I’m not much of a con-goer; conventions are expensive, and, having committed myself to the path of the college-dweller, I shall surely be forever poor. But in my infinite kindness, I saw fit to ferry my brother (better known around here as Otouto-kun) and his friend to and from Nekocon, the convention of our eastern Virginia homeland. In my infinite insanity wisdom, I began to compare my designated driver position to that of an Aquan gondolier — I would serve as an existential messenger, ferrying the hopes and dreams of my passengers into unexplored waters.
It, um, didn’t quite work out that way. All I really did was spend too much money (and anyway, my canzone needs a little work). But the conventional goings-on did, at least, prompt me to give thought to a few subjects that might be relevant to your interests.
Let me preface by saying that, though it may yet be piddling compared to Otakon and Expo, Nekocon has become quite healthy. My first experience with the convention was in 2002, when it spanned most of the first floor of a medium-sized hotel — a far cry from its most recent venue. For reference, this was the front one-third of the line on day one at about 5:00 pm:
I’ve long since accepted that lines are an integral part of our venerable subculture. I’ll even admit that the sight of a long line gets me a little excited. But after a while, I do get tired of actually waiting in them.
The first thing I did was spend money. After that I spent more money, and, though I restrained myself, I’m out what equates to a good bit of money in my poverty-ridden existence. To me, conventions amount to paying admission for the privilege (the incorrigible desire, in other words) of spending too much money, and the eleventh Nekocon was no exception. Most of my acquisitions are as follows:
I only left out two items: the irresistibly-titled Anime Intersections: Tradition and Innovation in Theme and Technique, and a shirt with a misspelling on it that, in a supreme moment of failure as an English major, I didn’t notice until after I’d bought it. At least I found decent deals on the stuff — the Lain box was particularly cheap, I think, and the manga wasn’t bad, though my Barnes and Noble membership saves me a good bit of money in that area anyway.
Let’s talk about money expenditure for a moment. In our community (yours and mine, that is), there are as many opinions on the subject of commercialization as there are fans of anime, and when the unending fansub debate factors in, what we’ve got is a clusterfuck in the truest sense of the word. I’ll grant that, as a fiction writer, I’m initially inclined to feel that a concern with profit brings a taint to art, confounding both the writing process and the artistic experience with unnecessary concerns. But wait: what concerns are truly necessary? It’s not as if commercialization imposes issues upon art that don’t already exist in our money-centric society. Can we even attribute an artistic concern with necessity? If our reading of a text wasn’t affected by the cost of the text itself (as it no doubt is), wouldn’t we still be privy to similar situations in which monetary cost altered our opinion of a thing, and wouldn’t we bring those concerns to whatever we read?
I’m not saying commercialization is a good thing; I’m all for giving traditional publishing the big middle finger with online fiction and such. All I’m saying is that commercialization is an uncertain thing, and that we can’t necessarily write it off as the prime evil of our kind. If we do, it may be safe to say that we’re trying to prescribe what art should and shouldn’t be, to which Jacques Derrida would no doubt reply, “This would be to finalize literature, to assign it a meaning, a program and a regulating ideal, whereas it could also have other essential functions, or even have no function, no usefulness outside itself,” right before he got all deconstructive on our asses (and you don’t want that, trust me)1.
I won’t throw any more Derrida at you (for now), I promise. Unwise spending aside, conventions also demonstrate a concept I’ve become quite fond of lately: citizen criticism. Think citizen journalism with art, or reader-response minus academia. It’s what ghostlightning might call “fanalysis,” seated firmly in the idea that there can be no existential objectivity where art is concerned, and the belief that every reader’s opinion adds to the ever-growing meaning of a work, and I suspect that it happens whether people intend it to or not. Consider cosplay:
Caramelldansen aside, what functions do assuming the role of a fictional character serve? Is the attempt to “be” a character, however cursory, a very intimate and involved manner of investigation into characterization? Are these people just starved for attention? Is this more the domain of sociological cultural studies than criticism — and, on that note, can we safely assume that the two share concerns such as this? I don’t know, but I suspect these kinds of questions aren’t futile.
On a slightly less philosophical note, the most interesting situation I found myself in all weekend involved my nearly bending a hentai doujin, in which case I would’ve had to buy it. I wasn’t browsing for myself, mind you. Really.
1Derrida, Jacques. Acts of Literature. Ed. Derek Attridge. New York: Routledge, 1992: 38.