BayCon 2013 review
The following are my impressions and reviews of BayCon 2013 – which is held in Silicon Valley every year. IN short – this is my hometown con. It’s well established, but its foundation seems to be crumbling.
Before I begin, I am going to use some fan lingo terms that may require translation for the uninitiated. They are:
- Faan (noun): A fan who is interested more in fans and fandom than in enjoying science fiction or fantasy. The more A’s in faan the more the more the person considers themselves “more fannish than thou.”
- Media (noun): All forms of science fiction, fantasy and supernatural horror that are not strict;y print. This is mostly (but not limited to) TV and film.
- Sercon (noun): Serious and constructive criticism; not fanboy blind praise and not mere bitching and moaning. I strive to make this a sercon review of BayCon 2013.
If BayCon is happy being what it is, then it should ditch its self description: “the San Francisco Bay Area’s Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention” – which is a wrong – on many levels. And rebrand itself as what it has become: a small, intimate con for writers and makers.
If BayCon billed itself as a convention for writers and wannabe writers – then it is an astounding success. Panels run by writers for writers and apiring writers were – by and large excellent in both calibre and depth.
The new DIY room – where kids were taught to make sock zombies to beginning and advanced costuming techniques was a hit. The gaming room was fun and a great place to play new games with old friends, old games with new friends and any other combinations of the two.
After official programming is over, BayCon blooms into a completely different event. The Party Floor is a great idea – and way of meeting new people – and new fandoms. Some standouts were the Klingon party (and slave auction) and Con-Volution suite meet and greet. Although this floor is strictly for adults – it was the most fun I had at the con. (That said, I was too afraid to go into the BDSM room for fear of being mocked for being shocked. 8-| )
If BayCon wants to be “the San Francisco Bay Area’s Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention” – it has some major changes to make. The 12- country San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area has a population of 8.5 million. Expanding that out the entire Northern California region – it’s closer to 15 million people within car commute distance. If I had to guess, I would suspect that BayCon’s draw was less than 2,000
Amateurish web presence
Perhaps the most puzzling and frustrating aspect of BayCon – which bills itself as *the* SF con for the region that inclused Silicon Valley is its web presence (or lack thereof. The wbesite (http://www.baycon.org) is – to be nice – about a decade behind other cons. The program grid was not made public until a couple days before the con door opened – not even a preliminary program grid was made available.
The social media presence is limited to a general discussion group of Facebook – with the occasional “this is not official” disclaimer to remind people that Silicon Valley’s SF Con is not interested intech savvy fans.
Lots of gray
BayCon is 31 years old and is showing its age. It is not adapting with the changing face of fandom. The only people I saw there under age 35 were either the kids/grandkids of attendees, or first timers who looked bored and disappeared by Sunday. I’d put the median age of the event at about 40 – that’s including all the children who were mostly bored – the median age of actual attendees: I’d say it was probably in the 47-52 age range. This does not bode well if this con wants to last another 31 years. BayCOn is more for writers and faans than it is for fans.
The message of the Baby Boomer-centric atmosphere is that unless you are a kid/grandkid of an attendee, the con is not interested in you is you are born after 1964. Which bring me to my next question:
Where is the Media?
While it is understandable that those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, that SF is a literary (print and comics) fandom – for most people born after 1970 … SF/F fandom is dominated by TV, film, and more recently – video games & the Internet.
The vast majority of SF and F-themed sales to consumers (fans) are TV and film related.
Baycon, on other hand, had panel programming for media fans that was limited to a 1 TV Panel Discussion on Star Trek comparing old Roddenberry vs new JJ Abrams Trek – helod Friday @ 4 p.m. As for Film, it also had 1 panel presentation: Disney: Taking Over the Wold, One Fandom at a Time, which was held at 9 a.m. on Saturday … then nothing until a Monday at 11 – a discussion of James Bond vs. Doctor Who. That’s it. Three panelsthat actually cover TV and film.
That alone is disappointing. But what is infuriating is this: one of the guests was David J. Peterson.
So, what, you may ask? Well, he is the guy who created the Dothraki and High Valyrian languages for HBO’s Game of Thrones. Wow. He also created all of the alien languages *and* religions on Syfy Channel’s Defiance TV series – which was just renewed for a second season.He spoke at two panels:
- World Building Basics – for writers – with 5 other panelists
- How to Create a Language for a SF/F World – for writers
That’s it. Not only was he *not* on a Game of Thrones panel at BayCon … there were NO Game of Thones panels at BayCon at all. None. Needless to say, there was nothing on Defience, either.
Now, just imagine this from a business perspective. You run a Con – your goal is to appeal to as many fans as possible to get attendance up. There is a current TV show on HBO that is a popular – and controversial – adaptation of a best selling book series. And one of your ace-in-the-hole guests known behind the scenes facts and was instrucmental in the boke-to-TV process.
And you do nothing in regard to Game of Thrones at all.
The bitter person in me says for this idiocy (and it is stupid) alone – for the benefit of the fannish community in the SF Bay Area – BayCon needs to be put out of out misery – we, as fans, deserve much better
But this brings me to my next point:
Lack of Smart Use of Talent
It is obvious that BayCon’s method is one or the other:
- Make a list of panels
- Decide which ones to do
- Find panelists to to them – even if the fit is tenuous.
- Panel is pitched by prepared person
- If accepted, Person is named moderator.
You can tell the differences.
The first type almost always end up with at least one panelist who is an ego masturbator 0 someone with with a very tenuous reason to be behind the table (they are usually either a semi-published ‘writer” eager for attention who puffed up qualifications, or are a friend or member of staff who is up there because of who they know instead of what they know). This person usually talks way to much – orally justifying their place in the world rather than saying anything germane to the topic at hand.
The second type is usually focused, enlightening and enjoyable.
[Note: I am not going into the BOF (birds of a feather) roundtables – because they are not panels, have no real agenda dn vary in quality too much to be reviewed.]
My suggestions are these. I think they address the youth and rathr limited focus BayCon currently has:
BayCon Needs Tracked Programming
The con should split its programming into the following groups:
- Main Programming: Opening/Closing, GoH, etc.
- Workshops/Rooms: Writer’s Workshop, DIY, Gaming, Art Auction, etc.
- Programming Tracks: Writer’s track, Science/Tech Track, Literature Track, Media Track, Family Friendly Track, etc.
- Events/Concerts: Masquerade, Concerts, Dances
The track lives in one room all day. For example, If the San Thomas room is the Media Track room, all media panels are in that room. Each program track should be set up that each track has a Coordinator – this is a member of staff who reports to the Programming Coordinator – but is responsible for coming up with 4-days worth of programming for that track.
BayCon needs a year-round, more professional and consistent social media and web presence
- Ditch the dusty, out-dated website layout that makes the con look 20 years out of date.
- There should be an official Facebook presence that cultivates relationships and actively seeks to remain relevant to current and new fans.
Stop Blaming Your Weaknesses on Other Cons
Everytime I asked about the low turnout this year, most staff member s got defensive and said there are three other cons going on and that’s why. I disagree. SF/F is a huge category – there is much more out there than folks who only want to focus on Anime or Steampunk or Gaming.
I also see it as a false argument for a con claiming to be a general SF con. Other cons would not have sprung up on the same weekend is they thought BayCon was competition.
I see BayCon as facing a hard choice: It already is being considered a niche con – a con for writers. It can embrace that and stop lying by saying it is a general interest Science Fiction convention – when it is not.
On the other hand – BayCon can stop navel gazing and start paying attention to the rest of the world – and adapt to it.
David Speakman has spent more than two decades as a writer/editor, photographer, graphic designer and manager of creative teams in broadcast, print and the Internet. His education is in journalism, graphic design, organizational communication and law.
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