Diary of Armageddon

Diary of Armageddon

Simon Pegg once said that being a geek is about “being honest about what you enjoy … It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something ... Being a geek is extremely liberating.” Armageddon is a national expo for New Zealand’s geek community; all these enthusiastic folk convene in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, or Dunedin for two days of liberated geekery. As a self-confessed sci-fi geek from a small town, I imagined that going to Armageddon would really be a religious experience: it would be a place I could find “my people” and feel that liberation Pegg describes as central to accepting one’s inner geek. For those of you out there who feel a yearning to celebrate your passions while in costume at an expo in the Edgar Centre, I’ve created a diary of my experiences in embracing geek culture.

Day 01

I am twenty years old, and today I become a woman. Biologically, I began to become a “woman” at the ripe old age of fourteen, and now, six years later, my puberty is about to end. Today is the day that I undergo a cultural transformation. Never mind my fear of tampons and my slick skin, which still bubbles with oily adolescence; today, I become an adult. I am going to Armageddon, the nerdvana my soul has dreamed of returning to since before it was chained to my disappointing mortal form.

I have a friend who has his own car – he’s an Armageddon veteran and Real Adult - and he’s taking us. We stop at Burger King for breakfast, a tradition we’ve decided to establish. Feeling sick but ceremonious, we heave ourselves back into the car to relish the ten-minute search for a park. This, too, is an integral part of the experience: the anticipation builds, and I spot the entrance. Some emos in Pikachu hats are lounging on some steps; anime-wigged girls giggle and jog daintily past them; a tired, smoking orc stares blankly from the park next to ours. The Edgar Centre’s unrevealing, windowless walls have teased me. I don’t know what’s inside it yet – I haven’t even got out of the car – but I see people that I expected to have seen already, and I know that the inside will not disappoint me. I step out onto the road and nearly get hit by an SUV bearing an entire family of Doctor Whos. I rejoice. Where else would that happen? If I had to die by car, I’d hope it would be driven by a road-raging Tom Baker being backseat-driven by a fourteen-year-old David Tennant.

We roll up to the counter, all geek chic and Too-Cool-for-Costumes. I pay the five-dollar entry fee and get out $60 for “incidentals,” like a Thorin beach towel. My tiny friend, here only for the manga, has managed to work the line and pay before I’ve even blinked. She’s with us for now, but soon we’ll lose her to tall crowds and anime stalls.

I haven’t gone in costume. Armageddon runs for two days, and I wanted to spend my first (ever!) as an observer; I want to see the next stage of my evolution before I become it. To my left as I walk into the - arena? auditorium? - I can see a long stretch of table, occupied only by a lounging staff member. Later, two of the crappier dwarves will be signing things here. To my right, I can hear a guitar twanging over a muffled microphone question. I’ll check out the guest speaker later; right now there’s a frothing sea of nerdgasms I need to sail.

I don’t know why there’s cotton candy here, but I’m thankful. Its sugar-spun strings hide my face. I should have come as a Totally Spy, I think. I’m that hidden. I take my boyfriend’s hand and let him tow me through the masses of comic book characters. We push slowly from table to table, aimless yet aggressive; as someone without a costume I feel a need to assert my interest in the expo, which I can only do by standing directly in front of a video on brain-controlled cat ears for humans (cats can control their ears with their brains already). I am dominating this screen. No one could dare accuse me of lacking an interest in expo items now! We’ve lost Lou, our manga maniac. She’s gone – oh! In the distance, we spot her; she’s over the Sailor Moon.

We browse with her and pretend to know the titles (Death Note is the only one we actually recognise.) Her face is lacking the unrepressed joy I expected a manga enthusiast to display when she was at a stall absolutely crammed with backwards books: she’s disappointed? “It’s all really mainstream,” she sighs, and waves a dismissive hand. “I guess it’s for people just getting into it. Let’s go.”

The three of us make our way to the back of the room and there, wedged into a corner, six thirteen-year-olds’ fingers flit across Alienware laptops. They look like professional hackers-in-training, or maybe some kind of l33t, telepathic League of Legends team. They are silent, and their faces are still. Is this the future? I feel like I’ve seen this in a dystopian movie. Their screens, too, face the walls; we have no idea what’s going on. I consider asking their bosses, but there is no one. We choose to back away, careful not to trip over any carefully placed cables lest they snap out of their dreams too quickly and die.

I can feel the cotton candy coming back to bite me; I’m light-headed and vaguely nauseous, but there’s nowhere to sit down. Could I sit on that child dressed as B-Mo? My hearing is filled with the same guitar music I heard before and, like a zombie, I follow it; right back to the entrance and the guest speaker. It was the same guy who was there an hour ago, and he’s still playing the guitar – but why are there children on stage? They finish their song about happiness and clapping, and guitar man speaks: “that’s enough of that, now it’s question time again!” The ten people left in the chairs look worn out, but one girl takes the microphone: “going back to what you were saying a couple of hours ago about veganism …” I’m imagining this. This is not the voice of Teen Titan’s Beast; this is a hallucination.

The sugar shakes begin to grip me, and I become more aware of the painted faces and be-weaponed costumes everyone around me is wearing. I can’t believe Beast is a vegan. Why is Harley Quinn looking at me like that? Is she trying to figure out what I’m dressed like? I’m Morticia Addams on a lazy day! Stop looking at me like that! They know I’m not a proper geek. They know I’ve never dressed up. I was an outside observer until now – I shouldn’t have brought attention to myself. I shouldn’t have bought that candyfloss. As beautiful as the signed photo of Jonathan Frakes (complete in Starfleet uniform) I bought for $60 is, it hasn’t brought me the status I desired. It’s time to go.

Day Two

This year is the second that there’s been a Dunedin Armageddon, and apparently it’s much busier. I thought that perhaps it was the small room that made it seem busy, but at the end of yesterday, a ticket salesperson told me they’d sold over 4000 tickets; that’s more than two-thirds of the total attendance last year!

Having observed the costume/no costume divide yesterday, I hypothesise that dressing up will allow me better entry into the hearts of my chosen people. I want to feel empowered, but not like I stand out; as a tall girl with very curly hair, I do that enough. The costume was obvious, and close to my heart: I would go as Han Solo. I spent all last night putting together the outfit, and painting black the DL-44 blaster replica my boyfriend and I went halves on (they made it orange after it was confused with a real gun one too many times). I look amazing. In keeping with the Star Wars theme, my boyfriend is a Sith; in keeping with his rebellious attitude, our friend the driver is “hobo Ash Ketchum.” My sister, dressed as Castiel, rounds out the party.

Arriving at the expo is better this time, because we know how it rolls. There’s no feigned chicness this time; we’re pro geeks now. We bump into some friends straight away, and are complimented on our costumes: “Oh!” One cries happily, “you’re a genderbent Han Solo!” “No,” I assert, “I’m Han Solo.” It seems like a small point, but I very definitely dressed up as Han Solo, not Hanna Solo or whatever the sexy female version is. There’s nothing wrong with Hanna, but I am cosplaying my childhood hero: I am Han Solo. He’s persistent, though, and I end up loudly stating that “Han Solo transcends gender,” before going to meet Castiel at the cafe. At a table next to the Yu-Gi-Oh tournament there is a group of oddly-dressed people; odd even for Armageddon. I can’t figure out what be Spock, but I can’t be sure. They seem familial:

I came here with my “gang” but I’d call their group a “clan,” if you get my drift. I wouldn’t pick a fight with one because they looked like they’d fight in a group, you know? They are huddled closely, and many of them are very small, even for geeks. I turn away and continue chatting to Castiel; she’s having fun! She even bought a TARDIS mug. I feel a light, shy tap on my shoulder: it’s one of the bigger people from that table. “Hi!” she says brightly, “I just wanted to say that I really like your costume! Han Solo, right?” I can’t even right now. This girl gets it! “Let me tell you about Homestuck,” she says, and I put on my listening elf ears. I’m good at physical gags like that.

Ok, so it turns out that there’s this thing called Homestuck, which is a comic “nearly as long as War and Peace.” The characters are canonically LGBTQ+ and lots of them aren’t white. Sounds great, but there’s no big grab for merch, and no speakers or actors to talk to them, so why are they here? They’re here, she explains, to socialise: they lock down a table, and everyone dressed as a Homestuck character finds their way to the hive. Then they hang out all day. This is all very interesting, and contrasts with a friend of mine in a Rammus hat, who sits down immediately after the Homestuck leaves and advises us “not to talk to anyone, obviously.” He takes instant relief from his good deed. It turns out he’s been harassed by a gaming promo guy who didn’t seem to understand that Rammus Hat has played and enjoyed all the games, and kept pushing his spiel until they began to hate gaming and ran away. We comfort him, and a small gang gathers back together: we’re going to watch a couple of Doctor’s assistants talk.

Who are these people? I mean, I understand that Doctor Who has been going since long before my time, but I honestly thought that I knew all the main companions. Nicola and Mark began to share their stories about working together straight after saying they’d only worked together on one episode. It’s hard to tell whether they’re terrible at working a crowd – which is odd for actors – or if they’re just so tired of the expo circuit they don’t care anymore. To be fair, I don’t stay for the whole show. I spot some friends over by the cotton candy, and decide that’s where I need to be.

I’m staring into the swirling pink vortex that could be a potential snack when my boyfriend bursts through a group of people in gasmasks. He got the last Star Wars lunchbox! He asked the lady about it and it is definitely the last one. He had to buy it! What if he never got another chance? I know how much he loves both Star Wars and lunch, so I’m happy for him. Even though he is dressed as a Sith, he is my Han Solo. Wait, I’m dressed as Han Solo, so he’s my Leia. Except that he’s a Sith? Ok, new headcanon: Leia’s latent force talents blossom under Luke’s guidance, but, resentful, Han convinces her to go solo. Unable to control the Force properly, and without following the tried-and-true Jedi path, she becomes Sith. She and Han live happily ever after as sexy, smuggling Force-abusers. What was I saying? Oh yes, my Leia makes me happy, and so does Armageddon.

The past two days have been a constantly commercial trip through nerd-dom. As a team – the best way to go – we got a lunchbox, cotton candy, hats, comics, and compliments. At times the paraphernalia for sale was overpriced, but we were also paying for the interactions we got as a result of our purchases and costumes: I would never have learned about Homestuck if it weren’t for my own love of Star Wars, and my signed Riker photo got me some confidence-boosting winks from the Trekkies. The people were strange and the speakers more so, but they were strange in a way I understood, even if I didn’t always enjoy it. I’ve changed in the past two days: yesterday I felt overwhelmed by this world I’d been imagining for so long; I was unprepared for the elaborate costumes, expensive yet tiny dolls, and the sheer masses of people standing around. Today was different: I felt knowledgeable, like I belonged, and confident. I’ve truly blossomed into the woman I’m meant to be: Han Solo.
This article first appeared in Issue 5, 2014.
Posted 5:30pm Sunday 23rd March 2014 by Josie Adams.