Tedheads, Trekkies and Teddy Boys; the allure of the super-fan festivals.  Have Tedfests, Comic Cons and Elvis Festivals become the new pilgrimage to Knock?   Joe Rooney 

Three adult size peanuts are sitting on a harbour wall chatting with a duo of popes as a five aside football match takes place between Oasis and Blur on the strand. I blink my eyes and realise it’s a brisk March morning on the island of Inishmore but I’m not dreaming. The peanuts have come all the way from Glasgow, the popes travelled across from Connemara and they’ve come to Tedfest the annual celebration of Father Ted. 
I have to hold my hands up and declare an interest here as I played Father Damo in the Channel 4 sitcom. The single episode appearance has linked me with the show for life so I’m here at Tedfest to do commentary on the Craggy Cup final and host the Lovely Girls competition. 
Four Days Dressed As A Spider Baby 
I’ve been at the festival five times and am still not sure why up to 200 people take an often stomach churning ferry ride across to the island each year dressed as nuns, priests, hairy milkmen, spider babies and lovely girls. 
Peter Phillips who has been running the festival for fifteen years contends, “The premise was the opposite of them awful fan conventions. We’re letting people live the Craggy island dream.” Like Woodstock, Tedfest can have its casualties Peter warns me, “It can be a hard come down. I’ve heard people say that after four days dressed as a spider baby it can be hard to get back to normal”. 
Peter, who also runs the Porthcawl Elvis Festival in Wales (and a festival in Benidorm celebrating the ITV series Benidorm) doesn’t care if you’re a fan of the King or just there for a laugh, “If we get a coach load of pissed up women from Merthyr Tydfil arriving in cheap wigs and inflatable guitars, 
welcome, there’s the bar”. 
All Work For Cosplay 
But what about those “awful fan conventions”? The recent Comic Con in Dublin attracted up to 30,000 fans, there to meet their favourite stars but also to cosplay their favourite characters. Aka, an Irish cosplayer who had her own stand at the event, is invited to cosplay events all over Europe and 
attends as different anime characters. Aka’s Instagram displays the effort and attention to detail that goes into each cosplay. Using wigs, contact lenses and costumes that take up to three months to assemble combined with choreographed dance routines, Aka elevates cosplay to kitsch performance 
art on the level of Jeff Koons. 
What attracted Aka to cosplay? “ I started looking up online some of my favourite characters and cosplayers who cosplay them, their make up, how they style their wigs and how realistic they can look to those characters. I thought that’s something I’d like to do y’know”. 
Aka puts in the kind of method acting work that makes Robert De Niro look like Shane Duffy, doing a two week sailing trip to learn more about sailing specifically to play Luffy from the One Piece manga series. “It was like to feel what it was like to be scared on the ocean so when you’re taking pictures on a boat, you’re not just posing. There’s not many cosplayers that go to that extreme but for me it just makes the whole experience more fun”. 
Lord Of The Flies On Crack 
However serious you take this dressing up lark, it would seem there is a need in all of us to escape our selves and be someone else. It’s a healthy obsession, not being yourself for a while and exploring other parts of your psyche whether that be another gender or the hidden dark part of us lurking within that Jung called “the shadow”. 
Stand up comedian Betsy Speers went to Dublin Comic Con dressed as Star Trek’s Seven of Nine. “Generally I am quite goofy but Seven of Nine is very serious. It was really nice to be really deadpan and everybody’s totally on board with it”. Attending these events gives Betsy a chance to really immerse herself in the fandom. “You come across other people dressed as Star Trek characters and I’d be like, “Good morning officer, have you seen the Borg on this ship?” and they go along with it. 
You get to act it out.” She found the Comic Con a “very inclusive environment, you’re not being afraid to geek out, quite heart warming actually”. Fan letters reveal that for many Star Trek is a secular religion that provides hope for a better future to victims of racism or illness and has been a balm for those recovering from grief or trauma. 
What makes a show particularly suitable for fandom is an array of characters small and large to choose from and particularly characters that are outsiders trying to get by in a conformist world. The Father Stone character in Father Ted is an example, “Children with autism identify fully with Fr Stone because they recognise him as someone, like themselves, who walks into a room and has problems communicating properly and doesn’t know what to say.” says Michael Redmond the actor who played him. 
At Tedfest if you’re not in on the joke some of the events would seem shockingly conservative or prejudiced. During the “Lovely Girls Competition” contestants are asked what they would do if they knew the world was ending, “say a decade of the rosary and make my husband a cup of tea” comes the answer to uproarious laughter from the knowing crowd. But behind it all are we not exorcising the attitudes that were ingrained in our mothers and fathers and we grew up with, in a way that doesn’t involve a screaming match over Christmas dinner. Who knows what psychological issues are being acted out by dressing as a spider baby or a Borg drone for a weekend? Peter recalls the time a musician friend brought his girlfriend, a criminal psychologist, to Tedfest. “Jesus Christ”, she said, “It’s like Lord of The Flies on crack”. 
• A Network of Support: Coping with Trauma Through Star Trek Fan Letters - LINCOLN GERAGHTY 
First published: 07 November 2006 https://doi-org.dcu.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/ j.1540-5931.2006.00331.xCitations: 3 
• Marjorie Cohee Manifold, Re-Envisioning a Heroine’s Journey, Educational, Psychological, and Behavioral Considerations in Niche Online Communities, 10.4018/978-1-4666-5206-4.ch009, (132-160), (2014). Crossref 
• https://headstuffpodcasts.com/episode/podarooney-157 - interview with Aka 
• Interviews with Betsy Speer, Peter Phillips and Michael Redmond over Zoom 
Share this post:

Leave a comment: 

Our site uses cookies. For more information, see our cookie policy. Accept cookies and close
Reject cookies Manage settings