The Inspiration Behind "At Face Value"
Since the day I was born, I've been a huge nerd. I can remember watching the Star Wars and Harry Potter films continuously from a really young age, wishing that I could be Hermione or Princess Leia. I was completely addicted to video games and spent hours, upon hours, playing on my PS2. I started reading and collecting Beanos when I was about seven years old and, I guess, you could say this was my first endeavour in participatory culture.
As I moved into my teenage phase and gained further access to the internet and social media, this is where I began to engage in fan culture. I was engrossed by science-fiction and fantasy television series, and the online communities that came with them. Twitter became my second-home of sorts, conversing with people from around the world about fanfiction, fan theories and our shared love for the characters and stories we had watched on-screen.
I created my fan account when I was 16, allowing me to create a second persona or public face that I could keep hidden from family or friends (to some extent) and threw myself into the world of fandom. It was exciting, it was daunting, it was...dangerous. Social media and online communities can be very judgemental and damaging at times, considering the idea of "hierarchies" within fandoms, which meant I always tiptoed around disagreements to avoid unwarranted drama.
I took the plunge when I was 17 and attended my first convention: a Once Upon a Time event held in Blackpool. Going to an event where I didn't know another single soul was, of course, scary, but we were all there for the same purpose which meant the atmosphere was wild, giddy and really, really fun. It was a fantastic experience and, despite the expensive price tag, it allowed me to connect with fans in a way I hadn't been able to before. I met so many lovely and wonderful people while I was there, making friendships that I still hold dear to this day.
Because of this, my participation in fan culture obviously became a lot more active, and I attended a similar con the following year. Again, my experience was completely positive and I got to meet so many more interesting people. While I haven't been able to visit any events of this kind in the last two years, I got to see how fans engage with their communities, as well as gain some understanding of the convention industry.
Cut to 2020: we're in the middle of a global pandemic and it's not brilliant. I find myself in my final year of university (a very scary thought indeed) and need a subject area to explore for my multimedia project assignment. Throughout quarantine, I watched as convention companies announced their plans to delay their events or switch them to an online format. These plans, especially the movement towards virtual cons, have been received in a mixed fashion and many fans have voiced their opinions about companies' lack of communication to customers and continuation of extortionate prices despite all events happening at a digital level (e.g. paying extra money to attend an online panel).
From this, I did a little bit of research and discovered that COVID's impact on the convention industry has been quite drastic. Before the pandemic, there was (at least) one convention being held somewhere in the world. It's a multi-billion dollar industry that's had to take a forced sabbatical - surely this is something that needs to be talked about!
So for the next month and a bit, I'll be completing my short video documentary, At Face Value, looking at how Coronavirus has changed how the convention industry works, focusing on the question if virtual commercial cons are the best option. I'll be speaking to fans, people who work in the industry and fan culture experts to get their insights and opinions, as well as to share some amazing stories. It's still very much in the early stages but I can't wait to get started and take you all on this journey with me!