What Can We Learn About the Internet From the Disastrous DashCon Convention Last Weekend?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 10:53 AM

(emmagrant01/Tumblr)

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:

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.

Tags:

More in:

Comments [12]

Now we can all hop off the rather shameful Let's All Bash DashCon Bandwagon. We can stop reporting on rumor and innuendo and actually read the official statement that sets the story out rather completely from DashCon's perspective:

"DashCon: Separating Facts from Fiction – An Official Statement" - http://www.dashcon.org

Yes, there were lots and lots and lots of problems, and some of the most critical problems were thanks to the critical failure of one of the members of the management, who failed to communicate with other managing partners about payment terms, ongoing communications with talent, and more. This person is on the way out the door...it's a partnership (LLP), so that is a process until itself. This person left all their files in their room at DashCon.

The ball pit picture is a great shot. Let's take a picture of a room when all the attendees are in their conferences and make that our hallmark. Never mind the happy posts from all sorts of folks before the hotel funds debacle (which is now fully explained). It did not help that the company providing the amusement gear assured folks the gear to be provided was for adults and not kids...DashCon and the company providing the bouncy house and ball pit are working out that embarrassing problem.

DashCon 2015 is already in the planning stages, just as 2014 was this time last year. The management has learned many hard lessons. The 2014 volunteer admins who could not handle the stress or workload will not be back in 2015, and new admins and volunteers who stepped in to carry the weekend forward will be back in 2015 to make it a far better DashCon.

What is far more interesting to me is that the human smell for blood continues every bit as strong as ever, and when folks start to turn against things, many others come forward and join in the "fun". We all love, in our social sphere, to believe we are the well-balanced folks who wait for perspective, but most of us simply smell blood and start bashing the same target no matter what.

For lots of folks DashCon was not a total disaster. For many who _were_ victim to the problems, the damage is being repaired and things made whole.

Remember that DashCon was not about Tumblr, but was about the people who inhabit Tumblr's many interest groups, giving them an opportunity to take their virtualized social media experience into a real space to meet with real people they already know. So much for "social media leading to real-world isolation" as Fox and other upper-60s-to-mid-70s-cable-media networks would have us believe.

Tumblr ain't all kids, folks...there are a lot of us there, of many ages, of many interests. It may tend towards the younger side, but you can stop picturing a kid fair.

DashCon 2014 is now done, and its problems are now revealed, only days after being done. Now we can look forward to a much stronger DashCon 2015 in Indianapolis.

Jul. 18 2014 03:33 PM
FanWriter

So here's the thing--when you put Tumblr in charge of ANYTHING, it's going to crash and burn. Tumblr is mostly inhabited by teenagers. It's essentially the MySpace of the current set of middle/high schoolers.

I knew this, and I went to Dashcon as a vendor. My goods are attractive to this set, but unlike other cons, I didn't even come close to turning a profit.

Some of the more interesting moments:
*No one could tell me where to get my vendor badge. Seriously. No one.

*A girl was causing a scene because there were not any "gender neutral" bathrooms. Look, until society as a whole embraces genders beyond the binary, you're SOL. That's a societal problem, not a hotel problem.

Bottom line:
You put teenagers in charge of something, you get Dashcon.

Jul. 18 2014 12:37 PM
FanWriter

So here's the thing--when you put Tumblr in charge of ANYTHING, it's going to crash and burn. Tumblr is mostly inhabited by teenagers. It's essentially the MySpace of the current set of middle/high schoolers.

I knew this, and I went to Dashcon as a vendor. My goods are attractive to this set, but unlike other cons, I didn't even come close to turning a profit.

Some of the more interesting moments:
*No one could tell me where to get my vendor badge. Seriously. No one.

*A girl was causing a scene because there were not any "gender neutral" bathrooms. Look, until society as a whole embraces genders beyond the binary, you're SOL. That's a societal problem, not a hotel problem.

Bottom line:
You put teenagers in charge of something, you get Dashcon.

Jul. 18 2014 12:36 PM
Jared Davis

I've been going to the fan organized Winkie Convention since 2010. It's for fans of The Wizard of Oz and is a good example of organization for a fan operated event and making good use of resources. Often regular attendees fill panels or host events. Special guests are welcomed with open arms, given the royal treatment, and any promised fee. They've managed to even improvise programming when someone can't make it at the last minute. Looks like this year's DashCon was a polar opposite.

Jul. 17 2014 08:55 AM
S

Justus: That's exactly what he's saying.

"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's entire article about how fandom has no leaders,is organic and is free flowing so it can't possibly work when it comes to "Real Life" or "Exists in the world" that fandom is a nebulous concept with no real world application.

He didn't say anything about other cons at all, only on the fact that fandom isn't equipped to create such an event. No comparison to other well run events, or anything of that nature. He didn't say anything about the work it take into a con, just side lining and semi-demeaning comments like, "But 5,000 reblogs of your Sherlock fan art doesn't necessarily translate to thousands of attendees at your real-world conference" because /no one ever thought that/ ever. Who would and what is that point of the comment?

As to, "This is not to say Tumblr's fan communities shouldn't try to organize a convention again in the future." Tumblr fan's have /already/ had con's, there are already more coming around. Dashcon is it's own beast and not a total reflection on fandom as a whole which is what this article paints it to be.

Jul. 16 2014 02:12 PM
Rosemary from Los Angeles, CA

Your point is valid about organizing a convention based on fandom, but there is definitely a couple of outliers that proves your article wrong.

First: Dr. Who/ Gallifrey One (who I am friends with the organizers) is a fan based convention that has been run very successfully for numerous years by fans for fans. They sell out almost immediately, and have some of the biggest names of the whole series show up to the convention.

Second: My Little Pony conventions. I know a lot of people are not fans of bronies, but they have come to organize very fun and successful conventions based on one fandom. The new series has only been around since 2010, which is a very short time to start up a convention and have it be successful. BronyCon in Baltimore, MD is the biggest convention run by bronies and has been extremely successful. They usually garner some of the biggest names of the show, including the main voice actors and writers. Since then numerous conventions have popped up around the WORLD! I had the pleasure of going to the now defunct Equestria LA (cancelled because of time management on the organizers' parts), and it was one of the best run and most enjoyable conventions I've gone to.
On the flip side of My Little Pony conventions is Las Pegasus which was on the same par as DashCon. When I heard about the folly which was DashCon, I immediately thought of Las Pegasus. Same missing money, unpaid hotel bills, and many unanswered questions.

But you seem to be forgetting the longest running and biggest, earliest fandom known to the current generations: Star Trek conventions.
These conventions were the genesis of fan conventions as we know it. Having the stars come out to see their fans, plenty of unique and rare merchandise, fans coming together to talk about their theories and interpretations of the show, dressing up in costumes (cosplaying) to reflect which character they liked the best, this WAS the birth of a new group of people. The coming together of the nerds. A place where a fanatic could express them self without feeling ridiculed.

To say that DashCon was a failure because it was organized by a bunch of separate fans is just not accurate. DashCon failed because the people who organized it were corrupt and had no idea what they were doing. If they truly want DashCon to work, they will learn from their mistakes, and make better choices (smaller venue, not making promises they know they can't keep, not charging $65 for a FIRST TIME CON [I have another story about that], etc). If DashCon really wanted to be successful, they wouldn't have pulled the stunts they did. First time cons can work, but only with organizers who will them to.

Jul. 16 2014 12:52 AM
Justus

Dev, Liz, and S: The author of this article never said that fandoms can't or shouldn't have cons, or that fancons never work, or that "fandom can't run things," or anything like that. What he did say was that cons are way more work than you would expect if you were just participating in online fandom, and that simply being a fan does not by itself qualify you to run a con. Fandoms can organize and run plenty of great stuff, but passion is no substitute for experience, training, or research.

Anthony: You're the one posting about how much you don't care about an internet news story, on that story itself. Not sure how you get off calling others losers and nerds.

Jul. 15 2014 11:22 PM
Dev

Yaoi-con was a fan run, multi-fandom based con for 10 years before it was bought by DMP and became an industry con. It was grass-roots started, organized and very successful. DashCon does not represent a failure of fandom being able to organize itself. Fandom, with the right people involved, organizes itself just fine and has for years and years. THIS con was a disaster and the only thing to learn from it was that THIS con was poorly organized.

Jul. 15 2014 09:07 PM
Liz

You don't actually seem to have researched fan conventions at all. Every year there are dozens of successful fan conventions that don't crash and burn as spectacularly as DashCon. There are certainly some memorable failures (Tentmoot, Las Pegasus Unicon, etc), but they're the exception. Successful conventions have even come from tumblr fandoms, like Sherlock Seattle and 221B Con.

While online fandom is indeed somewhat organic and leaderless (although BNFs always emerge), it also contains plenty of people who are capable of leading and of planning a successful event. The DashCon organizers, on the other hand, were naive, overly ambitious, overly optimistic, and incompetent.

Jul. 15 2014 08:03 PM
Anthony from Chicago

Losers. Nerds. Who cares?

Jul. 15 2014 05:03 PM
S

There are many fandom run cons that run just fine, (you mentioned Scott McCall, there are a few teen wolf fandom run cons this year, a few that went great and a couple more to come) dashcon isn't an example of how fandom can't run things. Dashcon is an example of dashson, it's so bad nothing can compare.

Jul. 15 2014 04:57 PM
kc

Great writeup. It's good to remember that until relatively recently, all scifi conventions were essentially fan-organized and fan-run (Gallifrey One has been around for nearly 25 years) but that 'amateur' didn't need to mean unorganized.

Jul. 15 2014 12:32 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Supported by

 

Embed the TLDR podcast player

TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. You can subscribe to our podcast here. You can follow our blog here. We’re also on Twitter, and we play Team Fortress 2 more or less constantly, so find us there if you like to communicate via computer games from six years ago.

Subscribe to Podcast iTunes RSS

Feeds