punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Ramblings about fandom and con attendance

I had this in my mailbox to post in my journal for a long time. I just re-found it. It was in response to this entry by someone on a list about why there's a drop in con attendance:

> For most of the mundane world Sci Fi rarely means something . . . oh,
> Canticle for Leibowitz, or the best of Heinlein (take your pick); the
> usual mundane attitude is bimbos in space, aliens seeking sex with buxom
> blondes, and other piffle.

This is not meant as a personal attack on you, or anybody, but I hear that comment a lot, and I don't totally agree with it, and find this to be a part of the problem of con attendance. We're not as ostracized as we think we are, sometimes.

I mean, maybe in the 70s and 80s, that might have been the case, but sci-fi now is mainstream. Reading and watching sci-fi is not considered exclusively a nerdy thing to do, with a stigma it used to have (although, it still seems to have a macho-male stigma to it, eg, Spike TV). Look at the latest blockbuster films: Spiderman, Lord of the Rings, even Star Wars. Plus there's been so much original SF&F that I'd say fully 25-30% of all blockbuster films now have sci-fi or fantasy elements in them like the Matrix, Gothika, Dark City, and so on. And many of them are GOOD films. Star Wars books making the bestseller list, I could go on. But this link will do it for me:


And we're SO guilty of doing the same thing. I mean, the fact we use words like "mundanes" and "the outside world" shows that we think people not in fandom are a bunch of non-intellectual sheeple or something. True, there are a lot of dumb people out there, but personally, that applies to the same percentage of fandom as well. Stupidity knows NO cultural bounds...

I think a lot of people in fandom are still stinging from rejections they had as a teen, and think the world is still as cliquish. It isn't. I mean, any more than fandom is, that's for sure. Sure, there will always be people who don't like you because you are a sci fi lover, or "read too much" (I haven't heard that since the early 1980s, I would laugh at anyone who said that to me now... like if someone said, "You cook too much!"), or are overweight, look odd, or whatever. That's just humanity, and you can either deal with it, or not, it's a free country, and I am not in a position to tell anyone what to do.

So why do we have cons now? That's the question we should be asking. Some people have brought up a lot of good questions here, and comments about attendance, panels, and so on. I see fandom as having lost focus, and I don't mean that we've "strayed the path" or anything as grand-sounding, but a lot of the reasons we started to have cons are no longer as valid as they used to be, and maybe we need to sit down, find the core values we hold dear, and see how we can freshen them up a little, modernize them, get new ideas, and make our cons fun in new ways.

Who are we, anyway? Why do we gather? How do we "spread the word" and make new contacts?

In some ways, this has already happened. Like take the computer rooms at cons. Before, a "computer room" was a bunch of old-school, hardware jocks who loved tinkering with equipment work loaned them to display that lights here can activate lights there. Then it kind of became a game room. Now it's a LAN party, with ways to connect to the Internet. Compare the people who used to be in the computer room in 1983 with the people who are in it now. The focus shifted. That's not bad by any means, but it shows that things change.

Panels haven't changed since 1983. Why did we go to them in the first place? I can only speak for myself, but I wanted to see the people I had heard about, and see how they fielded questions, perhaps even my questions. Well, I don't go to many panels anymore because I feel not many panels hold anything of interest to me. I don't know the people, and the panels I do know ... uh, I am usually IN them. And my audiences range from nobody (it's happened), to a packed room. I find the "packed room" panels are usually what's currently hot, like anime, computer OS wars, and the like. Some cons I have known have panels based on what their people know, not "Wow, people want to hear about this, let's go to a college and find someone." Those cons have low panel attendance sometimes. "We have
this girl who can talk about SCA period-style dresses," says the con, and places said girl in a panel... without actually checking if that's of any interest to more than a few people. I am not saying "Can the SCA dress wench!" no, absolutely not. You never know what's going to be popular, and you should always try new things (or at least, provide those few seamstresses with something to go to if the room was going to be empty anyway). Like dinosaurs are not really sci-fi so much, but the late Hal Clement's Balticon panel on fossils was always packed, even though it was rated as "kid's programming." Hell, I have always thought "kid's programming" was so blurred at cons, anyway.

"Hmmm... you're an awfully big kid...!" (I guess we all are, in fandom)

So that's for us. Now we need more people. Why? Well, in my personal opinion, I meet new friends that way. Every con, I make at least one new friend, or rediscover a friend I hadn't known that well before. So how do we attract more people?

Ads are one thing, but with no good target market, we might as well put a message in a bottle and put in Lake Eire, saying, "Hey, sci fi people are curious, one will surely pick up the bottle..." What ever happened to going to colleges and high schools? Con's haven't done that since... my high school. Colleges are rich with free-thinking, fun-to-be-with people (I see fandom as the same demographic). How about computer clubs?

Does your con have a marketing department?

Okay, this letter is a bit long, and I rambled, so to summarize:

- We should stop thinking in terms of "us and them"
- We should try and define who we really are, instead of "not them"
- We should start thinking about the goal of the con, stick with a theme
- We should rethink how we are doing the cons by department
- We should have a marketing group

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000689.html
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