I have spent the past day and a half reading the postmortems on the unofficial Tumblr convention DashCon, trying to wrench some meaning from it. Some point, other than just rubbernecking at what appears to have been a total car crash, which is how a lot of the internet has been treating it.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, a bunch of fan communities on Tumblr came together and "organized" an unaffiliated Tumblr convention called DashCon. It took place in Schaumburg, Il. last weekend, and almost immediately went off the rails. There are so many points of failure, it seems like the best way to describe them is with a bulleted list:
- The convention ended almost before it began, when the organizers informed attendees on the first day that they would be thrown out of the Marriott where the convention was being held unless they raised $17,000 by 10PM. The attendees, who had already paid for their hotel rooms and passes to the convention, literally started throwing money at the organizers, who managed to satisfy the venue and keep the convention going. But, to be fair, $17,000 can buy a lot of stuff.
- The folks behind the wildly popular Welcome to Nightvale podcast dropped out of their appearance the day of the event because the organizers “were unable to pay for our flights, hotel, or performance fee.”
- People who had come to the convention specifically to see Nightvale were offered a conciliatory hour in a child sized ball pit in the middle of a nearly empty conference hall. Seriously.
- Illustrator Noelle Stevenson had to moderate her own panel when her moderator didn’t show up.
- Hotel mints were being given away as competition prizes.
- As a parting gift, many of the panelists were stuck with the costs of their hotel rooms, travel arrangements, etc., all of which the DashCon folks were supposed to cover.
- According to various reliable accounts, the event was troubled from the very beginning.
So here I am trying to glean a point from something that just sounds like a disaster from top to bottom. What is there to learn from this? Well, it speaks a bit to the nature of interaction on the web and how poorly it can translate to the real world.
So much of fandom is organic and has a sort of perpetual motion to it. It requires no organization. Fandoms mutate, coalesce around certain concepts and ideas, and slowly change over time. And if you want, say, Scott McCall to fall in love with Jacob Black in the bathroom at a Denny’s in Lawrence, Kansas, you don’t need to consult anyone. You can just will it into existence. If people like it, it will become part of fan canon.
Fandom works precisely because it has no leaders. People feed off one another's creativity and energy, and you don't need anyone's permission to squirrel your own stories away on your Tumblr. They are yours and they are everyone's. No one's asking permission, no one's organizing them beyond a few hashtags, and no one is "responsible" with keeping the fandom running smoothly.
But to create an event, one that exists in the world, and requires transactions (both socially and monetarily), well, fandom doesn't necessarily equip one to be able to pull that off. It feels like the DashCon organizers were faced with an event that they willed into being, and then required maintenance, follow-through, and organization. And it fell apart.
This is not to say Tumblr's fan communities shouldn't try to organize a convention again in the future. This is not even a problem unique to Tumblr itself. But 5,000 reblogs of your Sherlock fan art doesn't necessarily translate to thousands of attendees at your real-world conference. It only translates to a bunch of $17,000 ball pit jokes.