Many Generations, All Fandom

David Gerrold posted this to Facebook on August 26; we liked his comment so much we are reposting it here (with his permission):


Yesterday’s opinion piece from the daily dot comparing Nine Worlds Convention and Worldcon with the conclusion that SF fandom is aging out — with obligatory put downs about sexism and the generation gap — has generated, and is likely to generate a great deal more, very interesting and serious discussions on FB.

First, everything I’ve read suggests that Loncon3 was a great success, with 10,000 people attending and most of them having a good time.

That’s a pretty good measure of a great convention. So congratulations to the committee for a good job, despite a bit of earlier turbulence.

But let me return to the assertions of the article.

First — fandom really got going post-WWII. It became not only a community, but a family, for what was at that time a very-marginalized fringe genre. And for the first twenty years post-WWII, it was a very insular community. You had to already be a fan to know about fandom.

Today — we are finally at the point where we have an older generation of fans who actually grew up in this community and who have lived in it all their lives. They didn’t arrive on the geezer bus from the local nursing home. They were here mostly from their own adolescence. Most of them have paid their dues in a variety of ways. Elder fandom is now a permanent part of our landscape. Elder fans are our family. And just like in any other family, they are just as entitled to be crotchety, fossilized, curmudgeonly, cranksters, muttering about how, “in my day, we didn’t have interwebz. If we wanted to feud with someone, we had to crank up the mimeo machine and paste stamps on envelopes and schlep it all down to the post office to call someone a ducknoggle.”

And … btw, elder fandom is also a great source of experience, lessons learned, history, traditions, wisdom, insights, and gossip. Especially gossip. You want to learn the stuff that doesn’t make it into the history books — and no, I’m not talking about who sawed Courtney’s boat — you have to talk to someone over fifty or sixty to find out the hoary details of the bare-breasted women in the masquerade at the third Star Trek convention….

Fandom isn’t aging out. It’s maturing. It’s evolving into a complete community. Yes, the average age of a convention attendee is rising. And yes, the current crop of twelve-year-olds is more likely to be involved with movies, TV shows, and video games than trips to the library, and yes, publishing and marketing have changed so it’s getting harder for a writer to not have a day job. (My day job is throwing the ball for the terrier, but it doesn’t pay well.)

And yes, elders will look somewhat askance at the younger generations of fans — part of it is simply not understanding the avalanche of new writers, new interests, new media, new ideas, new everything. I remember my own strange unease seeing the first rise of graphic novels (way back when), before I finally recognized the energy they were bringing to the genre. I remember older male fans in the mid-sixties becoming somewhat askance at the influx of Star Trek fans to SF conventions — especially because so many of them had … you know, vaginas.

But in fandom, the generation gap is there only if you want it to be there — only if you bring it yourself. If you have an issue with youngsters or with oldsters, you’ll be carrying your own personal generation gap — as the author of that daily dot article did.

Mostly, if you look around at the crowds, at the audiences in the room, if you look at all the various gatherings, the masquerades, the gaming rooms, the media rooms — if you look and see who’s just sitting around and chatting with who, you’ll more often see groups that are age-blind. You don’t see that in a lot of other places — but you do see it in fandom, where people of all different ages interact without age being a judgment on ability or insight.

A convention is a place to play — where we all get to be children of all ages.

That’s what the daily dot article missed. And more.

The whole world is changing. Back in the fifties and sixties, we thought the future would look like something out of Buck Rogers, with flying cars and jet packs. We never stopped to consider that jet packs and flying cars are not only not cost effective, they’re simply not practical. They’re a waste of fuel and resources, they’re too expensive, and they represent noise and pollution and danger to the rest of the community. They didn’t represent significant value to us.

But what we got instead — ?!!

Look around yourself. In fact, look at how you’re reading this ramble.

We’re living in the future we really wanted. We have personal computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, digital cameras, wall-size 3D TV, GPS navigation built into hybrid cars (soon to be self-driving), instantaneous global communication, a near cashless society, robots on Mars, solar power panels, an International Space Station, routine organ transplants (with lab grown organs in the pipeline), medical advances that were unthinkable just a generation ago, 3D printers, fresh fruits and vegetables all year round, and so much more, I’ll leave it up to the rest of you to list. We have the future we designed for our own convenience.

Best of all, we have the Internet, which gives us immediate access to friends, family, news, videos, information, education, resources of all kinds.

This changes us. It changes who we are and how we perceive the world. It’s one of the reasons TLGB rights have been recognized as civil rights. It’s one of the reasons why the civil rights of women and African-Americans and immigrants and the poor have become part of the national conversation. It accelerates our ability to hear about issues, learn about them, and make appropriate choices.

Yes, we are stumbling, fumbling, and bumbling our way into the future. But on the long-term scale, the violence in our cities is in decline, the ravages of disease are in decline, even the scale of war has been on a steady decline since WWII. All of this is directly or indirectly related to the various technologies we’ve created to make our lives more efficient.

Now, what does that mean for fandom? It means that all the various cultural phenomena that have changed the world we live in are also at work on science fiction and fantasy and horror. It means that our genres are also evolving. It means that the fandoms of the genres are changing and adapting as well.

If SF was always about pushing the boundaries of what we know about science — as well as what we know about ourselves as human beings — then what’s happening now is just the next part of the process. We’re stretching, growing, learning, becoming.

Take one moment out of time — a single convention — and you’re going to get a distorted view. But look at the continuing changes that occur over time and you get a better sense of the entire process of growth and evolution of the genre.

Where once the Worldcon was THE convention of the year, we now have San Diego Comic-Con and multiple other comic-cons all over the country, we have Dragon-Con, we have multiple anime cons, furry cons, gay cons, media cons, horror cons, Star Trek cons, and so many local and regional cons that fans are often distraught trying to choose which ones to attend. And along the way, non-genre fandoms have started having their own conventions as well. The convention has become the replacement for the state fair in an urban society.

Any assertion that the Worldcon “should be” or “must be” or “is supposed to be” is usually someone’s ego claiming authority to judge. Nope. The Worldcon is going to be what it is — a cross-section of fandom at the moment the Worldcon occurs. It will represent what the committee thinks a good convention should be, and those who choose to attend will represent a cross section of those who think the Worldcon is worth attending.

To those who complain about Worldcon or any other convention — join the committee. Volunteer. Or create your own committee and bid and learn the hard way just how difficult and complex the job is — and how amazing the results are when it all comes together.

Meanwhile — at least here’s my take on it — there’s only one real judgment to have on fandom or conventions. Am I having a good time?

Over here, the answer is still yes. (Of course, I’m not the average attendee, but that’s a different discussion.)

–David Gerrold

4 replies on “Many Generations, All Fandom”

  1. Note, by the way, the the 2014 Worldcon, Loncon 3, had over 10,000 members but only about 7500 attendees. The higher number includes supporting members and those who had attending memberships but did not attend.

    • Marjorie McKenna says:

      Thank-you, Kevin, for mentioning us. As one of the 10,000 members who had expected to attend but unfortunately became one of the 2,500 non-attending (for health reasons) I’m happy to hear that a good time was had by all.
      And as one of the now older fans – part of the influx David mentioned of female fans sweeping into SF fandom by way of Star Trek in the early ’60’s – I have to applaud David for his views. I have always found SF&F fans, at any find of Con, to be astonishingly easy to get along with and very forgiving of the crankyness (is that a word?) of us older, handicapped fans. Thankfully, they don’t seem to go along with the majority of mundanes who believe the brain shuts down once you join the ranks of the retired!

  2. Maxwell Garrison says:

    Just a comment about the “generation gap”: At an Anime convention a few years ago, my 2 late-teenage daughters were sitting with some friends discussing attending the con. On friend mentioned that they finally persuaded their parents to let them attend; another commented that they managed to get their mother to actually drive them to the venue. One of the friends turned to one of my daughters and asked them what their parents thought about anime conventions. Her responds was “Ask them yourself”, and pointed to her mother and me, sitting there in costume, being part of the conversation. The friend replied with “You have such cool parents”.

    btw, my wife and I were 2 of the attendies at London WorldCon (and Dublin EuroCon the following weekend)

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