Saturday, February 5, 2011

Comically Conned--Or How I Let My Love of Pop Culture Overrule My Common Sense

It's 1:11 p.m. on a Saturday. My fingers are bruised from hitting (not gently pressing, as I did the first thousand times) F5 Enter. I have developed an aversion to amphibians because I've stared at a certain green frog with the audacity to look friendly while he tells me I can't get Comic-Con tickets. (Sorry, Geico gekko. I'm unrealistically taking out my frustration by boycotting all things amphibian--I had time to expand my prejudice while I hit the button.)

The up side is that I bonded with the more than 300 people who just decided to Like the ticket company reportedly selling Comic-Con 4-day passes today. Ironically, they had to Like the company before they could Wall post updates, snide comments, and, as the hours went on, increasingly capitalized or profanitized messages. The Frog of Doom seemed to be a favorite target, probably because at least we saw him on the screen. No humans would dare to pick up a madly ringing phone or wander onto Twitter or Facebook without an armed guard. One FB friend loitering around the ticket company's Wall reminded new Likers to de-Like the company once they'd vented their frustration. No use skewing statistics in a positive direction when clearly public opinion was heading south very rapidly.

Yet the more I vented my frustration on Facebook status update, the more I had to laugh at myself. Who asked me to spend, for the third time, no less, several hours waiting in a virtual queue for tickets to an event months away? Who prompted me to try various combinations of tickets--even four single-day tickets when the four-day failed to materialize in my shopping basket--just in the hopes of spending more money to that event scheduled months from now? Who became frustrated when the technology couldn't handle the thousands of other hopeful ticketbuyers who wanted the same instant gratification?

I sheepishly raise my hand.

I typically attend, as a guest or a fan-without-responsibilities, more than one fan-related convention each year. I talk with fans, try to get lucky and interview an actor or three, ask pointed questions at panel sessions, and hit up the vendors for the latest geeky toy. I study popular culture and fandom as well as (mostly joyously) participate in it. I've been to conventions big and small, in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. I've purchased tickets online internationally and stood in long queues locally. So my days as a convention virgin are a distant memory.

San Diego Comic-Con was to be this year's glittering prize, a new trophy for my convention collection. I'm conducting research for next year's book, one that's heavily leaning toward fandom and popular culture. I've followed SDCC as it's blossomed over the past few years, and I wanted to be there in person to experience the love. And see aTorchwood panel, if one materializes. And maybe watch a pilot episode of the hottest new series. I want to meet fellow enthusiasts and compare notes about the summer's blockbusters (from 2011 and for 2012). Never mind the queues to get inside the coveted sessions. I'll forego the bathroom break and sit on floors for however long it takes. Because I love pop culture. And I want to be at the Big One--SDCC.

Be careful what you wish for. Unfortunately, approximately half the SF-loving world wants to join me. And that doesn't include the people who love comics. I'm just part of the overflow.

What is perhaps most interesting about Comic-Con 2011 is the people who can't attend, who are willing to wait for hours on end to get a coveted ticket. You'd think Willy Wonka was running the show.

Instead of emphasizing the Haves of this culture-fest, I'm afraid that this year's event will be a celebration of the Have Nots--people who couldn't get tickets but have access to Twitter and Facebook to publicize their angst, people who couldn't get the tickets they wanted and have to re-think their travel plans, people who dearly love pop culture and San Diego and have come to expect that if they don't make it there, they shouldn't make it anywhere. It's San Diego or bust. And this year we got busted.

In a few minutes, after I've posted my "protest blog" that really is much more about me rethinking why I feel compelled to spend so much time and money going to one event than protesting the electronic measures to which I subject myself, I'll go back and queue again. But I'm no longer a Comic-Con ticket virgin. And the Shiny Prize of going to the festival isn't going to seem so shiny, whether I get in or stay home this year. (The quest for accommodations comes next, should I find the strength to continue my journey.)

Technology isn't infallible. Neither are the people behind it. Yet we've become so accustomed to one-click service--and perhaps that's a reasonable expectation these days--that we become angered when the button doesn't work.

We're busy people. We don't have hours of free time to spend queueing, even though millions more of us inhabit the planet each year and vy for a lot more than Comic-Con tickets. I need to determine my priorities: amount of time v. quality of potential experience; capacity to wait v. capacity for becoming frustrated, value of this event v. value of another event (or even downtime at home). Maybe I've made Comic-Con into something it's not or shouldn't be--the be-all, end-all of popular culture elitism.

I think I've comically conned myself into believing that I need that ticket, perhaps more than the other people virtually clamoring for the website's attention. Even worse, I've just rationalized why it's OK not to want that ticket, if I'm unsuccessful, now that I've invested time and energy into online registration.

The most study-worthy aspect of Comic-Con this year is the impact that the prospect of not going is having on so many people, including myself. Why do we care so much about this one event? Does that say more about the event--the "world premiere" and "exclusive" aspects now assumed to be the sole province of SDCC--or about my need to be one of the few (thousand) who will be able to get in the door this July?

I'm heading back to the queue, probably to laugh at myself for another hour before I either succeed and pay my money for a pack of single-day tickets at a higher cost or quit for this year. But I doubt I'll think of Comic-Con or myself as a pop culture consumer in the same way again.

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