Dressing like a Stormtrooper is basically socially acceptable at this point.
  • Ryan Smith
  • Dressing like a Stormtrooper is basically socially acceptable at this point.

One of the costume-clad conventioneers who’d packed into a room at the McCormick Center for a Q&A with actor Jason Momoa stood at a microphone to ask a probing, Inside the Actors Studio-style question. He wanted to know about the psychological impact his now-deceased Khal Drogo character had on the Queen of Dragons on HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Momoa shrugged off the request to psychoanalyze his fictional wife: “I don’t know what you want from me. You saw the goddamn show.”

It was a rare moment of no-bullshit honesty at C2E2, an annual convention that often feels like a three-day interactive commercial for the nerd-industrial complex, which has taken over pop culture in recent years. The audiences sitting in on panels on diversity in comics and science fiction in libraries were dwarfed by the hordes waiting to get a sneak peak at a new M. Night Shyamalan-produced television show or hear actors chat about how awesome it was to be in the Hobbit movies. Then the various Hollywood types take turns sitting in roped-off booths as convention-goers wait in line and pay various fees for a brief and awkward meeting, plus an autograph or picture. “Autographs $30, selfies with Finn $20” read the sign for the line to meet Finn Jones, an actor with a minor part on Game of Thrones.

The market-based appropriation of what started in the 70s in Chicago as smallish gatherings of social outcasts who lugged around boxes of superhero comics has been a frequent complaint since C2E2 joined Wizard World in Rosemont in 2010 as Chicago’s dueling comic con giants. But the 2015 edition of C2E2 felt like hit a new threshold of non-comics-related ephemera. The roster of promoted entertainment guests included stand-up comedians, professional wrestlers, YouTube stars, reality show contestants—even television critics. Some of them have tenuous ties to entertainment deemed “nerdy,” such as science fiction or high fantasy. But increasingly, it seems like all genres save, say, romantic comedies and subtitled foreign dramas are considered fair game for consideration. “Featured guest” Leah Pipes’s main claim to fame is a starring role in the 2009 slasher flick Sorority Row, a far cry from the latest Green Lantern trade paperback.

The terms “geek” and “nerd” have become all but meaningless. When everyone in the country freaks out about the new Star Wars trailer and hangs out in bars for The Walking Dead viewing parties, you can’t claim to be part of some kind of underrepresented or marginalized subculture. You are the culture.

“I like it. But it’s weird that the geeks are no longer the downtrodden or the minority,” Chris Ryall, creative director of IDW Publishing, told EW.com recently. “It used to be geeks vs. the world, and now geeks sort of run the world—or at least run Hollywood.”

It would be nice if C2E2 and other comic conventions tried harder to bolster the fortunes of groups that remain marginalized or underrepresented—and not just in terms of identity politics. I was lucky to stumble upon the work of Kansas City artist Bryan Fyffe, whose beautifully rendered “digital collages” are inspired by ghost stories and decrepit buildings. Weird indie comics and outsider art often get lost amid C2E2’s more mainstream offerings. The aisles in the main hall dedicated to artists are a great way to interact with creators, but as my friend Jon remarked, “They’re so much amazing and creative stuff here, it’s just too bad so much of it is dedicated to Captain America.”

But that’s not to say C2E2 is completely devoid of charms. Its best moments are the unexpected small ones. I came across a guy wearing knights armor made completely from cans of Old Style. And I witnessed an impromptu marriage proposal between people dressed as Game of Thrones characters, which got a big round of applause from everyone nearby. There’s a shared camaraderie between fans that leads to interactions between strangers, increasingly rare in a world where we’re usually too busy peering into our phones to interact with fellow Harry Potter enthusiasts.

Aw, Missandei doesnt care that Grey Worm is a eunuch.
  • Ryan Smith
  • Aw, Missandei doesn’t care that Grey Worm is a eunuch.

And then there are the transcendent moments when someone who’s literally larger than life like Momoa— whose honesty about everything from disappointment with his role in Conan the Barbarian to his love of drinking beer and tossing tomahawks—felt like a small act of rage against the nerd machine.