Picofarad #14

August 2008

Love Thy Neofen

Last night, Chris and I got home from a little trip and climbed into the first cab available at Union Station. Not two minutes had gone by before we realized that we had the right cab.

The cabbie started talking about The Dark Knight. Chris debated him about Heath Ledger's peformance. The cabbie thought the Christopher Nolan take on Batman was superior to every version beforehand for its realism. In the midst of trying to clarify his argument, he said, it was like what that Joe Straczynski did with Babylon 5, and how it came out so much better than Deep Space Nine...

Suddenly we were not talking to a guy who just liked Hollywood blockbusters, but a fellow fan. "Hey," I said, "you know about Orycon, the local convention every November?"

Oh, yes, he did. He'd been to the first Orycon, and a few after that, and attended the first Portland Westercon as a panelist on the strength of his bibliography of Mike Moorcock. But he'd drifted away because it became "too PC", it had a ridiculous weapons policy, and he felt like they just hated media fans. And he also told us this story:

At PorSFiS meetings, at least in those days, new attendees were asked to stand up and introduce themselves. One day, there was a boy in his mid-teens who said how much he loved sci-fi. At the sound of the dreaded word, everyone but Steve Perry and our cabbie, he says, turned aside and hissed.

It reminded me of a few days ago on the SMOFS mailing list, where an enthusiastic new person innocently mentioned "tickets" and you could practically hear the sharp indrawn breaths around the world. Luckily, this person was enthusiastic enough to persist past the electronic harrumphs, ask why it was such a big deal, and accept an explanation.

The biggest topic on SMOFS lately is a detailed discussion of whether or not one specific list member is annoying enough to be merely shunned, or bounced off the list.

Meanwhile, another recent topic was the decline of a once-popular convention.

Meanwhile, on the Denvention LiveJournal, someone is startled to hear that in contrast to the media orgy at the San Diego Comic Con, Worldcon will be largely ignored.

Meanwhile, on rec.arts.sf.fandom, there has lately been a thread on the ultimate decline and disappearance of fandom as we know it as a recognizable community.

Is it possible that a common thread connects these seemingly disparate events? Perhaps the experience of a person who walks with great hope into a room of strangers, and the first impression is formed when they are told, "NO! You're doing it WRONG!" The forceful application of the Clue Stick is widely celebrated, but all too easy to take as a rejection. You wonder if that kid at the PorSFiS meeting ever came back, or if he grew up to be one of those people who say that fandom is composed of inbred autistic snobs who all have beards and wear suspenders.

But what to do about these new strangers who know not the language and customs of fandom, to say nothing about the vast herds of mundane commentators who don't know what things like "sci-fi" really mean? Well, first, accept that you're not going to make the mainstream generally aware about how fandom works, at least not with the resources available to us right now. (I've got an idea, but it requires me first to either win the lottery, or find someone who feels like throwing away, say, given spiraling costs of travel right now, around half a million bucks.) As long as there are neofans, they will come in not knowing what to expect or how to behave.

What we can all do is take a deep breath and say that this is okay. It is okay that people use the English language in ways that make sense to them. It is okay that no one has a genetic race memory of how organized fandom works. It is okay that they like different aspects of sf than you. And that is all that is needed.

As long as fandom looks interesting, cool, and inviting, people will come to it of their own accord and want to emulate it. The person you don't slap this weekend may decide this looks like fun, try to learn more, and wind up running the con five years from now. Remember the old saw that every fan was a mundane once.

Incidentally, the cabbie was working for Broadway Cab, which serves the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA metropolitan area, and can be reached at (503) 227-1234.

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