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POLITICS-US: My Big, Fat Geek Voter Drive

Enrique Gili

SAN DIEGO, California, Jul 28 2008 (IPS) - Few events elicit the passion evident at the International Comic Con convention, as fanboys and gals descended upon San Diego over the weekend, braving long lines to marvel at the latest creations of their long-standing heroes.

Democratic supporter Jack Robertson stands next to a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama at Comic Con. Credit: Enrique Gili/IPS

Democratic supporter Jack Robertson stands next to a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama at Comic Con. Credit: Enrique Gili/IPS

At the Con, as fans like to call it, 125,000 people from around the world swarmed the city for a pop culture media extravaganza comparable in size and scope to the world's biggest Internet chat room.

Also on the scene were a handful of Democratic activists making a valiant attempt to capture the attention of fans in the throes of Con fever, as both parties try to woo undecided and younger voters leading up to November's presidential election.

"This is right up my alley," said Jack Robertson, a retired toy store owner, speaking of the buzz generated at the Con. A lifelong Democrat and avowed Barack Obama supporter, Robertson is willing to endure long hours under the glare of intense sun to register new voters in the quest to deliver the White House to Obama.

Intent on expanding the Democratic Party's base, he believes registering to vote is much like impulse shopping – something done on the spur of moment but with long-term consequences. "It's all about getting their attention," he said, while competing to be heard over the din of the crowd.

Although he expected to register hundreds of voters over the course of three days, he had his work cut out for him. In the span of time it takes to register a single voter, hundreds more people strolled past.

At the Con, however, it takes more than a presidential election to sway geeks and fans from their appointed rounds. Inside the convention centre, piles of swag ("Stuff We All Get") awaited them. Weighed down with bags of free goodies, fans seemed to be far more focused on the latest merchandise than retail politics.

What began as a modest gathering for comic book enthusiasts 39 years ago has morphed into a media juggernaut. In the year of the Hollywood blockbusters "The Hulk" and "Iron Man", comic books and the people who love them have become a very big business. The comic-book inspired Batman movie "Dark Knight" raked in 155 million dollars over the weekend, smashing a prior box office record set by "Spiderman".

Sensing a shift in popular taste, the entertainment industry has adopted the Con as their preferred stomping grounds. Geek chic has given way to more mainstream consumers. "This is not a flash in the pan," Stan Lee, co-creator of the Marvel universe and industry legend, told a rapt audience on Thursday.

The Con continues to draw increasingly large numbers of mixed crowds willing to spend a lot of time and money in order to catch a glimpse of the next big thing on the horizon. During the course of the four-day Jul. 24-27 event, there was programming to suit everyone's taste and lifestyle.

Panel discussions on the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender community and the contributions of Black artists spotlighted emerging talent. Entire families attended; conversations were held simultaneously in Spanish, English and geek. It's the sort of inclusive big tent approach that has become the hallmark strategy to the Democratic Party for winning elections.

The blogospshere had been abuzz with speculation that Obama might attend this year's convention (he didn't), but his presence at the Con would likely have been met with a collective question mark. As passionate as fans are about the making of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy or the directorial debut of Frank Miller, thoughts about the upcoming election are on the back burner.

Rumours of his attendance elicited responses on Internet bulletin boards such as "must everything be politicised" to mockery. Like much of the entertainment it seeks promote, the Con creates it own self- sustaining feedback loop independent from mainstream media – one that political candidates and grassroots activists have sought to emulate.

"It's fun, it's entertainment, actually it goes a little beyond in that it's one massive pop culture fest," said Christopher Lawrence, the youthful-looking president of Stranger Entertainment, who had dressed as Star Wars' Anakin Skywalker shortly before the character turns to the "dark side".

Lawrence and hundreds more like him have embraced a lifestyle where, in a "galaxy far away", rebel leaders have banded together to resist the forces of the empire. However, any analogies to the current to state of political affairs begin and end there. On the convention floor, there's not much room for the discussion of political agendas.

"Most recently the big argument was can a light sabre cut Superman?… That's never been resolved. The answer revolves around whether the light sabre has a kryptonite crystal in it, or whether or not Superman is close to a yellow sun or not," quipped Dave Filoni, supervising director of the animated movie "Clone Wars".

The mindset of fanboys and fangirls might be hard to change. But not everyone at the Con was quite so flippant. Allison Parkin, 22, has supported Obama's bid for the Oval Office since prior to the Iowa Caucus.

"Everybody in my age group really strongly supports him," she said, lamenting that "younger people really need to be paying more attention".

"Not enough people under 30 vote, which is really sad because the decisions affect our lives more so than our parents or our grandparents," she said.

At least at Comic Con, loyal fans can expect a sequel. The same can't be said of presidential politics.

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