The protesters were back at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) — the ones hollering about salvation at the the 160,000 or so geeks, creators, actors or people otherwise working. In an odd and accidental convergence, they were less than 200 feet away from a pavilion promoting the movie version of Ender’s Game, a production now more famous for trying to pacify LGBT activists angry about the author’s anti-gay work and beliefs than for being an actual film.
Like the Silver Surfer — a creation of one of his idols, Jack Kirby — author, musician and worldly geek Bob Calhoun heralded what happened as the “real world” began butting heads with normally more private “cult” events as a contributor to Salon in 2009, and his latest effort, Shattering Conventions not only offers a taste of the fan-driven maelstrom that happened this weekend, but ventures far into the fringes of both politics and pop culture.
The ghost of Gonzo looms heavy over the proceedings, but it’s an understandable association; it’s tough not to think of Hunter S. Thompson in reading about Calhoun’s attempt to sneak into the Hemp Expo (“The paranoia started to set in as I made it to the front of yet another line”). But as Calhoun’s stories unfold, his case — that the growth of convention culture had allowed more Americans to run off to join their own Circus Circus (link NSFW) — comes across strongest in the moments when current events connect with whatever gathering he’s visiting at the time.
And in good Gonzo tradition, that tends to occur most when Calhoun shifts from observer to participant: he has a run-in, and a brief debate, with Westboro Baptist Church protesters outside Comic-Con; and a trip to the California Republican Convention turns into a half-realized battle of wits between himself and conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.
That is to say, Breitbart seems to think it’s a battle; Calhoun just sees himself being recruited to play straight man against his will in both the press room and during a speech, where Breitbart and his followers try to goad Calhoun into playing Colmes to his Hannity:
“I won’t be your prop, Andrew!” I yelled from the middle of the floor. A wave of disappointed expressions fanned out across a sea of Republican faces like a field of dominoes being tipped over. You could hear the crowd say “awww” in unison.
Along the way, readers meet conspiracy theorists, body modifiers, musicians in various stages of a downward spiral, and — in Mitt Romney — a presidential candidate about to embark on his campaign. But, in their own niches, each of them becomes (sometimes literally) rock stars, oblivious to the skepticism or outright mockery they inspire in other societal circles.
The book also ends with Calhoun, a Bay Area resident, at the intersection of two other different milestones: his hometown Giants celebrating a World Series victory as the rest of the country gasps as the Tea Party gains lawmaking power. But in the years since the book’s ultimate scene, these kinds of collisions continue — particularly at Comic-Con: on Friday, hours after a panel celebrating the 20th anniversary of minority-owned Milestone Entertainment, a march seeking justice for Trayvon Martin was scheduled to head into downtown San Diego, and, presumably, into the minds of the cosplayers assembled for the event (whether they were ready for it or not).
Watch the book trailer, courtesy of Shattering Conventions, below: