WonderCon was a few weekends ago, and it definitely always feels like Opening Day of the convention season for me. There were a slew of new faces walking around from the end of last year, like characters from Stranger Things, Rogue One, Fantastic Beasts, and Doctor Strange, to name a few. It felt like they were new friends we finally got to meet in person. One of the first things you see when entering that convention space are the amazing cosplayers frolicking among the greenery for talented photographers, and it dawns on you, this is a gorgeous way to spend your weekend. The underlying political and social commentary of the art, comics, and cosplayers alike help it feel like group therapy where someone is going through the same thing as you. A sanctuary. But most importantly, it’s that feeling of belonging; that you’ve found your tribe.
Almost always at conventions, it feels that each and every panel is filled with people who are just like us, and not in that weird “OMG, celebrities get parking tickets, TOO” sort of way. It’s the relatability. The togetherness. The bubbling up of excitement about a shared interest (see: collective effervescence) that makes your heart speed up and that smile grow on your face.
A common theme at cons recently is where the nerd’s “place” in the world is. There are strongly held ideas that nerds don’t belong in certain realms, be it at the gym, on the runway, at a protest, even steps away from the computer or away from the internet! When you look up nerd in a thesaurus (okay, the one on the internet), words like “fool” “jerk” “weirdo” “dweeb” and “goober” come up. Also “trekkie” but who is surprised about that? Wikipedia even says a nerd “is a person seen as overly intellectual, obsessive, or lacking social skills.” A nerd is someone who belongs in their mother’s basement, away from the sun and vitamin D.
But lately, these ideas are becoming blurred, as nerd culture seems to have seeped into the nooks and crannies of everyday life. Wikipedia even says that the word “nerd” has been “reclaimed and redefined by some as a term of pride and group identity.” Being a nerd isn’t as lame as it used to be. But was it really lame, or did people just think it was? Perception! I was listening to the Nerdist podcast recently with Elijah Wood, and he and Chris spoke about what made nerd culture so mainstream. They concluded that it was the big, new CGI movies in the early oughts like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Iron Man, that brought comics, books, and movies to the forefront of the geeky entertainment industry. Technological advances in movies, coincidentally something that could be argued as “nerdy,” actually brought nerd culture into the ordinary, every day life of people. So, technically, we did it ourselves!
Today, you have Her Universe and Hero Within making secretly-nerdy clothing lines so you can “get away” with expressing your nerdiness at work, even when you work in a super serious job. Pop culture has seeped into our daily vernacular, one of my favorites being the comparison of our president and the Empire, how Vader would be 10 out of 10, better than our current cheeto in chief. And you have Her Universe, Tuff and Tiny, and Flex Comics making…OMG…nerdy fitness-related clothing!! An outfit that actually makes you want to work out, what even is happening?! Something that tells nerds, heck yeah, you can be Jiggly-buff in the gym!
A big part of WonderCon this year was empowerment through fitness and body positivity. In cosplay especially, this idea has become more and more widespread – whether you’re a size 00 or 24, there is something you can cosplay and get major props for. No matter what size you are, sex or gender you identify with, you can even cosplay as the same thing as someone who looks nothing like you – imagine that! In every group of people, there is always someone who sours things, however, in nerd-dom there appear to be less of those types. We are all striving for acceptance, and a convention or nerdy gathering, online or otherwise, often times could be someones first taste of being accepted by anyone. Though I’m new at cosplay, the handful of times I’ve gone out in costume, I have been nothing but supported! We saw part of a cosplay related panel, and it was all about empowering people to try cosplay, whether you make it yourself or not, whether you “fit” the character or not. Just do it. Shia LaBeouf would be proud!
The Nerdstrong Gym out of North Hollywood had a panel that we were really looking forward to. If you don’t know, Nerdstrong started in founder Andrew Deutsch’s garage as he was trying to convince his buddy, David Nett, to work out. Today, it’s a freestanding cross-fit-like gym that helps people get into fitness by making it nerdy. They offer a “Blacksmith” class that works with all of the metal in the gym – they even discussed a class where they had the nerds make chariots out of barbells and rack weights and then had to ride around in the parking lot. There is a class called “Boss Fight” where, the way I interpreted it, you have a really tough workout that makes you want to die, then you have smaller workouts the next few classes to build your strength and endurance, and then in the last class you do the first workout again and KICK ASS. Spaces like this are important, telling people, “yes, you do belong here at this place which is usually intimidating, and sometimes painful.” During this panel, many got teary when explaining their fitness journey – one that would not have started without access to an empowering and accepting place.
All in all – conventions are safe places where we can feel good about ourselves, find things we love, and meet people who love those things, too. So if you are able, maybe go tell someone they can go do that thing they’ve been afraid of doing. We all need that acceptance and love to find where we fit on this rock in space.
There is a great quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower which sums up the feel of a convention perfectly: “I don’t even remember the season. I just remember walking between them and feeling for the first time that I belonged somewhere.”