I was very sad to learn recently that Eastern Media Con would be going on hiatus this year. EMC was one of the most enjoyable cons I’d attended the past two years–it had a lot of the fun, friendliness and lack of pretensions that I’d enjoyed about the old Eclecticon, but with some great more “modern” amenities and features.
Of course, their reasons for not running it this year make total sense: the bad economy, past con debt, and more difficulty than ever in finding a hotel willing to offer the features wanted by fans at a price that fans could afford. I remain hopeful they’ll come back in 2010–after all, many small cons seem to do better on a bi-annual schedule where people have more time to plan and save between the cons they want to attend, and they become more of a special “event”. But I really begin to wonder how much of a future there is for any con besides the large corporate ones these days.
I only have three shows scheduled for myself this year at this point: MediaWest, Shore Leave, and DragonCon, and this may be my last time at Shore Leave and even possibly MediaWest depending on how things go (Shore Leave has been on a slow decline for years, and MediaWest, while still “holding on”, I’m curious to see for how much longer. The old host hotel is going through renovations which may make it less fan-friendly and more expensive; the con comm does not seem to be bringing in “new blood”, and various other issues leave me concerned.)
There are other issues plaguing the convention scene also which could have some effect on their ability to keep going, as well as attracting new fen to attend. At this year’s Lunacon, there apparently seemed to be some conflict between “old school” science fiction fans and some younger fans in attendance, who felt very off-put by some of the behavior encouraged and/or tolerated at the event. A LiveJournal rant after the fact lead to over 1,000 comments–many from others with long-standing peeves about convention attendee behavior. Others felt unfairly called out for “being themselves” in what they had always considered a “safe space” for fans, many of whom may or do have social skills issues that give them trouble finding acceptance in mainstream culture and society.
So, what are conventions to do? Should conventions try to become more mainstream, shunning and criticizing those who refuse to give up their old “nerdly ways” because it may be turning away newer fen? Will the old guard of science fiction cons–Lunacon, Philcon, Balticon, etc.–become as extinct as the dinosaurs in the not-so-distant future, because they seem to refuse to change with the times? Do conventions have any real future in a world where the internet has already made fandom more “mainstream” and accessible to all?
These are all the things I keep pondering, as I have no clear answers or ideas myself.