked about it here since it’s a bit outside the purview of this blog, but I’ve been watching (and enjoying!) Twin Peaks: The Return since it started in late May. But those of you who’ve watched any/all of it to this point know that there’s a lot to take in, and a lot that’s probably kind of confusing if you, like me, haven’t watched the original series or film in quite a while, and who haven’t kept up on the supplementary material (though I’m currently reading The Secret History of Twin Peaks, so I’m working on filling in those gaps). I really just wanted to come to this panel and hear others’ thoughts on the show so far, and I found the discussion to be really helpful in wrapping my mind around it. I was getting a little bit loopy at that point from lack of sleep (the panel was Friday night after midnight, and I’d been at a panel at 9:30am that same day, so I was running on fumes) and I may have started to question the validity of standard narrative structures by the time we left, but that aside I felt like I was in a good place to go into the second half of the TV series, and that’s been the case.

Law in Science Fiction – My partner, who is a public defender and attorney, was a panelist on this one, which talked about various systems of law in genre fiction. As someone who is fascinated by our system of law but who doesn’t know that much about it, the discussion was great to listen to even at 9:30am the morning after deliriously attending the Twin Peaks panel. I thought was was kind of cool was that only two of the five panelists were actually lawyers, and others had various other connections to the topic (a parent in law enforcement for one, another was an author with some expertise in the fictional side of the subject, etc.) and the discussion was very interesting from those perspectives. The audience had some good questions, too.

Peele-ing Back ‘Get Out’ – This discussion was focused around the horror film Get Out, which is a must-see in my opinion even for people who aren’t horror fans (like myself). What makes the film great is that its horrors are daily and real for Black Americans (though twisted in the film to serve the obvious narrative). The panelists were great, the discussion was great, there were very few if any awkward and unwanted interjections from other White people (seriously, White people, stop trying to center discussions of POC experiences on yourself. This is from a very white person to all of you all). It was probably the one panel where I was so, so sad that the time slot was just an hour long, since I could have listened to the discussion for at least another hour or more. Please run this again in 2018!

Steven Universe as Queer Space Opera – This was the last panel I attended during the convention; by that point I was tired as hell and had to go home and nap. But if you aren’t watching Steven Universe, stop reading this blog post and go check it out on Hulu right now; you won’t regret it at all. The discussion was very lively, and focused on a lot of the things that make the show great, including its ability to tackle complicated relationship topics in a way that most media made for adults can’t even approach successfully. It’s a great animated series and deserves every bit of praise that it receives.

Critiques

I’ve talked quite a bit about the things that were awesome at the con, but as with all events there were some things that maybe weren’t as successful. I filled out a feedback survey about the good and the bad already, before the feedback deadline passed; I thought it might be helpful to go into detail here as well, in case anyone might be reading.

Something I noticed, and this is probably true every year but I may have just noticed it more this year, is that there are some people who just do not have a handle on the “moderater” style of panel presentation. CON has kind of turned to this model over the past several years, where a designated panel moderator helps to direct the discussion, ostensibly to make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak and that no one in the audience takes too much of the time up. Essentially they’re there to maintain the quality of the presentation and keep everyone on track. This is fine; not my preferred style, but it works when you have a full set of panelists on a lot of the panels. I noticed this year, though, that some of the panelists in panels I attended took up a lot of the time talking about what they wanted to talk about regarding the subject at hand, rather than helping the other panelists talk about the subject.

Along the same lines, I started to notice a theme of “me, me, me” in some of the panels, when in fact I didn’t think some of the moderators were the best equipped to represent subject matter being discussed. There was one particularly egregious example in a panel I attended (which didn’t coincidentally, have a moderator I believe) of a White panelist centering a discussion of diversity and POC on herself and her experiences with some relatives who were POC. The situation could be described as something of a clusterfuck, to be honest; I left the panel feeling really angry, and I would imagine that the other panelists were probably frustrated as well, especially since the person was keen on interrupting anyone and everyone.

Personally, I’m not that big of a fan of talking over people, taking up a majority of the time (though in many of my panels I’m one of two or three panelists so it happens that I have to fill the time up sometimes), or trying to speak about other people’s experiences, since there’s no way to do that without making assumptions. This is probably not something that CON can screen for, since most of the panelists volunteer to be on the panels they’re assigned to and there’s no formal panel presentation training that I know of (that would be a huge chunk of time and resources and I don’t really feel like it falls on programming staff to tell people they should take turns and respect others). But it is something that I noticed, and it would be nice if people just knew not to grandstand or self-promote so much.

Some of the other stuff I had in mind was more regarding the use of space. I don’t mind that the dealer’s room and artist’s alley were in the Sheraton hotel across the street this year; it’s not a long walk and the Doubletree was running out of room to accomodate everything in their function space. Unfortunately the dealer’s room was broken up into three smaller spaces, and that didn’t serve the function well at all. The rooms felt cramped and, whether it was true or not, it felt like there were fewer shops this year than in past years. I ended up spending very little time there and didn’t spend any money (maybe not a bad thing, but I usually like to come away with some kind of souvenir and was sad sad that I did not).

Final Thoughts

Honestly, I had a great time at the convention this year. It sounds like last year was a great time, too; I’m always afraid that CONvergences are like Star Trek movies, where every-other one is crappy. That turned out not to be the case this year (but was the case two years ago, as I mentioned). I think CON staff really stepped things up as far as their policies are concerned, specifically their harrassment policyhttp://www.convergence-con.org/ and things related to that.

If you’re interested in attending CONvergence, check out their website; it’s taking place on July 5-8 in 2018.

Did you attend this year’s CONvergence convention? What were your thoughts? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

This article has 1 comment

  1. I had a generally good time, but discovered that relying on public transportation for late night travel Friday/early Saturday was the pits, so stayed awake for Saturday night/early Sunday and had to leave early to catch up on sleep.

    Several of the local booksellers opted not to come this year (or last) because of the dealers’ room location. The one thing I got from there was a package deal from the Angry Robot table. (Their lineup is decently diverse.)

    Panels: I was on the E.E. “Doc” Smith panel with local Doc expert (who also does a good Brian Blessed imitation) Ed Eastman and Scott Lynch, author of the Locke Lamora books. http://www.skjam.com/2013/08/23/book-review-the-lies-of-locke-lamora/ That was a lot of fun, as we discussed the earliest space opera books and their influence on other media over the years. You might want to look up “Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers” by Harry Harrison, a parody of Doc’s books, for the startling for its time twist ending.

    Ed also moderated the “What Is Space Opera?” panel, which was fun and had many recommendations.

    I came away from moderating the “Shipping and Anti-Shipping” panel feeling I’d talked too much, but hope that people still got some value out of it. We covered most of the topics the panelists wanted to get in. There didn’t seem to be any rabid anti-shippers present, so the room was calm.

    “Space Opera in Anime and Manga” I felt more confident about, and again, many fun suggestions.

    “The Golden Age of Radio Horror” panel was late in the evening, and it’s a pity we couldn’t have dimmed the lights. Several of the panelists have a podcast where they play an old-time radio show and then discuss it. My best line from the panel was that no-fault divorce kills about 25% of the episode plotlines.

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