Online communities for mutual fans of anything ranging from television shows, actors, singers, bands, and even games, are growing in presence. People come together and bond over their shared passions on platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. The growing popularity of online fandoms can be seen in the equally growing popularity of conventions. Until around a decade ago, the word ‘convention’ evoked, for a lot of a people at least, the image of groups of men, similar to the main characters in The Big Bang Theory, dressed up as their favourite comic book heroes or characters from Star Trek. Since then, as a result of the internet providing means for people to find fellow fans instead of being alone amongst their friend group, it has become very clear to see just how well received artists, characters, and all sorts of genres of creative media are. Convention organisers foresaw the wonderful opportunities for fans to come together and meet the portrayers of their favourite characters. Now you can pretty much find a convention for any television show, whether or not it is still on-air. The online community has become a real life community: a concept that sounds strange, however it is highly unlikely that people would have been so aware of each other and these conventions without access to the internet.
Very recently, I attended G6: a convention for the television series Glee, held by Starfury Conventions. Starfury Conventions is the UK number one organiser for Sci-Fi and genre conventions, known mainly for their Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Hannibal events. They have managed to secure appearances from David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mads Mikkelsen for their respective conventions. As the event organiser Sean Harry had said during the opening ceremony for G6, unlike others that he holds, the Glee conventions are very different; for attending glee fans the excitement and passion is not only present for the special guests and their photo opportunities, but for one another. I have previously attended the London Comic Con several times, where the focus is mainly on the talks, the merchandise stalls, and getting photographs and autographs. However, in the Glee Convention’s case, many attending fans buy their tickets before any guests have been announced as they attend mainly to be with friends they have met at previous conventions and also purely for the environment.
In terms of guests, the line-up consists of a mix of Glee stars and, as of G4 in 2014, members of the production company Starkid, from which glee star, Darren Criss originated. The Warblers and other recurring sideline characters from Glee have frequently attended, with Becca Tobin, Kevin McHale, and Darren Criss representing the only members of the main cast to have taken part. With some convention experience under my belt from MCM Comic Con, the first Glee con I attended was G4 for the same reason many others did: to meet Darren Criss. Two years on, I have almost finished my degree and I have been working hard to gain work experience and freelance photography and videography jobs so as to launch my career in media. Accordingly, attending signings, premieres and conventions have become more of a thing of my past, as my passion is to be a member of the event’s team instead of an attendee; this year was an exception. With implications being made by the event organisers that Lea Michele and 2 other main guests would possibly attend, a friend and I purchased tickets and waited out the announcements. Ultimately, the line-up featured Jaime Lynn Beatty, Lauren Lopez, Joey Richter, Dylan Saunders, and Joe Moses from Starkid, two frequently attending Warblers Curt Mega and Dominic Barnes, and season 6 cast member Billy Lewis Junior.
When your head is not caught up in the exciting atmosphere of an event, a whole new perspective is open to you. Coming from somebody who is generally slightly older than most of the attendees and who is experienced and interested in the field of events coverage and production, certain things particularly stood out to me as being odd, yet refreshing. These were things that in reality should not have been odd at all. For instance, before the convention had even started and whilst everyone was settling into the host hotel, I had already shared a corridor stroll and a lift with one of the stars. In most circumstances, especially if we imagine how a convention goer might act, that could have been very awkward for the star that just wanted to go to their room and fight jet lag before putting on their stage face for eager fans. Instead, it was as if that person was any other stranger. This carried on and became a regular thing throughout the weekend, with the guests even greeting people along the way and ultimately joining in with the evening parties and mingling with the attendees instead of segregating themselves behind any barriers or chaperones. By the time Sunday came around, eating your breakfast buffet next to a table full of Starkids felt like the norm.
Of course, this may have been due to the fact that we could refer to their level of fame as being niche. Yet, on the contrary, anyone attending a convention will not see them in this way. For G4, the environment was slightly different: the Starkids and sideline Glee guests still joined in with the entertainment, however Darren Criss did not, and he was accompanied at all times by at least one chaperone. Compared to the other guests throughout the history of the convention, tickets for his photograph opportunities were double the amount being asked for other Glee guests, and over triple the Starkid fee. When you take a moment to think about the lives of people in the public eye, it becomes clear that those who are ‘niche’ famous are free to leave their homes and grab some milk if need be, whereas those who are more of a household name do not always have this liberty. Of course, there are many different contexts to consider, such as those people who enjoy their work but do not want to sign up to the fan culture aspect, as well as those who quite like to be treated like they are prestigious and deserve the utmost respect. Clearly, there is a difference between lifestyles of those who are household names and those who are not, but is this always a lifestyle they have chosen, or is it instead placed upon them?
In some cases, organisers provide security guards, and in others guests request them. Is this an environment that has been caused by personal choice? Or is it an environment that we have created through mistrust and misconduct? At the San Diego Comic Con, stars such as Andrew Garfield have been known to don a disguise – in his case it was Spiderman, of course – in order to be able to pass inconspicuously through the crowd from one panel to another. Is this purely humorous and tactical, or is it a measure against being swarmed? As always, everything comes down to respect. Being at a convention where guests are both allowed to and choose to roam freely seems very rare, yet isn’t that a disappointing reality?