All conferences, whether they're for insurance salesmen or would-be wizards, have something in common: They’re about as exciting as Ben Stein reading from a medical dictionary. Conventions devoted to sci-fi and fantasy fans are supposed to be an entirely different story; they're supposed to be, I dunno, nerd keggers, a chance for the truly geeked-out to commingle with their brethren in a heathenish explosion of intergalactic excess while they relish their dip into the pool of relative cool.
Which is why I was excited about Portus 2008. Sure, it wasn’t my crowd, but just witnessing the annual tribunal of Harry Potter fans promised something akin to the famous Hell’s Angels 1965 run to Bass Lake … just without the gang-bangs and acid.
That’s what I thought, anyway.
Now this is a mid-con report, and accompanying slide show, and definitely subject to change, but after spending the Friday in the cavern that is the Hilton Anatole, there’s little doubt that Portus is a bit more conference than con. The entire day was spent shuffling from conference room to conference room where the faithful gathered in small crowds for lecture after lecture about insignificant Potter minutiae. I started the day at “Spellcast Auditions and Rehearsal.” Now, it was my bad for not reading the description correctly, but I thought everyone would be auditioning for a Potter play. I was right in one aspect: Actors would be bringing to life a Gwendolyn Grace joint titled Yes Minister. Which is? A “wizarding version [of a BBC comedy] set post-Epilogue,” according to Grace.
Only, there is no play. No physical play, anyway. Instead, Yes Minister will be performed via podcast on Sunday. It seems technology has evolved so far we now find ourselves back in the radio-happy 1920s. So for an hour and a half, podcast hopefuls read to each other off a script while the other 10 people in the room sat quietly and observed. I went to the meeting to get some dynamic photos and walked away with people reading to each other – there’s a good chance Unfair Park's editor could beat me with a rubber hose for this.
After the rehearsal, I headed off for what I deemed to be the most exciting lecture of the day: “So What if Dumbledore is Gay?” Led by four ladies from the four different houses -- for bipartisanship’s sake -- this panel discussion was by far the most entertaining event of the day. I was hoping for a queer-eye, straight-guy battle royale, but none ever materialized. Instead the only argument was over just how gay Dumbledore should have been.
One muggle -- that means she didn’t dress up -- said, “Why couldn’t [Dumbledore] be proudly gay? Why did she keep him in the closet? She cheated us.” (Later I learned that the Hogwarts headmaster sometimes wore a purple velvet robe. Yeah, if only there would’ve been signs.)
Combating the mere human was Harry himself -- well, a boy dressed as Harry Potter. To thunderous applause, the kid said, “It’s nice to know he’s gay, but we don’t need to know the inner mysteries of his life.”
The session ended with one of the panel leaders asking if a make-out sessions with her peers might be in order. Alas, she was joking.
After discussing Dumbledore’s sexual proclivities, we hustled to hear the keynote speaker and grab some lunch. Dr. Henry Jenkins of M.I.T. gave a sermon to the hungering mass titled “Beyond the Borders of the Book: The Transformative Power of Fandom in the Ag ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” Really, though, Jenkins was pretty good. It’s obvious he’s the smartest person in whichever room he’s in, but he kept the crowd entertained by rolling some pretty funny slides through the projector. (My favorite was the one of a bare-chested Malfoy playing big spoon to Harry’s little spoon. Creepy, disturbing, perfect.) I could explain what he told the crowd, but the interns aren’t quite through translating it into English.
After lunch, I wandered from lecture to lecture looking for some sort of pick-me-up, hoping I might run into Matt Jones at some point. But all I saw were insipid speakers and reticent audiences. And I think a lot of conferees agreed. Many spent their time in the Anatole lobby rather than going to panels or discussions.
To be fair, any conference or convention is only as good as its nightlife, and I wasn’t there for that. Maybe some sweet little Slytherin-Gryffindor-Hufflepuff three-way goes down. Maybe Harry will wake up next to Myrtle and spend the rest of the conference avoiding her. Perhaps Hermione finally goes too far and Ron silently smothers her while she sleeps. I don’t know, but for Portus to further the great line of sci-fi conventions it’s clear something needs to happen. --Spencer Campbell