Last week, thousands of enthusiasts from practically every fandom imaginable converged in Orlando, Florida, for pop culture convention MegaCon. Many in high-quality costumes, it appeared as though the entire universe had come together.
The four-day event kicked off on Thursday Aug. 12, and featured a panel by Star Trek legend William Shatner. He told a story abut appearing at an event in England just as the world was getting locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, expressing joy over seeing such a large turnout, both then and now. "I appreciate you being here," he said.
A fan then called out "I love you!", to which Shatner responded "The fact that you say those words is very meaningful to me." As Shatner’s panel concluded, he was honored with a special, space-themed birthday cake topped with an edible Captain Kirk for his 90th birthday, which happened last March.
During his Friday panel, Adam Savage of MythBusters fame was equally thrilled to see so many people. "It is really nice to be on the other end and looking at all your shining faces out there," Savage said as he took the stage. "Thanks for the triumph of enthusiasm over fear, and I'm glad that you are all safe and sound."
"I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now, just constantly, like 'ah it's going to be so nice to see human beings," he continued, before moving on to other topics such as what kind of "hot garbage build" he would like Elon Musk to help him with. (Answer: space suits.)
Traditionally the largest pop culture convention in the southest, MegaCon Orlando was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is one of the larger conventions to have occurred since.
Andrew Moyes, Vice President of FAN EXPO HQ who organize similar events across North America, said “Obviously we took the responsible choice last year not to move forward with MegaCon, and after working so closely with all the local authorities and key partners, we determined that it was right to come back this year.”
Regarding a last-minute decision to have attendees wear masks, he said “It means that we can all celebrate safely together.”
"I think you can feel around me how electric it is, with everybody with us," he added.
Indeed, after a year-and-a-half of being kept apart, the collective joy and excitement as old friends reunited and new ones were made was palpable.
One attendee, Alice, said "MegaCon is always like this. We have people here who would otherwise never talk to one another, but they are united in their passion for fandom. But this year we feel it even more."
She noted that she struggles with mental illness, so the prolonged isolation has been particularly difficult. "I needed this. I think many of us did."
William Phoenix, who was dressed as a very convincing John Hammond from Jurassic Park and delighting in the joy his cosplaying brings to others, said he would rather wear a mask for 4 days than sit behind a computer.
"As long as you are out here and you are being careful, and you’re not just doing whatever you want because you feel like you want to do whatever you want, everybody can have fun," he said, adding "It’s a step in the right direction of normalcy."
Beyond the social element, conventions provide a boost to the local economy and independent businesses.
"We are very excited by the fact that the community is obviously excited to have us back. Orlando is a destination city, and we’re a Top 10 event here in Orlando," Moyes said. "We inject over $100 million back into the city, so everyone’s really embracing us."
Many artists and artisans depend on the convention circuit to present their products to the audience most likely to purchase them. For others, it’s a great way to showcase their charitable work.
CAT5 Ghostbusters, for example, harness their love of Ghostbusters to help children with autism, shark conservation, anti-bullying campaigns, and other forms of community outreach.
Tyler Pitcher of the group commended MegaCon for making the convention a safe place for everybody. "I think it’s very important that we still push forward, and we still try to bring people together because we've lost an entire year and a half, if not more, of being able to come together, and really enjoy each other's company and time.”
Conventions are also a place where big announcements are made. Aaron Sagers, host of Ripley's Road Trip, made one about a notable item being included in the new Space Wing of popular tourist attraction Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Orlando.
"The fans are ready to be back out there," Sagers said after the panel. "They're ready to be part of this community again."
"I do this as part of a job, but I also... I love it," Sagers continued. "I grew up loving this kind of thing, as opposed to going to a sporting event where it's one person versus the other person. This is not teams. These are everybody part of one massive community being very supportive of one another."
When attendees were asked if they hope to see more conventions like MegaCon in the near future, the response was unanimously positive, usually a simple but enthusiastic "YEAH!"
Robert had a bit more to say. He motioned toward the large, bustling crowd and firmly declared “THIS is normal."