Written by James Randi. You can read the full article here
I recently returned from a rather remarkable event known as Dragon*Con, a four-day gathering in Atlanta which fills several major hotels there to the brim. I was there two years ago as a visitor, was quite taken with the character of the conference, and asked if I might be invited to speak there. Happily, I was granted that privilege this year.
How to describe DragonCon? Try to imagine 30,000+ people of all ages and a variety of genders dressed up as robots, monsters, science-fiction characters, Star Wars storm troopers, Batman, and every mythical character that can somehow be represented by costume or makeup. Distribute them all over downtown Atlanta in the hotels and restaurants, in the streets and parks, and you have DragonCon.
What follows is hardly meant to be unkind, and no one involved with this giddy bunch will take umbrage at my analysis, I’m very sure. But in my opinion, those who show up at this affair are misfits of one sort or another. We find disabled persons in wheelchairs, young and old with a variety of disadvantages, simply “different” individuals and pairs, and – generally speaking – the kind of folks who seem to be not well suited to the general population, for one reason or another. Ah, but for 72 hours they are immersed in their element, surrounded by others with whom they are very compatible and comfortable. It’s a seriously beautiful thing to see. (We are misfits in our own ways too, of course.)
On my first visit, I had the opportunity of chatting with one of the security guards at the Hilton Hotel, where I was staying. I commented to him that such a collection of strange people must be a bit of a burden for his profession, but he assured me that this convention was a delight to him and his fellow professionals. “They get along very well together, they look after one another, and they never give us any trouble. No drunks, no one throwing things off balconies, only a few spirited arguments and discussions that are done with good nature and with friendly conclusions.” Indeed, my own observations bore that out. Physically handicapped persons in wheelchairs, for example, were trundled about willingly by sylphs with translucent wings on their shoulders; anyone who had problems in the restaurant was carefully attended to at the raising of a finger by a gnome or a leprechaun who required only a smile as a reward.
There is an understanding at Dragon*Con that everyone should be tolerated, accommodated, taken care of, and listened to. I did a lot of the latter, getting into conversations with people who were laboring to be understood due to serious respiratory problems that required air to be pumped into them so they could speak, with one little lady who cheerfully tapped out her responses and comments to me on a plastic tablet bearing alphabetic symbols, and with deaf mutes who depended on “signers” who stood patiently by them. What a rich experience! These were people who were not only surviving, but thriving – especially because they were immersed in a community by whom they were understood and loved.
Now, the majority of attendees were not so disadvantaged. They were active, totally turned on individuals of all ages having a marvelous time. There is a message to be learned every year in Atlanta when Dragon*Con comes to town. The joy, the delight and camaraderie to be found there is a revelation. You can elbow your way through the almost endless corridors of books for sale, stand in awe of the massive parade of characters that stops traffic for two hours, or simply sit around in a hotel lobby watching this strange world pass before your eyes. No matter what your choice, these folks have something for you.
When my time came to be heard, I fought my way through a heavy lineup of waiting persons that snaked out into the street, finally discovering that they were there to hear me! I later discovered that some two-thirds of that crowd had to be turned away, which always distresses me.
I hate to tell you, but next year’s Dragon*Con is probably already sold out. If so, I suggest that you plan on being at this wonderful gathering in 2012 – providing that The World As We Know It doesn’t end that year, as some have suggested it might. I urge you to give it a good try.