As a lifelong cinefile and comic-book nerd, I am no stranger to convention season. While I’ve never been myself, I make sure to watch the coverage online or on television every year. I love the cosplayers dressed up as gender-bent versions of their favorite characters. I love the buzz of anticipation that accompanies each trailer, panel and announcement. But most of all, I love the feeling of a massive group of like-minded individuals coming together to revel in their fandom, free of judgment.
All of this in mind, I find it fitting that San Diego Comic Con and the national conventions of both major political parties coincide this year, and I can’t help but draw a few parallels. Each has been overrun by Hollywood actors in recent years; each have legions of unruly fans losing their minds over every address; and Bill Clinton, for his part, has made a stunning transformation into a Castlevania boss tonight.
One of this year’s biggest movie promotions was the trailer for Warner Brother’s Justice League movie. After two lackluster films in Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, the studio is looking to redeem itself in the eyes of the fans by lightening the film’s tone and pushing to the forefront the one thing that was already working: Ben Afleck’s Batman.
Hillary Clinton is similarly looking to overcome a pair of email scandals at this convention, and media thus far has been focused on the party’s more populist and progressive platform this year. Both Justice League and Hillary Clinton each have an albatross around their necks in their endeavors, however: Zack Snyder and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, respectively.
Zack Snyder has gone on record with his thinly veiled disdain for both Batman and Superman, and ruins their canons with glee, including killing an unnamed Jimmy Olsen for laughs, but Warner Brothers is willing to continue to place their most valuable intellectual property in his hands. Wasserman-Shultz is in similarly poor favor after a Wikileaks hack places her in charge of staffers blatantly trying to sabotage the Sanders campaign during the Democratic Primary, and while she will step down after the convention, she has already been offered a job on the Clinton campaign.
Fan favorites are another key element of the convention experience. Warner Brothers has added comic-book legend Geoff Johns as DC Film Chief in an attempt to right Snyder’s sinking ship and save some face. The Democrats are engaged in similar pandering, wheeling out Bernie Sanders to deliver a doomsday scenario for the unlikely possibility that Clinton isn’t elected. Unfortunately for the Democrats, it seems as if not even Bernie Sanders can convince a vocal minority of Bernie Sanders supporters.
All of this comes as a bit of a surprise. The Republican National Convention that finished only days prior seemed, by all accounts, to be an unmitigated disaster. From Melina Trump’s plagiarism to Ted Cruz’s backstabbing to many of the speakers refusing to say Trump’s name at all, this week should be an extended victory lap for the Democrats. But the DNC is learning something that the comic book convention circuit has known for years; it’s not just about how good your product is, but how good it could be.
DC Comics and Warner Brothers are to be applauded for limping the Justice League movie across the finish line, but unless it completely shifts a paradigm in superhero blockbusters, it will always be seen as a catch-up project trying to compete with Marvel’s 2012 hit The Avengers. By the same token, Hillary isn’t winning a lot of points for not being Donald Trump. In fact, she’s taking a lot of flak for not being Bernie Sanders, and no amount of endorsements from Democratic establishment, regardless of their quality, is going to change that.
At the end of the day, though, I’m not sure how much that matters. The one thing these conventions have always been about is the fans, and the fans are loud, fickle, and easily distracted. In the coming days, we are sure to get a few wonderful obfuscations from Hillary Clinton, some choice tweets from Donald Trump, and gallons of virtual ink spilled about both the rise and death of progressivism in America, but when we gear up for the general election, it’s sure to mean little.
There are many parallels to be drawn between political conventions and their entertainment counterparts, but there is one lesson that the policy wonks and race-baiters must still learn from the spandex-clad and the fanny-packed, and that is the lesson of fatigue. A common adage heard in comic-book shops and convention floors the world over goes “the world can only blow up so many times before audiences stop caring.” So, with all of the partisan pandering and strawman creating, I can only hope when it is time for Hillary Clinton to close the book on primary campaigning, the next one she picks up has speech bubbles.