TT: Fragmenting Fandom

JANE: Alan and I want to welcome you all to 2018!  Happy New Year!

Fragmentation in Action

And now, Alan, you were saying that Fandom has changed a lot over the decades.  How so?

ALAN: Fandom used to be a monolithic thing, but these days it has fragmented into a lot of special interest sub-groups, most of which have a vague connection to, and all of which are inspired by, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Such fans are very passionate about their interests. And some of their interests are influenced by things other than straightforward SF/F stories and novels…

JANE: One of the earliest subgroups of fandom reflects how important fandom as a way of life became to many people.  Can you guess what this might be?

ALAN: An early subgroup? I’d guess you are probably talking about First Fandom…

JANE: That’s it!

First Fandom has been around since 1958, when various people started realizing that they’d been involved in fandom for at least twenty years.  First Fandom members have their own shoulder patch and are very proud of their long-time participation in various fanacs.

First Fandom member Jack Speer, who was widely regarded as a historian of fandom, regularly attended Bubonicon.  He’d sit in the front row during panels, glowering at the panelists.  I really felt I had “arrived” when he complimented me on something I’d said, because the younger you were (and newer to fandom), the harder it was for you to please him.

But other than their shoulder patch, First Fandom wouldn’t have changed the general look or feel of SF/F conventions very much.  Indeed, one might argue that some members of First Fandom would have been dedicated to not having anything change.

You’ve been involved in Fandom for a long time and in several countries.  What sub-fandom began to change the look of conventions?

ALAN: I think there’s a couple of influences here. In the UK and (as I later discovered) in Australia and New Zealand, there are flourishing fan groups dedicated to the British TV programme Doctor Who. The New Zealand group is particularly active and has even discovered a couple of “lost” episodes lurking in private collections.  (In the early days, the BBC did not keep archives of their programmes and many programmes disappeared.)  Is the programme shown in America? Does it have an organised fandom there?

JANE: Absolutely!  The latest reboot of the show has invigorated the fandom quite a lot.

ALAN: And then we have Star Trek which was (and still is) a hugely popular TV programme that introduced a great many people to SF in particular and to fandom in general.  It wasn’t long before it had a dedicated fandom all of its own, though the overlap with what I suppose you might call “standard” SF fandom was large.

JANE: Star Trek fandom was the first one I heard about.  For a long time, I didn’t realize that SF fandom was anything else.

ALAN: When I first came to New Zealand I discovered a flourishing fan base that called itself STANZA – the Star Trek Association of New Zealand. It no longer exists (at least not under that name, which is a pity because I think it’s a clever name) but in its day it had a lot of members. In collaboration with a group of people who enjoyed building models, STANZA constructed a full size model of the bridge of the Enterprise which they used in role-playing scenarios. The bridge set was far too large to remain permanently assembled, and so it spent most of its life in small pieces in people’s cellars. But it appeared on special occasions.

JANE: That sounds cool!

ALAN: One year David Gerrold (who was a Star Trek scriptwriter) was a guest at our national convention and the set was assembled in his honour. A small play was written and performed. Gerrold was most impressed and he complimented the two groups responsible for the set. He even autographed a section of it…

I have no idea where the bridge set is these days. It seems to have faded away and I haven’t seen it for years. Pity…

JANE: From what I’ve heard, Star Trek fandom was one of the first fandoms here to separate itself from the main.  People would show up at cons wearing Spock ears and the like.  This would have been fine, but many of these people clearly had no interests in anything but the show, which alienated them from the convention at large.

ALAN: That’s a very real danger – and now that a lot of different fandoms have started to appear, many people believe that we really need to start thinking about how to handle the problem.

I don’t know how it works in other countries, but here in New Zealand we have a couple of SF/F clubs (for want of a better word) which have come up with a solution that handles this fragmentation in a very clever way. Special Interest Groups flourish under the overall umbrella of the club organisation so that people with minority interests can continue to indulge themselves in their obsessions without losing sight of the larger group of which they are also a part.

JANE: My impression is that this is the case here in New Mexico, as well.  But I think that in areas with larger populations, separate clubs flourish outside of the general organization.

ALAN: Perhaps we’re lucky that we have a small enough population to sustain the model.

The clubs also organise monthly, more general SF/F events which attract people from across these groups, to a greater or lesser extent. Though that, of course, depends very much on what the monthly meeting is about. But at least it’s a good opportunity for everybody to keep in touch.

There are also monthly parties which are, of course, just an excuse to eat, drink, make merry, and be sociable. The stereotype says that SF fans are not good in social situations. There may be a degree of truth in this, but I’ve always found that when they gather together as a group, they tend to feel less threatened and will often come out of their shells. These parties are very successful in bringing people from the Special Interest Groups together. Sometimes we even talk about science fiction at them!

The clubs publish a regular fanzine which reports on the activities of the Special Interest Groups, so there’s still a sense that we are all part of the same family. The model works very well.

JANE: What you describe sounds very similar to what I have seen here in the U.S.  However, there is a serpent, even in fannish paradise.  I wonder if it lurks there, too?

ALAN: Why don’t you whisper the secret in my ear? That way nobody will get scared.

JANE: Whisper. Whisper.

ALAN:  Ah!  Let’s talk about that next time.

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2 Responses to “TT: Fragmenting Fandom”

  1. futurespastsite Says:

    I’ve never gotten deeply into fandom, but have attended some conventions over the years and read lots about it. Once upon a time, it meant only one thing to all involved; now it means many things to many participants. (But mostly they’re all still fun.)

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