I’m always skeptical of people who claim to have had a good time at a convention, but I suppose if there is one where it could happen, it might be Comic-Con.
But it’s not the place that I’d think would spawn an actual deep thought. I was wrong.
Joan Khoury managing director and chief marketing officer for Oppenheimer & Co., just returned from Comic-Con, agog at fans who were there, and their boundless enthusiasm. While that would have made me think something like, “Man, these people are crazy,” for her, something a lot more interesting was going on.
She wrote on CMO.com that “the real show is the 150,000 fans from all over the world who plan and prepare all year to become their favorite superhero or character for a few days. There is nothing like waiting in a lunch line behind the Hulk and in front of Captain Kirk. . . I have never seen a group of people anywhere else who are so happy, so passionate, and yes, so engaged in doing anything as I have at Comic-Con.”
On Saturday night, before reading her essay, I thought about modern fandomwhen I caught an alert on Twitter that told me that apparently all over the U.S. and also in several countries, Netflix was not working. On a Saturday night!” Many of the tweets I read from chill-less Netlfix subscribers tweeting with #Netflix down” hashtags were funny, but a few seemed desperate.
The Website Digitaltrends reported, with its tongue at least partly in cheek, “Proving just how easy it is to throw much of the human race into a total and complete tailspin, the Internet collectively freaked out over its inability to access the video streaming service. Because seriously, what else are we supposed to do on a Saturday night? Go out? Please.”
The crisis ended at about midnight, which meant plans to binge watch “Stranger Things” was just about totally ruined.
At Comic-con, that same kind of passion led Khoury to think about book written 66 years ago by Harvard sociologist David Riesman, titled The Lonely Crowd.
In it, he posited that as people had more things to distract them, their relationship with people and things--like jobs, let’s say, or cars--would be, as Khoury put it just a means to an end. Those were what another sociologist had termed “secondary engagements.”
She explained, “Riesman also predicted that in response to ‘too much demand for too little attention,”’ we would develop a ‘psychological veil’ that would screen out some engagements and screen in others. We would focus greater attention on fewer engagements, and our screened-in relationships would become deeper, lasting, and an end in themselves.”
Those are primary engagements. And those are the kind binge viewers, Netflix addicts and Comic-con attendees have, to some degree.
And Pokemon Go players, maybe? And Trump supporters? There are a lot of primary engagements. Once rabid fans--the shortened version of fanatics--seemed to be a small subset of larger society. Possibly because of social media, the ability to fully immerse and feed off of other fans seems easier and more pervasive. Maybe that has something to do with why marketers are so busily trolling there.