Make no mistake. This year’s Dragon Con, weighing in last weekend in Atlanta, Georgia, at an official number of nearly 80,000 attendees, was another win for the Southeastern fandom convention behemoth. As a volunteer staffer for almost 20 years, I’m so proud of the event and everything it means to our fan culture, and the accomplishment it demonstrates year after year for the fan-run convention scene.
That said, I can’t be the only person who wonders… Where in the hell did all these costume contests come from and why are there so many? Perhaps the staggering volume of costumed competition is par for the course with an event of Dragon Con’s scale. Or perhaps it’s overkill?
There’s the Friday Night Costume Contest, the contest at the Saturday night Georgia Aquarium event, Sunday’s Masquerade, and in-between you have the Cosplay Contest (running inside the Anime and Animation programming), the Star Wars Costume Contest and the Miss Star Trek Universe Pageant. There are even more, sometimes annual and sometimes incidental, that I’ve not even mentioned here.
Perhaps the amount of contests is not so much the question as the redundancy and lack of expressed uniqueness between them. We all know fandom event communications can be a very daunting task, with all the moving parts and volunteer efforts involved. However, observation of this year’s contests brought me some head-scratching contemplation. For example, the Friday contest seemed to only award its top honors to rather understated costumes, and not the spectacular ones featuring impressive props and/or engineering. Was this intentional? Is it within the scope of the contest’s effort to honor the craft of costuming that the more eye-popping efforts should possibly be disallowed and redirected to the Masquerade? Should we, the audience, have this explained and quantified, perhaps? Is there a theme to the contest at the Aquarium? Seems as though there should be: aquatic, maybe? Otherwise, it’s a very redundant event.
Instead of these overlapping areas of coverage, I find myself longing for some of the fun ideas of the past. A favorite of many, the Dawn Look-Alike Contest, was replaced with a clumsily marketed comic book costume contest, eventually named the Page To Stage contest, but not before it had begun to lose traction. Was the trend toward a bit more prudish caution in the elimination of the Dawn contest the wrong path? Should there be a “sexier” contest in the mix? How did the parties responsible manage to fail to make a comic-specific contest a success in this age of comics-to-screen ruling all media? It may very well have been slightly ahead of its time on that front.
Conventions are a constant work in progress, and critique like that within this opinion column is not the be-all, end-all point of view. Hopefully, though, this observation is not the only notion of its sort. When asking other volunteers and attendees for their notions on these exact concerns, nobody had an authoritative answer, and that speaks to a need for Dragon Con to clarify the landscape of these contests, perhaps culling the herd where needed, or replacing and consolidating here and there.
The good part is this: there is never a shortage of amazing and creative cosplay at Dragon Con, and there are abundant ways to pursue bragging rights, prizes and trophies through these exciting expressions of fandom. That is something nobody can argue with, or question, even if the master plan for all the abundant competitions seems a bit murky.