After more than 1,800 self-proclaimed nerds and geeks from all different backgrounds descended upon the Hyatt Regency in Arlington, Virginia last year as part of the inaugural Blerdcon, word of mouth spread about the event like wildfire. Many fans were hyped to see what the show had in store for its second year which was held July 26-29, 2018. What they got was more panels, more guests, more music, more partying and more than 3,500 attendees to share the Blerdcon experience with.
However, despite its growth in numbers and the addition of features such as a convention brunch and an outdoor cookout, according to Hilton George, the convention chair, the vision and mission of Blerdcon has and will always stay the same. The name Blerdcon takes its name from “blerd,” a term used to describe a Black nerd. George, a “blerd” himself, has always envisioned Blerdcon to be a way to engage the larger geek community and promote diversity and not just be a space for “blerds” to hang out. For George, this dedication to celebrating intersectionality and diversity separates Blerdcon from other geek and comic gatherings around the country.
“If you are part of a minority or an underrepresented community, you kind of feel like a visitor [at some conventions] — a welcome visitor, but you look around and think, ‘There are no guests who look like me. There are no panels that speak to my issues directly but I like Naruto and I like Ultron and there’s some good cosplay,’” George said.
To curate a space that celebrates the contributions of marginalized groups to geek culture as well as providing an opportunity for attendees to engage with members from different quadrants of the geek community, George said he and the other showrunners rely on partnerships as well as keeping the mission in mind when inviting guests and panelists.
From the beginning, George said he reached out to organizations such as Nerdtina and LGBT HQ among others. While he said it runs counter to some traditional convention-running practices, he also said it sometimes meant not always seeking out and inviting the celebrity with the most Instagram followers to the event.
“There is a system within the convention community that says, ‘Find the people who have the most followers, compensate them is some way to get them to come to your convention and stand behind a table and do one or two panels and their fanbase will then come to your con.’ George said. “We can certainly bring those people in, but in order to be a disruptor, I need to also ask, ‘What is it that I don’t see? And I need to ask, ‘What is it that I want to see?’ … The underrepresented population is hard to find by definition.”
George said he and his partners wanted to provide a platform for people who haven’t always been seen or been told they are important to the geek community to find validation, an eager audience and allies.
“We can’t move anything major forward, we can’t move any policy or awareness, we can’t build upon any sense of human rights or fair rights until we connect with another community outside of our own,” George said.
George and the other showrunners seem to approach the mission of connecting different members of the geek community with a sense of urgency. During Blerdcon’s closing ceremonies this year, George, on a panel with his team referenced political turmoil seen on recent news broadcasts and rhetoric that he believes spreads distrust and hatred.
“As geeks, we have a superpower,” George said. “And that superpower is that we have this direct line of communication to connect with other people over geek topics irrespective of gender, race, or age, or anything else. If we can create an environment that is tethered to that superpower, people are going to connect before the trapdoors of prejudice and exclusion start kicking in those roadblocks … before those artificial lines tell you that you’re not supposed to see another human being as a human being.”
This message and mission seemed to be resonating with many attendees, and truthfully, it is what attracted me to the convention in the first place. With such lofty though noble aspirations however, I didn’t know if Blerdcon would be too preachy, too pretentious or just not fun. After witnessing the ambitious convention barbecue complete with music and dancing, and after attending numerous panels, dance parties, gaming contests and anime marathons, I can say with confidence that if there is one thing Blerdcon excels at it is creating a fun party-like atmosphere.
This is a convention for fun-loving folks who aren’t afraid to chat, rant about their favorite anime, comic book, MF Doom track or approach a deeper discussion about representation in the media. I also made many connections with people from different corners of the nerd community — one thing George said he hoped would happen for everyone at every Blerdcon.
Toward the end of the convention, I had a conversation with a new friend I met about the whole experience. We both agreed that despite having attended many conventions in the past we had yet to experience one with such an emphasis on diversity before. As two minorities we agreed it was nice to not feel like the “other” at a convention. And although the experience wasn’t without personal logistical hiccups for both of us, we were both amazed at how George and his team were able to put on such a nice and unique convention series that is only in its sophomore year.
Hopefully with enough presale tickets, the Blerdcon team can get more ambitious for its 2019 show which is already being planned with a “Blerd Magic” theme in mind. I know I had a blast during Blerdcon’s second year iteration and I can’t wait for year three.
*photos provided by Quin Melvin & Young Lee