American Anime Cons And Its Role in Transformation of Nerd Culture

Actually the second part of the title is just a long-shot guess.

The first part is a general thing about this post, which is about American anime cons (and this surely extends to Canada as well) and how it is kind of the one weird type of con which has been the forerunner of today’s nerd culture, “offkai” prom kind of thing. The thought came to me in various forms before, but when I was reading Lance Heskill’s blog post about his travels as a Funimation salesman (ok, marketing guy) in his 8-year tenure and God Knows-how-many-shows he has done, it becomes clear. I think part of it has to do with that he also attended more specific sorts of cons, not really anime related. Give it a read here, especially if you know someone who’s curious about anime cons, it’s a good article to share.

I think in 2011, what I’m about to say is pretty much obvious for veteran con goers. I remember reading about it when Roland Kelts wrote about it in his book dated 2008, back in 2009, and it seemed all but obvious already by then. San Deigo Comic Con was already huge-large. The whole AX-SDCC convention “complex” was there for everyone in the US to pick on. It even had star power. Infusing that prom-ness, that pomp, that “OMGEEE I GET TO COSPLAY” feel with being able to meet up with a bunch of similarly-interested fanatics from all over the country (and some from overseas), together with special events to get that fan-mania on for you, surrounded by people you don’t know but is otherwise crazier than you are about what you like, it was special. And I think anime cons are a special example of this, and also one of the first examples of it.

I kind of want to point to cosplay culture as a root issue, and distinguish the anime con trend apart from what I call “LARP” style cosplay that is more common at fantasy and SF cons. Because the former it is sort of a fashionable thing for most Americans, the latter it is more like an escapist thing. Even if in reality both are kind of, well, both. The end result, however, is that a lot of cosplayers at an anime con treat it like a masquerade party–you dress up but it is just an outfit. The hesitation I have is that I just don’t know enough about SF cons, having only been to a couple over the years. And more universally, all sorts of people don costumes at cons, it’s hard to generalize. Regardless of why people dress up, the end result is that a lot more people dresses up at anime cons, to the extent that cosplayers no longer stand out at them. It’s one of many factors that makes anime cons progressive and help transform them into what popularly seen as “cons” today. I’m looking at events like SDCC, BlizCon, NYCC, the PAXes, and what not, as examples.

On the other hand, I suppose this was always the case at cons, anime or not, in America. There’s a bit of sloshing to and fro from older game/SF cons to anime and back. It’s just that anime conventions are kind of a locus, an offshoot with more specificity than your average SF-content con. The result is how it may heighten certain aspects of con culture for consumption, as repackaged as something slightly different. Cosplay is precisely what that repacking is. Which, again, like what Kelts have written, is the sort of thread you can trace from 70s SF cons to the SF cons in Japan, and what they do out there, and then what we do out here, and it goes on. It’s a Möbius strip-thread. I just think it has largely infused back into the mainstream and de-alienated costume play in America mainstream nerd culture.

Is there anything more? Probably. Maybe another time.

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2 responses to “American Anime Cons And Its Role in Transformation of Nerd Culture

  • jpmeyer

    “My favorite time of Otakon is the evening. The convention center is open till 2 in the morning. At night it becomes the perfect place to hang-out because it’s full of random -and I am a connoisseur of random – from break dancing competitions, impromptu caramelldansen, unintentional cosplay pairings, cosplay skit performances, conga lines, 18+ panels, the friendly and insane line for the rave and its wall of humidity, Friday and Saturday Fan Parodies, internet meme Marco-lost-the-game shout outs, and artists alley which stays open till Midnight. It’s the perfect place for catching true fandom on display.”

    Hahaha, many of those are the things that I hate the most about anime cons! With each coming year, I’ve felt more and more like “anime cons” should really be called “internet cons” in a way that sci-fi/comic cons really aren’t. Sort of like I can see some sort of association between having say, Kinect demos or whatever at a sci-fi con even though Kinect isn’t Battlestar Galactica, but I couldn’t imagine anyone ever being able to understand the connection between anime and running around yelling I JUST LOST THE GAME.

  • omo

    I think the nature of anime fandom is very much entwined with internet culture today. The two basically grew up together, in the figurative “a generation weaned on Pokemon and later found youtube and 4chan” kind of way. I mean it’s not really a coincidence IMO that 4chan started as an anime board, and became the cesspool of meme and internet culture generator that it was.

    There’s probably some voodoo dark magic that facilitates the logical leap of the things you find on 4chan and the things you find at otakon after 7pm. Besides that there are some of the same people there.

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