Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mixed Feelings on the Evolution of Fandom

I know… it’s been a very long time since I’ve poked my nose in here and updated. I also am doing it using a different log-in this time. For that, I apologize. My life was hectic for awhile there and this blog fell to the side. I will be writing from this log-in more than the lilalexei one, due to the fact that I use this one more. Now that those things have settled and I’ve had the chance to noodle a little more… I’m back!

In the process of the crazy that’s been my reality; I’ve had the chance to reflect on a major change in a huge aspect of my life. It should come to no surprise, considering the theme of this blog, that this aspect is fandom. This change is in how the ‘fannish’ vs, ‘mundane’ worlds interact with one another. It has been a pretty gradual change over the course of my involvement in fandom, but the last couple years have brought it into stark focus for me.

To give a little background, I’m far from one of the grand-dames of fandom. I’m not one of the original pioneers of the convention scene or community organization out of the 40s and 50s. I’ve been a fan of science fiction, fantasy and role-playing games since the real late 70s. Some of my earliest memories are of Tom Baker’s Dr. Who, Star Trek re-runs, original Battlestar Galactica, and most of all; this odd man named Gary who lived down the street, played make-believe games with us kids and gave me the funny shaped dice I kept in my box of treasures. My involvement in organized fandom (clubs, conventions, organized play) began in the late 1980s. I joined or formed clubs to be with people like myself. I went to conventions to have weekends where I was the norm.

Fandom has become a lot less the exclusive domain of geeks and nerds over the years. As time has passed, traditionally geeky or nerdy interests like science fiction, fantasy, esoteric horror, comics, gaming, and computers have become part of pop or popular culture. I have gone from being a part of a marginalized and niche world to being a part of accepted every day culture. There are both good and bad things that come with this. I want to discuss some of the major impact that I’ve noticed along with their duel pros and cons.

1. It is no longer weird to see someone in public wearing ‘nerdy’ or ‘geeky’ clothing; t-shirts, costuming, props etc.

THE GOOD: My interests are no longer a primary source for worry over verbal or physical abuse. Children no longer have to go through the gauntlet of bullying just for being into the things I was picked on, abused or ostracized for as a child. Many people, even my own friends, had no idea how hurtful their words were. I was good at putting on a tough face as a child, but spent a lot of time at home crying. I like the fact that children can now play with their action figures and lightsabers without wondering if someone would pick on them for it.

THE BAD: Seeing someone wearing ‘nerdy’ or ‘geeky’ clothing is no longer an automatic bond of community. I used to be able to walk up to perfect strangers, comment positively on their beautiful dorkiness and make an instant, possibly lifelong, friend. Now if I do that, I’ve firmly placed myself in that person’s ‘creeper’ category. This is especially true of younger people. Middle aged and older fans, like myself, seem to creep them out more than another young person commenting on their cool Cthulhu shirt.

2. We can get products tied to our passions easily and in great numbers.

THE GOOD: I no longer have to spend months hunting garage/yard sales, second hand stores, and toddler-pee scented toy stores for even one item related to my fandom. Now, I can walk into any convenience store or turn on my computer and be inundated with a bonanza of cool things affiliated with all of my fandoms… even the most esoteric ones. They also come in all price ranges, so even the poorest fan can have a neat item or two.

THE BAD: This bonanza was exciting at first, but it has since become rather mundane experience to run across fandom related items. Add this blah effect to the fact that my purchases are no longer accidental collectibles. I can’t buy an action figure now and discover that I can pay for college with it years later. Everything is either mass marketed to death or actively marketed as a collectible and sold in such controlled numbers that they are financially out of reach of everyone but the absolutely most dedicated collectors.

3. The Internet.

THE GOOD: We can reach out to people like ourselves all over the world. A nice, crafty lady in Winnemucca can make a Tom Baker scarf for a teen in Harper’s Ferry; everything processed easily through PayPal and social media. We can eBay our collections to one another and debate the minutiae of Death Star ship schematics with the other ‘experts’ in our fields. When we’re struggling, there is this box full of people who completely understand what we’re talking about. You can also Google anything. If you don't know an answer, you can find it.

THE BAD: We really don’t have a reason to leave our homes to socialize or shop. This can be made even worse when you have a work from home job. We can also get buried in the minutiae and forget the big picture; wallowing in silliness like the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate. (I hung out with Chewbacca while dressed like a Klingon, so I am not taking sides on that one.) With the increase of social media and other internet access points, our conventions are no longer serving as our primary social outlet. They have become merely places to get things (dealers and art rooms), see things (panels and famous people) and show off things (costuming and collectibles). The internet has actually made fandom less about people and more about things. You can Google anything. Everyone's an 'expert' now.

4. Most conventions have either specialized to an insane degree or become DragonCon/ComicCon clones.

THE GOOD: I can spend an entire weekend doing nothing but role-playing at a gaming con or chasing red shirts around swearing at them in Klingon at a Trek con or admittedly ogling the cute cosplay girls at an Anime con, without missing out on the entire rest of the convention. Focused events let us focus. DragonCon/ComicCons are spectacles in their own right. 50-100,000 fans all in one place, taking over an entire city for a weekend is cool. Every restaurant, bus, train, street has someone in costume. Fandom becomes the normal.

THE BAD: We don’t intermingle and socialize with one another anymore. Either we are at our specialty niche event or we are just another body in an absolute sea of humanity. Specialization breeds rivalry. The Whovians, Trekkies, gamers, otaku and Jedi no longer have to work together to put on a communal event, so they end up no longer cooperating in other arenas. Cross fandom sniping is on the rise. We’re no longer one big community. Too many fans see other fandoms as ‘them’ and no longer as a part of ‘us.’


I am quite sure I’ve missed a lot of things in this, but it should give you an idea of my mixed feelings about the mainstreaming of fandom. I'm excited that this gives bullies one less thing to attack others with. The accessibility and acceptance of fandom is something I'd wished for. The problem is, almost everyone claims to be a fan anymore. We've lost our exclusivity. In the process of becoming more accepted, we've also become extremely diluted. There is this little kernel of me that misses the days of propeller beanies (I still wear mine), SMOFs, games of 'freaking the mundanes' and the sacred space of our special, secret little world.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

CONduit Lessons Learned

This last year sure has been full of challenges. I completely lost track of writing here due to it and I apologize. CONduit actually succeeded, despite some glitches. This was the very first time that I have chaired an entire convention and I learned a lot.

1. It doesn't matter how good someone is at their job. If they can't work with the people around them, they are a problem. This applies to multiple people.

2. People aren't as hung up on tradition as we think they are. They are only hung up on those traditions that they actively play in. This is not tradition. This is territoriality.

3. Interactive is best. The non-GOH panels that we saw the most positive feedback from were the interactive ones. I've received more comments about Utah Geek's Wookie Calls, Beat the Geek, and other open to the floor contest based panels than just about anything else.

4. Utah's fen are fine with a little controversy on the schedule. The politics panel (Fascism vs Socialism in Starship Troopers) was actually quite full. The debate only vaguely stayed on Starship Troopers, largely wandering into the real world. Oh... and I'm rarely the most conservative person in a debate. I was the most conservative person in that room.

5. Flyers in geek hangouts suck as advertising. We are selling to the same people who choose to come or not come every year. Yes, we should keep doing them. No, they should not be our sole source of spreading the word. Let's flyer the crap out of other cons. Do ad exchanges with other cons. Get on the free community listings available through PBS, geek website, fanzines, etc.

6. We may have to look at room layout to better serve the dealer's room and art show. Neither of them get the traffic that they deserve.

7. Media guests actually work at CONduit, we just need to figure out a better way to handle them. This feeds back into the advertising issue.

8. Communication, communication, communication!!!

9. Last, but not least... my job is not to be well liked by the staff. My job is to make sure that they are doing their jobs. If I need to be more of an ass to make it happen, I need to do that. Shaking babies and kissing hands is what I am supposed to do with the fen and guests, not the committee.

There ya go guys! I hope to be able to blog more this year as I press on for a more inclusive and general interest CONduit.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Is it High School All Over Again?

Ah... High School. I'm sure the majority of fen remember those so-called glory days very differently than the former cheerleaders and jocks. It was during those years that many fen found themselves gravitating towards one another out of common interest and survival instinct. Most young fen weren't invited to the “cool” parties and found being bullied to be the normal experience. Those fen who weren't bullied and/or were popular were the exceptions, not the rule. High school was not a pleasant time for most fen.

We've created the exact same, painful, hierarchy within fandom. We call our cheerleaders and jocks, SMOFs. I'm not talking about the local organizers of small events and conventions. For this discussion, we will call them smofs. All caps will be reserved for our problem children.

I have spent many years involved in the local general fandom scene and in national genre specific fandom. The more I stick my nose into the national and global general fandom scene, the less I like it. From my fellow fans I've heard horrible phrases like, “We have to pick the obnoxious guy with money to represent us, because the SMOFs like their egos stroked in person.” or “If you offend the SMOFs, you tank your chances.” This should sound all too familiar to many fen, bringing back horrible adolescent memories.

What this has caused is stagnant and repetitive general fandom. If you want to find anything truly exciting or attractive to the young people, you have to go to that other evil... corporate America. Unlike the SMOFs, corporate America realizes that the fen are customers with money in their pockets. Those customers want stuff and if you give them their stuff, they will come and spend their money. This is why cons like DragonCon, SDCC, and NDSK succeed.

Hello SMOFs, I'm ready to offend you in the name of saving non-commercial general fandom. Get off your collective asses and stop lording your gray haired “traditions” over fandom. If you don't want to host the last generation of non-commercial general sf cons, you need to open up. You need to let the young people in and sweep the dust bunnies out. Make your identities and decisions known to the public. The reasons for those decisions also should be known. I don't ask that you let the peanut gallery make the decisions. That's disastrous. Just be transparent.

When making your decisions, don't base them completely on your own desires and interests. Take a good look at the whole body of fen out there. Think seriously about what the majority of them want. The fen ARE NOT here for your amusement. You are here for OUR amusement.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Week's Fannish Schedule

Throughout all of this I will be handling the email, telephone and in person correspondence needed for CONduit. I read a lot, serious too much probably. I'm always looking for book recommendations.

July 11th-17th
Monday: Watching Alphas
Tuesday: Nothing specific planned
Wednesday: Watching A Game of Thrones
Thursday: Watching A Game of Thrones
Friday: Tabletop gaming group (Vampire: The Masquerade)
Saturday: Tabletop gaming group (Scion)
Sunday: Oh Mundania, must you rear your ugly head? I suppose I should do stuff like mow and wash laundry. Sneak in some Harry Potter screen time.

Books: A Game of Thrones 1-4, The Sword (comic) 1-24


July 18th-24th
Monday: Wacthing Alphas
Tuesday: Salt Lake Astronomical Society meeting
Wednesday: Watching A Game of Thrones
Thursday: Nothing specific planned
Friday: U.S.S. Retributor karaoke night
Saturday: Tabletop gaming group (Scion)
Sunday: Oh Mundania, must you rear your ugly head? I suppose I should do stuff like mow and wash laundry. Sneak in some Captain America screen time.

Books: A Game of Thrones 5, Dr. Who NSA 1-5

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Week's Fannish Schedule

I will post my weekly fannish plans, so that folks have an idea of where to corner me with their ideas for CONduit. My goal is to make one club event at least every two weeks, if not every week.

July 4th-10th
Monday: Filk songs for 50/90
Tuesday: SLC Camarilla Domain Meeting
Wednesday: Filk songs for 50/90
Thursday: ERT Ghostbusters Dinner
Friday: Filk songs for 50/90 and Utah Filk Organization's Housefilk
Saturday: CONduit ConCom and my tabletop gaming group
Sunday: Oh Mundania, must you rear your ugly head? I suppose I should do stuff like mow and wash laundry...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Letter From the Trustees on CONduit Offices

Hi all,

We wanted to thank absolutely everyone who applied for one of the new department head positions with CONduit. We deeply appreciate everyone's willingness to offer their help. We had a lot of great applications, and in many cases had to make hard choices between several qualified candidates.

After some long discussions and a long meeting today we decided on who is going to fill nearly all the different Dept Head positions for this first year under the new structure. We will be sending out acceptance and rejection e-mails to people soon, and announcing the new Dept Heads at the July meeting.

Please don't take any rejection e-mail you may receive personally, we had more applicants than we expected and we could only give the job to one person. We feel that everyone who volunteered had good skills and/or perspectives to offer, and we hope that everyone can find somewhere they would like to help because our new Dept Heads will need lots of volunteers to help them.

We did want to announce one new Dept Head so she can hit the ground running as it were. Erin Ruston will be the Chairbeing for CONduit 22. We have every confidence that Erin will do a great job leading CONduit back to it's roots while preserving all of the good things we still do.

-- The Doctor is dead... Long live The Doctor!
_
|_|_| Brad Hawks
|_| | brad@hawks5.net

Friday, July 1, 2011

Applications for CONduit Admin Committee Due TODAY!

If you think that you can make a difference on the committee, please apply! The individual Department Heads will have a lot of freedom in how to run their department.

Business: Oversees Hotel Liaison, Art Show, Dealers Room, and Procurement.

Chair: Chair of the Administrative Committee and the general CONduit Convention Committee (ConCom). The department includes Co-chair (if there is one), Secretary, Treasurer, and Fan Club Liaison

Computer Services: Head of the Computer Services department and in charge of the website, mailing lists, preregistration, and membership database.

Events/Contests: Head of the Events and Contests department is in charge of major events during the con (masquerade, ice cream social, signings, filking, etc.) and all contests (before or during the con).

Gaming: Head of the Gaming department which handles all roleplaying, LARPing, boardgaming, card games, wargaming, etc.

Hospitality: Head of the Hospitality department which handles the consuite, guests (guests of honor liaison(s), participating guests (local guest liaison)), and green room.

Marketing/Publications: Head of the Marketing and Publications department which handles publicity, working with outside companies (for sponsorship), the program book, and pocket program. Coordinates with procurement.

Operations: Head of the Operations department which handles all at-con operations and organization (registration, programming ops, security, volunteers, and gophers).

Scheduling: Head of the Scheduling department which handles programming, anime and media rooms, and overall space assignment at the con.

Apply Here!

The discussion is very active on the CONduit chat email list, as well as the CONduit Facebook page. Please give the Trustees your two pennies. Pennies can add up to something really cool. To joint the chat list email conduit-chat-request@sfcon.org

Facebook Group

The change that has been so desperately desired by myself and so many of you that have contributed to this blog can only happen if we DO something about it. The Trustees are putting this thing into the hands of the fen. This is our chance to take back that which once was ours. If enough people who want a more vibrant and inclusive convention volunteer and push forward, those who refuse to accept the change will be forced to accept it or step out of our way.

The next ConCom meeting will be July 9th, 10am, at the West Valley City Library, 2880 W. 3650 S. Not only will this be where the new Administrative Committee will be announced, this is where the shaping of CONduit 22 will begin.