Anghus Houvouras on Comic-Con and how the once mighty event lost is relevance…
Rome was once the center of the Universe. A place of innovation, inspiration, and cultural relevance which the world had never seen. The capital of an empire that influenced every society it conquered. Now it’s a city in Italy where tourists go on holiday to take pictures in a fountain.
Comic-Con has lost it’s luster. It’s no longer ‘hip’ or ‘relevant’. It used to be cool, like thin Jailhouse Rock Elvis. Now it’s a bloated, bedazzles jumpsuit wearing shell of its former self destined to die on a toilet. Once it was a comic book convention where geeks and nerds could gather as an annual celebration to geek culture, but that’s before ‘the man’ got it’s greasy hands on it. San Diego Comic-Con has been co-opted by Hollywood Studios and been transformed from a celebration of fans into a marketing platform to sell their filthy wares.
These arguments are nothing new. In the eyes of many media analysts, Comic-Con has been ‘over’ for a few years. This is hardly the first attempt at doing a post-mortem on what has become an annual orgy of excess. Comic-Con is no longer just an event for sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book fans. It’s a trade show where everything’s for sale and no cost is too high for Hollywood studios to launch their newest movie or television show.
Lately, Comic-Con has felt like an obligation. A box to be checked off. As geek culture become our entertainment religion, Comic-Con has become Mecca and a yearly pilgrimage for the faithful. All the colorful analogies in the world will still paint the same picture. Something good and pure has been sullied and it no longer has the same allure.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. There was a time when the Sundance Film Festival was the hippest event in North America. When filmmakers like Michael Moore, Spike Lee, Stephen Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez were in regular rotation and showing the film industry what could be done with a lot of creativity and a fraction of the budget. As the festival became more popular, the media and the studios moved in. The checks kept getting bigger as did the circus like sideshow of celebrities desperate to show their face at the most relevant festival of the year. The festival started as a great showcase for small films, and before you know it Miramax is writing a check for $10 million to purchase the distribution rights for Happy, Texas.
This is the genesis of any entertainment event. They start out small and earnest. With some success they become relevant. As more revenue flows in and companies fight one another for precious real estate, the once small and earnest event has become a veritable three ring circus. People still go to Sundance, but it is far removed from the days where it was setting trends and influencing the movie industry.
Comic-Con is experiencing that same loss. It has burned too brightly and become too coveted by the media and the masses looking to get a glimpse at the next big thing. After years of hype, most people end up underwhelmed at the snippets of movies shown in Hall H, and find the crowds too much to bear. At everything it’s done to become the geek capital of Planet Earth, after relentless hype year after year, what else can Comic-Con do but disappoint?
A sixty second look at Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A picture of Wonder Woman. A gallery of big stars carted up onto a stage share sound bytes with 5,000 of their most ardent fans. The event is no longer intimate. It’s a voyeuristic cock tease with a thousand media outlets vying for a good angle, live tweeting every utterance for the geeks that couldn’t make the pilgrimage.
I’ve read a dozen articles listing a case by case argument for why this year’s Comic-Con was a disappointment, but they’re all pointless. You can grade every panel and comment on what was or wasn’t screened at this year’s event. But perception is reality, and some who went to Comic-Con and everyone who didn’t are going to tell you that it’s not what it used to be. We’ve become bored with Comic-Con because it can no longer exceed our expectations. And yet, Comic-Con will continue. Just as people still line up to attend Sundance each year, and there are a few million tourists who will be parading through Rome this Summer.
It’s no longer setting trends or capable of surprising us, but Comic-Con will go on. Studios will continue to wring every ounce of hype from the event they can. Celebrities will continue to go as long as their agents and manager tell them it’s good for their careers. Then, perhaps, it will turn back into the fan based gathering it once was. History tells us that rarely happens. Once you’ve lost something, it’s almost impossible to get back.
Sic Transit Gloria.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.