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I've been thinking about fans. Not about 'Fandom', the abstract social group, but about the people I know and see. Most Theories of Fandom I read don't seem to have much to do with actual fans. They can't do: theories aren't complicated enough to deal with the reality.
Fandom's a complex system. It's hard to understand, and so there's a temptation to build a Big Picture that explains it all. That may be harmless fun, but once you have your Big Picture it's tempting to smooth out the complicated bits in real life to make it fit your picture better. And as soon as you do that, you've missed the point, and probably by a long way.
Some of the people missing the point are genuine Big Name Authors. D M Sherwood sent us a LoC asking:
What is your attitude towards fringe group Star Trek/Star Wars/Games? What do you think of Norman Spinrad's view that such are sucking growth that will devour Fandom unless we learn to be less tolerant and cast them from our midst (interview at Wincon)?
Good question. So good, in fact, that in best Road-to-Damascus style I am now enlightened in the name of the prophet Spinrad. Let us purify fandom! Let the infidels be cast down! Send for... the Fannish Inquisition!
'Ha! No one expects the Fannish Inquisition! Our three main weapons are surprise, fear, adherence to the principles of Rigorous Scientific Extrapolation, a fanatical devotion to the written word, and a complete absence of any kind of fancy costume! Er, our five main weapons... Biggles - put them to the duplicator!'
...No, no, not the comfy chair! I repent, I repent. I repent the games I played, the films I saw, the books I left unread. I am unworthy, I am sinful, I cast myself on the mhercy of the fhannish 'h', lest I burn in hell. I make confession of my heresy.
On second thoughts, stuff all that for a game of soldiers. Fundamentalism has always made my flesh creep, wherever I encounter it: and that includes religion, politics and fandom in equal measure. OK, there may be people hanging about on the edges of fandom who contribute nothing, but if you start 'casting them from our midst', where does it stop? To paraphrase that quote about Nazism: They came for the costume fans, but because I was not a costume fan, I did not speak out. They came for the film fans, but because I was not a film fan, I did not speak out. Then they came for me, and there was no-one left to speak out for me.
Maybe I should declare myself part of Spinrad's Sucking Growth Fandom right now, and form a union.
Alright, it's unfair to compare Spinrad to Hitler, especially given that I wasn't actually at Wincon for the 'fannish purity' speech, but there are similarities. In particular, both seem to think that their Big Picture is the right one, and therefore that any other version is wrong: a 'One True Way' which means that the only reason to look at anyone different is so that you can sneer at them. It's the same one-sidedness that makes some science fiction fans look down on fantasy and, ironically, it's the same thing that science fiction itself - the original written form - has had to endure. ('"SF's no good," they shout until we're deaf, / And if it's good, why, then it's not SF.')
As far as I'm concerned, Norman Spinrad's position is not only intolerant, but, being a Big Picture, too simple. It tries to divide fans into groups with labels like 'Fanzine Fans', 'Gamers', 'Filkers', or 'Conrunners'. Unfortunately, in the real world these groups overlap, and people wander between them freely. The same people show up all over the place, joining in with any of the different activities going on as the mood takes them. There aren't that many couch potatoes at Eastercons these days. Maybe there are people who don't talk much to anyone they don't know, but most of those turn up with friends, and spend the convention with them. People don't go to an Eastercon just to watch films: why should they, when video rental is cheaper?
Whatever else they do, at SF cons people hang out. They do the sociable fannish sort of stuff; maybe not all the time, but for a lot of it. What they do in the privacy of their own homes, when the convention is over, is their own business. What they do for one evening during the masquerade is a lot more public, but it still needn't be their consuming obsession. People who don't connect with other people at cons straight away either get the hang of it, or stop coming. There is a steady turnover of drifters, the unconnected, but at any one convention they're heavily outnumbered by the people who are actively involved.
It's very easy to label people, and sometimes it's even useful. But it's also too simple a way of judging a lot of people at once, without real thought. And when you start to assume that people only belong under one of these labels, reality is getting left far behind. If you assume that two different labels identify the same group of people, you're missing the point just as badly. This is what Greg Pickersgill does in the latest Rastus Johnson's Cakewalk when he talks as if 'Written SF Fan' and 'Fanzine Fan' are the same group of people, and maybe even the same group as 'Decent People In Fandom' or 'Me And The People I Hang Out With'.
Things may be different elsewhere. In Thingumybob 13, Pat Silver described a Dr Who con as being full of couch potatoes. Some of the letters we've received suggest that the larger US cons are full of passive consumers who turn up time and time again to sit and listen, and have no interest in interaction. But even if that's true, Norman Spinrad is still pointing his finger in the wrong direction. People who have an interest in games, or filking, or films, aren't the problem. The real problem is the kind of commercialism that treats everything as a commodity, ripe for exploitation. Maybe that commercialism even exists among some conrunners in Britain - the old 'bums on seats' mentality. But mostly I blame the Media Barons, the rich bastards who want us to spend our leisure time filling their purses. I'm scared of Nintendo, and of Rupert Murdoch, because they are the people with the power to shape our society, and they aren't even aware that they've got it. It's not as if they have an agenda for humanity, they just find us useful as a source of income. They neither know nor care that their flood of passive entertainment makes so many people dysfunctional.
But any social group in fandom, just because it is a social group, is a channel of communication in the hands of (fairly) ordinary, un-powerful people. This is one of the biggest virtues of fandom: that it's completely uncontrolled - a genuine Mutant Reality. We own fandom, it doesn't belong to any corporation or power bloc. And if it goes wrong, we've only got ourselves to blame.
This isn't a plea for fandom to be one big happy family, or even necessarily for fans to be tolerant of one another - I'm not that much of a hypocrite. If you want to dislike people, fine, but don't slag them off because of the labels they've been stuck with, slag them off because of their individual shortcomings. Even the worst of people deserves that much.
In case the earlier extract from D M Sherwood's LoC gives anyone the wrong impression, his letter made it clear that he's asking us 'as a group that say that you are going to put on a convention'. This deserves a straight answer. Put Sucking Growth Fandom aside for a moment: Attitude is a small convention aimed at one particular social activity and group. I support the motto 'bums off seats' for conventions, and ours will focus on the active social interaction of fandom itself. Gamers, costume fans, Trekkies, whoever: all are welcome, as long as they understand that we won't cater expressly for those particular interests. Attitude's a fanzine and a hanging-out-and-talking-to-people convention. Maybe that makes it yet another thing that Norman Spinrad thinks is a sucking growth on science fiction, but who cares? He's probably not coming.
Attitude will have a single continuous programme, with items biased towards active involvement. We want the programme and the bar talk to feed back into each other, and form a convention-wide conversation. We won't have any guests of honour, videos or feature films, and no dealers' room or art show. The programme will feature a lot of items that relate to articles in the fanzine, a generous proportion of SF-related material, and a sprinkling of silliness.
Size matters, says Pam; she's referring, of course, to the number of people at a convention. So, to help get the right atmosphere, we'll be limiting the size of Attitude to 200 memberships, tops.
Until two days ago, we were intending to announce the location and dates of Attitude: the Convention, but sadly our hotel has had to cancel (because of a planned refurbishment imposed on them by a higher authority: no, we do not suspect God). Meanwhile, we're accepting attending memberships at a rate of £19, and we'll hold this price until after Eastercon. If you can't get to Attitude: the Convention when the place and time are announced, we'll refund your money. A membership form is enclosed with this issue. We're not offering a supporting membership rate: the nearest equivalent is being on the mailing list for Attitude: the Fanzine . (Who needs progress reports when you can have a fanzine instead?)
The convention committee will be David T Cooper, Martin Tudor, Pam Wells and myself. (John Dallman isn't on the con committee, but he will be helping us to design the programme. Meanwhile, David and Martin aren't editing the fanzine, so that's OK then.)
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