Wednesday, October 2, 2019

My FenCon Toastmasters Speech

From FenCon's Facebook Feed. It's Finn at the Finish!

Several of my non-geeky friends have asked me what a Toastmaster does at a convention, and moreover, why I got to be one. I told them that it was a mainly ceremonial position, part greeter, part genial host, and ideally someone with a bit of verve and aplomb. When I get to that part about verve, they all go, "Ooh, okay, now it makes sense."

They have also asked me if I have to make a toast. I then tell them that it's not a toast, but rather some toast. They don't get that joke, and I've stopped trying to explain it to them. But they are curious as to what kind of speech I gave.

So, for those that didn't make it this year, here's what I said, more or less.
Thank you, FenCon, or should I say, “FINNCon?” Yes, I should. FenCon is a celebration of all things geeky that we love: TV, Movies, Books, Fantay. Science Fiction, Super Heroes, Horror and all of those genre mashups, Gaming, Filking, Cosplay, Competitive Pflugelhorn—if it’s geek, it’s chic. If you’re Fen, you’re In. Your only requirement to be One of Us, One of Us, is interest.

And what a great time to be a geek, amirite?

I want to tell you, though: it was not always this way. I know that it’s not fashionable for people under the age of thirty to listen to anyone over the age of thirty, but I’d like you to make an exception in this case. My tale is a cautionary one.

As a card-carrying member of Generation X I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. My high school years were 1985 to 1988, right smack dab in the middle of Miami Vice, Alf, The A-Team, Moonlighting, Cheers, Falcon Crest, Chips, and The Cosby Show. Yuppie culture was peaking, and the Cold War was still raging. Don’t let anyone tell you the 1980s were awesome, because they sucked.

Mainstream culture was about Wall Street, power suits, Aerobics, Neon, and Huey Lewis and the News. There was no place for a guy like me; I read comic books. I played Dungeons & Dragons. I listened to Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull. I read fantasy and science fiction novels. I had a subscription to Twilight Zone magazine.

There wasn’t any way to find out about new stuff without making friends. You had to know someone who was into the same stuff that you were into. That’s how we found out about Midnight movies like Heavy Metal and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. You had to be vigilant; you had to read the newspaper looking for science fiction movies, or horror movie revivals. You scoured the TV Guide every week in case they were showing Ray Harryhausen movies on any local channels. For new movies, you had to read magazines like Starlog and Fangoria and hope that the stuff they were reporting on made it to your town.

But you weren’t alone in this; your friends were all doing the same thing. That’s how we found out about movies like Buckaroo Banzai and Big Trouble in Little China. You rented VHS tapes and had viewing parties and watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail until you had every scene memorized. You went to the comic book store weekly to get the latest issues of the X-Men and the Teen Titans. You would read the comics and then, usually, get together with your other comic book reading friends and discuss what you had read. That was how I first read Watchmen; one chapter at a time.

You were forced, by the very ephemeral nature of all of these sub-cultural cottage industries, to become something of an expert. You had to keep lists of things in your head. It was—well, it’s wasn’t work, but it was a lot of fan activity and participation and engagement.

And what was our reward for our diligence, our commitment? Our passion? Our R’aison d’etre?

Well, I was one of the lucky ones. I was popular enough in high school that no one really said anything to me about, for example, playing Call of Cthulhu with my gaming group on Graduation night. It was at the end of a big campaign and they all went crazy, which was, we agreed, the perfect metaphor for the last four years.

I also had several girlfriends, but none of them could be persuaded to play RPGs with me and my friends. Comic books? Forget it. Those were for kids. It made socializing difficult, because I could either hang out with my girl friend and do whatever she wanted to do, or I could play D&D with my buddies. And each one resented the other for the intrusion.

Still, I was lucky. I had a modicum of tacit acceptance. Lots of people I know had it much worse. Shoved into lockers worse. Bullied and picked on worse. Parents burned their books in the wave of “Satanic Panic” worse. Kids were shipped off to Summer Camps put on by Baptist Churches to make sure they weren’t listening to Motley Crue and using the Player’s Handbook to summon demons. Parents and older siblings didn’t get it and some folks had to hide their interests from everybody, including their own family. These were the dark ages. And they sucked.

I am happy to report that is not the case today.

We’re two decades into the 21st century now, and while we don’t have jet packs…yet…what we do have is noting short of a miracle. We are no longer in the Dark Ages. We are, instead, in the midst of a Renaissance!

There’s so much fantasy,sci-fi, and horror content on television that we have to plan our schedules around when we can watch it.

Dungeons & Dragons is over forty years old, and the number one selling game in the country. Celebrities play it! And not the weird-looking celebrities, like Steve Buscemi, either. The legit beautiful people are filming themselves fighting gelatinous cubes every week.

I’ve got a gum ball machine at my movie theater. It doesn’t dispense gum balls, though; I loaded it with twenty-sided dice. And I’ve had to refill it three times since June. This is in a rural community in North Texas.

We’ve played every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’ve got customers who were in high school when Iron Man came out in 2008 and now they are married with children. They take the kids to the Spider-Man movies, you know, “because they’re really into it.” Right, Dad. Whatever you need to tell yourself. I saw that guy crying at the end of Endgame.

When I wear my comic book shirts in public, now, someone always asks me what I think about the latest Marvel or DC movie. The super hero film has become its own genre. People who had no idea who Iron Man was in the 1980s are suddenly deeply invested in not only the Infinity Stones, but who controls them. And those bullies? The ones who made your life a living hell? 

Their kids won’t shut up about any of this stuff.

Office Betting Pools during the Game of Thrones Finale season. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the deepest, most faithfully executed dive into comic books ever made, won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. We’re about to get a Joker movie with no Batman in it. And next year, we’re going to get a Harley Quinn movie with no Joker in it. Stephen King has come back around to become relevant again, with the notable exception that now all of the movies and TV shows are actually scary.

There’s a magazine that I can buy at the grocery store dedicated to Cosplay. Entertainment Weekly has a section for comic books. Nobody is laughing at us, now. No one is getting pushed into lockers for bringing a Marvel Super Heroes Lunch Box to school. We aren’t sub-culture. We aren’t stuck in the basement. We are mainstream, now.

And I know that in our personal lives, things still suck. My day-to-day existence is one eternal flame tire fire. But all of that is on hold for the weekend. It’s FenCon time. Time to celebrate all of this stuff that fought for and sometimes even bled for. This is our time, and look around! These are our people.

So have fun, this weekend. Make a new friend. Play a new game. Try something new. Like, for example, you could check out the Meet Your Toastmaster panel tomorrow at 11 AM, just to pick something at random. Let’s enjoy our shared time together. You’ve earned it. We’ve all earned it.

Welcome to FenCon.


Barbara V. Evers said...


Adventuresfantastic said...

Great speech. I wish I could have made it to Finn-Con, I mean Fencon, this year.