I recently spent the a weekend, well six days really, in the company of close to 6,000 fellow geeks. At CONvergence science fiction convention – 4 days of convention plus set up and tear down. It was a wonderful break from the pressures of the real world – the world that tells me daily to hide my geekiness. That’s not to say that there weren’t pressures. Actually quite the opposite. Both Sweetie and I are department heads, meaning we are two of the people responsible for making sure that the weekend goes off without a hitch. There were hitches, but that’s not what I want to talk about.
As I said above, there was a release of pressure at the convention. I know I’m not the only one who felt it. There’s a look people get when they are able to talk about their passions without worrying if the person they are talking to understands. Or worse, judge them for caring about Star Wars or Lord of the Ring. Thursday, when it all starts, you see that look on everyone’s face.
The relief comes out in other ways too. In geek culture, costuming or cosplay (dressing as a specific character) is an accepted – almost expected – mode of dress. It was fun for me to watch the transformation as people entered the hotel in t-shirts – the normative mode of dress – and changed quickly in to more daring outfits. By that evening nearly half of the people were dressed up. The costumes are spectacular. If you’ve never been to a sci-fi convention, there is nothing I can tell you that will make it clear (I know – I’ve tried – it never works).
One of the best things about “coming home” to a convention like this is the freedom to have conversations. Even the shyest of people out there, come here and can talk to new people. I’m not saying introverts become extroverts. I’ve seen it happen though. That guy, who is more comfortable in the corner steps out just a little. That’s all it takes for someone else to say ‘hi’. The next thing you know, they’re talking. Or that girl who tries to hide by making herself smaller will find the courage to dance a step or two.
Of course in any gathering there are the extroverts. The people who seem to have no fear of being judged. Even they go wild – and I do mean wild. I’ve met some of them in the real world. They are still extroverts out there, but they tone it down a bit.
This isn’t a phenomenon unique to geeks. While we have our conventions, other minority cultures have their gatherings as well. Think of all the pictures of Gay Pride events you’ve seen. You know that most of the people in those pictures don’t dress like that every day. They don’t kiss in public so freely beyond the borders of the festival.
Chinese New Year and Hmong cultural festivals are other examples. Times when members of those cultures can be who they were raised to be. When they don’t have to worry about explaining their rituals because everyone knows them.
Baseball, football, basketball, etc games bring out their fans in the same way. At a baseball game it’s a fair bet that the guy sitting next to you isn’t going to reject a chance to talk about baseball. Fans at football games have their own kind of costuming – more paint than fabric, but who am I to judge.
The point is everyone out there in the majority culture is really a member of a minority culture in some way. Everyone feels that sense of release from having to pretend for the sake of appearances when they get into a crowd of their own. In a way it’s like there isn’t really a majority culture at all. There’s just the part where the geeks and sports fans come together come together with the motor heads and political junkies and all the others.