Dragoncon Cancels as Theme Parks Reopen

“In these uncertain times” is a phrase I’m sure we’re all sick of hearing. It’s a phrase, however, that’s extremely applicable to every aspect of our lives right now. I’ve lost a lot of work due to all the convention cancellations, unemployment numbers are through the roof, Florida experiences some 11,000 cases in one day this part weekend, and the government doesn’t appear to take things seriously as more and more social gathering locations reopen.

Recently, Universal Studios reopened with new social distancing guidelines to score some sweet revenue from the Fourth of July crowd. While Disney World isn’t opening for a few more weeks, they’ve reopened hotels to vacation club members and their downtown district Disney Springs is open to the public. The Disney Parks in Japan just reopened as well. Despite this, Disneyland itself has postponed their reopening dates. Sea World also opened their doors, but most of their attractions are still closed. These companies have all lost a lot of money from the closures so it makes sense that they’re eager to reopen.

At the same time, Dragoncon, the biggest convention on the East Coast, has announced today for the first time in 31 years, it’s canceling its 2020 event. Hundreds of thousands gather each year so their decision is completely understandable. Many conventions have waited until the last minute to announce cancellations because they’re hoping for force mejeure to be invoked. Force mejeure is a close in many contracts where the venue forces the con to close and so they get to transfer to next year without losing any money on this year. Sadly, a lot of conventions that take place in states where reopening is being prioritized (despite CV19 case numbers) don’t have that same benefit. Many have cancelled knowing that they won’t have the money to continue to next year due to this.

The convention and theme park industries are extremely similar. They thrive on large gatherings of people who often times plan and save all year to go to the events. Their success is intrinsically intertwined with airlines, buses, trains, hotels, the food industry, bars, Uber, and the list goes on. And large gatherings of people where they must wait in lines is a breeding ground for germs. The con crud is a term that refers to the cocktail of germs floating about the con floor. It’s undeniable that if cons had continued, that cocktail would have been almost entirely composed of CV19.

Recently, there were a series of tweets that spoke about the con crud at MAGFest. I was lucky to avoid that this year (being a vendor and stuck behind a table has its perks). The tweets talked about how they had CV19 antibodies in them despite never having CV19. They remember after MAG being diagnosed with an unknown respiratory illness. One attendee at MAG died from the con crud this year. Considering the proximity to travel hub Washington DC, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was present. And this was in the before it was so serious times. Imagine how it would be now.

There’s also tweets from an alleged Universal employee that talks about how several coworkers have come down with CV19 since reopening. While the validity isn’t certain, it wouldn’t be surprising if it turned out to be true. The fact Disneyland delayed opening could mean it’s just not yet time. It’ll be interesting to compare WDW and Universal as America has some open travel borders versus Disney Sea and Tokyo Disneyland where the borders are closed to American travelers. The UK has also been added to the list of places banning American visitors when the borders open again due to our unusually high number of cases.

As for conventions, so far the only ones I’ve observed still going on are smaller one day affairs. There was a toy show in Florida recently that was not only not practicing social distancing, but also didn’t require face coverings. Will cons have to limit the amount of attendees and how do they even do that? How do they convince artists and dealers to come out and pay the same for a table while less buyers are in attendance? How do they ensure safety of guests especially during autograph sessions which some rely on for income? It’s not a task I envy as con heads struggle with answers. Even now, many are cancelling with the hopes next year is better. With how cases are rising and potential new virus developments found in China, will there be a next year?

With the sobering closure of Dragoncon, it’s a further reminder that our world is irrevocably different now. There haven’t been a menagerie of Animal Crossing cosplay groups. There haven’t been any new prints proudly displayed on a photo backdrop. There’s no inflatable T-Rex costumes. There’s no one to be the one Inuyasha cosplayer that’s at every convention. No SDCC exclusive products. The absence of all of this is felt by all of geek culture. People are in a conflicting state of chomping at the bottom to go and worrying for their health and life it’s too soon. They’re sick of quarantine but worried to leave. It’s a problem with no real solution right now.

This weekend, Anthrocon was supposed to grace Pittsburgh with a myriad of colorful animal costumes. I’ve been once to sell and Pittsburgh LOVES its furry friends. They bring in millions in revenue to the local economy. The restaurants and shops all have furry friendly signs welcoming them inside as they hope for some of that sweet furry dough. The absence has really been felt. A small smattering of furries hosted AnthroGone this weekend, gathering in the city to take a few pictures together and commission some artists. A small and grim reminder of current events. I don’t encourage these gatherings, but I can understand the want. And hey, what’s a better face covering than a fursuit head?

All over the world, cities are feeling the absence of conventions and theme parks in a similar way. With the closure of Dragoncon being a grim reminder of the times, I thought it would be good for us to reflect on these changes. While the absences are extremely sad, technology is allowing us to find temporary alternatives. Disney released recipes for some of its most famous treats. Cons are having virtual gatherings and vendor halls. Movie companies are releasing their films to streaming. Zoos are hosting more live cams than ever before. One aquarium in Japan had to set up reverse face cams to calm their upset garden eels who missed us just as much as we missed them. The world is just full of innovation to overcome these shortcomings. I’ve been absolutely enjoying watching the adaptations as they unfold.

It’s really inspiring to be a part of the CV19 solution. Watching someone livestream a DJ set at “the con rave” while viewers spam chat with dancing gifs makes me feel less alone. Here’s hoping the Dragoncon virtual event will be a fine replacement “in these uncertain times.”

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