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My Summer Vacation

By Annalee Newitz

DURING MY SUMMER vacation, I met a Cylon, had sex with Wonder Woman and uncovered a vast conspiracy to destroy geek culture as we know it. Yes, I spent my Labor Day weekend at DragonCon, one of the nation's biggest science fiction conventions. Since the late 1980s, DragonCon has been attracting over 20,000 SF fans to Atlanta every year for various fannish rituals. It was my first SF con, and I have to admit, I've become a convert.

Gamers, shunned in real life, rule at DragonCon. An entire exhibit hall was set aside for role- playing games. The hall was packed all day and all night for the entire three-day con. Hunched over boards, cards, tiny figurines, and notepads, the gamers could live inside their own imaginations and roam free.

Strange new superheroes lurked around every corner. I met Danger Woman at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth in the expo room. As a young man with the Fund quietly explained how his organization defends free speech for comic book artists, a diminutive woman in a black velvet outfit with a cape and silver mask piped up, "I love this! You're protecting us all!" Then she zoomed off, arms in front of her, flying Superman-style.

At a panel about the corporate menace to fandom, I discovered why we need Danger Woman (and any other willing superheroes) fighting on our side. Several fans with SF-related websites were there talking about how to deal with companies sending you "cease and desist" letters when they discover your tiny Star Wars fan site, or your love songs to Xena online. One woman related how a company called Fandom Inc. (www.fandom.com) threatened her friend's website at www.fandom.tv, claiming that they owned exclusive rights to the word "fandom." And Fandom Inc. continues to threaten the tiny fandom.tv site, as if being a fan were a commodity that someone could own, rather than a state of mind shared by millions.

Wandering through the Hyatt Regency hotel, surrounded by elves and robots and people in Matrix T-shirts, I contemplated what separates a fan from a mundane (a nonfan). A mundane might enjoy Star Wars, but she would never strap a life-size Jar Jar puppet to her legs and wander around Atlanta's downtown food court looking for a sandwich. And, if targeted by LucasFilm's legal department for posting pictures of Jar Jar, a mundane would back down immediately. She wouldn't want to hold on to those pictures, to claim them as hers.

A fan possesses the culture she adores. For the fan, tuning in to Buffy the Vampire Slayer every week isn't just a fun distraction. It's part of her identity. She comes to DragonCon to dress like a vampire, to slay demons, to yank her favorite horror show out of the hands of UPN and make it something personally meaningful. And, like Danger Woman, she'll fight for her right to seize control of a powerful fantasy. Who are we to judge what shape anti-corporate cultural rebels might choose?

Nobody ever talks about how revolutionaries sometimes look goofy. Sure, we hear about scary, bomb-throwing guerrillas. We hear about serious-minded political protesters. But what about the fans who protect our right to fantasize independently, unmolested by lawyers and managers and commercials? Certainly there are more urgent issues out there: war, hunger, economic devastation. And yet if we don't have the power to own our own dreams, we cannot begin to fight.

At DragonCon, the fans are in the trenches, making the world safe for your fantasies. Your play is their subversive work. They dress up in silly masks so you can imagine a world better than the one George Lucas sells you.

Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who will see you next year at DragonCon.

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From the September 13-19, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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