So, Comic-Con came back last month.
Yes, the Mecca of Nerdom after a two-year hiatus due to COVID (which is still a thing btw) returned in its full(ish) glory as fans around the world poured into San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter to shop the massive dealers hall, get their autographs signed by aging TV and movie stars, and camp out in the fabled Hall H line through day and night and all over again just to catch a few early two-minute teaser trailers.
It’s by a large margin, the biggest, most expensive, and extravagant convention of its kind in the world. What was once just a yearly convention to sell DC and Marvel comic books many moons ago has become THE industry event each year parading and teasing next year’s new slate of genre-based movies and TV shows to the point that the comics part of Comic-Con occupies a tiny fraction of the total convention. All while selling a FUCK LOAD of exclusive collectibles around all these franchises.
The convention is so large and generates so much revenue for San Diego that it contributes roughly $165 million to the city’s economy for just one 5-day period each year. It’s so profitable in this way that it was one of the reasons the former San Diego Chargers moved to LA because their proposed new stadium would draw extra tax dollars from the hotels in the area and Comic-Con threatened to leave San Diego because of it.
The people of the city essentially chose the nerds over the jocks quite literally for a change.
There was a period in time though where my summer felt incomplete if I didn’t attend this mega convention each year. From 2013 to 2019 I managed to get into the Con one way or another each year thanks to the help of multiple friends who logged on alongside myself to brave the online waiting room to see if we were lucky enough to be sent to the front of the line to get our badges, at which point we would buy multiples for each other.
I truly loved this place though for a long time as it was everything I wanted out of such an event. The Dealer’s Hall, even if you don’t buy anything, is kind of like a giant nerd museum typically showcasing an array of props, models, and adjacently-inspired toys from various films, TV shows, and cartoons that are always fun to look at. Even if you don’t go inside the convention center itself that often, The Gaslamp Quarter basically becomes a part of the Con too as many industry parties and “Experiences” take place at various clubs and galleries around town for fans to enjoy.
Though I never got into Hall H, mostly cause I didn’t want spend all day waiting in line during what was consistently the hottest time of the year in San Diego, I attended at least a few truly enjoyable panels over the years such as a panel on the final season of Futurama featuring all my favorite voice actors in my first year at the Con. Got to see Bruce Campbell speak and joke on his series “Ash vs Evil Dead” too. And personally my favorite was going and seeing composer Bear McCreary’s panel on how he comes up with music for all the shows and movies he has worked on.
Comic-Con was a big part of my fandom so to speak during my twenties. It was something I deeply enjoyed and was happy to attend each year if for nothing else just be alongside my friends geek-ing out about the new upcoming movies and free “swag” we would grab in the dealers’ hall and of course, the alcoholic shenanigans we would get up to in our hotel rooms at the end of the day.
You know what I don’t miss much now though? The con itself.
While I did pay attention a bit to the slow trickling of news regarding teaser trailers of upcoming movies and TV shows that debuted at the Con last month, I found myself with little to no desire to ever return to the biggest nerd event of the year. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ll ever consider returning to almost any kind of Comic-con in the future.
Considering convention-going was such a huge yearly ritual pilgrimage for myself for literally seven years, it’s strange thinking about how much I don’t care for it anymore. It’s not just Comic-Con and all these other conventions; there are whole swathes of my old nerdom I don’t engage in pretty much at all anymore. Movies, TV shows, and comics that were integral to my identity less than three years ago barely register as anything important to me now. If anything I have a pretty negative opinion on a lot of it now. So, what changed?
Quite a bit actually.
Though I still consider myself a nerd/geek and maintain this blog devoted to Pop Culture, my tone regarding this genre and especially the industry has notably, radically shifted since the last one I attended in 2019. Venture back on this blog to anything I wrote pre-2020 and you’ll see a critical but ultimately positive view of all things fandom. I generally just wrote movie reviews back then but I always aimed to discuss pop culture items in a fairly typical nerdy way that I would say most fans are accustomed to.
Pre-2020, I would say my analysis as a nerd boiled down to aesthetics mostly. I definitely cared about some social and political views in the media I consumed but my focus was more on how it was presented. I was somewhat of a Redletter Media type pop culture writer; nit picking “plot holes” and engaging more in objective critique as opposed to subjective. I wasn’t thinking a ton about the industry or the mechanisms that went into making Hollywood films happen. That was all backseat stuff that didn’t interest me and yet I still looked to franchises such as the MCU for revolutionary media to push the envelope so to speak. There was a time where it really frustrated me that the MCU wasn’t going far enough as a franchise and yet I still consumed each film as they were released because I was waiting for it to change.
Now not so much.
I would say the gears started turning for myself in late 2019 when I got more into what people of the internet refer to pejoratively as “Breadtube.” Basically they are a collection of YouTube Video essayists who brake down pop culture from a leftist/leftist adjacent perspective. YouTubers such as Lindsay Ellis, Leon Thomas (Renegade Cut), Sophie (Curio), Abigail Thorn (Philosophy Tube), and Maggie Mae Fish were able to show me sides of franchises such as the MCU and other comic book films that I was not seeing at the time. Particularly the ways they were bad beyond the aesthetics, namely the problematic politics they espoused.
Sage Hyden of “Just Write” in particular began to really change my perspective on these films being just silly but ultimately harmless action films when he did this video back in 2019.
Seeing this really started to shift my views radically on the media I consumed. It changed what I saw as propaganda and what wasn’t but I still wasn’t quite there yet as I still wrote some pretty glowing stuff about the franchise at the time (yes, I am embarrassed by this one in particular).
But as I’ve alluded to already it was 2020 that began my true radical shift.
To rewind again a bit, my politics began to take a slight hard left turn in 2016. If I want to dig deeper it was 2011 with the discovery of Obama’s drone program that began to shape the guy I am now. But in 2016, with the election of Donald Trump, what little patriotism I had at the time started to fully erode. Seeing a large percentage of the country choose such an obvious racist, far right despot showed to me that America wasn’t nearly as post racial as I thought we were. It showed me that fascism in this country can happen quite easily and I lamented, at the time, what we were “becoming…”
But I still held out hope. Hope that the US could be “redeemed” and that good, even what I saw as “flawed” good at the time with the Democratic party, could save the country.
Then everything in 2020 happened.
It began with watching Bernie Sanders concede to the Dem’s once again, after they backstabbed him AGAIN in the primary. Then it was watching as COVID ran wild across this country and despite seeing the very obvious problems with our broken healthcare system our leaders, on BOTH sides, did largely nothing to ease the amount of death that rose each month (something that is still happening today). But the real cherry on top of the shit sandwich was seeing how this country reacted to the George Floyd protests.
I’ve written about this in several blog entries since 2020 but watching cops beat the hell out of largely peaceful protestors in countless videos then seeing our leaders either brow beat about the violence of the rioters smashing a few windows in response and the total lack of remorse by every cop in this country showed me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the status quo isn’t working anymore.
So, “what the fuck does this have to do with pop culture and all things nerdom?” I can hear you all screaming.
Well through most of my life I turned to pop culture be it fantasy or science fictions based movies and TV shows to cope with my reality. My reality being a life that I felt was largely unfulfilling as I struggled socially, romantically, and professionally through my twenties and thus would turn on a favorite popcorn flick to numb myself at the end of the day. A place like Comic-Con was more than a cool vacation I went on each summer during this period; it was a refuge from things I couldn’t comprehend, figure out, and didn’t want to deal with for just a few days.
I knew what I was doing was a form of escapism but I rationalized it to an extent by stating that the media I was consuming was presenting some type of hopeful message about my present. That my world wasn’t bad as it seemed and things would get better. MCU films in phase 3 in particular I felt, at the time, showed me that there was hope in the world. “Black Panther” felt revolutionary for myself back then because it tackled a real world issue I cared about. The Avengers movies, for all the flatness of their aesthetics, I felt showed the power of teamwork and “found family,” coming together to fight evil and during the peak years of Trump that was tremendous for myself at the time.
What I realized in 2020 is that much of that media I was so honed in on to cope about my world with, was extolling a status quo perspective be it intentional or unintentional.
What that “Just Write” video began to unlock in my mind was to show me that propaganda is a lot more nefarious than simply stating “These people good, these other people bad.” It was about conditioning us into a certain mode of thinking by using our virtues and principles against us when it’s not being outright propagandistic.
While a film like “Black Panther” may be about white supremacy and Black Lives Matter, it was made with the help of the Pentagon featuring a CIA agent who fights alongside the hero to stop a usurping radical revolutionary in Killmonger. Avengers may have some nice things to say about fighting evil with the power of a broad diverse coalition of friends, it also presents some nefarious ideas about American exceptionalism and fighting a forever war, a common theme in American politics.
It’s not just the MCU though that does this; many major blockbusters do so as well. Virtually every film that uses military hardware has to have their script approved by the Pentagon first, and as I’ve written already in the past these people are anything but impartial when lending out their tanks and fighter jets. I realized that almost all my favorite media was a form of propaganda, a form of keeping us in line while subversively if not tacitly endorsing the status quo by playing on our morals and using it against us.
I felt like I had been lied to and manipulated for 30 years of my life. I was shaken out of my comfortable dis-reality after finally gaining this context and an understanding of what America really is and what information I was being fed through this media.
I “woke” up, if you will…
You might think I’m exaggerating this but look at recent military and even CIA recruitment ads using identity politics to make the two most belligerent and violent organizations on the planet appear “woke.” And as I’ve written about already superheroes are at the end of the day a metaphor for law enforcement and if you’re smart 2020 should’ve awoken you to how bad they really are and thus there is no way to look at these films and not see them as an insidious form of propaganda…
What I realized back then was not only was the escapist media I was consuming a form of ignoring my own harsh reality but it was a distraction from the problems of the status quo. It locks fans such as myself in a cage of comfortable nostalgia, that is largely unchallenging in its worldview to effectively put blinders over our eyes to the real truth; that things are largely fucked. These movies and TV shows, funded by major evil corporations and producers who are way too comfortable working with our military keeps us from engaging with the real world and how it actually works. It blinds us from the reality that the world is more unfair than many of us actually are aware of and locks us into comfortable familiarity over real justice.
And after 2020 I was done with anything that tried to tell me things were “fine” the way they are…
As I mentioned in another write-up, there is a reason the Romans invested so heavily in “bread and circus;” it was to distract the public from the corrupt actions of the Emperor and the Senate and not much has really changed since then. The catharsis Roman spectators got watching gladiators slit the throats of Thracian prisoners is not really all that different from one might get out of watching Iron Man waste a thousand faceless alien monsters in “Endgame.”
So, I couldn’t cope the same way anymore after 2020. Seeing those events unfold the way they did made me reject anything that even remotely endorsed “normal” in America. I couldn’t do it anymore and Super Hero media, that stuff that places like Comic-Con extolled the most, largely endorses that whether one can see it or not. 2020 shook me out of this escapist ritual.
When I watched “Wonder Woman 1984” later that same year and saw as that character berated the bad guy for wanting better things for himself while she, a literal super human, said “The world is fine the way it is” made me fucking furious beyond words. How in the world could anyone, after everything that we saw with our own eyes that year, be so ok with things the way they are? I was done with all this bull shit.
Thinking about pre-2020 me is jarring now to say the least. The nerd I was back then is largely gone. I have almost no love left for a large percentage of comics, movies, and TV shows I once obsessed over because I really cannot tolerate neoliberal worldviews any longer…
But there’s a reason I still consider myself a nerd. There’s a reason I still largely enjoy fantasy and science fiction media and quite clearly still write and engage with it.
While perspectives radically shifted to the negative with stuff like the MCU and other cape flicks, I also found my appreciation for other stories within adjacent series and franchises largely grew. “The Matrix” which was already my favorite movie before 2020 became even greater in my mind with my new perspective because I was now understanding it far more completely. Its rejection of the binary and of that aforementioned status quo spoke even louder to me, even in the much maligned sequels, and thus my enjoyment of them only grew.
Paul Verhoeven films such as “Total Recall” and “Starship Troopers” became far more interesting to me too once I realized they were satirical of the American status quo this entire time. They became far deeper films because of the way they lampooned US exceptionalism and imperialism in a brilliant way I did not see before.
There are movies and TV shows I have watched since 2020 that I would’ve loved before that year that I now hate but on the flipside there are some that I would have hated pre-2020 that I now love instead because of the way I changed. I am actually very thankful the last Matrix sequel came out in 2021 and not immediately following “Revolutions” cause I’m very certain I would’ve hated it if I saw it in 2005 or even 2019 instead. “The Green Knight” which was my favorite movie of that year too I probably would’ve found to be a slog instead of a beautiful deep dive into the nature of fear and worthiness.
Even though I’ve largely left superhero media behind, my changed perspective hasn’t completely kept me from engaging in it any longer. Rather, it has forced me to seek out better takes on the genre as I recently watched “Invincible” for the first time and surprisingly enjoyed it.
My changing perspective on pop media in 2020 also pushed me to engage with other, more challenging media. In that same year I made some new friends over Discord and we began a weekly movie night. At first we mostly kept it to bad/cheesy movies since we all came together initially over a shared morbid love of “Cats” but then every now we watched actually good movies. I started watching Horror more often because of this, a genre I barely dabbled in before because it interrupted that comfortable escapism I preferred not long ago. Horror, if anything, is probably the best genre to watch during this era we live in because of the ways it forces us to confront uncomfortable truths about our reality.
My new world view hasn’t completely robbed me of my enjoyment of cheap escapism either. I still find some things in the MCU fun and agreeable and will watch an occasional overt pro-US military film if it’s done well. The only thing that has changed on that end is I know what I’m watching now and I’m not pretending it’s transformative or much less “progressive” media anymore.
So while part of that nerdy person I was pre-2020 died a couple years ago, my love of genre fiction has not really died at all either. I just see it in a much different way now. I don’t have much if any love for the consumerist side of pop culture anymore and certainly of major Hollywood takes on Fantasy and SciFi but I also have found that snapping out of my old worldview has given me a greater appreciation for the genre. I feel like I can see it from a more real and deeper perspective, though I won’t sit here and tell you I’m the best at this and certainly I am no expert either.
But what I do feel I am now is someone who is learning instead of sticking with what is comfortable and uncritically digesting the lies of the past around fandom and pop culture. I am more willing to engage with media that is challenging and genre fiction that is off the beaten path, give it a chance as opposed to sticking with the rigid dogma of status quo, corporate media.
I don’t know how many other nerds went through this over the past couple years but this was my experience for sure. The nerd I once was is largely gone but from those ashes a new nerdy me has emerged that I feel has greater perspective on not just who I am but what is good for me now.
I probably will never return to Comic-Con in the future and a part of me laments leaving that comfortable familiarity behind but another part of me is excited because now I can engage with those same genres I still love in a far healthier way.
Perhaps fandom can be redeemed if we all adopted a similar perspective…