Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sex, Drugs and Princess Leia: Attack of the Geeks... True Stories of Societal Disenfranchisement and Action Figures

I've never really considered myself a true part of any social or cultural organization except, of course, for the International Community of United Masturbators.  At one point I even considered running for president of ICUM until I realized that my competition, Jorge Valenzuela had broken the Guiness World Record for Average Daily Masturbation (87, in case you were wondering).  With dreams of presidential candidacy shattered I had to resign myself to toiling in obscurity at the one job I was actually good at (no complaints so far).  Aside from this little anomaly I have been consistently on the outskirts of human social interaction for as long as I can remember, although now it has consistently become more and more a conscious choice.

I enjoy it.  I like being on the outside.  I just can't summon up the requisite interest or passion necessary for entrance into the inner circles of any socially constructed unit.  I just don't feel that emotionally invested in anything the human race has to offer.  It's a difficult tightrope to walk, though.  It has become necessary at times to associate myself with certain culturally constructed groups, for example at work.  It is necessary in order to reap the benefits (ie. the money, booze, and/or hookers) that are associated with that particular group.  So in some ways I have to construct myself as an insider.  However,by self-marginalizing myself I don't get caught up with any of the thousands of pointless games that are played within these social constructs and absolve myself of all responsibilities when the group I am (loosely) associated with A) Pisses off another group and/or individual or B) Inevitably fucks up (like all human individuals and organizations eventually do).  I can reap the benefits in times of plenty and keep my distance when the proverbial shit hits the fan.  

This can be a potentially dangerous zone to inhabit -there's always some self-righteous douchebag ready to start "calling people out" for not "getting involved" or "caring enough" about whatever- but just like any socially constructed status it has its rewards and its own subtle satisfactions.  All in all its a good place to be.  It's the philosophical equivalent of mooching, but applied to my entire life.  It may sound easy, but it takes total dedication and complete commitment in day to day life in order to maintain social relationships you have absolutely no interest in maintaining (outside of whatever personal gain you are in a position to receive) while putting forth the least amount of energy possible to maintain it without the other party/parties involved realizing your lack of interest.  Usually it's fairly easy because most people are either A) too stupid to notice, B) too caught up with themselves to really notice anyone around them, C) too drunk to care, D) busy banging your best friend at the prom while you were waiting by the punch bowl.  But in anticipation of those few people who might actually be paying attention it's important to practice important life skills like lying and feigning interest in conversations and refraining from strangling people and not referring to your waitress as a "serving wench" apparently.  

This is a shade of grey, however.  The two basic modes for constructing identity within a societal group are the same two modes of existing in a world where herpes exists:  yeah or nay.  You either exist in harmony with a social group or in rebellion to it.  You either have herpes, or you don't.  Of course human society is only slightly more complex and interesting than genital warts, but only just.  The simple fact is that most people inhabit that first space of complicit, passive acceptance.  It's just easier to do what everybody else is doing and agree with what everybody else is thinking.  This is really the cornerstone not only to representative democracy in the West, but basically of a (relatively) peaceful coexistence in Western society.  Many might call it apathy, but it is really just passive endorsement.  The truly apathetic wouldn't wipe their asses after they shit, or even gotten off of the couch.  Passive endorsement is taking a shit, wiping your ass, knowing that your waste is being pumped into the drinking water of a village in the middle of the African desert and doing it anyway.  It's easier not to argue.  There are a few who try to exist in opposition to societal norms, railing against "the establishment" condemning our use of fossil fuels, proclaiming their love of bands nobody's heard of because nobody's heard of them and then deriding these same bands when they achieve some modicum of success, or protesting outside of fast food restaurants.  These people see themselves as outsiders, but are ultimately still constructing their identities based on what they perceive to be societal norms.  So whether you act in accordance with or in opposition to societal norms you are still just existing on different sides of the same coin of societal construction.  

The only true way to escape this paradigm would be to ascribe to the tennets of nihilism, which is extremely hard to do because by definition you have to literally have an intrinsic belief that there is no value in anything.  This is surprisingly hard to do.  The only person I know who has personally almost succeeded in removing himself from the equation is my friend Adam.  First off if you asked him if I was his friend he would probably not answer in the affirmative.  He would probably question the institution of friendship with a jest about the chastity of your mother, a hearty laugh, and some homemade explosives rigged to go off when you started your car.  But he doesn't view friendship the way you or I do at all.  He doesn't seem to feel the need for social interaction the way most people do, outside of maintaining dialogue with those few people he deems "acceptable."  The rest of the world he holds in complete disdain.  While I have striven to maintain bare minimum levels of emotional investment in human proceedings (much like a Vulcan meditating for the IDIC), he seems to have the innate ability to refrain from emotional investment altogether.  He is one of the lucky few.  If I was to sever all ties to him tomorrow I honestly believe he would not bat an eye.  If one of my wife's friends severed all ties to her, she might be devastated.  I would be somewhere in the middle.  A psychoanalyst might say that my friend Adam has sociopathic tendencies.  I wouldn't necessarily be in a position to disagree with this analysis.

It was about three or four years ago that another friend of mine, the notorious Ryebone, who having recently been cleared of some charges involving a high-powered telescope and a window to the room of his neighbor's daughter across the street wanted to celebrate his newfound liberty by indulging in a passion of his: crystal meth collecting comic books.  I awoke in the hospital one day to the news that someone had apparently stolen one of my kidneys.  Human kidneys, Ryebone tells me, can go for upwards of fifteen grand on the black market.  The doctors told me I had traces of rufelin in my system, though when pressed for an answer Ryebone had no explanation despite my last memory being drinking with him at his apartment.  He said he had been drugged too because when he woke up he discovered that someone had stolen his wallet as well.  As a way to cheer me up he told me about something called "FanExpo" that was held each year down in Toronto and that he wanted me to go with him.  So it was in order to try to keep Ryebone sober for 48 hours and to distract myself from my severely weakened immune system that we made our first trip down to FanExpo.

Fast forward three or four years to August 29/ 2011.  Our third or fourth time down.  We were becoming experts.  For instance we had learned through bitter experience that first year that it is essential to prebuy your tickets online lest you end up standing in line for upwards of two hours with a bunch of smelly, whiny, stereotypically sexually unappealing 30-something comic book geeks who (admittedly) still lived in their parents' basement (sadly I didn't even make that up and am still confused as to how it comes up in casual conversation and how the confessor of such a thing is not mocked and ridiculed by his friends).  It was situations like this, however, that brought to mind these questions of identity vis a vis the inclusion/exclusion social model I discussed above.

For those of you who have not been initiated into the fold the FanExpo is a convention whereby fans of comic books, movies, anime, horror, and video games can come together to meet celebrities in these fields and buy various products.  Mostly the commerce thing.  The main event is the "selling floor": basically a giant open room with a bunch of vendors set up their wares and hundreds of people buy Force FX lightsabers and have impromptu battles.  There is always a section in this main area where some celebrities charge exorbitant amounts to sign autographs.  There's also a fairly expansive video game section where this year they were previewing the newest Assassin's Creed game giving hardcore fans a chance to play it before it hit store shelves.  But the main part is the vendors: commerce and consumerism at its finest.  Walking in this year I felt the same kind of marginilization that I felt in all previous years.

First off I am not a huge comic book fan.  I'm a movie fan.  A video game fan.  Not a fan of casual drinking.  (If something's worth doing, it's worth doing right, goddamnit.)  Like any red-blooded male in North America over the age of one, I have a general knowledge about super heroes and have red and/or owned some comics or graphic novels and have masturbated at least once to some iteration of Catwoman (or a picture of Kristin Bell with a Catwoman mask drawn over her face with a marker).  I knew I was on the very outskirts of the comic book community, but I was unaware of how close I was to the brink.  Diving into the crowd at FanExpo I realized I was on the fringe of the fringe.  I didn't collect runs of individual comics searching through bins to find the numbers I was missing, I couldn't tell you the name of a single artist who drew in my favourite comics (even Alan Moore's collaborator on The Watchmen escapes me at the moment), and I certainly wouldn't have spent money buying the same edition of a comic with slightly different covers.  I knew the classics: Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wolverine.  I had a modest collection of graphic novels at home.  I wore t-shirts with super hero logos on them.  But I was obviously not one of These People, though nobody really seemed to notice but me.  I was acutely aware of the fact that I simply did not belong there.  I was a mere pilgrim: a tourist at best.  While others walked around in various costumes for no good reason other than "they felt like it" (or "their wife/girlfriend wasn't around to nag them") and seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves I was experiencing a strange euphoria brought on by a combination of awe, wonder, and a strange, black substance I had eaten off the floor at lunch mistaking it for a pepperoni that had fallen off my pizza.  (The pepperoni was never heard from again...)

It was an odd spectacle to see pure consumerism laid bare with none of the usual trimmings or social proprieties in place to keep to mob in check.  It was nothing but bare bones stalls piled high with merchandise while the hungry jackals crowded around, pushing, teeth bared, their sweaty fists holding out wads of cash in exchange for some shiny new treasure.  It was intoxicating and I wanted everything to do with it.  I tried my best to join in the frenzy and suddenly I realized another absurdity, a consumerist paradox that only we here in the West would even claim to understand.  For most people the selling floor was The Thing to go to, but in order to get in you had to pay at least $30 for a ticket.  You had to spend money for the privilege of spending even more money inside.  It was bizarre and perverse and not something I think I could ever rationalize to anybody at any other time and place (including myself) but here it just made sense.  You have to spend money to spend money, as the old saying goes.  

In years previous I had tried to make a go of things as a fringe comic book fan, but I swore to myself this year that comics be damned I was here for the deals.  I wasn't going to start randomly buying comics or graphic novels like I had in the past "just because."  I was looking for a few specific things like a few volumes of The Walking Dead, and I was looking for some kick-ass deals, which it turns out I never found.  Instead my first kill was six Star Wars figures for the bargain basement price of $10.  One of them was Lando (Lando!) and the another was the medical droid from EMPIRE who helped Luke after Han rescued him from a cold death on Hoth and spent a (totally not gay) night with him in an improvised shelter waiting for Wedge Antilles and the rest of Rogue Squadron to locate them.  I can't remember the rest, but ten fucking dollars!  That's the shit that gets me hard.  The deals.  I also managed to find my new favourite toy: a twelve inch fully articulated model of Quentin Tarantino as Mr. Brown from RESEVOIR DOGS.  It was totally kick-ass.  It came with sunglasses, two guns, a holster, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and a tiny model of a CD of Like a Virgin that can actually be removed from its tiny case.  I ended up buying a couple of movies and a Superman t-shirt to replace the the police still have.  But no comics or graphic novels of any sort.  It was liberating.  I was finally only buying the shit I really wanted to buy.

Ryebone's adventures were not so visceral however.  He was always the mastermind behind these trips, but this year he seemed to be off of his game.  See, for some reason he's always totally stoked to go down (yes, in that way too) but when we get there he seems to get all flustered.  We'd been there for three hours and I'd joined in the frenzy, but he was still walking around empty-handed.  It was only with my encouragement/chronic beratement that he finally grew some balls and bought the Knightfall series.  I'm not sure why, but Ryebone seemed a little off the whole trip.  Later as we were scouring Toronto for board and video games he ended up driving on a raised platform with tracks intended for a system of streetcars.  About halfway down the street he suddenly swerved to the right over the edge of the platform -a good ten to twelve inch elevation from the street below- screaming like a wild banshee about "the end of things."  At first I was scared, but then I realized we were both buckled in so if we did die and they found our charred corpses no one would ever wrongly suspect the accident of being caused by a case of highway head gone terribly wrong and I was able to calm my already battered nerves.  Then after our little joyride through downtown Toronto we stopped at a small games and hobbies store where after spending three hours at the FanExpo he only reluctantly spent forty bucks on some comics it took him less than ten minutes to decide to spend a hundred dollars on a hardcore edition of Settlers of Catan.  It was well worth the money, don't get me wrong, it was just his erratic behaviour that worried me.  

Perhaps the energy on the selling floor had overloaded his circuits somehow.  Fused his brain.  Besides the raging tides of people pushing us ever onward there was a bevy of characters walking around that had previously only existed in our imaginations or had been separated from us by some kind of transparent screen.  It was a veritable carnival where Freddy Krueger could be seen standing next to Boba Fett.  The Joker could be seen mingling with Lara Croft.  Ghostbusters were rubbing shoulders with Starfleet captains.   Various -and mostly Asian- dudes and dudettes were dressed as anime characters with giant swords that I had no idea who they were.  And young women in varying degrees of hotness (and notness) could be seen rocking every fanboy's ultimate fantasy: the Princess Leia slave outfit.  Ryebone said he felt "kinda dirty" after looking at some of the hotness there, but I didn't really understand.  This was coming from the man whose measuring stick for a mature, adult relationship was the size of the "vag gap" of a potential mate.

All in all the trip was successful insofar as we left hundreds of dollars poorer, had probably caused serious structural damage to Ryebone's car, punched a storm trooper in the nuts, Ryebone had managed to stay sober for almost 34 hours, and I had had my little epiphany about estrangement and marginalization as a philosophically acceptable means of constructing one's identity.  Can't wait for next year.  I'll see you there.

(Just a note: all pictures in this article were taken by me... at last year's FanExpo.  I forgot my camera this year, and I was just going to let it slide, but for the sake of artistic integrity I thought you should know the truth.  Or, at least, whatever version of it works best for now.  Tits.)         



Post a Comment