Already overwhelmed by the nonstop barrage of chatter about the Republican and Democratic national conventions?
Understandable. While you still can, distract yourself from the spectacle by reading about a few nonpartisan gatherings that have all the drama and intrigue of a major political convention but swap out fired-up delegates with fursuiters and keynote speeches with performances by Las Vegas’ top Barbra Streisand impersonator.
There are a countless number of conventions and gatherings out there that decidedly fall under the “not for everyone” banner, but we’ve wrangled up a few that we consider the most kooky of the lot. Most are considered fan gatherings in the tradition of the geeked-out grand dames of them all — Comic-Con and this weekend's DragonCon — but that’s not always the case, as the World Toilet Summit & Expo proves. (Maybe Sanitation-Con didn’t have the right ring to it.)
Is there an unusual convention that we left out? Perhaps one that you’ve attended — or accidentally stumbled upon at the conference center of some anonymous Hilton in the Midwest — that you care to share? Tell us in the comments section.
Coney Island may have the Mermaid Parade, but that rowdy annual fete featuring flippered ladies on floats and a nonstop of procession of semi-nude weirdos doesn’t hold a candle to the Mermaid Convention (Mer-Con) that took place last August in Las Vegas. Sure, Vegas is hundreds of miles from a mermaid’s natural habitat but, hey, there was enough space in the pool — and in the existing mermaid-friendly reef aquarium — at the Silverton Casino to accommodate more than 800 Ariel-idolizing chimeras and their admirers. The event included appearances from mer-luminaries such as MeduSirena, Hannah “Mermaid” Fraser and the dude who designed Daryl Hannah’s signature scaled apparatus for “Splash.” There was also a group swim and, of course, an International Mermaid Pageant.
Writing for the Hairpin, mermaid expert Carolyn Turgeon describes her experience judging the pageant: “Strong men from the audience carry each contestant out, since as everyone knows mermaids cannot walk and there were no wheelchairs for them to roll themselves out in. Each mermaid was luminous in her tail, and there were tails of all kinds: tails made of fabric or silicone, tails covered in sequins, shiny spandex-y tails, and super-realistic scaled tails in a variety of shimmering colors. Some mermaids flapped their fins as they were delicately placed on stage, others positioned their tails alluringly to the side, fluke standing straight up, and everyone smiled and waved at the audience. One mermaid chose to hop on stage, another to be carried up piggyback-style. All age groups were represented, as well as both genders.”
Sadly, it appears that the inaugural Mer-Con may have been the last. (Maybe the Chicken of the Sea sponsorship fall through?) However, a similar shindig celebrating amphibious women, Mer-Palooza, took place earlier this summer in Orlando. The Mermaids & Mythology magazine-sponsored event, billed as the “largest international gathering of mermaids, pirates and those who love them,” featured a trade show, pool party (discounted drinks!), autographed tail auctions and more. We’re guessing it was nothing short of "meraculous."
Where can folks preoccupied with anthropomorphic animal characters — “furries” — gather to socialize, hone their role-playing and gaming skills, partake in acting workshops and roam a cavernous convention hall wearing a homemade fursuit without frightening small children? Why, Pittsburgh of course.
Pittsburgh is home to Anthrocon, a long-running event that’s believed to be the largest annual convergence of the furry fandom on the planet — and there are many, ranging from Further Confusion in San Jose, MidWest FurFest in Illinois, Euroference in Germany and MiDFur in Australia, an event with the 2012 tagline “the Furry Apocalypse Cometh” — with 2012 attendance records topping 5,000 including a parade of more than 1,000 jubilant yet overheated fursuiters (read: attendees wearing animal costumes, not to be confused with stuffed toy enthusiasts known as plushies). First held in Albany in 1997 with an estimated attendance of around 300, Anthrocon moved to Philadelphia in 2001 and attendance leapt into the thousands. When the event once again relocated to Pittsburgh in 2007, the numbers continued to multiply and is now considered one of the city’s top 10 conventions, bringing in millions of dollars to the local economy.
The theme for Anthrocon 2012 was “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” and the associated charity was Hello Bully, a Pittsburgh-based pit bull rescue and rehabilitation group. Special guests included Sardyuon, a fursuiting acrobat from Japan. And on that note, the organizers of Anthrocon were kind enough to outline a comprehensive list of fursuiter etiquette for convention newbies. (“Be careful around suiters, they have limited visibility!”) The furries-in-charge also published what’s perhaps the most unusual convention lost and found page that we’ve ever stumbled across. Anyone leave behind a foxtail, a pair of miniature horns or a “Beware of the Wolf” badge? Anyone?
World Toilet Summit & Expo
While the thought of a commode-centric convention may elicit a few chuckles, it’s all business at the World Toilet Summit & Expo. Now in its 11th year, the World Toilet Organization (WTO)-organized event is held in a different host city across the globe annually — the global nonprofit’s home base of Singapore hosted the first and eighth summits while cities such as Belfast, Beijing, Moscow, Seoul and Philadelphia have also had the honors of hosting hundreds of flush-happy attendees. Last year, the summit was held in Hainan, China, where a gold-plated throne costing more than $200,000 was unveiled.
Yet, the World Toilet Summit & Expo isn’t all about showcasing super-fancy crappers and exchanging businesses cards with the most elite names in the indoor plumbing industry. The primary goal of the event is to conjure up methods of improving sanitation conditions in areas of the world where a lack of proper facilities is an ongoing — and deadly — issue. Explains the WTO: “This annually organized event brings together nonprofit organizations, government bodies, academia and other industry players to address the sanitation crisis that affects 2.6 billion people globally.” This year, the host city is Durban, South Africa, and the theme is “African Sanitation: Scaling Up — Dignity For All!” Like past summits, a key element of the three-day program is a design competition.
Unrelated to the good work of the World Toilet Organization, [skipwords]Microsoft[/skipwords] co-founder Bill Gates recently held his own toilet convention of sorts in Seattle dubbed the Reinvent the Toilet Fair. Much like the World Toilet Summit & Expo, the Gates Foundation-sponsored event was centered around a toilet design competition that focused on innovative solutions to poor sanitation conditions in developing countries (a [skipwords]solar[/skipwords]-powered model developed by students at the California Institute of Technology walked away with the $100,000 prize). Says Gates: “Beyond a question of human dignity, this lack of access also endangers people's lives, creates an economic and a health burden for poor communities, and hurts the environment.”
Xena Warrior Princess Convention
We were well aware that “Xena: Warrior Princess” — the syndicated fantasy adventure series starring Lucy Lawless as the titular, sword-wielding heroine and Renée O’Connor as her naive “traveling companion” Gabrielle — still has quite the rabid cult following even after it went off the air in 2001 after a six-year, 134-episode run. But we had no idea that Xena Nation (composed of Xenaphiles?) was powerful enough to warrant a popular annual convention.
Creation Entertainment — the company responsible for various “Star Trek,” “Farscape” “Stargate SG-1” and “Twilight” conventions — has been producing official Xena Warrior Princess conventions in and around Los Angeles since 1997 (to be clear, the first couple of years were Hercules/Xena combo-cons). Amazon Elders and virgins all but freaked out when Creation decided that the 2012 event would be its last. Yet, the panic was short-lived when the company later announced that the Official Xena Convention: The XVIII Celebration — The Final Journey, Part Two was a go for January 2013 at the Marriot Burbank Airport Hotel. The lineup for the latest installment of the Xena Convention includes a self-awareness seminar with O’Conner, a yoga workshop with actress Hudson Leick, a cabaret show, a karaoke party and a costume parade.
Gendy Alimurung of LA Weekly sums up the overall vibe at the 2009 Xena Warrior Princess Convention: “When you brush aside the moneymaking aspect — the $119 yoga lessons, the soy candles, the $25 Xena calendars — girl-on-girl is the single most important subtext at the Xena convention. The displays of feminine support are overwhelming. A womanish man, or a mannish woman — it’s hard to say which — is patiently reading ‘The Shack’ while his/her girlfriend gets her Xena on. A woman wearing a denim shirt with a portrait of Lucy Lawless on the back, airbrushed by her life partner, also does murals on motor homes. ...”
The Reel Awards and Celebrity Impersonators Convention
Picture this, if you will: Cher, Sean Connery and Michelle Obama walk into a Las Vegas ballroom …
Oh, how we’d like to be a fly on the wall of the annual Celebrity Impersonators Convention and the faux-star-studded Reel Awards, a long-running — 21 years and counting for the Reel Awards and 12 years for the convention itself — assemblage of “the public, celebrity impersonators, look-alikes, sound-alikes and tribute artists.”
2012’s disorienting, doppelganger-centric ho-down, held at the Vegas’ Golden Nugget Casino in February, needs little description, although we suppose we should provide a brief rundown of just some of the celebs — both living and dearly departed and some in multiples — in attendance: Lady Gaga, Tom Jones, Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Martha Stewart, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Taylor, Dr. Phil, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and, of course, Elvis. Sharon Osbourne (Caroline Bernstein) came in first place and Whitney Houston (Trina Johnson-Finn) secured second place during the third annual Vegas Idol Tribute Competition, a fierce showdown that “pitted impersonators against each other in a showcase of charisma, dance moves and hair product” in the words of the Las Vegas Sun (Louis Armstrong and Neil Diamond took top honors in 2011). Click here for an assortment of double take-inducing images from on and off the red [skipwords]carpet[/skipwords].
ALCON: The Weird Al Yankovic Fan Convention
Given that this is a list dedicated to decidedly off-kilter gatherings, we thought it would be appropriate to include a gathering dedicated to none other than the Grammy-winning, accordion-playing parodist born in 1959 as Alfred Matthew Yankovic. Dubbed ALCON, we’re not exactly sure what a Weird Al Yankovic Fan Convention entails. Group sing-alongs to “Amish Paradise”? Screenings of “UHF?” Twinkie Weiner Sandwich-making tutorials? Petition signing to get Yankovic inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Perming?
However, after taking a look at this photo gallery and reviewing the schedule from April 2002’s ALCON III (the last of the ALCONs although there may be more) proves that our suspicions weren’t entirely off. Activities of the two-day convention, held in the ballroom of the “world famous” Elk Grove Village Holiday Inn near Chicago O’Hare Airport, included a “Look-Al-Like” contest, a lip-sync competition, a trivia contest, a gong show, a charity auction dubbed “Al’s Garage Sale,” performances from Throwing Toasters and Larry Weaver, a chat with Weird Al drummer John “Bermuda” Schwartz and an autograph signing session from the Hawaiian shirt-wearing man of the hour himself.
And in case you were wondering what Weird Al has been up to lately, the perpetually touring funnyman released “Alpocolypse” in 2011, an album that included send-ups of songs by Lady Gaga (“Perform This Way”), Miley Cyrus (“Party in the C.I.A.”) and Taylor Swift (“TMZ”). Yankovic has been a vegetarian for nearly 20 years, a father to a daughter named Nina for nearly 10 and is still working on getting the “Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known As Prince” to give his blessings for a parody.
BlobFest — Phoenixville, Pa. (for fans of the Steve McQueen sci-fi classic, “The Blob”)
Rocky Con — various locations (for those who worship at the altar of Dr. Frank-N-Furter)
BlizzCon — Anaheim, Calif. (for men over 30 who live in their parents’ basement)
The Office Convention — Scranton, Pa. (for those who love “The Office” enough to travel to Scranton, Pa.)
International UFO Congress Convention & Film Festival — Arizona (for folks who have seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” one too many times