The Power of Play in a Time of Fear
I've been a Science Fiction/ Fantasy Geek my whole life, and this year I was invited to attend the Denver Fan Expo as a guest author.
Now it’s not the first time I have been to a Pop Culture Convention, but between the ongoing pandemic and the general awfulness of America’s political crisis I was not in the most receptive of moods when I walked in the door.
Yet as I meandered the aisles like a ghost of some previous cultural era, I was completely floored by how different things are now than when I was growing up.
It's hard to overstate just how much the sheer abundance of today’s geek culture compares to the scarcities of old. When I was growing up, I bought comic books off a rotating rack at the convenience store.
Today I walked between stacks of comics and comics related things that filled up a good sized event center, and this was in an off year thanks to the plague. There were no fewer than four 8 foot long displays dedicated to lego style star wars and superhero figures. There were whole racks of lightsabers meant for adults. There were people selling everything from dime a dozen dice, to ren-faire type fantasy mugs to thousand dollar costumes. The show’s participants included everyone from A-List actors, to professional Cosplayers, to everyday folk with a bag of overcooked cinnamon almonds and a flat Coke.
I would have gone absolutely bonkers for anything like this when I was growing up, but nothing like it even existed, and if you had publicly predicted than one day you’d be able to fill a convention center in a major city with science fiction and fantasy paraphernalia to be browsed by and bought by people dressed up as aliens, elves, and even alien elves, the powers that be would have locked you up as a lunatic.
It's too bad for me that my days of participation have passed, but I'm glad this abundance exists for those who are still in a position to enjoy it. More than just being a commercial cornucopia, it means that to some extent we have normalized play and imagination for adults.
Imagination and play used to be considered things that were largely discarded by adults and looked down upon as foolish. Play such as it was was limited to athletic competition and gambling. The idea that people might enjoy being weird and embracing the fantastic was something looked upon with great suspicion and derision by the worst among us. They call it ridiculous, weak-minded, and even sinful, like they do everything they don't understand and can't control.
Our ordinary world has come to be circumscribed by misinformation and toxic politics, and we’re in serious danger of losing our democracy and ways of life to a pack of fear mongering snools. But I wonder, maybe, if perhaps our collective imagination and our willingness to play, to entertain the absurd and make room in our minds for the other, might not be an invisible bulwark against the dark times in which we now live.
Not that I think people are going to march in the streets to defend their right to purchase drastically overpriced Spiderman bobbleheads, but imagination and creativity tend to inoculate the mind against the narrow doctrines and shriveled entreaties of the autocrat. People who become accustomed to entertaining the hope of a fantastic world aren’t going to put up with the would-be dictator's baseless assertion that fear is the only lens through which to see the world.