by Randy Fox
If one was looking for evidence of just how much geek culture has crossed over and consumed the mainstream of America, the place to be this weekend was the Nashville Convention Center. In what must be one of the most epic confluences ever, the Full Moon Tattoo & Horror Festival and the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention simultaneously invaded downtown in a flurry of fishnets, plastic weapons, fake fur, blood, gore and hundreds of black, silk-screened T-shirts.
As you may be able to tell by the title, I’ve been going to assorted geek/nerd “cons,” fests and shows for a quite some time. In fact, the very first convention I attended was the North American Science Fiction Convention in Louisville, Ky., in August of 1979. Just to give you an idea of the world back then, the movie Alien (singular, no numbers) was released just five months earlier. There had been exactly two flesh-eating zombie movies released, both directed by George Romero. The names Jason and Freddy had absolutely no meaning for horror film fans. Tattoos were, for the most part, seen only on sailors, bikers and old carnival folk. And the word “anime” was pretty much unknown in America. Not to mention that fan conventions were still primarily run by fans for fans, and if they broke even on costs, they were considered a rousing success.
Over the last 30 years, the world of fan conventions and shows have become a very big business indeed with all manner of specialization, merchandising and crossovers. But the biggest change I’ve seen has been the growing numbers and variety of people at these events. What was once the private reserve of hardcore subcultures has not just exploded into the mainstream, it has become the mainstream. I knew the world had shifted on its axis when the cute girl from high school — who regarded me as likable, but a complete weirdo 30 years ago because I watched movies like Dawn of the Dead and listened to strange bands like The Ramones — began re-posting Walking Dead memes on Facebook.
Since I’m more of a horror guy, I spent most of the day on the Full Moon side, but of course that didn’t stop me from appreciating the cosplay cavalcade that was going on throughout the convention center and engaging in quite a bit of prime people-watching. And I must point out that the pure strain of classic geek archetypes are still easy to spot — the corpulent, load-mouthed encyclopedic nerd, the scrawny introvert watcher and follower, the chatterbox nerd-cute annoying girl — but in addition to these and many more core species you’re also quite likely to see a lot of the same people you’d see at a Titans game, or a Lady Antebellum concert. And yes, you may even see some of those middle-aged Facebook re-posters waiting to get Norman Reedus’ autograph.
But if there is a part of me that resents the “normal-come-latelys” are now entranced by geekdom, I’m more fascinated by the culture and commerce that my fellow mutants and freaks have created. The fusion of geek culture and D.I.Y. punk ethic may turn out to be the first great achievement of 21st century American pop culture. Just as the great pop culture of the 20th century — movies, pulp fiction, comics, hillbilly music, R&B and rock ’n’ roll — were jump-started by scrappy entrepreneurs, so has such heady partnerships of pop culture obsessions been guided by people like Lone Wolf Tattoo owners Ben & Stacy Dixon, who hit upon the brilliant idea of combining goth-punk, tattoo and horror culture into one weekend that can draw 2,000 fans, or the cabal of Nashville anime fans who have grown their little convention from 300 at the first MTAC in 1999 to the over 5,000 attendees that landed on the Music City this weekend.
Since the “Age of Retro” began in the '90s, creative nerds of all varieties have broken down all aspects of 20th century pop culture into their basic particles, and it’s fascinating to watch how those pieces are now being fused together into something new. That’s why I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the cosplay girls who wandered into the Horror Fest waiting line to get Jerry “The King” Lawler’s autograph, or the pseudo J-Pop band that I overheard playing in one the Anime rooms singing about tattoos and Ace Frehley, or the buzz of dozens of tattoo needles that filled one end of the exhibit hall as people got their fan fav permanently applied to their bodies.
Go ahead and co-opt our culture, Normal America, we’re busy putting the pieces together and creating the next creation of geekdom you can discover further down the line.