I think for me I noticed a very noticeable difference in my interaction and interfacing with Swancon this year compared to last year. This year I was really able to truly appreciate and understand who fans are and what they do and to also understand what exactly the Mumfan is awarded for doing. The trouble though is that the entrance into that requires some kind of qualification. I have heard about Swancon for years and never came because I didn't know how to do it and last year I still didn't know. Personally, I am going to try to remember how I felt last year and try to be welcoming to people who might feel the way I do. But I wanted a forum to say that whilst I can say this year that the community is very welcoming, there are still many many aspects of Swancon that feel like you have to get the secret handshake to be allowed to play. (So, thanks for the forum!)
The trouble though is that the entrance into that requires some kind of qualification.
Mm. I really agree with this - fandom is not inclusive of outsiders, it's inclusive of people who can demonstrate - actively - that they fit in.
Fandom is ... not welcoming to "outsiders". It can be, some individuals are, but my overall impression is of people sitting in a circle saying how wonderfully tolerant they are, while ignoring or actively scorning the people at the next table.
It's not a trait exclusive to fandom, and I think the solution is less in being more tolerant and more in being more honest about where the intolerances are.
(I should point out that my single Perth Con experience stands in glorious contrast to this - nearly everyone I met at Fandomedia was open-arms friendly. I felt more at home there than I did at my last local con. :) )
I think you're going to need the equivalent of a Marketing Campaign, complete with Loss Leaders (which you yourself did with cheapy first-timer memberships at Continuum) and a very proactive recruiting campaign. I think that Fancons, and Fandom in general, really have to be "Sold" to the neofans, if you're going to get their interest.
Something I never managed to get going when I was MSFC President, but which I think is an idea with merit, was an Outreach team, which I envisaged as proactively visiting various different meetings, groups and organisations, getting involved with them on their turf, and generally spreading the word. I don't know how adaptable that idea might be to the Conventioneering side of things, however.
(Of course, on the other side of the coin, Fandom's always existed on a net of friendship, and I think it's also worth not losing sight of that, even if you're using a Commercial Marketing paradigm as a model for recruitment. Affinity groups and personal connection are what give existence to the idea of Fandom. Extending the net into neofandom is going to create a gradient, if you catch my metaphor.)
I think the current obsession with "fan culture" is by definition exclusive. The more we insist we are some kind of coherent and different-from-the-norm group, the greater the barriers we place to entry. I'm getting a little tired of the current emphasis on sociology myself, and would like to see a few more spaceships and bacteria. More Science. More Fiction.
We're an interesting bunch, statistically, but I don't think we're quite as different as we like to make out. We need a way to reassure the curious that they will *not* be instantly labelled and permanently branded if they so much as dip their toe in the water. There needs to be a light, non-threatening low (emotional and financial) cost "Intro to Swancon: Welcome to the safe shallow end" phase before we require newbies to cough up lots of dough for the dubious pleasure of being branded One Of Us.
Edited at 2008-03-26 06:46 am (UTC)
These are really good points- I think fans are very much into the whole "oh look we're special and different" because many of us have been social outcasts in the past.
But I look at the veg*an communities I am involved with and also at the carnie/folk scene and find that the sociology is similar, except that these groups don't go on and on about it like fans do.
Dear Gods Above where do I start?
Firstly, yes yes YES! I agree with what you are saying.
I think the real wakeup call was when Waicon broke the thousand member barrier in, what, 2 years?
I heard the number 1700 from one of the committee at Swancon. That's a whole lotta bods!
One thing I have to ask is, is it because we are clinging to things with rapidly declining numbers?
We tend to pooh pooh fat fantasy, yet it outsells everything else we appreciate.
We tend to emphasize Hard SF over anything else, yet it has a small, shrinking, greying readership overall.
And don't get me started on the "Capital W" writers, who seem to have an inferiority complex and look down on anyone who isn't putting out a book this year. (Thankfully they are in a small minority, but they are out there)
Now there are BROAD generalizations, and I may be wrong in some of my points but yeah, we need to start working on bringing new blood.
Some things completely off the top of my head:
More stuff about video games.
Playoffs on something like Guitar hero.
Try and find some filking less than 10 years old. (this
could work, for instance)
Karaoke for nerds instead of filking maybe?
Maybe we need to contact the uni clubs again and find out what is relevant.
Maybe organize some stuff in some of the virtual worlds, such as WoW.
This is all stream of conscious, so I reserve the right to edit for sanity and decency ;-)
*coughcough* from the person who has run karaoke at swancon for the past 3 years.
I'm not a newbie, but I do have a love/hate relationship with fandom.
I can honestly say that price is a big issue. I avoided cons for years or would only get a day pass because I couldn't afford it as a student, or rather couldn't justify the cost when I wasn't sure what I was going to. This is even after I had friends who were organising and attending cons. $150+ for con membership, plus transport/accommodation plus lost wages as a weekend shift worker ment that going to Swancon was really rather expensive, not to mention Eastern States cons. I think the cheap newbie membership that Swancon had a few years ago was a great idea, or even having a cheap day pass for newbies, I would have certainly started attending cons earlier if it was an option.
I now avoid cons for other reasons (and not just because I've had personal run ins with other attendees or organisers :P ). I think Fandom is very, very clique (sp?) and very closed to newbies or others who are not into mainstream fandom or whatever happens to be the fannish trend at the time. I don't watch Buffy/Firefly/Star Trek/whatever so that means I'm a ignorant/bad person apparently. It is also very judgemental. I'm tired of hearing the same old in jokes and seeing the same old people say the same old things. Cons need to change and grow not just for the newbies, but also to retain the older members as well.
My uncle is a fan. He used to run the WA Star Wars fan club and has way, way too much of an unhealthy interest in SF. He will line up in the rain for hours to get to a movie premier, has spent far too much money on replica models of spaceships from tv, owns a dvd collection that rivals both Simon & Grants and can talk at length about SF. He also thinks that cons are full or weirdoes and creepy people and was surprised to find out that Swancon was still going because he thought that sort of thing would have died out.
I think it is going to take more than having a few different panels or a different stream or some such to ensure new fans going to cons. It is going to take a different attitude by the con going community to make it sustainable in the future.
This was my second con; there is no way I would ever have gone to the first one - or indeed, any subsequent - except that I already knew people who would be there. Those people I had all met through various online means, and not in person. This, though, may be a reflection on me, and my particular non-gregarious attitude and dislike of meeting new people! Trying to balance old and new attendees is a hard job. I have to admit that although I knew quite a few people at Swancon, I still felt on the outer, to an extent. That's always going to happen when you have a function like Swancon that has such long-term attendees: cliques will always develop, and to an extent that's not a bad thing, as people have already pointed out. It's why people love cons! How to include newbies as well... well, I'm never gonna run a con!
Obviously I'm not one of the new fans :-> However, one thing I've seen done at some regional and local conventions is a welcome/mixer event on the first night of the con that forces attendees to interact with people they don't know, either by grouping everyone with the same last digit of their membership number or by matching some other indicator (random colored dots given out at registration, for example) and having them do something silly or perform some short team task together. If it sounds sufficiently interesting/fun, people will attend, especially if nothing is programmed against it and the guests participate. Then you automatically know more people for the rest of the weekend.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Ice breakers!
I've been as guilty of being standoffish as anyone but I think one of the things fans could do better is share their passions for various genre works rather than indulge in in-jokes and jargon. The things that worked best at last year's natcon was just that. People with some knowledge of a subject, and ability to speak well, who are sharing and explaining the love. If we just stick to bemoaning the transmogrification of fanzines into blogs, LJs and podcasts, then new people are going to ignore us.
One of the things I'm getting back from my fillum podcast (http://paleo-cinema.blogspot.com/
) is suggesting movies for people and learning from them movies that have slipped under my own radar and I find that mutual recommendation aspect of it very fulfilling.
Oddly enough, just yesterday I was trying to sort out my thoughts on this sort of topic. Coming to the UK has been an interesting experience, as we got to start from square one again not knowing anyone, and have had the chance to see a number of very different approaches to conventions.
Conclusion from a lot of rambling seems to be that I like conventions as a venue for life-long learning. Activities and presentations that teach somthing new or give me the opportunity to get more involved. Science is good, so are other things.
There's a growing trend here to include fun activities, not necessarily related to SF. Everything from costuming to stage fighting,
juggling to jewelery making. Along with things like the cabaret acts people are being encourage to bring in and share things from their non-fandom life. This has the advantage that while new people may not feel they know enough to be comfortable on a panel, they are often quite at home talking about their favourite hobby.
At Orbital this weekend Neil Gaiman observed that if all the books, films etc of SF suddenly vanished, SF fandom would go on without ill-effect. They'd find something
else to do, knitting perhaps. SF is just the hook to find your way to like-minded people. This rang true, particularly since it was only a few months ago at a convention that I was in a group remembering how to knit. ;)
Of course getting involved in volunteer work is always a good way in. One con managed to combine both with a "Teach yourself Tech" item - a thinly disguised recruitment drive for volunteers to run the lights, cameras and sound mixer. Most people just had a go to satisfy curiosity then wandered off with new friends to the bar. A few of us stayed and played with the kit for the rest of the con. I think it can probably be expanded to other areas, come and see behind the scenes, now stay for a while, sort of thing.
Have to say that I hate overt mixer games and have always tended to sit out if it was an option even though I'm precisely the sort of person who needs it, which I don't think is unusual among fen. I need more than permission and an excuse to talk to people, I need a reason. I don't mind the games that require working on something, but those tend to require more organisation.
Although most of this is completely off topic if we assume Science Fiction Conventions are meant to be about Science Fiction ;-)
Although most of this is completely off topic if we assume Science Fiction Conventions are meant to be about Science Fiction ;-)
I think if we made science fiction conventions entirely about science fiction, we would solve 90% of the problems people have coming to them for the first time.
SF conventions seem horrendously expensive to me. Conquest charges between $10 and $50 per player for a four-day convention, and runs at a (modest) profit - the other roleplaying conventions charge similarly. As a softcore SF fan and hardcore roleplaying fan, the decision about where to spend my time and money is extremely easily made.
Some questions (genuine ones - I'm not necessarily disagreeing with what you say): Where are the RPG cons held? Do they have international speakers? Are they heavily sponsored by big gaming companies such as Wizards of the Coast? How long do they run for?
SF cons certainly don't cost $150 a weekend because the convention committees are greedy - they're significantly expensive events to run, comparatively speaking.
There are some great suggestions here. Thanks for opening up the topic, dalekboy
Traditional con models are facing a few challenges.
First, fans no longer have to pay to fly to another city and stay at a hotel to find their community - they just have to flick on the internet. When I discovered fandom 20 years ago it was a wonderful revalation because I felt like I'd found 'my people.' Someone who is 15 now, probably got the same feeling the first time they found a mailing list about their favourite subject. They didn't have to pay for the privilege.
Second, con models like SupaNova and GenCon are a real challenge. Imagine you're a 20 year old uni student and you're choosing between spending $150 for a four day con or you could go to a SupaNova and spend $30 to get in and a $100 on stuff - books, dvds, comics, games, whatever - and still come out ahead.
I was impressed that Swancon managed to fit many communities within the one con, which meant gamers felt comfortable as did cos-players and Dr Who fans etc. So I don't think it's that cons are necessarily irrelevant to fans. It's just that they have more options to express their fandom these days.
But fan guests matter. And surely offering a membership to a con (which is no cost to the committee) and paying for a few nights at a hotel won't break the bank. The fans at Swancon added a vibrabcy to the con and even if I didn't interact with all of them, I spoke to some and enjoyed having them there.
I think fan guests absolutely matter, but with Swancon 2008 we didn't include our fan guest on some of our more mainstream advertising - community newspaper ads, postcards, etc.
I think once a new person comes to a convention, things like fan guests can be fairly easily explained, but without really knowing what they are they just become another barrier between the new person and their deciding to try a convention out.
Thanks for continuing the conversation here. It is all very interesting. I have been a newbie at various conferences both for work and for play, and you just have to be confident and learn to introduce yourself with a smile...
Even at SF cons, where I am pretty confident, I still have trouble going up and talking to people. I'm very much a 'nah, they don't want to be bothered by me' type of person.
Very hard to get past the poor self-esteme
My first con was Aussiecon 2, huge by Australian standards, I didn't know anyone, or even that fandom existed. I met a lot of Americans, I still had such a good time that I signed up and went to Swancon (1986) where I met some Australians. Some of these people were running a con in my home city Melbourne. They invited me to help out, hey it sounded like a great idea at the time. I was then involved in fandom.
Fan Guests I have always thought of as a thread of history of fandom, I could listen to their stories, I could see the people they talked to and build my understanding of this new group of people.
Mundanes, muggles, non-IBMers, whatever group you are in human kind seems to need to have a category name for people who are not in that group. I have not attended that many cons in recent years but if I ever did hear people discussing mundanes it was used to identify the group of people, not to "Slag off" at them. The only group of people I ever heard being slagged off were the network TV schedulers who decide ahead of time that an SF programme will not rate so lets show it at 11:30 out of order, unless we can bump it for something else, but then they deserve to be slagged off.
It's nice to see that the problems people perceive to be there are not political (Fannish).
Cons have always been on the expensive side of things but if this years swancon was only $150, I would be hugely impressed as it would not be much different from what I paid in '86.
If you are going to change the way a con runs for the sake of newbies, then ensure that you aren't cutting off your nose to spite your face, the reason I turn up to cons is to catch up with my friends that I made when I first started going to cons, I wouldn't like to think that doing that is not kosher anymore.
I agree with this point about the term - you need a term for non-fans, its a natural human impulse to come up with a slang term for it, and terms like 'mundanes' get used for practical reasons rather than to exclude mostly.
I think Fan Guests are still relevant. It's about *that* person getting recognised for their contribution to fandom. The new fans may not know them, but in years to come they may have friends they have known for ages whom they want to see recognised.
At any convention there is plenty of stuff that is not relevant to me, so I just focus on hte stuff that is relevant to me and gloss over the rest. If the FGOH isn't of any interest to you, then just ignore it, saying you should get rid of the FGOH is proabbly not necessary.