Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Cons, Things and the Group

As I mentioned previously (and with breathless excitement) I recently ended my embarrasing lack of Con experience by hitting up London Super Comic Con and had a great time. I talked briefly about how not having been to a Con was kind of weird for an internet 'Geek' commentator like myself and that, along with the experience myself, got me to thinking about Conventions and the central place they've come to occupy in the hearts and minds of Gamers, Comics-Lovers and other assorted brands of what we might call geekdom.

Lest we Forget...Source

The first things we'd probably recognise as 'Cons' started in the 30s, around the time that Science Fiction and Fantasy were starting to gain some ground as serious mediums rather then schlocky 'Genre Fiction' like John Carter (read the books, everyone is naked the whole time) or the stuff of childish fairy tales.

Don't get me wrong, 1930s New York and London weren't crawling with mustachioed men with funky outfits and Nerf Guns but the point of the Cons hasn't changed since these early meetings. It was, and still is, a profoundly liberating experience to gather together in one room with others who you knew, by their mere presence, appreciated the somewhat borderline things that you did.

This instant inclusion, the feeling of being at home, is a profound one; Particularly for those of us who grew up either hiding our obsessions or being bullied because here, possibly for the first time, you find yourself in the majority. This is a feeling we may not have experienced before.

Give me your Thors, Your Iron-Men and Huddled FanboysSource
 Inclusion is a powerful thing, speaking to something deep within us as Human Beings. It's why sports fans will scream themselves hoarse in the stands and in bars; why every major election is a pitched screaming match between party supporters and yes, sometimes it's why grown men dress up as Jayne Cobb and aim nerf guns at the camera.

I literally cannot thank my mother enough for that hat
I could talk all day about the whole warm feelings, lovey-dovey and generally hippyish feelings that I don't imagine I was alone at experiencing at my first Con but I'm going to do something better instead.

I'm gonna talk about Vikings.

More specifically, I'm going to talk about how they used this natural, all-too human need for inclusion to stop Iceland tearing itself apart. See, Dark-Age Iceland was a pretty hairy place to live (both literally and metaphorically...Vikings.) with Blood-Feuds, honour-killings and general nastiness going on often enough to fill several very readable Sagas.

The only thing keeping the whole place from descending into a massive Battle-Royale was the government of the time. Uniquely, it wasn't a particularly badass Viking Warlord who had final say. Instead, it was everyone.

For the last time, Han shot first! Drop it Thorvald!


See, while the Greeks are generally credited with introducing Democracy in the West its kind of a con. The Greek democracies were actually Oligarchies (rule by a small minority), run exclusively by old and extremely rich men while younger and poorer free citizens had absolutely no vote. In Iceland however, while the most powerful men could meet and set laws they were then presented to every single free man and woman in the country, all of whom came to the Thingvellir (Assembly Fields) to meet, hear the news and listen to legal cases.

If you broke a law in that time the worst punishment was to be declared 'Outlaw' (literally Outside-the-law) and therefore exempt from the protection or interest of the Althing. Basically, a walking target.

The Althing was often the only place Blood-Fueds could be settled with both sides still standing.

Yep, it could even stop Vikings from killing eachother.

Now, if that's not an argument in favour of heavyset, bearded men and women in chainmail all gathering together I just don't know what is.

Until next time friends, let us say Skål!and drink together

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