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23 July 2014 @ 07:50 pm
DashCon and the Downside to Fandom Ascendance  
My little corner of the Internet has been on fire lately about DashCon, the first convention by Tumblr users, for Tumblr users. I don't really mention it much, but I am a proud Tumblr-er (Tumblee?) - not so proud that I can't see and sometimes mock the worst things about the site. I vaguely remember when DashCon wasn't (to use the parlance of the web) A Thing yet, merely an idea. And I remember thinking, "By users, for users? Yikes!" Because I have been involved with conferences in the past and they are not easy to put on. So much goes on in the lead-up, and so much more behind the scenes during the event, that attendees aren't privy to. So I kind of wrote it off as one of those oft-wished-for but never-to-be trips, marked by this conversation: "We really should all go visit the Grand Canyon." "Yeah, really, let's do it!" And then no one actually does anything.

I then didn't hear anything about it until about a week before, when the Baker Street Babes started promoing their involvement. I honestly thought it was a super lame thing, like a glorified liveblogging scenario. And then that Sunday, I saw my Dash blowing up with complaints from the Babes and others and "an hour in the ball pit" memes. So I did my digging and found out what I had suspected: DashCon failed horribly. From the oft-mocked ball pit to the shady $17,000 fundraiser the day of the Con to the walk-out of prominent guests Welcome to Night Vale and more, almost nothing had gone to plan. And some people are taking great amusement in this, but I just can't. Some people are out a lot of money on this, some kids ended up in tears, hotel staff got mistreated, and the DashCon name is forever tarnished. The admins (who really should probably call themselves owners or managers) released a statement addressing some of the issues people have raised. It's a start, if a sort of mediocre one. It will take a very long time to completely sort out fact from fiction and heresay from actual occurances. But regardless of the reasons, DashCon 2014 was a disaster. The ways in which in failed, though, are uniquely Tumblr (and, again I say this as an avid Tumblee and fan of the site).

For instance, there's a popular post I've seen a few times about Tumblr collectively freaking out over things without bothering to fact-check it at all. The result being mass panic/anger/sadness for no reason at all. This is precisely what happened during the Great $17K Drive of July 12: someone (a member of DashCon's senior staff) said that the reason for the emergency drive was that the hotel didn't like the people at the Con. And people believed this and began to get angry, calling the hotel, enlisting parents to call the hotel, yelling at staff. Thus the fundraiser became a statement, a form of protest against TPTB for mistreating the Con-goers. And the hotel staff didn't know why the money was needed, since it was a matter between DashCon LLP and upper management of the hotel, and so people freaked about that, assuming it was a scam or a trick by the organizers. Because Tumblr is also quick to withdraw its favor and glacial in returning it, if ever (see: Steven Moffat, Martin Freeman). The whole thing would have been much calmer had people not jumped to conclusions and thought things through more (and, obviously, if the admins had done a better job with drawing up the contract).

Tumblr is also primarily a fan site in practice, and they enjoy a comparatively unique relationship with the creators, actors, etc. of their favored content. Prominent authors like John Green and Neil Gaiman, actors like Mark Ruffalo, and more are fellow Tumblr users, and frequently interact with fans on the site. And many people get really, really excited about this interaction- understandably. But there's also a tendency by a subset of Tumblr fans to believe they are the superfans, or the only true fans, and anything they think is 100% right and good and anyone else is horrible and wrong. So there's often entitlement of some kind, that by virtue of being fans they deserve to have their whims catered to and their headcanons... canonized. To whit, the #AskSupernatural Twitter abusefest, with fans decrying the lack of an explicit, canon Destiel (Dean and Castiel) romantic relationship and all but demanding that it be included next season.

It's especially frustrating to me because I can sort of see why they feel this entitlement. When Tumblr unites, even within just one fandom, it makes waves and changes things- or at least appears to. Examples being the salvation of "Community" from cancelation the first time and its pick-up by Netflix after the second. Tumblr fans felt personally responsible for those outcomes, for changing the minds of TPTB. And maybe they even did have some effect. But then they take it to an extreme: "We saved your show! Now you owe us X, Y and Z!" And then "How dare they betray us fans by not doing those things!" I am a content creator myself, and I've wrestled with the relationship between a writer and her audience in the past. But ultimately I think the author's, artist's, writer's, producer's, etc. vision is more important than the fans', because these people actually created the beloved product.

Fans often end up contributing to the product in myriad ways, though, blurring these lines a bit. Headcanons are huge business on Tumblr, where people's individual interpretations of the characters, events etc. are shared and built upon. Fanfiction and fanart abounds, with myriad AUs using the characters in new ways. And there's nothing wrong with this on the surface of it. (Don't get me started on people who published their fanfic as original work, though). These people have talent and are sharing it with the world, honoring the original work they love so much and devote so much passion to. And, in fanfiction especially, you get a great back-and-forth going, with critiques and comments spurring even more improvement and growth. What's more, they often take prompts or submissions and help their peers realize their own visions. The most talented of them all become almost celebrities in their own right, the height of fandom success. And then, some/many of them go even further, parlaying their skills into IRL careers like Cassandra Clare has. The issues then bleed together: fans feel even MORE like they "made" this person and launched them to fame, and so expect even more accommodation. If you read accounts of the planning stages of DashCon, there's talk of having the A-est of he A list stars come, with little regard for the cost of the venture. I really think they thought they could negotiate a freakishly cheap rate by virtue of being fans/superfans. Then, they wanted fanworks donated to an auction to help fund the venture. And the big names that would attract a larger share of bidders all wanted compensation; they weren't doing pro-bono stuff anymore, because they're making a career out of it. This probably created resentment and confusion, and definitely made the organizers have to come up with alternative plans, which was not their strong suit. It takes training and life experience to draw on to find ways to overcome this initial setback.

They were scrambling to do so. They tried an ill-advised web series to advertise. They tried a Kickstarter. I really believe that the people running it expected that others in the Tumblr world would be more willing to help, for free or nearly free. Tumblr is a close-knit community (in spite of how it may appear above) and users look out for each other. Signal-boosting, reblogging a post about an important issue even when it doesn't match your blog's theme in order to spread it as far as possible, is commonplace. And after fluffy chicken girl, posts saying "If I get to 100K notes, my mom will let me X" have exploded. And I've yet to see one not reach its total. Fan groups also organize fundraisers, like the one for Benedict Cumberbatch's birthday*, to help charities and make a real difference. When they band together, Tumblees really can accomplish great things.

And I guess that's why DashCon was so very disappointing to me, and to so many. Tumblr users have made great things happen for other Tumblr users. But coordination was never an issue online; people reblog a post when they have time to do so or chip in on a PayPal when they get a spare dollar. They can leave asks until the next day and RP with friends across time zones at a mutually-convenient time. Conventions aren't like that. Things must happen at a prescribed time and in a prescribed way. Planning sessions need to be mandatory and messaging consistent way in advance of any event actually occurring. Consequences for not doing so are more immediate and severe; you can't just go offline for a few days or delete your blog and change your url. And throughout, this coordination was lacking. Communication was lacking, and it showed in the final event. DashCon's management has fired two people who were responsible, they say, for the biggest screw-ups. That's an admirable step. But this thing was flawed from the beginning, because organizing on the Internet and doing so IRL are vastly different. You need logistics, accountability and delegation (i.e. telling people what to do and when), which are anathema to the ethos of the Internet at large and Tumblr (or the type of user who would attend a thing like this) specifically.

DashCon's official Tumblr notes, "Basically, we're a group of random strangers that came together to do something amazing. And, through our interactions, we've formed a bit of a family. We've come to care about each other and look to one another for support and friendship, well beyond the confines of a 'normal' business. Because we are Tumblr users, and that's simply what we do." Support and friendship is the name of the game on Tumblr**, and I like that. That shouldn't change. Fandoms can be wonderful, uplifting and fulfilling things; indeed, universal consensus was that even if the Con sucked, it was worth going to meet friends. Even the failures- the $17K, the WTNV panel ridiculousness- showed the capacity of Tumblr users to come together and commiserate, to support each other's goals. They're just better at doing it through Les Mis sing-a-longs and three-finger salutes than five-figure events. You can't run a convention off of good feelings and take-my-word-for-its, but you can create a community that merits a five-figure event. Just find someone with experience to do it, even if you have to look outside your Tumblr family.

* Linking to the source of your content is a cardinal rule on Tumblr, and one I've tried to follow throughout this post. But the layout of the original user's page made it literally impossible to properly read the post, so I had to go with a reblog for legibility's sake.

**aside from the people who really attack other users and shame them and make it an awful experience for everyone. But all of Tumblr hates them anyway.
I'm feeling: compassionate
Listening to: Wheel of Fortune