Imagine, you are in the desert somewhere, driving down a vast stretch of road with nothing in sight, the little red gaslight flashing up empty on the dashboard. The road drops away and gleaming, Oz-like, in the distance a shining, inviting city. You pass a sign that reads: “MCM Expo 2010. POP. Rising. This city is brought to you by” – and a litany of computer game names scroll by too fast to read. At the bottom of another sign – “Don’t go home without your FREE HUG”.
About half a mile out you slow down to take in the structure before you. White surfaces colliding with huge sheets of glass and concrete. Disturbingly, there’s something in the distance below the buildings, a writhing swarm of some kind. A little closer it is revealed. Humanity. But not as you know it. A thousand homemade cardboard swords are waving above spiky quiffs. Stormtroopers police their movements. The majority of the crowd are teens and in costumes of unknowable Japanese cartoon/manga/computer game characters. Gaunt adolescents carry crudely felt-tipped paper signs offering ‘Free Hugs’. You check the central locking and wind the windows up.
But, upon closer inspection, the swords, spears, knives and guns are cardboard and wood shed-built red herrings. The crowd is jovial and somewhat restrained. You feel safer now, the initial shock has worn off and in search of much needed fuel you venture, slowly, into the heart of the town.
Taking a right at Games Avenue, past the relentless aisles of toy sellers you detour past Cosplay Cul-de-sac and cross Expo Boulevard. The temptation to get out at the Avenue of the Stars is dispelled when it becomes apparent that ‘Stars’ is shorthand for that guy, from that sci-fi thing, that got cancelled because no-one watched it. Artists’ Alley seems like a logical place to park up.
Wrong. Artists’ Alley is the tragic old-peoples home of the town. The crumpled old comic book artists sit, senile smiles one and all, vainly trying to catch the eyes of the mega-sword wielding kids flooding by, oblivious to the eager eyes of these dinosaurs. The Bongo computer game shack and mock wrestling ring opposite mute these pensioners with such an awful wall of Nu-metal and computer game bleeping that their impotent faces flick an internal switch. It’s at this precise moment your foot hits the floor, running on fumes you plough through the crowd and escape (moving too quickly to be able to read the exit sign, shrugging a final parting hug).
Unfortunately the pervasive sadness isn’t so unplaceable after all. The MCM Expo has the pretence of being a quasi-industry event in which computer games get play tested by their audience, blockbuster trailers are screened, comic book creators and fans mingle and geek culture is celebrated. Really it’s just a massive costume party intercut with a few computer game demos and stalls selling over priced paraphernalia masquerading as something more vital.
It’s the Cosplay (costume play) that gets the kids out. Retreating to the safety of their heroes, they join in and become them. It’s an outlet for these kids. The kids that don’t belong to anything. Swept aside by globalisation they seem to have latched onto the most alien of easily accessible global cultures : Japan. These are the thinnest of characters – awful day-glo aesthetics, barely a personality transplanted into them, given the lamest of motivations (usually some mystic quest for a pointless MacGuffin leading to a tedious drawn out fight). The allure lies in the foreign and unknown, the bizarre and unexplainable. . This is the sadness in their inheritance. These kids deserve better than these half-baked corporate entities. Why do they need this event to legitimise themselves?
As you pull back out onto the highway a teenage blonde haired Sid Vicious doppelganger, armed with a three metre cutlass instead of a bass guitar sticks out his thumb and then angrily waves his tin-foil covered sword at your car.
‘What happened to punk?’ asks your passenger.
You’re looking at it. No Future, you think and put your foot to the floor and hope the gas lasts just a little while longer.
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