Salt Lake Comic Con and the $10,000 Access Badge

**DISCLAIMER** You might not like what you read here. There is fact. There is prosecutorial assertion. There is extrapolation. You have been warned. Seriously**

First, some background.

Two people well known to the Salt Lake geek community, Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg, have successfully shepherded Salt Lake’s Comic Con event (SLCC) and FanX events from fledgling Rocky Mountain gatherings of pop-culture fans to a highly successful, now-international effort, in only three short years.

Lauded by no less a pop-culture and comic con fixture as Marvel Comic’s icon, the great Stan Lee, it has grown in magnitude and influence such that there will be THREE overseas FanX events in the remainder of 2016 alone, in addition to the upcoming September Comic Con event in Salt Lake City.

Recently, Bryan and Dan had to aggressively defend their decision to not have a FanX event in Salt Lake in 2017, owing to the lack of availability of the only venue capable of hosting it, the Salt Palace. The fans, it seems, have gotten used to having two events in a calendar year rather quickly, and were gob-smacked by the loss of one of them. [Although a great many fans on social media commented, and I have even covered it here in My Own Little Shadow, Dan and Bryan pointed fans to this puff-piece by Sean P. Means in the Salt Lake Tribune as the definitive, desired fan response to the event.]

Tangentially, during it’s somewhat short life, SLCC has been sued by Comic Con International, the folks who run the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), for copyright infringement. Though reports suggest that this [frivolous] lawsuit is finding its way to a settlement, that battle is not over yet. [As an aside, I cannot help but wonder if this is at least part of the reason that “FanXperience” was chosen as the moniker for the international events.]

Now that we have been brought up to speed on how we got to where we are, let’s talk about another recent event.

You may be familiar with the story of the gentleman (identified as Jonathan Wall) who impersonated an Air Force Special Investigator in an attempt to gain access to the “VIP” areas of the 2015 Salt Lake Comic Con [Salt Lake Tribune coverage HERE and Fusion.net coverage HERE]. Depending on which story you read, the gentleman in question had either purchased VIP tickets and attempted to bluff his way into the more secure celebrity green room, or simply tried to get VIP tickets free of charge.

Conflicting coverage aside, it is clear that he gained access to the Salt Palace, either through his ruse or by virtue of having already purchased tickets. He was caught attempting to access the celebrity area when his story fell apart.

What does all this have to do with anything? I’m glad you asked.

First, let’s talk about security. I will assume for a moment that Mr. Wall was actually in possession of VIP tickets, and then decided to try his ruse to gain access to the celebrity areas. I have to assume that this is how it went down, because if it wasn’t, then SLCC needs to have brighter people working the front end. As I cannot believe anyone would fall for such a ludicrous scheme, I’ll go with the coverage that states Mr. Wall already had VIP tickets to the Con.

Second, the idea that access to such a VIP area could be purchased for $10,000 seems, at first glance, to be silly. However…

Once you look at it objectively, you can begin to understand how such a distinction might be drawn between the casual, $250 ticket fans and those of more… substantial… means. People whose sense of their own importance might lead them to believe that they are deserving of access that other people aren’t.

A quick reminder here: I’m not saying this actually happens at Salt Lake Comic Con—or any other Con—I’m simply saying that the idea of it happening is not so far-fetched. To be clear: I’m also not saying it didn’t/doesn’t happen in Salt Lake; I’m not in a position to know, being one of those $250 ticket fans. The prosecutor in Mr. Wall’s case is making the claim that such access existed–for that price–and that they have witnesses to that. Bryan Brandenburg denies this.

In America, everything is for sale, and if there is anything we Americans like, it’s access and prestige, or at least the illusion of prestige. This makes the idea of paid access to VIP green rooms not only plausible, but likely.

Continuing down this theoretical path, then, begs this question, “who would determine the criteria for access?” Certainly not the celebrities, as coordinating so many differing sets of preferences would be impossible, so, if this did occur, it must be overseen by someone in the organization running the event. Personally, I would like to discard the idea that Dan or Bryan would be directly involved in such a thing, if it was happening, due to their having much more on their plates. That would mean that such a role would necessarily be filled by an underling, albeit one in a position of authority.

Quick aside: you all may have noticed that there are badges for attendees of the event labeled Gold, VIP, Exhibitor, Press, and Guest, but you may not have noticed ones labeled Special Guest or the like. So, we already know that attendees are separated into tiers of “importance,” but you may not be aware that celebrities themselves are tiered by “importance,” a fact exposed by former guest Russ Adams in a previous interview (which you can listen to HERE – Press the spacebar to play after it loads). Russ was removed from FanX 2015 after privately [through text message] calling out a Comic Con executive about promises made to other celebrity guests regarding Green Room access—which were not kept—after he learned about a more exclusive VIP area they referred to as Narnia (“Further up! Further in!”).

So, knowing that even the celebrities themselves are somehow segregated from one another through some process that takes place behind the scenes, does it become more or less believable that access to these areas would become a commodity with a price tag?

Therefore, assuming the prosecutor is correct and they have witnesses to corroborate the existence of such a VIP Green Room area, and attendant price tag, what are we left to believe?

Well, when SDCC sued over the phrase “Comic Con,” I was among the first to call them out as not caring about the fans, but rather about the dollars they thought they might be losing to SLCC specifically, and other events in general.

When the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau filed suit against Space City Comic Con for use of the phrase “Space City,” only to have it exposed that the GHCVB was a part owner of a competing comic con event, I called them out as being more concerned about their profits than any concern about a possible trademark infringement.

If this is true about Salt Lake Comic Con, is it an egregious enough offense to lump it in with these two examples? There would seem to be no intent to deny another event the opportunity to run itself or make money, or hamstring it in any way. It is the commodification of something from which a profit might be derived. That’s business. I don’t see anything illegal about it.

The only way it might hurt SLCC is in the court of public opinion or imaging. I have said often in my coverage of SLCC events that I believe Dan Farr when he says that it’s all about the fans. He says it time and again, and watching him interact with the folks attending, I believe that.

But…

If it is revealed that such a circumstance exists, how will the fans react? After the outcry (and eventual excitement) of the internationalization of the “FanX” brand, coupled with the confusion of the fans when “FanX 2017” was unscheduled, how would the fans react to such an elitist, blatant, money-grabbing move by two men who have professed repeatedly that it’s all about the fans?

Remember, Bryan Brandenburg denies this, and I would like to be able to take him at his word. But, for the life of me, I’m not sure why, exactly, a Federal Prosecutor would invent something like this for such an idiotic situation.

And speaking of idiots…

The irony of all this, or course, is that no one would be talking about this at all if this idiot hadn’t tried to bluff his way to see the celebrities behind the scenes. Clearly, he couldn’t have known about some $10,000 price tag, so it’s existence–if it exists–was uncovered by the Federal Investigators (the real ones, not this nincompoop) during their investigation of Mr. Wall’s exploits.

I’m no Perry Mason or Vincent Gambini, but I’m really interested to see how this all plays out.

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