Comic-Con Upstream of the Conventions
By Mark Rodgers
Malia Obama and I have at least one thing in common, we both agree that culture is upstream of politics.
I have attended the last five Republican conventions, but this time opted for San Diego Comic-Con. She decided on Lollapalooza. Dare I suggest that they may matter more than our relative parties' conventions?
For those of you who might have thought of the recent San Diego Comic-Con as a silly, costume-laden affair, it may be worth noting that the 130,000 attendees fought online to get tickets. Estimates are that over a million people tried to purchase one. In 2008, Comic-Con sold out for the first time ever. Last year, it sold out in 93 minutes. In 2014, it took less than 75 min and this year just 40 min. Lollapalooza is one of the country's largest music festivals, was held over four days in Chicago with about 160,000 in attendance.
So, did we choose the gatherings with more impact? Let's compare.
Founded in 1970, it took Comic-Con four years for attendance to hit 1,000 people. In 1989, it had over 10,000 . . . in 2001, over 50,000 . . . in 2005, it crossed the 100,000 mark . . . and for the past few years, it's been filled to capacity with over 130,000 attendees. There were 2,472 delegates at the Republican convention, but to be fair, there were 15,000 members of the media and the police estimated that 18,349 participated in protests and other “special events” throughout the week. At least 21 Republican senators decided not to attend this year's convention.
Of course, Comic-Con is known for it's attire, called cosplay. I actually joined in, wearing my Fred Rogers "It's Good in the Hood" tee-shirt while my wife, Leanne, was more aptly dressed as a sophisticated Wonder Woman. About 1% of attendees dress up. But the Republican convention should be given it's due, and based on my experience the percentage of attendees in outrageous attire is closer to 10%, whether they know they are in costume or not. Good try, Republicans, but to really compete you need to move beyond elephant-nose hats and cowboy boots.
Republicans got Scott Baio of Happy Days, Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty and Kimberlin Brown of The Young and the Restless! In contrast, and by definition, Comic-Con was a celebrity showcase. The casts of most of the big Hollywood summer and fall hits, including Will Smith, John Goodman, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Platt, made their appearances. And other celebrities went incognito just to enjoy the convention.
WINNER (hands down): Comic-Con
One would think that Comic-Con was all fantasy and spandex, and the convention about gravity and consequence, but there was an odd role-reversal this year. From a panel led by Oliver Stone on his new film Snowden to a sold out panel with Congressman John Lewis to discuss his graphic novel series on the Civil Rights movement, issue-oriented conversations leapt and bound. There were panels on censorship, LGBTQ and education policy, while most panels I attended regardless of their topic touched on social and political matters. But let's be honest, even though the Republican convention was plagued with plagiarism, it did produce a 66-page, small font, single-spaced Party Platform.
Generational, socio-economic and racial diversity were on full display at Comic-Con. One of the top conversations was the rise of women as writers, illustrators and even executives. Addressing racial issues via comic characters was a prominent topic. Comic retailers reported that for another year the top area of growth in term of customers were women 17-30. The Republican convention did its best to show diversity from the stage, but according to the Washington Post, the party sent fewer black delegates to this convention than at any point in the past century: 18 African-Americans out of 2,472 total delegates. Women were well represented, but Millennials were few and far between, according to convention speaker, Charlie Kirk, head of Turning Point USA, who said “I think this whole convention can just be summed up as a reckoning from the older generation.”
6. Economic Impact
In recent years, Comic-Con has generated around $165 million in revenue annually for the city of San Diego. And that's a conservative figure. Two years ago, Forbes.com said it was more like $193 million. This is close to the local consequence of the Republican Convention, which has been reported to be about $180 million. An interesting cultural side note is that in 2004 Broadway ticket sales sunk when the RNC came to New York City.
Comic-Con runs the entire event with just 20 to 30 full-time employees, with an estimated budget of $9 million. What makes it doubly efficient is that it receives help from approximately 3,000 volunteers. The Republican convention cost more than $60 million to produce, and relies heavily on contractors. Which one should fiscally-conscience conservatives be proud of?
8. God, Guns and Patriotism
There were lots of guns at Comic-Con. A lot of them, but with orange tips. There were also Captain Americas, and all other sorts of defenders of liberty. But there was not as much talk about God, at least not as much as you would find at the Republican convention. But being based in San Diego, surrounded by military bases, Comic-Con felt very rooted in the American experience. I was reminded that American culture is one of our key exports and a critical soft power asset. But there is no way to overestimate the commitment to God, guns and America expressed at the Republican convention.
Over the course of the Comic-Con's four-day convention, there's at least 500 to 600 hours worth of programming . . . with over 600 separate events. As Stan Lee famously says, " 'Nuff said!"
So is culture more important than politics? Trump's convention speech was watched by 32.2 million viewers. Let's compare this to just one of the properties on display at Comic-Con. Ticket sales from Star War's The Force Awakens totaled more than $250 million on opening weekend, which at $10 a ticket is 25 million people. And that's just one movie.
I am not ready to concede (yet) that Comic-Con is more consequential than the Republican convention, but I do believe that culture is upstream of politics. And too many people concerned about the culture spend too much of their time in politics.
WINNER: Toss-Up Image via https://www.flickr.com/photos/wbmstr/27974595224