I’m a melodramatic genre fan girl, even though I’m a 35-year-old adjunct professor who writes literary fiction and doesn’t own a television. (I watch online.) There is no better show for quick plot payoffs and wacky character development than CW’s The Vampire Diaries, whose sixth season debuts at 8 p.m. October 2. Based on the book series by L. J. Smith, it’s about a fictional small town inhabited by a host of hot, young supernatural beings.
Fans of all ages and backgrounds gathered at The Vampire Diaries official convention last month at the Rio—one stop in a national convention tour—to celebrate the escapism and sensational story lines cued for emotional response. There was the New Zealander touring the U.S. through fan events who had just come from the Supernatural con in New Jersey and the 31-year-old Bulgarian fan, living with her husband in Vienna, who ruminated on stars’ off-screen romances. Another international traveler was celebrating her 40th birthday that day by wearing a red sash like a blond beauty queen. And, of course, who could forget the tween dressed as a 14th-century vampire?
Eager to connect with vampire bad boy Damon (played by convention headliner Ian Somerhalder) and get the inside track on the show’s various love triangles, I stood in the same lines as these fans. For that weekend, we all had something in common.
My love of Vampire Diaries started in graduate school as time to zone out with my roommate who was also addicted to melodrama. I carried it with me when I taught English at a university in Ukraine, where my love of Damon and his mate Elena bridged a cultural divide. Discussing the show was one way I could get my students to speak without worrying about getting every English conjugation right. My lowest level class did their final debates on the show’s love triangle, and they killed it. My passion for the show flows into the actors’ real lives: I follow Somerhalder and Phoebe Tonkin (who plays a werewolf on spinoff The Originals) on Instagram. I read every tweet from the show’s executive producer, Julie Plec. I know how crazy people can get about Vampire Diaries.
I’d expected long lines, screaming girls and flashing cameras at the convention. Sure, there was some of all that, but not nearly as much as I’d anticipated. And I don’t think it was just because of declining viewership. The con wasn’t billed as being exclusive; you could’ve seen the stars (from very far away) for a $110 weekend pass. But if you wanted more than just sitting in the back during Q&As, merchandise booths and costume and trivia contests, you had to shell out. Photo ops with stars ranged from $40 to $149 a pop. Gold passes, which granted more access to events and autograph signings, went for $340. During the auction, fans bid convention banners up to $450. I yearned to tell bidders they could take a beach vacation for that amount, but I don’t think they’d have cared.
At least the stars tried to give conventioneers their money’s worth. If I were an actor whose fans had spent nearly $400 just to see me, I would do the same as Somerhalder, who jumped down from the stage, pulling his jeans up by the belt, to lip smack a fan who brought him coffee. He repeated the dash later when another enthusiast credited him with inspiring her to become a theater director.
Ancillary players also got the convention treatment. Rush & Roulette frontman Jared Hiram sat at his vendor booth while teens, clutching life-size cutouts of the show’s stars, looked over copies of his band’s CD. “We felt like rock stars,” says Hiram, whose Las Vegas band won Vampire Diaries’ new artist contest in 2013.
Although I’d considered myself a diehard, I soon found myself outdone. This was a crowd that remembered more details about scenes than the actors who’d performed them. When Matthew Davis—who plays a resurrected history teacher/supernatural vampire hunter—was trying to remember when a certain scene happened, fans answered in unison, “It was Season 2.”
It was perhaps because of the uncomfortable commercialization, and the single-minded devotion on display (less nostalgia than reminder of my own foolish youth) that I started to regret attending the con. As I left the hotel, I overheard an older fan grumbling about how it would’ve been nice to meet a star for less than $200. My sentiment exactly.
My fantasy had been stripped away by the actors’ brainless banter, which could only be fascinating to an audience of smitten girls who’d confused the fantasy characters with the real, flawed human beings in front of them. These actors were definitely not dancing monkeys (as they themselves had to tell us several times). But the knowledge that B-list celebrities are not really role models, not supernatural, nor even super human beings, is secondary. These fan girls will grow up and their lives will widen. I know because that was me. It is me. Our own talents, loves and life goals will grow so much bigger than what a group of television scriptwriters can ever dream up, and the creators know it, which is why they are cashing in now.