Lord Zedd vs. the Fans


On Saturday, Betsy and I went to the Animarathon anime convention in Bowling Green, Ohio. We’re not especially into anime per se, but we’re sci-fi/fantasy nerds, and they had plenty of that too.

The con attracted well over 2,000 people. We explored the giant vendor room, where we bought:

  • A dragon T-shirt for Betsy
  • A sweet wood-grain pen
  • An 8-bit Mario sprite decoration for the fridge
  • A kickass leatherbound notebook with a Cthulhu-esque shape inscribed on the cover

We also went to a panel hosted by Robert Axelrod, the voice actor for Lord Zedd from Power Rangers. He answered questions from the audience and played video clips from the show, which brought back some memories I hadn’t thought about in a long, long time. He seemed very nice, and pleasantly surprised that anyone would still be interested in his Zedd role after all these years.

A big part of any con’s appeal, of course, is people-watching. A ton of the fans were in costume. Just walking around, we saw two Marios, two Luigis, a Joker, a Pikachu, an Ash Ketchum, a dude with a Portal gun, at least three Links, a Cloud (FF7), a Captain America, a Ryuk (Death Note), and dozens upon dozens of other characters I couldn’t identify. Many of them had obviously put a lot of time into their costumes, and some looked so cool that I wished I had a costume myself. (The Riddler, perhaps?) But aside from a Kwisatz Haderach T-shirt, I was pretty boring.

The con got me thinking, though. Cons are a celebration of what is, essentially, entertainment: TV, movies, comics, video games, books, merchandise. As such, they’re divided between two overlapping but fundamentally different groups: the entertainers, or suppliers of content (actors, musicians, vendors, con organizers), and the fans, or consumers of content.

Fans come because they’re in love with the entertainment. Maybe it’s just fun, or maybe it connects with them on a deep level. Through the lens of the anime, the show, or whatever, they see another world that enthralls or inspires them. But their role is essentially passive. Yes, they may make costumes or write fan fic, but they don’t have to. Their job is to watch and enjoy.

For the suppliers of content, the outlook is very different. The construction of fantasy isn’t rapture; it’s a job. They go to work whether they feel like it or not, whether they’re bored or not, and they take home a paycheck. Their role is essentially active, and disciplined. Their dedication is to the craft, to the work, and not necessarily to the character or the merchandise.

Of course, many, many people take on both of these roles. But the cultures still clash. Often the fans love a character more than the actor does, or value a piece of art more highly than the artist does. William Shatner, for instance, used to avoid Trekkie conventions:

I didn’t want anything to do with them. I didn’t want anything to do with a group of obsessives who paid to get together to talk incessantly about a TV show that had been cancelled.

These days, the two worlds are much more in tune with each other, largely because cons have gotten so popular. But there’s still some distance between them.

It’s not a bad thing. It’s necessary. But it certainly makes you think about which side you want to be on.

How was your weekend?

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