TT: Jackboot Fandom

ALAN: While we were talking about themes in costuming, I remembered a rather disturbing trend I observed that I think began in the 1980s – a lot of fans started dressing in futuristic, militaristic uniforms and stalked around conventions waving science fictional weapons of one sort and another.

Future Soldier

This group was so prominent that it even had a name. We referred to these people as “Jackboot Fandom” (at least that’s what we called them over here). I didn’t like the trend at all.  The glorification of militarism that it implied made me feel very uncomfortable. But for a long time, I seemed to be in a minority of one. I remember I was on a convention committee once and I suggested that perhaps we ought to have a weapons policy to try and curb this sort of threatening display. My suggestion was ridiculed.

Perhaps I was ahead of my time. These days, weapon policies are very common and Jackboot Fandom has all but disappeared, thank goodness.

JANE: The late 1980s was when I first started attending cons, but I can’t speak to Jackboot Fandom specifically.  If it was there, it was part of the general landscape.

Certainly there are still are people who dress in a semi-military fashion.  Let’s face it, a uniform is a pretty easy costume option.

ALAN: Indeed it is, and I have no objection to it per se. But when it is taken to extremes, it can be more than a little threatening and it makes me feel uneasy.

JANE: I agree.  As you noted, weapons policies are now a common element at conventions.

I remember many years ago attending a convention where the con-com took “peace bonding” weapons to an extreme clearly meant to make swaggering around in a costume with a weapon look ridiculous.  Swords and guns were tied into place with liberal amounts of fluffy pink ribbon.

ALAN: What a brilliant way of cutting the Gordian knot. Ridicule never fails!

JANE: I don’t believe this particular element survived more than a con or two, but while it lasted, it made its point.

What’s interesting is that these days the fans in military costumes are often involved with convention security.  In the U.S., this began in the mid-1970’s with a group that still exists today: The Dorsai Irregulars.

The Dorsai Irregulars were founded by Robert Asprin who asked permission from Gordon R. Dickson to name the group after his super-solider race, the Dorsai.  The need for the Dorsai Irregulars was linked to a factor we discussed a few weeks ago – the growth and fragmenting of fandom.  When everyone wasn’t part of the same small “family,” problems – including harassment and theft – began to crop up.

Conventional security groups didn’t understand fans and often made matters worse – so the fans decided to police themselves.  You can read more about the Dorsai Irregulars and their history here.

ALAN: I think that’s a good idea, but I suspect that fandom in New Zealand is probably still a bit too small to need the formality of that kind of organisation. Though having said that, we certainly do have a need for some mechanism to cope with harassment and the like. Recently our conventions have followed trends from overseas and have set out specific harassment policies with designated people who can be approached if problems develop.

JANE: Harassment policies are a great idea.  Even just the statement that certain types of behavior won’t be tolerated creates a safe space.  But sometimes that safe space meets unusual challenges.

Back when I lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, a convention I was associated with was being harassed by the Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell and his followers.  Our local fans were warned in advance not to rise to the bait and they didn’t – not even when Falwell and some of his followers went into the restaurant and made loud comments about “That Satanic D&D convention.”  When this didn’t work, Falwell and a few of his cronies stood in the lobby and began to sing hymns.

The only response they got was led by the Klingon club who headed convention security: They led the polite applause.  There was something so lovely about the towering, apparently militaristic, Klingons leading the effort to “turn the other cheek” and offer the “soft answer that turns away wrath.”

ALAN: That must have been quite a sight to see! I always enjoy it when “christians” find themselves out-christianed.

JANE:  As was mentioned in the comments a couple weeks ago, David Weber’s Royal Manticoran Navy has a very visible following, complete with uniforms.  However, RMN club members are not all militaristic.   Several times, I’ve encountered a fellow who dresses up as a member of the clergy.  I believe he even performs religious services.  Although the RMC sometimes offers convention security, their main focus (outside of Weber’s fiction, of course) is fundraising for charity.  One of their pet charities (pun intended) is big cat rescue, in honor of the treecats who are key elements in the series.

You can read more about the RMC here.

ALAN: And of course it’s only a short step from cosplayers to furries. On the surface, furries are just cosplay people who like to dress up as furry animals, and they are definitely a genuinely interesting, and often extremely cute, sight at conventions. But the fact that they are a recognised (and recognisable) sub-group suggests that perhaps there is rather more to them than just that.

JANE: Oh!  I was Guest of Honor at a furry convention some years ago, and found out a lot about the complexities of that particular fandom.  Let’s talk more about it next time!

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4 Responses to “TT: Jackboot Fandom”

  1. James Mendur Says:

    A quick comment about the photo in this Tangent.

    I had to pause for a moment when I saw the “Future Soldier” tag.
    One of them was dressed like a Stormtrooper from the Star Wars movies (and I suppose the 501st Legion is so famous, it didn’t need to be mentioned in your conversation) but that character wouldn’t be a “Future” soldier. He’s from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

    Then I saw the man NEXT to the Stormtrooper and I realized you were referring to John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War.” He would, indeed, be a future soldier.

    *shrug* I’m a fan. We nitpick and we rationalize. And too many of us love puns.

    As you were.

  2. CBI Says:

    Interesting discussion.

    It is worthwhile to note that the two different situations and responses (Klapping Klingons compared to Pink Ribbons), while both using humor to an extent, are very different in kind. The Klapping Klingons tolerated the anti-D&D types, and responded humorously in a sardonic manner. They granted the same freedom to others that they enjoyed.

    On the other hand, the Pink Ribbons response was, in effect, “we don’t like what you like–in fact, we don’t like you–and we’re in charge, so you have to obey us.” Quite a difference: one was tolerant while expressing disagreement, while the other was coercive and arguably even bullying. Needless to say, I prefer tolerance.

    I’ve always liked Bubonicon in that, for the most part, it was a politics and judgment-free zone, and people from all over the political and hobby spectra could mix and even enjoy what they shared. The list of policies was short, common-sense, and reasonably open and tolerant. Last year the policies were lengthened and hinted at a more coercive and politicized atmosphere. I didn’t see any effect at the convention itself, although I wasn’t particularly looking for it, either.

    I suspect that most attendees just continued behaving as they always had. How it will play out in the future: who knows?

    • janelindskold Says:

      Interesting way of seeing it but, having been in both locations, all I can say is that “peace bonding” weapons was the common trend of the time.

      As for the Bubonicon program book, I can’t speak to it, but since there are people who need to be reminded of common politeness or they will assume they can be impolite, I agree with the convention’s choice.

      I’ve met you and I know you’re an automatically courteous person. Sadly, there are many who are like small children and if they are not told they cannot do something, they will believe that they have permission to do it.

      • CBI Says:

        Thank you for the kind words. I’m not that courteous by nature, but I am making the attempt, although I’ve not achieved your own level as of yet.

        I think that I would prefer the Policies to be more positive in nature. “Treat others politely, even in disagreements and arguments, and presume that others are doing the same”, for example, rather than “Don’t offend others; if you feel offended, report it to the Con authorities.” (paraphrasing) The latter puts a mind-reading burden on some, while encouraging others to seek to play the victim as a form of power over others. Human nature is just so.

        Of course, there is a place for “thou shalt not” as well–“don’t drown out other speakers”, e.g.–but often many of those can be restated positively “allow others their turn to speak” or “be tolerant of how others may act and dress”. Not always: the Golden Rule at times is vague, and “you shall not steal” is probably clearer. It definitely is pithier than “treat the property of others the way you would like them to treat yours”.

        Still, I am concerned about some of the trends in portions of society, and am a bit disturbed that these might begin to affect Bubonicon.

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