ConnectiCon 2015: The Panels

View-changing analyses and pop culture-punctuated histories!

One of the best things about ConnectiCon is its multi-fandom nature and how that affects guest choice and panel content. Sci-fi, animation, gaming, comics, and just about anything you could think of is represented if not by the panel programming then by the costumes of the fans themselves. (Either last year or the year before, I happened to stumble into and stay for a panel on sled dog rearing!) This year, I stuck closer to home (anime, games) but still went to a couple unique panels. After the break, you’ll find gender, visual, audio, cultural, and over analyses; machines that will rule us all and help us all; and the only Q&A session with George Takei!

From the Big Bang Theory to Supernatural: Gender Roles and Stereotypes in Popular Media

After revealing their intention to focus on four main shows (for reasons left unexplained), panelists Emma Dulz and Samuel Rose started off with a definition of cultural gender roles, emphasizing a Western perspective, and bulleted list of sex-specific stereotypes. In sequence, Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, Doctor Who (recent iteration, Matt Smith-heavy), and Hunger Games were examined in terms of character analysis after a short premise summary. After each show, the panelists opened up the floor for questions and comments, and the audience had a tendency to trump the panelists in terms of insight. The panel seemed more conjecture than seriously thought out, but there were interesting tidbits here and there. My favorite observation was how older incarnations of The Doctor were more mature and science oriented, while each new regeneration has a younger body, more stereotypical male traits, and juvenile behavior. (At least up through Matt Smith.) “What I liked most was the end” is often a cruel joke about incompetence, but I mean it literally. The panelists tied together disparate examples of pop media into a single question of “Why is this so important” and ended on the Always-produced “like a girl” commercial. It was a powerful visual punch, and every bit as pop culture as the movies and TV series they showcased.

From Hal to Cortana: A Brief History of AI in Literature, Movies, and Video Games

Invoking the name HAL and experiencing technical difficulties is just a little too perfect. That the presenter became flustered and resorted to using his phone to Wiki his notes was definitely not so. Still, once a groove was found, a groove was kept. He ran through the benchmarks of the AI development timeline, from its very beginnings and in great detail, punctuated with releases of AI-focused media. The history was extensive and extremely interesting, but references to the books, movies, and TV series he mentioned felt lacking; they rarely exemplified a point or demonstrated a cause and effect relationship with reality, which was a shame given the panel’s title but not a deal breaker. The presenter did, after all, spend some time picking apart media examples for how they depicted/defined AI. 

Reading Too Much Into the Slayers

After chowing down a Devil Dog a la Lina Inverse, presenter Jed Blue launched into a presentation conceived as part of a series of dartboard analyses — applying random analyses to random/favorite anime titles to see what sticks. The anime of focus for this panel was Slayers, and the analysis was more character-based with some thematic exploration thrown in for good measure. The panel started strong enough. Jed likened characters to RPG character types or RPG player types with goodly balance of humor and evidence-based comparison. Next, Jed tackled the various seasons while showing what felt like a ton of examples without any association with a larger theme or theory. After 50 minutes of what seemed like quasi-aimless nostalgia wading, a theme appeared: Slayers as carnivalization. This was the meat of the panel. Instead of this association being the last 10 minutes, I would like to have seen this presented as the main theory flushed out with bulleted examples and clips. I really enjoyed how Jed applied this tack and now want to rewatch Slayers with his theory in mind to enjoy the show on a whole other level.

Everybody Complains About Being A Freelancer, Why Do We Do It?

Honestly, I dropped in on this panel because it sounded like it was going to be a bitch session. And freelancing as much as I do, I was totally down for that. I hadn’t read the guidebook description, but it’s comforting to know that the woes of freelancers cross genre and medium borders. And while the two freelancers who’ve worked and continue to work in the gaming business certainly had cautionary tales to tell, they more often than not stressed exactly what the panel promised: their reasons for continuing along the road all too often devoid of “beer and skittles.” In addition to being able to contribute to the creative pool comprising the properties they love and being able to work on such a diverse range of projects, the panelists spoke of down-to-earth matters outside the “fraction of the work” represented by actual writing and designing. Here they spoke of such horrors as taxes, time management, contracts, and (ugh) professionalism. There was also some quick advice to the audience about picking and choosing projects, working outside comfort zones, and schmoozing. With the Why's tapped out on the panelists’ ends, they turned the floor to the audience, and a good time was had by all sharing experiences that sometimes elicited further advice.

Regeneration 101 - Transgender Metaphors in Fandom

If you’re cisgender, your sense of privilege might apply the “Why do panels on topics like this feel like support group meetings?” filter while listening. The answer is, of course, because they are and have to be given the lack of representation in media. As consumers of such, we can subconsciously fall down the slide of basing our concept of normal by what is shown to us. And while LGBQ representation is growing to an almost miniscule amount, the T largely still has to hide in analogy and metaphor, making people have to decode or reinterpret media to find themselves in someone to identify with. And that has to be horribly isolating.

“I feel that if you’re trans, you can really relate to Time Lords.”

To that end, this panel was a win. What began with a personal relation of what transgender means, quickly turned into a dissection of examples from such TV series as Doctor Who, Steven Universe, and Gravity Falls as well as characters such as Captain America, examining how certain aspects could be interpreted as transgender representations. It was, to quote the panelist, “just another instance of literary analysis,” and I found the points well sold and the overall application pretty well done … if only a bit fan-gasmy at points. But, hey, we’re all fans. If you titillate us, do we not sqee?

Explaining Yuri Kuma Arashi

Presented by Natalie and Judith (accompanied by Ginko), this panel remains tied in my memory for best panel of the entire con. After briefly explaining modern day perceptions of lesbians and lesbian life in Japan, content focus shifted to stereotypes in media — specifically “Class S” (beautiful, pure, junior high and high school love) and “Psycho Predator Lesbians” (lecherous, boob-groping opportunists) depictions. From there, the presenters established Ikuhara’s goal of being able to work independently. Tying all of this together, Natalie and Judith examined visuals and themes throughout Yuri (Type S) Kuma (Psycho Predator) Arashi (societal retribution) to explain how Ikuhara was depicting the antagonistic culture in which Japanese lesbians currently live. There was adept character analysis, even covering the nameless class girls as a collective, conformist herd; the picking apart of setting and symbols in relation to various themes; as well as rationale behind some of the architectural references tied to Western media. This is a must-see panel for its excellent content as well as for how tight an essay it is!

Puella Magi Madoka Musica

Presented by Nathan McDonald, this panel also remains tied in my memory for best panel of the entire con. I lack the vocabulary and knowledge base to adequately relay an analysis of music and stand in awe of those who can. McDonald was thorough and precise in leveraging music and video clips just long enough to drive home his points about how music is fundamental to Puella Magi Madoka Magica and how changes in the scoring drive differences between the series and the first wo movies (there was not enough time in the one-hour timeslot to cover Rebellion). Content included breaking down arrangements to reveal musical representations of character as well as relationships with imagery and scene context. As any examination of sound should, McDonald also covered the precise use of silence in certain scenes. This panel, like the other best and the Superflat panel at Genericon, made me immediately want to re-watch the whole of the series and the movies to pay closer attention for an even greater appreciation of the execution.

ConnectiCon Death Match

It’s a shame the audio is cut from the above video (though there are other unofficial videos that can be found), because the roar of the crowd was the real focus of this competition where two cosplayers enter and one leaves … slightly after the other after feigning death. In a mix between cosplay chess and a masquerade, costumed contestants walked out in pairs. The host would hold his hand above the head of each cosplayer, and the crowd would scream (bloody murder) for their favorite. Those who inspired the most popped eardrums and rasped throats got to slay the other and progress to the next round. It was pretty fun to attend, and a good excuse to scream. A bit loud for an ol’ fuddy-duddy like me to endure for long, but the standing room-only crowd in Main Events went nuts for it.

Of Duelists and Drunkards™

18+ panels are a nefarious affair, but if you’re drunk enough or desperate enough, you could do worse than this Manly Battleships production featuring Mr. Panda, Snake, WaterWriter, and Mr. Panda’s sister. Conceived of as a hokey late-night variety show parody crossed with a con nightmares confessional, there were skits, tricks, and stories to laugh at and with. The latter were sometimes interactive; Mr. Panda would recount a tale and have select audience members act it out. The pacing during such sessions led to some humorous false starts and general joviality. There were also a uke ditty and some fun videos, like a cameraman running around to different Deadpool cosplayers and exclaiming, “Spiderman!” (Succession as well as the varied reactions really sold the laughs.) But most important of all was the product release of Loli-Pop, a soda which bears the slogan, “Don’t pop a loli! Pop the top off a Loli-Pop!” It’s obscene and brilliantly perverse. I’ve yet to pop mine, but I’ll be sure to recount the experience when I do.

 

Star Trek, September 11, and the Age of Perpetual War

Panels that run in the first timeslot on Sunday are rough sells, but Jed Blue had about one third of one of the larger panel rooms filled when I arrived (a couple minutes late) and ended up with almost a roomful by the end of his presentation. That this panel retained everyone who walked in would be no surprise if you saw it. The panel started off by exploring the respective influences of what Jed referred to as the four main threads — Gene Roddenberry, Desilu, Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana — of the original Star Trek series. As the title of the panel would suggest, most of the observations were linked to attitudes pertaining to politics, race, and war. This tack, applied to every subsequent Star Trek series, revealed a lot in terms of progression of values as influenced by the times leading up to and of course after the events of 9/11. It was a solid panel, and one that shed light on changes in characters and values between series and even during the airing of specific series.

George Takei Q and A

With his deep, warm voice, George Takei spoke of the humility of drawing so many faces in the chairs facing him. He spoke to the recent loss of his friends and fellow beloved Star Trek actors. He spoke to his parents’ experiences in internment camps and the upcoming Broadway play about them that he hopes will raise awareness and compassion. Takei also spoke of the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and about his own struggle with activism and coming out. He spoke so much and to so many topics that there was very little time for actual Q&A, but no-one seemed to mind. The monologue seemed to take everyone aback with its pensive tone punctuated by humble humor. There were three questions asked, and Takei took his time with each. The first answer revealed an upcoming sequel to his first autobiography in which he speaks to everything he couldn’t previously, the second revealed Richard Burton as Takei’s personal acting hero (as well as a fun story about them in Alaska), and the third question, inquiring about social media pressure (to use it, to censor oneself, etc.), revealed his love for being able to reach people directly and amplify his voice. Regarding the latter, he also took the opportunity to fully explain the intentions of his blackface tweet.

Gaming and Disability: Adaptive Technology and Nerdity

First-time presenter Julia K., with a subject about which she could personally relate and was passionate, started off with a definition of adaptive technology: basically anything that helps those with disabilities do more. Examples ranged from something as simple as using Nintendo’s Super Game Boy as a screen reader and as fantastic as a mouth-manipulated pen with breath controls! She also noted the advent of 3D printing as a boom to custom controllers and accessories. Not all examples of technology were physical however. When citing tech for those with vision impairments, the presenter made the case for things as simple as subtitle font, color, placement, and vibrancy choices as well as presenting information in more than one way (patterns and colors). Regarding the hearing-impaired, Julia went over the importance of captions vs. subtitles for all the information left out of the latter. Cognitive disabilities brought up things one wouldn’t normally think of as helpful but in reality, for those with disabilities and even just new gamers, prove very much so: tutorials, archived in-game text for later reference, difficulty and speed settings, and even something as simple as the humble pause button. In this way, the panel revealed to the empathetically drowsy what is taken for granted can actually be a means of enhancing the quality of life for others. Due to technical difficulties, there were no video clips, which meant the panel ended really early despite starting a little late. Still, it was an eye-opening panel, and I think it’s one that should be run often. For the presenter’s full notes, click here.

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