By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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In addition to the Spike followers and the Vulkon regulars, a third contingent of fans is in attendance here. When one of Buffy's primary characters, Willow, came out as a lesbian during season four, the show earned itself a healthy following of gay and gay-friendly fans. And some people are here to see Iyari Limon, the actress who plays Kennedy, Willow's girlfriend in the show's final season. Throughout the weekend, Limon enjoys a steady stream of fans at her signing table. But she says she is now careful about what she autographs because the business of collecting has its scoundrels. Early this summer, a fan in Chicago asked her to sign a pair of thong underwear, which she did, only to discover that the lingerie was selling on eBay for $200 with a description that read: "It was her idea to pose for us with this great collectible and for all the die-hard Buffy fans this is as close and personal as it gets!" (Limon voiced her displeasure with the sale, and the fan removed the underwear from the site.)
Limon's autograph trouble underscores one of the most significant developments in convention culture. It used to be, in the early days of Star Trek conventions, that fans bought their merchandise from other fans; the souvenirs -- whether patches, sweaters, T-shirts, or full costumes -- were all handcrafted. But licensing constraints put a quick end to that. As owner of the rights to all Star Trek goods, Paramount has grown increasingly resistant to the sale of Star Trek memorabilia by fans and vendors who do not pay fees to Viacom Consumer Products, Paramount's licensing company. At a Vulkon convention in Cleveland in April 2002, Paramount sent an attorney, along with local police officers, to the site to seize any and all materials being sold by vendors who had not paid the requisite fees.
These days the most "authentic" convention souvenir has become a glossy photo signed by one of the stars. Collectors bring three-ring binders full of signed photos. Along with these, they often store a program from the convention or some other dated artifact meant to ensure the authenticity of the item because dishonest dealers sell glossy photos bearing fraudulent signatures.
In fandom autographs have become a currency all their own. Martinez, in fact, supports himself by working as a vendor at his conventions, selling signed photos from a multitude of cult-favorite films and television shows, including Star Trek, Buffy, Xena: Warrior Princess, X-Files, and Stargate SG-1. With the exception of the headlining guests, the actors at these conventions also make money from the photos they sign, and a stack of these typically goes to Vulkon as part of the business agreement.
In general, the Vulkon promoters acknowledge, Buffy fans spend more money to meet and obtain signatures from their favorite stars. Because of this, Vulkon began offering $40 personal photo opportunities with the headliners at Buffy conventions. Star Trek fans wouldn't pay the money for similar photo opportunities, says Martinez. "The problem we often find with Buffy cons is the availability of different stars," he adds. "How many Buffy cons there'll be and how long the interest lasts will depend on how much the stars are available." Gellar doesn't attend the conventions, and David Boreanaz, the actor who plays Angel, wants more than Vulkon will pay.
For now, Angel is assurance enough that a market will remain for all things Buffy. This is good news for Motes and Martinez, who are planning a seven-day Buffy cruise for June 11, 2005, with Holland America Cruise Line's Zuiderdam. So far, they say, 150 people have registered to sail with the stars around the eastern Caribbean.
Buffy conventions are the showroom for the new fandom -- a celebrity-driven event where autographs are won with patience. Times have changed since the era of Star Trek primacy, and so have Motes and Martinez. Both men identify themselves as fans who happened to get into the business of convention promoting. On the job, they are all business: a wall between celebrities and their adoring public. On the last day of this convention, Marsters returns to a secured convention room for another day of signing. When one young woman reaches him, the two hug. She refuses to let go, clinging to the actor as if he were the last rooted tree in a tornado, even as others try to pry her away. It's an embarrassing moment for everyone, especially since the young woman is a member of the Vulkon volunteer staff.
The Prime Directive
Upon entering the same Westshore Hilton on the first night of Vulkon's Star Trek convention, it is immediately apparent that this weekend will be much different from the Buffy convention. Attendees have already hijacked the lobby. A half-dozen love seats and armchairs encircle coffee tables where people lounge, their stockinged feet on tables and shoes dropped to the floor alongside cups and cozies and Styrofoam take-out containers. Others eat homemade brownies out of Tupperware, play cards, and massage each other's shoulders. A few are napping. A stocky redhead in her mid-twenties saunters by with a cat-o'-nine-tails, followed by a man in shorts and sandals. He drinks from a golden goblet.