Tuesday, July 17, 2012

To the Stars

According to the Mayan calendar, the world might end on my birthday. If it does, then this past Comic Con will go down as the best ever. It's doubtful it can be topped. But not for any of the reasons this io9 article cites. No, gentle readers, the reason is because of Starship Smackdown, a panel that may have to be retired given what happened on Sunday.


Starship Smackdown has been a part of Comic Con since there were comic books there and you could just drive down Saturday, park at the convention center and buy a ticket. It was big, but not even close to what it is now. Panels were about comics and writing and art and there weren't more studio executives there than fans. If you wanted to go to panels, then you went. If you saw Neil Gaiman, you talked to him. The conversations in the hotel bars generally devolved into the old "who would win" argument. Could Batman beat up Superman? Can anyone take the Hulk? Who would win in a space battle - the Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon? Then Comic Con began to get commercialized and corporatized. But oh, how we now long for those heady days because it's out of fucking control now. Starship Smackdown was, in part, a reaction to that corporatization but I don't know if any of us could have predicted the madness that has come. The point of Smackdown is to have some silly fun at the expense of people who take this stuff too seriously (i.e., most of the panelists).

It's the last panel at Comic Con, it's usually in small rooms, and it always runs late. But there was a LINE this year. And the room was packed. We've got some terrific faithful attendees who pitch in with enthusiasm. And even though our reasons for why one ship would defeat another are completely and utterly stupid and sometimes nonsensical (hopefully always funny),  a shared love for science fiction is at the heart of the panel.

So when we heard that Neil DeGrasse Tyson, celebrity astrophysicist, had come to this year's Smackdown, we were beyond excited. Like, we quantifiably moved beyond the point of excitement. Because THAT dude is a giant in the field. And what he brings to science and space travel is an unparalleled excitement and enthusiasm that pulls everyone along in his wake.

What we didn't know was how long he would even stay. He probably wasn't expecting scholarly dissertation but I'm not sure he was expecting... well, what he got. But he stayed the whole time. And when the final battle came down to the original Enterprise and the Enterprise refit from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, our fearless moderator asked the audience who THEY thought would win. The guy who grabbed the microphone was Neil DeGrasse Tyson and he made one of the most eloquent, impassioned defenses of inspiration, imagination and creative vision that has ever been said. AT OUR FUCKING PANEL. That was sponsored by the Tyrell Corporation and not Marvel. Some quick-witted soul recorded it:

Maybe the cheers for the Marvel presentation were louder in Hall H but there is no Goddam way that there was a more honest, joyous explosion than there was at Smackdown. This was totally spontaneous and unplanned. For a few minutes, Comic Con was the convention of the past, where naked, honest joy and enthusiasm was its heartbeat and every second wasn't calculated and planned by a group of marketing executives. It was as if this wonderful man had created time travel and we all went back to that first moment of inspiration, whatever it was for each of us. And it didn't matter if we all liked different things because the minutiae was unimportant. It was about an organic shared experience.

We are being constantly bombarded and inundated with information and I think we can lose sight of why we love what we love, and why we do what we do. I don't think Neil DeGrasse Tyson has ever lost that and he shared that purity with everyone in that room. Everyone was completely lost in it. Most people had already gone home, exhausted after days spent watching Hollywood spin stuff to them, and I think they missed out on the best moment I've had at Comic Con EVER. You can't manufacture those moments, no matter how hard you try. And if things are ringing hollow and you have to try to be enthusiastic about this stuff they hurl at you, then back off, man. Watch or read that thing that made you who you are, or who you want to be. Live in that moment again.

I'm sorry you missed it.

P.S. -- Unsurprisingly, the only press where this was mentioned is here. People on Twitter talked about it and there's been mention of it on blogs, but as far as science fiction and media blogs go, zippo. Which makes sense, I suppose, since everybody's bought into the shit the corporations are selling. I would like to have been pleasantly surprised, though.


Horace said...

Way to break it on down, Kaye!

For some of us who attend Comic-Con every year, Starship Smackdown is THE panel. Not Hall H. Not Ballroom 20.

It starts with the panelists. Their knowledge of and passion for everything sci-fi is infectious. It's why people keep coming back. Frankly, I can't imagine Comic-Con without Starship Smackdown. You guys RULE!

pbmom said...

This man needs to run for president.

Misha The Robot said...

By the way, here's a closer angle on the man and the speech. I missed the beginning, though, and was too excited afterward to do anything properly with the cameraphone.


Unknown said...

Another of Dr. Tyson's famous pronouncements is that "We Stopped Dreaming". It's clear from his passion and the audience response re: the Enterprise: no, we haven't. And that's wonderful.

Angelle Haney Gullett said...

NDGT just choked me up a little. Thanks, Kay. I needed that.

Pai said...

Lord, I nearly teared up listening to his describe the Enterprise's design so beautifully. It is exactly how I feel about the ship, myself (though I love the NCC-1701-D the best).