Thursday, June 07, 2018

Chicanonautica: Latinoid, Geek, Nerd, and Other Identity Crises at the Phoenix Comic Fest

The Firesign Theater said: “The once easy choice between Mom and bad and good and Dad had to be made in the marketplace of public confusion.” It was like that at the Phoenix Comic Fest--formerly known as Phoenix Comicon. The name change was to circumvent legal action from the San Diego Comic-Con. And next year they will be known as Phoenix Fan Fusion . . .

There was no mention of the incident last year where a man in body armor was arrested with three handguns, a shotgun, ammo, a knife, and a variety of other weapons.

Emily and I had never been to a comic con before. We had met through traditional science fiction fandom. Tor Books sent her to promote Medusa Uploaded. I got in as her plus-one, being a Chicano science fiction writer without corporate sponsorship. It was the biggest convention either of us had ever attended.

Like the Latinoid continuum, the nerd/geek configuration is undergoing an identity crisis. Superheroes have become corporate property and are making an exodus from comic books to movies and television. The whole subculture is getting bigger, becoming more mainstream.

The Fest’s slogan was “Discover Your Inner Geek,” emblazoned on T-shirts, posters, and advertising.

And what is a geek, or a nerd, these days?

What is a Latino these days? Or a Chicano (o/a? a/o? @? x?)? Then there are those here in Aztlán who reject “Latino” and “Hispanic” in favor of a strict Indian/Mexican identity. Would I have to refuse to be in Latino publications? And what about my Native and Afrofuturist connections?

How does ethnic identity differ from the worship of corporate franchises?

In some cultures, wearing a god’s image puts you under their protection. To dress as a god is to become them. Once I heard a Native American woman say that tribes should copyright their gods to prevent their appropriation.

At one of the panels, a young woman asked if science fiction was taking the place of the church.

The dealer room filled a floor and spilled down the escalators into another. It was more of a temporary shopping center than a room. The usual geek paraphernalia was there, along with giant, inflatable skulls and tarantulas, colorful cod pieces, kilts, and 18-hour gluten-free vegan lipstick.

Nerd mating rituals have changed in the new millennium.

There were some books. Not many, but some . . .

For the kids, the halls are a big thing, as they were in my day. Lots of milling around, hanging out, taking pictures or each other’s costumes. When in doubt, you could always sit somewhere, usually on the floor, and watch the costumed crowd go by. Here the relaxed 21st century fashion rules could be taken to extremes.

I was expecting the costumes to be mostly from popular franchises, but was happy to see a lot manifestations of quirky imaginations. Good to see the younger generation trying to create their own identities rather just buying them off the rack.

The kids looked like the ones from a few generations ago. It was often hard to tell some costumes from real subculture/lifestyle garb.

Guys wore Hawaiian shirts, and looked like they were in costume, like the two in full Hunter S. Thompson regalia.

Same sex couples walked around hand in hand, and there was cross-dressing in both directions, men in dresses, women wearing moustaches, but it wasn’t clear if the androgyny was always intentional. Except for the long-haired, bearded guy with humungous boobs.

There were young guys with long hair and beards like old school fans, but a close look revealed them to be wearing costume shop disguises.

Then there was an obese shirtless guy with the largest breasts I saw that weekend, and painted-on tribal tattoos, and a fake Maori war club that made it through the security check.

Now and then there was an old person in a uniform from the original Star Trek.

Actors say that your brain doesn't always know that you’re pretending. What about when you’re surrounded by fictional characters come to life down to replicas of their weapons of choice?

Are these costumes or uniforms? Is this a real war? Or just a game? Is that real blood? Just what is going on here?

As Frank Zappa said, “Is that a real poncho . . . I mean/Is that a Mexican poncho or is that a Sears poncho?”

There were quite a few black, brown, and Asian faces, but the crowd was mostly white. And was no sign of the Black Panther/Wakanda/Afrofuturist revolution that was supposed to have taken place a few months earlier.

Was there any room for Chicanonautica?

There were some Native Americans in civilian clothes, and a girl in a NATIVE AMERICANS DISCOVERED COLUMBUS T-shirt.

Besides Emily’s lucha libre tie, one caped and masked luchador, and some Día de Los Muertos calaveras bubbling up through the mix, there wasn’t much of La Cultura, but there were two white guys in sombreros who were not doing the usual drunken frat boy schtick.

After a while the crowd became thick, intense, oppressive. I got breakfast burrito fallout on my notes.

There’s a Tortilla’s Mexican Grill in the convention center. “Bold Cuisine Infused With Zesty Flavor.” (Sounds like they’re explaining themselves to folks who’ve never had Mexican.) Luckily, a short walk past the security checkpoint was El Centro Cocina Callejera, where we ate great tacos in the open air.

We wondered if people on the street were cosplayers or just flamboyant folks.

A circle of brown and black men in capes were not from the Fest. Their leader was sermonizing about Jesus and the Apocalypse.

The next day, a fire alarm was set off. The convention center was evacuated, and evening events were canceled.

As Curtus Mayfield sang: “We can deal with rockets and dreams/But reality, what does it mean?”

No comments: