Monday, August 22, 2011

Vegas in my aft viewer: A year like none before

Artwork courtesy
Something happened this year ... still not exactly sure of all the reasons ... but the big annual Creation Trek bash in Vegas—Vegas Khhaaan! to the Facebookers and simply #STLV to the Twitterati—went to a whole new plane. A whole new critter.

And I should know—I've seen them all.

In a time when the Trek anniversaries are piling up right and left—the 45th for the franchise debut this year, the 30th for Star Trek II and the 25th for TNG both in '82—this was also the 10th year for a grand "Vegas Khhaaan" since they started in 2001... and Creation's had them all after that first one by Dave Scott's now-defunct Slanted Fedora shows. So, maybe it was about time for what happened.

Especially in a year when the overall U.S. economy remains poor-to-middling, these numbers and demographics are Just Amazing.

Now, you've read all the basic reporting elsewhere already; I'm going to save my stills and video for a separate post, and some more sentimental bits with it. So THIS missive will be  some general observations with big-picture touches. And brother I've got more than a few, but the overall bottom line?

Vegas Trek simply EXPLODED this year, pure and simple.

And on so many levels!

—Pure numbers? Reports say about 20,000 total sold seat-days—about 13,000 unique fans in all —and only the bigger space afforded by the Rio absorbed the uptick. Many complained of the longer walk in these post-Hilton digs, but at least there was no Sardine Factor at work anywhere. And Creation thankfully saw it coming: we got an email note a week earlier that doors and dealers would be open an hour earlier on the weekend—starting at 7 AM!

—Costumes? Oh my god—at one point I Tweeted that the overwhelm onrush felt like the "Comicconification of Vegas"... meaning, in reference to the huge cosplay rep of Comic-Con San Diego, that we had not the just the number but the ingenuity and obscurity—ie, the coolness factor—of so many outfits and concepts had just shot through the stratosphere. (See more later, soon!).

—The secondary room, after one or two years as I've been keeping tabs, is now clearly a monster to be reckoned with. Time was when the "side stage" was home to great but woefully under-attended scientists who'd attract maybe a dozen or so hard-core fans, the ones not aware they were supposed to be in a line somewhere. But, beginning with the new influx from JJ's movie we saw in '09, that room has reeked with newbies the first year, and then just simply big numbers—usually 150 or more. My events were there (trivia line, at right), as were Anthony "" Pasquale's, and many more.

—Those two groups famously thought to be absent from Trek fandom by hand-wringing marketers only three years ago—a) anyone under 20, much less anyone under 30 ... and b) those of the female gender—were instead, in a word, EVERYWHERE. The Orion slave-girl explosion of 2010 has just evolved into so many guest-star homages—or totally creative getups with skin—that it was simply breathtaking. Of course, Uhura/Rand red miniskirts remain a staple, but there were so many more—in both Nichols and Saldana versions. And so many more adult incarnations were busting out, too, if you know what I mean. Congrats to Mary Czerwinski & Co. who hosted both a first-ever geekgirls panel for Vegas—again, heavily attended—as well as a crafting panels for anyone, especially the kids and parents. It was just the tip of the iceberg.

—A twenty-something crowd also translated into a party crowd, both at the Creation planned events as well as the Rio's nightclubs in general. For the "overflow" fans shut out of Creation's sellout events, we co-sponsored a Thursday night game night with DVD Geeks and  at McFadden's, an early but noisy fan favorite—but the open-area'd iBar and Masquerade Bar also came in for a lot of biz. As they, and a special indie Trek party at Crown discovered, Trekfen like their volume low for talking... but, again, that's a growing pain.

Setting the record: LV Weekly/Sam Morris photo
—And all of it combined for smashing the ever-climbing Guinness World Record for The Most Real Star Trek Costumes In One Place—a total that in just the past couple years has become a big annual triangular rivalry between Vegas, Dragon*Con in Atlanta, and FedCon in Germany. Each one constantly raises the bar in turn, but this go-round all those factors above helped Vegas smash the record of 691 with an incredible 1,040—and it stopped there only because of the clock, and that the Guinness folk ran through all their "official counter cards." Reports of at least 60-100 more waiting in line would have boomed it bigger,  of course.

But why?

Maybe it was simply the new digs at the Rio, after the two-year farewell to an Experience-less Hilton finally gave out for Creation owners Adam Malin and Gary Berman and crew. Certainly in part it was the hubbub about being Leonard Nimoy's last Vegas appearance before his retirement from the con circuit this year (and what a farewell it was.) Maybe it's the ongoing earthquake caused by the JJ movie of 2009, where "new" fans continue to tumble into "old fandom," assimilating not just TOS but TNG and all the rest.

It's all of that, and perhaps one more factor: one I stumbled into just a few short weeks earlier.

In the words of social science, Trek big-con fans are finally "self-empowered" as never before—mostly thanks to social media, which finally hit con fandom in ways far beyond mere one-to-one contact. Groups like the "Unofficial Star Trek Las Vegas Convention 2011" on Facebook, whose 250+ members fast evolved into a fertile ground for hatching meetups, party ideas, newbie help, costume details—and simply introductions. In short, Creation provided the main program, but fans had a way to organize themselves, and early on, when they had the time and inclination.

Not to get too Vulcan about this, but what we did was just see a huge shift in the culture of fandom, yet again—the impact of online media. It was hardly an Arab Spring, but the effect is the same: self-powered organizing. And it's got nowhere to go but up. Already, plans are in the works: you can see the wheels spinning, plans evolving, and shields adapting...

All of this shows a few things, coupled with the "show of hands" polls I took in my audiences, or in just talking with peeps at my table or happenstance in the halls:

—Fans old and new, whether first-gen Trekkies or converts from the 2009 flick, have NOT forgotten any of the "700 Club" TOS or TNG, etc.,  series. If there was to be a mass migration to "modern" Star Trek alone, and a virtual "Forget" mind-meld of All That Went Before... well, it's not with this bunch. Even though a lot of them do owe their fandom entry to JJ-Trek.

—In fact, the image of young, partying, good lookin' and nay even imbibing Starfleeters was everywhere in media—not that that's not 180-degrees misleading in its own way, too. A lot of those folks ARE workin' it this weekend, in any of a zillion niche jobs. But the fact that media admitted to the possiblity the image EXISTS, 25 years after Shatner's "Get a Life" SNL skit forever sent stereotypes askew, is shocking enough. And long overdue. Creation's Vegas con logo (right), the play on the historic Vegas tourism logo, actually finally begins to make sense!

—Which in turn, finally, points to a trend I've noticed in the days since—this one in national media: maybe generational, maybe part of this post-2009 "mainstreaming" perception. And it may be the most shocking one of all: the Era of the Respectiful National Journalist Who Gets It. Maybe, finally, someone realized that the guys who paint their bellies topless in subzero endzone cheap seats for football are no more/no less crazy that the Trekfans who get their Orion green or Andorian blue on—with a lot more philosophy and a lot less alcohol involved in the latter. Somewhat less, anyway.

Yessir, we may finally have gone where no Vegas Khhaaan—and the ever-powerful national media meme—have ever gone before.

Beyond the new hotel thing, even.

On the fun side: More pics and video to come. Stay tuned ...


Barry Ingram said...

Great blog, Larry. As one who missed it (as well as the previous nine) it makes me 100% determined to go to the next one.

Tamara said...

I'm so glad you had a blast. I read that article and it was indeed shockingly respectful...and it read like they had fun there too.

Anonymous said...

Vegas Star Trek Khhaannn was awesome! It' was my first time going to the ST:Con in Vegas. Met alot of cool peeps.

Karen said...

Loved this article. As a diehard, I am so excited that there are newbies and a younger crowd comming in. And I am excited that there are more girls. Yeh!

Raven said...

Great Article Larry. It was great to see you again this year at Mike and Lidias party. Kate Mulgrew also commented on the increase of young people even children this year. Keep up the great work my friend. LLAP.