By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
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Buffy creator Joss Whedon has said he created the slayer as an emblem of female empowerment, although Martinez suggests that the show's draw is its "soap-opera effect." "It's like 90210 with vampires," he says.
At any rate, at Vulkon's most recent Tampa-based Buffy convention, young women appear to constitute a staggering 95 percent of the attendees. Indeed, the Westshore Hilton, where the convention is being held, looks like one of those all-women's residential hotels of yore. Outside, women of high school and college age nod and chat through bubbles of cigarette smoke. In the main lobby, girls in sneakers and "Spike" T-shirts (for the sexy British vampire who spent three years in love with Buffy, his supposed nemesis) sit with their mothers, who have also donned Spike T-shirts for the occasion. At the front desk, two fortyish women in conservative floral dresses peruse Vulkon's convention schedule.
A bear of a man with a circle beard, the plump cheeks of an adolescent, and the torso of a defensive lineman, Martinez is one of the few males in sight. The 42-year-old, divorced father of a teenage boy notes that many of these women are no doubt hoping to see headliner James Marsters, who plays Spike, the often bare-chested and brooding vampire who became the only one to cross over to Buffy's spinoff, Angel, as a primary character.
Rumor has it that on Friday night, a group of impetuous females concluded that the actor was in one of the hotel's ballrooms and removed the door from its hinges.
Because of such adoration, Marsters has been put up at a different hotel. On Saturday afternoon he arrives at the Hilton -- his hair dyed blond, as it is in the show, his cheekbones dramatic -- for his 3:30 p.m. autograph session. Fans fill the ballroom to capacity while waiting to join a queue that moves row by row, hour by hour, into an adjoining room where a police officer and security guard are patient and protective. Marsters likes to take his time with his fans. Martinez and Motes are in charge of threading this tangle of people into an orderly line that ends, for many, in something of a dream -- tears well in their eyes, their hands tremble -- as they meet the mortal behind the fangs.
Soon Marsters will tear himself away, after having stayed more than an hour after his scheduled appearance was to end. When the sky is dark, he heads back to his own hotel to change for the convention banquet, which sold out almost immediately online. In the main ballroom, where the buffet-style dinner will take place, the heads that already fringe the white tablecloths are almost all female.
By around 11:00 p.m., a group of women in their twenties and thirties drink vodka and tonics and smoke by the pool. Not interested in meeting the star, these women nonetheless are Vulkon regulars who first began attending conventions because of their interest in Star Trek. Now, they explain, they attend any Vulkon event just to catch up with one another, drink, talk dirty, and eat.
One of the women in the group is Miami native and former 2002 "Miss Vulkon," Teri Leigh. She has been greeting everyone she meets this weekend with a printout of a woman's nude and perfect C-cup bust. This picture was posted on her Website, alongside requests for visitors to donate (through PayPal) to her "Boobie Fund," which is now closed. The money has come in, and she is scheduled to get her breast implants in only a few weeks.
The poolside conversation shifts from sex to food, from men to women, and then to a recap of the day's events. "Karaoke was full tonight," says one of the women, to the amazement of the others. She's referring to the karaoke event Vulkon included in its Saturday itinerary. "Karaoke is never full," she explains. Buffy fans are more schedule-adherent than those who come for Star Trek, she adds; the latter attend conventions mostly to be with other fans. That familial atmosphere is far less apparent here, she says, and today's Buffy fans have been crowding the actors a bit more than they do at a Star Trek con. A good example is the scene happening that very moment inside at the bar. Guest star Robin Atkin Downes, who played Machida on Buffy, is holding court at the piano for 60 women, who gather around him and sing along as he tickles out "Tiny Dancer."
"With Star Trek, people are loyal to the shows, not the characters," explains Motes a short while later. "With Buffy, it's the other way around."
A divorced, 55-year-old father of one, Motes favors polo shirts and dark slacks. He is a former Marine and Vietnam veteran with an impenetrable face and droopy dog eyes, who spends most of his convention time walking the site, looking preoccupied, and waylaying problems. His twelve-year-old daughter even has her own small table at this convention. A pretty girl with bangs that fall across her glasses, she's selling a set of collector mugs, as well as copies of Gene Roddenberry's original contract with Paramount. When she's not selling, she walks quickly and with a purpose through the hallway, just as her father does, recognizing and greeting the other children who come regularly to conventions.