I did not have the honor of attending the Republican National Committee’s annual nominating convention in Tampa.  Nor have I been blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with the ability to visit the Democratic National Convention’s convention in Charlotte.  Though I’ve been enjoying a bit of live-tweeting during both events, the start of my grad school classes and my new job did not allow me to leave town.

This wasn’t an entire loss: though I didn’t get to go to a political convention, there was one my girlfriend and I could attend: Dragon*Con.

Yes, while everyone else was debating the future of the country at large, we went to the second largest science fiction, fantasy, and gaming convention in the country. And for lack of a more specific term, it was awesome.

For those of you who have never attended a convention, or at least a sci-fi/fantasy convention, let me give you a sense of the scale.  Dragon*Con spans five of the biggest hotels in downtown Atlanta, immersing visitors in four nonstop days of geek culture bliss.  You literally could not walk a hundred feet without seeing someone or something from your favorite comic, movie, or show: a stormtrooper, a super hero or villain, a wizard, a zombie, or something else entirely (check out some images from the parade to get an idea).

All of the programs and events are geared toward major themes, ranging from Star Trek and Star Wars (some of the biggest event tracks) to Lord of the Rings and other fantasy genres, to real-world science and research and even the paranormal.  They have a massive gaming hall where people can play from a range of literally hundreds of card, board, strategy, and tabletop games.  Plenty of demonstrations and dealers are on hand so people can acquire the finest in fan merchandise.

This is no small event.  In 2011, the convention boasted over 46,000 attendees.  While official figures haven’t been released yet for this year, one staff member confirmed before a cast panel for the Walking Dead that Dragon*Con 2012 had experienced a 30% increase from the previous year.  If that increased percentage held for the rest of the convention, that’s just under 60,000 people: MORE people than the number projected to attend the Democratic National Convention AND those that attended the Republican National Convention last week.

Other conventions have been bigger, of course: Comic-Con regularly breaks 100,000 people, with the fourth day of this year’s Golden State Comic-Con maxing out at 130,000 in attendance.  But the increasing scale and profile of these events cannot be understated.  More and more individuals who become enthused with comics, epic movies, and geek culture in general have started involving themselves with events like Dragon*Con and Comic Con as an extension of their hobbies.

In other words, the “geek constituency” is growing.  And it’s about time conservatives made a serious pitch for their support.

Folks on the left have already stepped into the sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming communities.  In 2011, the Democrat Party had a recruitment table just outside event registration at Dragon*Con.  The convention also includes the “Skeptrack” program set, which often features prominent atheists and others who speak on the lack of scientific evidence for religion and the paranormal.

It’s also not uncommon to find geeky media with liberal themes: take, for example, the recent announcement that the newest reboot of DC Comic’s Justice League franchise would feature a gay Green Lantern, or that Superman had renounced his U.S. citizenship because he became tired being seen as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy.  There’s also the racism-inspired Marvel comic Truth, which tells the story of black “test subjects” used to perfect the super-serum that created the white Captain America.

There are a lot of reasons why winning support from members of the sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming community would be an excellent idea for conservatives.

  1. Brains – And no, I’m not talking about the zombies again.  The sci-fi/fantasy community is on the whole extremely intelligent.  These are people who remember complex story lines and minute details from their favorite genres.  Gamers in particular can often analyze complex rules and create unique strategies for their games of choice with very little effort.  And remember, they don’t do this because it’s something they’re paid to do: they do it because it’s fun!
    Conclusion: These are the exact kind of people conservatives would want on their side when there are bendy political arguments to be worked through and historical analyses that need to be done.  This community has the brainpower to do just that kind of thinking, and more.
  2. Passion – Especially in the convention-going community, people share a genuine love for their chosen genres.  Consider all the costumed attendees I mentioned earlier.  Some are simple and involve no more than a few hours of modifying pre-made clothes.  Some, however, are much more complex.  Take, for example, the ever-popular Stormtrooper outfit.  Making a high-quality stormtrooper outfit is a major project, and requires a large amount of work, money, and energy to do properly.  This website’s directions include the heating and vaccum-forming process for all the major armor components, the armor assembly, and any detail work required.  They estimate it taking a minimum of 20 hours for assembly alone and between $645 and $1470 for parts and equipment.  That is a LOT of time and money put into that project.  And that doesn’t include the other artists and performers who specialize in makeup, prosthetics (fake ears, horns, etc.), drawing and painting, sculpting, writing, and all the other artistic skills and energy they devote to their favorite comic, novel, or movie.
    Conclusion: There is a massive amount of untapped energy and potential here.  If conservatives could leverage just a fifth of that passion toward politics, there’s a mind-boggling amount that we could achieve together.
  3.  Expertise – As I mentioned earlier with the Stormtrooper armor above, fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming can drop a lot of money and time into their favorite projects.  But they also need a lot of technical know-how as well – the above instructions require someone to know how to use vaccum-forming equipment and plaster molds.  Leather and metal working are not uncommon skills used for other hobbies, as well.  And that doesn’t even get into modern technological know how – lighting, electronics, videography, computer programming, web design, social media, and potentially hundreds more specialties – that fandom folks specialize in both for fun and for their day jobs.
    Conclusion: If conservatives can make more inroads into the sci-fi/fantasy and gaming community, there is a wealth of collaborative skill and talent that would be of huge benefit to the movement, and potentially the nation at large.
  4. Mobilization – Folks in the sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming communities know how to spread the word about the things they love.  How else would some niche communities grow?  But don’t be fooled by pop-culture’s usually cruel portrayal: these communities are not just small circles of folks in the basement.  They’re often times elaborately constructed international operations. Again focusing on stormtroopers, take as an example the 501st Legion.  Inspired by the unit number of Darth Vader’s elite stormtrooper unit, the 501st is a costuming club focusing on high-quality portrayals of the Imperial military, generating increased interest in Star Wars as a genre, and charity work.  What started as a simple interest in costuming by Star Wars fans has grown into a massive international operation, with hundreds of groups spread out over all six habitable continents.  Another major example of fans mobilizing is the Joss Whedon cult-classic show Firefly, whose fans pushed so hard after Fox cancelled the series prematurely that the follow-up movie, Serenity, was born.
    Conclusion:  Fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming can get stuff done.  It would be awesome if conservatives could win their support and cooperation.

And these are just a few examples.  I didn’t even mention the increasing amount of sci-fi/fantasy literature and film that’s been leaning conservative as of late.  (Batman and Iron Man, anyone?) Oh, and don’t forget to bring your lightsaber.  It might come in handy.

David Giffin | Emory University | @D_Giffin