Fan Expo 2018: An Exploration of Fandom, Age,and Being a Geek

There are few things that portend the end of summer for me more than Toronto’s Fan Expo, falling around the Labor Day Weekend it is one last big sendup and celebration of countless fandoms.

And this year Expo made sure to pull out all the stops, there were celebrities and panels, parties and purchases that would appeal to every one. And at the top of the list for yours truly was the Back to the Future reunion panel with Micheal J. Fox, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd and Thomas F. Wilson and it was obviously the top of a number of other people’s as well. It ended up being an emotional lovefest for the audience and cast. Fox was given two standing ovations, the second one obviously meant to include the entire cast, but the moment the iconic actor first walked out on stage, you couldn’t keep the people in their seats, and the tears were flowing for a number of us.

It was a great panel, and honestly could have gone on for at least another hour.

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Photo Ops are a big part of the weekend, and Michael J. Fox did a rare photo sitting as well as a select few personal signings. It troubles me a little how much of a conveyor belt the photo op experience is, you are guided in and have two seconds and then you’re shuffled out of the way. Considering the price of some of the photo ops a moment or two with the talent shouldn’t be too much to ask (though I totally respect the no touching rule, and understand it as well – I also understand it’s a business, but the personal touch shouldn’t be sacrificed because of it), but the photo captures memories and the nostalgia of things and people loved. And that makes my geek love flare.

That coupled with meeting up with some dear friends made for some truly great moments. Moments that shouldn’t only be confined to conventions.

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But let’s rewind to the beginning of the weekend.

With pass in hand we got ready for a full weekend, pics, panels, some geek shopping, and yet with all that was laid out before us, I couldn’t find my enthusiasm, I was not looking forward to the event. I wanted to be excited for it, to wonder at what treasures but it just wasn’t there. I was completely nonplussed.

I was worried I would walk in and it would be the same exhibitors with the same product in the same places and that led me to a personal question and examination – am I still the target market? Have I grown too old to share my love of the fandoms I enjoy?

And I wasn’t the only one who had this feeling, conversations with countless people over the weekend seemed to suggest the same thing, a lack of emotional connection and involvement with the fans, exhibitors and celebs around them (now of course there are just as many countless moments that shine over the weekend – little children getting to pose with their fave Disney Princess, a priceless and emotional moment with a celeb over a story of how they impacted a life, the discovery of some piece of nostalgia that brings back all of your love for a fandom). Ir’s a fine balance that the con tends to walk fairly well, you just have to be in the right places at the right times… and some of the finds can be amazing!

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Has Expo become too big?

Lost it’s personal touch?

I don’t know.

I do know that things seemed to run far smoother this year than any year previous (a huge nod and applause to the organizers for being on their game!), but there seemed to be a severe lack of joie de vie. Yes there were cosplayers who would gather and dance to their favorite anime theme songs,  deejays spun tunes in the atrium where blow up t-rexs would bounce and grind, but most seemed to be focused on finding that one collectible, getting in one queue after another, getting their timed ticket, and just enduring what shouldn’t be a joyless experience.but a unifying love of all shades of geekery.

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Is the fabric of fandom shifting?

We’ve seen it with films; we don’t follow actors so much any more as we follow event films. Is fandom now the same way? Are we following the next big titles, series, and shifted our loyalty from the professionals who make them to the next idea we want to take off, or that catches the edge of our interest?

Or has the system changed?

Youtubers and professional cosplayers are getting queues that while not equal to those in celebrity row are impressive, and in some truly sad cases are longer than some of the cult celebrities who headline the show.

That shift also applies to the exhibitors. Over the course of my weekend in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, it was heard from a number of exhibitors say that despite the number of people, this wasn’t as profitable as previous years.

So what is the shift that is happening?

I’m not sure, but it did affect some experiences over the weekend. But it can be counterbalanced by sharing the event with friends. Having someone to share the events, the passions, no matter their age changes the perspective of the whole event. Embrace the change, kindle your wonder, fire up your delight.

Wandering around with a young kid opens up your eyes in a whole new way, it helps to restore the joy and excitement, they see things in a completely new way, effusing exclamations when they see a costume, image or collectible from something they love. Or that perfect cosplay…

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And then, the panels.

It seems no matter where I sit in the room, and I’m not one of those who feel they have to rush and sit at the front, I’m quite happy to take a seat in the back and listen to the conversation, they tend to be a really good time.  When they are moderated well (which means staying on top of some of the silly questions that some fans will try to ask during the q&a) – the Back to the Future panel was great, listening to Cary Elwes, Richard Dean Anderson, or the cast of Killjoys or Wynonna Earp – they prove to be an exercise in joy.

And these are the things I truly enjoy about the con, listening to conversations about the things we love, hearing recollections and remembrances.

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You just have to take that in stride with all the booths that spring up around it hawking their wares, some exceptional, some questionable, some overpriced, and some wonderful deals. But that is all part and parcel of the con, and that’s why we keep going back, we want those moments.

Conventions have become big, almost unwieldy,  and it is these small moments, those with friends, those stolen, but oh so paid for, moments with celebs and artists that need to be treasured. They are the ones that have to make up the whole. That is the heart of fandom, little moments, shared love, and friendships.

For some of us it’s the only time of year we get to see one another, we need to make those count, we need to revel in our love of things shared, and geek out over every single one of those little moments.

It took me a day or two to actually remember that, and it restored my faith in my Christmas… Fan Expo. And I will be willing to go Back…. to the Expo! Again!

Michael J Fox

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