California Governor Gavin Newsom doesn’t want to be held to any kind of timeline, but on Tuesday, he said that mass gatherings are “unlikely” to be permitted this summer — directly threatening the prospect of San Diego Comic-Con and Star Wars Celebration taking place as planned. Frankly, the sooner we come to grips with that reality — and our new reality in general — the better. These two massive events, which are staples on the pop culture calendar, need to move to a much safer place… the internet!
Before we break down what a virtual alternative might look like, let’s run down what Newsom actually said at his recent press conference. Asked how he envisions the summer months, Newsom lamented that “the prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine. So large-scale events that bring in hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of strangers, all together across every conceivable difference, health and otherwise, is not in the cards based upon our current guidelines and current expectations… When you suggest June, July, August, it is unlikely.”
The prospect of this pandemic carrying on through summer — when we were initially told it would be safer because COVID-19 doesn’t like heat — is terribly depressing, but it would be much sadder if we undid all the good work we’re doing right now by ramping up things too quickly. Rather than leap at a quick return to normalcy, we need to embrace a New Normal, and we need do it soon, because there are still people clinging to the Old Way of doing things. When I go on my weekly walk outside — with a mask and gloves! — I see plenty of selfish Californians running without those things, let alone a shirt. But most people I know are quarantining in their homes, and short of that, being careful to practice social distancing. If we let our guard down too soon, all it will take is a spark like Comic-Con to reignite the fire and leave us helpless to watch as it spreads again.
Speaking as a realist, I don’t think there’s any conceivable way that Comic-Con or Star Wars Celebration can carry on as planned. Not only would they pose a gigantic health risk, given the number of fanboys and girls in close quarters, but what talent in their right minds would want to be exposed to the unwashed masses, with all kinds of strangers coming up to them for selfies and autographs? Until there’s widespread testing and proper contact tracing, that seems very unlikely. However, that doesn’t mean those events have to be cancelled altogether — they could be held online.
A virtual event would still allow studios, networks and comic book publishers to hype their wares directly to consumers, and not only connect fans with talent, but with other like-minded fans as well. There could be remote panel discussions and live Q&As with celebrities via Skype/Zoom/Google Hangout, as well as cosplay awards for those inclined to dress up at home at a time when most of us barely put on pants. SDCC could figure out a way to introduce a virtual marketplace that would allow hundreds of exhibitors and vendors to sell pop culture merch. Those people’s livelihoods depend on these events, so if there’s another way to hold them, I think event organizers owe it to them, and to fans, to at least try.
It would certainly involve a lot of complicated logistics, but one thing this pandemic has proven is that people can pull off the impossible when their backs are against the wall. Not only did I think last weekend’s Saturday Night Live at Home was really funny, but even if you didn’t laugh once, you had to appreciate the effort and ingenuity on display. I’m not familiar with SDCC leadership as I’ve never attended, and won’t until The Crow reboot (LOL!) heads down there, but I am familiar with Disney and Lucasfilm, and though I’ve never attended Star Wars Celebration, I know for sure that there are brilliant, creative people behind it who could pull something special together under these trying circumstances.
The truth is, it just makes more sense for everyone to move these major events online for now, whether you were planning to attend in person or not. There isn’t going to be a magical day on the near-horizon “when this is all over.” The curve may be flattened, and the numbers may go down, but the coronavirus isn’t just going to disappear overnight. And rather than wait until the last minute to cancel these events, organizers should try to be proactive and adjust to our new reality. You never have to get ready if you stay ready, right? I assume that virtual alternatives are already being discussed behind closed doors, but you know what would help? If event organizers saw there was some kind of online support for a virtual Con. We’re constantly seeing online petitions against one thing or another, but it’d be nice to see people band together in support of something for a change. This pandemic has already taken so much from us, and we can’t allow it to rob our sense of community, too.
Like I said, I may not be the Con type, but many of my friends are, and when they come back from San Diego or Anaheim, it’s not their opinions on the latest comic book movie trailer that are most entertaining, it’s their stories about hanging out in line for Hall H or sneaking into some party — the friends and memories they make over that weekend. I think there are a lot of people out there who are feeling pretty lonely stuck in their homes all day, and both movies and Cons are all about bringing people together. Surely there’s a safe way to celebrate pop culture from the comfort of our own homes. The technology is there, for the most part, so perhaps it’s time to embrace an alternative.
No one is saying it has to be perfect. SNL was so interesting because it was a little messy. But messy would be better than nothing at all. It’d also be a win for SDCC, which would maintain its relevancy by being a hero to paying fans who would generate revenue for the organization. Think about how many fans aren’t able to make the annual pilgrimage to San Diego each summer? All of those people, the ones shut out of hotel rooms, could now attend.
OK, this is getting longer than Avengers: Endgame, so I’m going to wrap things up. It’s time to abandon hope for San Diego Comic-Con and Star Wars Celebration as you know them, but that doesn’t mean your favorite events can’t roll with the punches and emerge stronger for it. Now is the time to experiment. The only way these two events can fail is if they completely surrender to this pandemic. We can’t let the virus win. To sort of quote Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, “life [must] find a way.”
Let us know how you’d save San Diego Comic-Con and other events like it in the comments section below, and then click here for Perri Nemiroff’s ranking of all the Jurassic movies.