Saturday, 31 May 2014

Look at me, looking at you ! MCM ComicCon gains a reluctant visitor

The SouthWest Trains guard on the Woking-Waterloo inter-city out of Portsmouth Harbour announced "Would any passengers carrying guns or replica guns or swords please put them in a bag or cover them up, as they can cause security incidents on arrival at Waterloo."  I quote with loose accuracy as I was frankly quite bemused.  The mandatory repetition of the message made it more clear, "If you are going to ComicCon at the Excel...."  We smiled, inspite of the hour - it was before 0800 on a bank holiday weekend - there was a special message for us, and my 12 year old son and his mate were very impressed.

Games demonstration table

Now, I didn't do double maths A levels or even computer science, which in my school days was the only way you could get your hands on a BBC computer or justify to your parents a need for a ZX80. Honest - the first time I actually used a computer (vs. word processor) was at university, for a forecasting module in my final year, with a floppy disk.   Neither did I partake in the often related Dungeons and Dragons.  Clever/Sporty was my bag.

Brain washing: "No go away and dress up funny !"

So when I was nagged into agreeing to accompany my eldest getting up at stupid o'clock, lingering for 8 hours or worse at the Excel exhibition centre bored out of my brains, and then fight the crowds home again you can imagine just how enthusiastic I was feeling.  Still, having children is the decision in life to be 95% selfless in your existence and this was my turn.  It was going to be duller than washing dishes, gaming geeks playing games, turned into zombies by their screens.  A bit like this..(but note the kid front of shot with a green head set on is actually sporting a false moustache.)

This behaviour is NOT a form of punishment ?

Then we started spotting people in bizarre outfits.  A man with a high school cheer leaders outfit putting his long hair into a net.  Orange, pink, grey, purple wigs worn with Japanese school girl uniforms adorned with lace.  Grown up women in hello! Pikachu hoodies and round red circles on their cheeks.  Themed groups (many I just didn't recognise) of people striking poses so random strangers (also dressed up) could take photos of them.

Strike a pose: you spikey haired gang of boys

Now Royal Holloway undergraduate management student Jess had introduced me to CosPlay (her site link) the idea of conventions (people coming together from far and wide) to spend time with each other having dressed up in a likeness of their favourite cartoon/scifi character.  I must say checking out some of the images I found it all to be a little bit racy for my taste.    Imagine my concern when my twelve year old wants to dress up as a mute character from 'Game of Thrones' and actually attend one of these events.  I guess it could have been worse...

Beauty and the Beast: even cheezie Disney is allowed ?!?!?

So tickets were serious money (not quite the same league as going to watch Northampton at Twickenham at the Aviva Rugby Premiership final) so I wanted to know what we would be getting.  Joel nonchalantly said 'You know, manga, comics, merchandising, gaming and Japanese Ramen noodles for lunch'.   

Look at me, looking at you ?  Alternative identity affirmation
My marketing colleagues enjoy serious counter culture, so I thought it might be good for me to get insights into some of this kind of activity.  Essentially we paid to go into two big rooms to buy stuff from other people, from the useful food and clothes (Maslow isn't all bad !) to the unnecessary, fake tattoos, false eye lashes, cosplay devils horns, masks, the little tail company.  Why is this good ?  We paid extra to have priority access from 9-11 (with cheaper general access tickets then kicking in) but found ourselves queuing for 40 minutes around the building in the rain.  I felt annoyed and cheated - but I was going to be walking around bored inside shortly, so at least this offered fresh air and a nice view of the Thames.

There was a strong Japanese under current and you could buy a range of samurai swords, sign up to learn Japanese in country or even buy the wooden puzzle box that Sheldon in Big Bang Theory used (and others.)  There were sweets and cupcakes galore, with several stores offering mikado sticks (thin long flour sticks covered in chocolate my kids love) and even the fabulously regionally branded Japanese Kit Kat boxes I've blogged about last year.  I love Japan and all things kitsch from this culture.  It wasn't a totally wasted day after all.  

There were serious commercial players present, e.g. a Wii stand and Nintendo in all its corporate glory.  The Tokyo Toy company was making strong sales & promoting its Trocadero retail outlet.

Now, it must be my age, but I'm not sure it is ok to be seen outside the house in these (photo left) kinds of clothes ?  Don't Anne Summers and Victoria Secrets make a fortune selling black and lace underwear like this ?   I think they call it lingerie.  Yet put an outlandish coloured wig on and we were seeing serious numbers of women (and some men) dressing this way. The Japanese doll look or school girl cartoon character ?  In a world obsessed by over sexualisation of children I guess there is room for the reverse, adults dressing as kids.  It feels very creepy to me, you can't just call it innocent fantasy and let it go ?

There were a wide range of genres represented, with the UKGarrison putting in a highly professional show for the Star Wars franchise.  Outstanding static props and a wide range of costumes, that have to be film ready (i.e. exactly the same as the films or you aren't allowed to exhibit).  They have a strong charitable orientation, but seem to enjoy stalking around too !  Star Wars, of course is alright because of its vast popularity, its moralistic (good vs. evil) stance - but doesn't it have counter religious undertones (May the 4th etc) and some strong use of violent fight scenes ?  Can't wait for Disney to bring on film 7, 8 and 9....

There were also Dr Who impersonators, Zombies, Pokemon characters, Victorian Brocage and so, so many more.  I was lost, but amazed.  There were 30,000 visitors the day we went, attendance getting bigger each year.

Manga team photo shoots

From my own rational consumption perspective I could not understand the value in buying a ticket to walk around commercial stalls.  There was a stand giving away free smoothies (I had several, it was hot, I was thirsty) but I don't remember the name of the company to plug it to you.  But pretty much the rest were there to make money, no doubt paying for their exhibition space like I was paying for my hot air and limited personal space too.  However, for motivated attendees, rather than reluctant chaperones, the appeal seemed to come from the voyeurism, the appreciation of effective, striking costumes that many attendees (a large minority perhaps ?) had chosen to wear.  So co-creation of the product - then why not meet in a park for free ?  Eventually I discovered my son had gone outside and spent much of the afternoon at a Yogcast meet, talking with people who enjoy this brand of YouTube video content.  Honestly, there was nearly as much exciting stuff going on outside for free as there was inside, certainly the way the boys engaged.  

More misery ?  Non-participant gamers watching others do it on the big screen

The point was more the gathering than the events at the venues, there were small, fading celebrities signing photos and authors plugging their scifi books, and the stands and some seating areas where stars and panels would engage in Q&A with 'fans' - people who seemed to know who they were and appear to be interested in banal exchanges of personal information.  One Canadian actor from Bones (I think) when asked what she liked watching played the suck up to the mostly British audience and said Luther, Downton and any other reasonably hip UK programming that has broken stateside.  Hollywood trained not to disrespect their audience.

Ninja action héros recording their own activities

I am trying to understand social identity theory at the moment.  I can hardly claim to really have a good understanding, but it appears to me that participants who engage deeply in the role playing activities benefit from peer validation (lots of others are doing the same or similar) and the mutual admiration that bi-annual large conventions (and other smaller ones) can offer the positive, reinforcing feedback that builds self-esteem and encourages more of this behaviour.  

Please buy my manga ?

Social identity theory sees us put our own character into roles that is subjected to the interaction and feedback we receive from our the social structure around us which validates, tempers or rejects behaviours in that context.  The idea being that we have multiple identities that we choose (and choose not to) adopt in various social contexts.    e.g. the friendly/human lecturer is one I try to project in my work place, to various degrees of success.

I also noted a number of individuals (one even scratched on a replica pistol) saying "Free Hugs" that seemed to want to encourage complete strangers to give plutonic embraces and walk on by.  

Still struggling with this one - is it a genuinely open statement of free love, the kind of rhetoric that was commonplace in the 70's ?  Or merely a manifestation of a more relaxed and openly tactile millennial generation.  Or indeed, something else again ?  It feels like a sleazy pick up line to me - wouldn't it be better to 'fess up and state "Single, seeks partner" or "Up for a one night stand" ?  Some of the t-shirt designs came close to this I guess.

I am still slightly bemused by 'cupcakes', I don't understand the source of the popularity, now, why would you pay £4 for a single, sickly sweet iced fairy cake ?    Surely it can't be down to Paul and Mary with their bake off show on BBC ?  In my mind calling someone a cupcake was US movie slang term for mental illness which then morphed into a general, mildly insulting term of endearment.

I wonder what this guy (below) gets out of his cosplay persona ??  

Off loading his aggression ?

I couldn't get the MBA group to visit Brighton together this year - there is no hope of getting them to attend MCMComicCon ?
No cupcakes were eaten or zombies created in the making of this blog post.