This year at Ad Astra, I did a panel on Fake Geek Girls. Or rather, their mythical quality. (For future reference, there are about as many Fake Geek Girls in existence in 2013 as there were witches in Salem, MA in 1693.) During the question period, a teenaged girl at the back of the room asked what was to be done about all this, about the guys who would seemingly never accept her in their space (which was never their space to start with). I told her two things.
- Plenty of things are being done. It is not your responsibility to do all of them. Your responsibility is to show up, even when those guys don’t take you seriously, because your showing up unnerves them more than those dreadfully subtle Cialis commercials. The medium is the message. You are the message.
- It’s okay, because someday they’ll all be dead.
There was laughter at this point, and I’ve since said this at other conventions, because the kind of laughter you get tells you a lot about the crowd. I got this tidbit from an animator at Nelvana back in 2006 or 2007, who listened to me ranting about the paper-only submissions policy at F&SF for a good ten minutes before putting down his chopsticks and saying, breezily: “It’s okay. Stop worrying. Someday they’ll all die.”
And he was right. Someday, they’ll all die. Someday, we’ll all die. As Tertullian reminds us in Apologetics: Memento mori. (Remember: you will die.)
This year, I met Gordon Van Gelder at the Tor party. He’s a nice guy. By that I mean he’s a genuinely gracious individual. He didn’t bat an eyelash when I said: “Hey! You’re where all the rejection letters come from!” He apologized that they always seemed to come on Mondays, which basically made Mondays feel more like Mondays for me, before I had a steady job. “I used to come home from my workshop, after my stories were torn to shit, and find your letters,” I said, “on a fucking Monday, for Christ’s sake.” He said he never meant it to happen that way. Then he said I hadn’t submitted anything in a while, probably because I’d been working on novels. And he was right. I was working on novels. But I’d also put the magazine out of my mind. I started submitting my work to Rudy Rucker, instead. Then Nature. Then Intel. Van Gelder was right, in his rejection letters: my stories weren’t a good fit for the magazine. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t good. They just weren’t about the things his market demographic enjoy paying for. They were about other things, for another audience. In business speak, they were proposing value to the wrong customer segment.
So let’s talk about customer segments. When I’m not working on a book (more on that later), I work for a marketing firm in Toronto called Ideas in Flight. When I’m not working for IIF, I work for Intel, or IFTF, or SciFutures, or whoever needs science fiction prototypes. I’ve also provided business consulting to other companies. Years before that, I worked where all writers work at one point or another: in retail. So I’m actually fairly familiar with customer personae, demographic analysis, and so on. Plenty of businesses can produce a great product or service, but if they never find their customer, and they never communicate the value of their product to that customer, they flounder. But the moment businesses run into real trouble is when their customer segments shift demographics. This is where Worldcon comes in, because the face of fandom has changed and WorldCon has not caught up.
Plenty of folks have already made this point. J.M. McDermott had this to say:
So, there were not a lot of people of color. Like, hardly at all. To put it in perspective, I am white. I often wandered into the mall for cheap food next door, and once there I became the minority. Which is good and correct in San Antonio, a beautiful patchwork of cultures that is a lovely place to live and meet people of many races, colors, creeds. Once back into the Con, it was like stepping into a portal into a whitewashed world, with so few people of color that one of my friends from grad school (who is Caribbean) started counting on her hands the African people. We met an excellent, excellent Chinese-American author, who lives in the states, and she and he traded numbers they counted of their race, and both numbers were shockingly low, in the single digits, at the largest fan-run con in the World.
And Chuck Wendig added:
At Worldcon / LoneStarCon, the age felt… older. Youthful vigor was not on display like it seems to be every year at DragonCon. That’s worrisome because as a community, you don’t want to cleave so completely to an older generation because you can age out your genre work and your audience — right? I mean, one could argue that it serves as counterprogramming to DragonCon and PAX, but is that really the way you want to counterprogram? By hewing more (only?) to an older generation of fans and authors, though, I have to wonder if that’s healthy in terms of overall genre and industry.
In the comments following that post, I added my own story about demography:
On a panel on philosophy and SF, one of my fellow panelists decried the predilection among younger readers for dystopias and “darkness,” then talked about how when he was a young man, he had no trouble finding a job, buying a house, living a life, etc.
“How old are you?” I asked, from the other end of the stage.
He gave his age. I believe it was around 54.
“So you’re a boomer?”
“And how much did you pay for your first house?”
It was a figure around $60K. Less than $100K, anyway.
“The average price of a starter home in Toronto, where I live, is $550,000. I’m thirty years old. I have a university degree and two graduate degrees. Despite all that, it is likely I will never be able to afford my own home — or have my own child. You want to know why people my age and younger write without hope? That’s why.”
This man thanked me for bringing that to his attention. He was genuine, not sarcastic. He simply did not know how the younger half lived. And really, I think that’s what it boils down to. It’s more than just an active distrust of young people (and young women in particular). It’s a totally different set of life experiences. And, I suspect, a different set of values. For example, I spent my border policy panel listening to talk of the need for national sovereignty. Sovereignty, for Christ’s sake, as though that meant anything in an era of globalization, supply-side manufacturing, ephemeral debt limits, and algorithmic micro-trading. It’s a view of the world that is frustratingly conservative for a demographic allegedly interested in the future.
I hasten to add that it was the minority view: I spoke with several people afterward (and throughout the con) who thanked me for my candor, and I saw the same young people at all my anime panels (which says something). But, as all weary folk say at one point or another: these people vote.
Let me put it another way. The demographic shifts faced by WorldCon’s largest customer segment are the same ones faced by the Republican Party. Let that sink in for a minute. Really let it marinate. These are the same people who cheered me when I talked about Canada’s healthcare plan, and applauded Mark Van Name when he blamed rape culture for America’s ills. They want to be progressive, but they’re being blindsided by the very same demographic shifts afflicting the most conservative elements of contemporary society, for exactly the same reason: they haven’t taken the issue seriously. This is why there isn’t a Hugo for Young Adult novels. Because God forbid we reward the writers who transform young genre readers into lifelong customers at a time when even Bruce Sterling says the future will be about old people staring at the sky in puzzlement and horror. Or as Robert Jackson Bennett put it:
The problem is, when the economy starts spreading money to the younger crowd, or when the Boomers retire or physically can’t attend, then certain industries and institutions and conventions – like WorldCon – are left in a hot seat. Your primary demographic is quite literally gone, and your younger one is alienated, because the programming and events there legitimately were not for them.
YA is what Clayton Christensen would call a “disruptive innovation,” a product that addresses the needs of a neglected customer segment not being served by the dominant incumbents in power. That some of the fiction isn’t terribly innovative doesn’t matter. What was innovative was treating teens like the serious market demographic that they are: a tightly-connected, actively social group in possession of disposable income who want books about the characters that nervous agents and major publishers won’t touch, like queer characters, non-white characters, and girls. This is what happens when a generation grows up reading fanfiction written by their friends about characters developed in other countries, like Japan and Korea, and not books with shitty T&A covers about women who get wet when their fathers give them vaginal exams. They start going to anime cons, or gaming cons, or media cons. They go to DragonCon and PAX and FanExpo and AnimeExpo and Comic Con. Not because those cons are “less literary,” but because those cons are gatherings of communities who share enthusiasm about the characters and worlds they actually give a shit about.
If you told one of these kids that Robert Silverberg said something untoward about Connie Willis at this year’s WorldCon, they would ask: “Who? What? Is that, like, a thing? Either way, what a dick!”
They don’t care about you. But you know who cares about them? Marvel. Warner. FOX. CW. EA. Microsoft. Sony. Blizzard. FUNImation. Kodansha. The list goes on. They’re better served by corporate interest than they are by the people who made the geek economy possible. Sit with that. You may feel a slight sting. That’s not pride, fucking with you. It’s failure.
Sure, you have a nice big con now, and a nice big awards ceremony whose online streaming never seems to work. You have internecine debates about why the big fish didn’t get enough panels (please, somebody, get these folks a waahmbulance and World Fantasy registration). But you don’t have major comics creators as GOH. You don’t have voice actors. You don’t have manga-ka. You don’t have game companies. You don’t have play-testing, or LARPS, or teahouses, or fashion shows. You are offering a room full of vintage first-edition hardbacks to a group of people who read books on their phones.
The last time I was at Anime North, a bunch of kids in cosplay brought out an amp, plugged it in, and started to jam in the parking lot. In another lot, more kids put together their own kaiju battle, doing slo-mo fights to J-rock and -rap. It was great. I was with a bunch of very happy people who didn’t give a fuck about jetpacks. Worldcon may be about the future, but it doesn’t have the future. Remember, Worldcon organizers all over the world: memento mori. And what will be left will be either a dwindling crowd of increasingly conservative elements, or a thriving community of people who are actively engaged in using network culture to bring about a better, more enjoyable world.
Look on your works, ye mighty, and despair.
148 thoughts on “Memento mori. (Or, how Worldcon’s youth problem will resolve.)”
I’ve been glancing at this whole kerfuffle in SFWA and the official science fiction community every once in a while, although I really don’t care much. SFWA was outdated 20 years ago when I first joined (and quit) and it’s even further behind the times today. I rejoined a year or two ago since I had a new series coming out from 47North. I went to Dragon-Con this past weekend for a day and sat on a couple of panels.
Frankly, it’s a bit stunning that the science fiction writing world is so far behind the times in pretty much every area, but especially technology. Look at who the top science fiction writers are on Kindle and in the top 20 you don’t see many of the traditionally published “icons” published by Tor or DelRay, whose days are numbered. You see indie authors, 47N authors, people who are trying different things. On my panels I felt like I’d been transported back into the 80s where people were talking about query letters and print runs and other such quaint notions. Only the other authors who were also members of RWA were talking about bookbub and eBook pricing and whether free was worth it or not. I’ve found RWA to be light years (pun intended) ahead of SFWA in pretty much every area. Hell, they even let a guy like me in and on their Honor Roll.
The old guard will keep giving their awards to each other or their proteges and ignore the new voices and those who are different than them. Let them. Events are going to overwhelm them much sooner than they think.
I was at one of your panels at Dragon*Con, thank you for coming!! I agree, it’s very strange–I’m a member of RWA who reads and writes romance, and reads sf, and am always surprised by the contrast from the RWA workshops to the ones at D*C as far as technology and innovation. But then, I’m also always pleasantly surprised that D*C is so open about allowing romance writers to be on the panels as I initially worried it would be all sf-centric. Thank you for your support of RWA here and on that panel 🙂
The “Graying”of “mainstream” Worldcon fandom will be fixed–one way or another.
I’d rather it being by embracing the wider fandom world, myself.
Sadly, I do not see that happening in the near future.
The amazing thing to me is that the Baby Boomers – the *very same* people who rebelled against an older generation belittling them and trying to hold them back and make them conform to obsolete ideas – are doing the same thing now that they are the older generation.
Don’t paint a whole generation with the same brush. A lot of us are trying to help.
That’s not amazing. That’s par for the course. Insofar as there is any validity to generational grouping, the Baby Boomers have been defined largely by hypocrisy. They were the ones who were famously anti-war — until the draft ended and they were no longer of military age anyway; then they were the ones who were thrilled with the idea of new military engagements. They were the ones who famously hated right-wing conservative government for being so repressive — until they had enough money and goods to benefit from repression. They were the ones who wanted to save the world from the way the faceless corporate machine of society chews up and destroys everything good — and then they grew up, got jobs in the corporate machine, and became the ones chewing up and destroying things. The Baby Boomers are the ones in charge now, and things are worse than ever. Once again, I don’t really buy into the idea of homogenous groups by generation, but *to the extent that the idea is true* the Baby Boomers deserve far, far worse things than will ever happen to them. (Seriously: if the worst that happens is that they become culturally irrelevant, thats *nothing*. It happens to *everyone*.)
Madeline, I have literally been struggling for SIX MONTHS to write on this exact same topic. I started thinking about writing on this topic last year when I attended WorldCon here in Toronto, where I felt uncomfortable by the racial and age majorities I was seeing around me.
Thank you for saying what I have been struggling to find the words to say. Rather, the polite, even keeled, honest words that wouldn’t brand me as inflamatory or a FGG. This is everything I wanted to say and more.
I got your back, lady. See you at SFContario, if not sooner. 🙂
Reversed Polarity? I won’t be at SFC, unfortunately. I have tight deadlines like WHOA and I have to be a bit of a hermit until the new year.
There hasn’t been a Worldcon in Toronto since 2003 [Torcon III]. Perhaps you are thinking of World Fantasy Con? [Which was in Markham, ON.]
I love this so hard.
Thanks! And now I have “Goodbye Horses” stuck in my head. 🙂
Oh my gosh *thank you* for writing this. This is everything I’ve been trying to articulate for YEARS in one neat, intelligent, clear post. Bless. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to send this link to EVERYONE I KNOW.
Aww, thanks! It just sort of all came out. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
And now, yeah, seriously. WorldCon is becoming a pro-con rather than a fan-con. I’ve only been going a few years, but back in Denver I remember lots more actual fans. And costumes. And fun. This year, despite the fact that I spent the weekend with some of my favorite people on the planet, just didn’t have a general air of geekly fun. Probably the best night was the Drinks With Authors party, attended by 350 people off-site and started by folks to give writers who didn’t get on programming (ahem, coughmecoughandabunchofotherscough) a chance to meet and greet with fans.
I went to that party, and I had a metric ton of programming. I’m one of those tiny fish who benefitted from the system, so I’m not eager to decry it. The fact is that more successful writers aren’t hurt by my presence on panels. They will continue to have massive autographing lines, and get Hugo votes, and so on. Their editors are still happy with them because they still make great sales. Panels are actually way more important to people (like me!) who don’t have name or brand recognition. At this con moreso than at any other before, there was a lot of “Oh! You! vN! OMG!” I have two novels out, but I still have to promote them in a way that bigger fish just don’t.
Agreed. But the party was actually started for folks with no programming and grew. (I was on the first flyer.)
I was asked over and over why I had no programming. I have no idea–they simply told me no. I had four panels last year and I agree; it doesn’t take anything from the bigger names. I’m not alone. I know best-sellers who were passed over. I still had a great con though. 🙂
That’s odd. I felt the opposite. LoneStarCon was full of fans, especially if one looked at the panels. (Indeed, that is one reason why many writers didn’t get panels. Fans filled the slots.)
Personally, I was on a bunch of panels with both fans and writers. I wasn’t one of the writers who got “left out,” and for the most part I was always sitting next to another novelist or someone who worked in publishing or media. What I did notice was a very small number of young people. Like, I saw the same kids at all my anime panels.
The YA Hugo argument is problematic. While a YA Hugo would be a good thing I believe it should actually be voted on by young adults themselves. The ‘greying of fandom’ problems you have noted make the current Hugo electorate a very bad one for voting on such an award.
The business meeting voted to set up a committee to report back on how to square this particular circle next year.
Wouldn’t offering the award and sending the novels in the voter packet educate that electorate? Are the tastes of the attendees so irrelevant that they cannot be trusted? Furthermore, YA would vote on a YA Hugo if they had any inclination to attend the Hugos or Worldcon. They don’t. That’s the problem.
(I hope this doesn’t read as ranty)
I do think the tastes of a 30-year-old or a 50-year-old can be significantly different than the tastes of teens at whom YA books are aimed. A YA Hugo would more likely be a “YA with crossover appeal” Hugo, because at the nominating phase that would be the books adult fans nominate. Sending the books to the voters is too late to solve that.
There are also technical issues to solve in the award.
Many YA publishers and authors don’t want a YA Hugo that ghettoizes them out of the running for the main prose awards. This is a big deal, YA works have won “Best Novel” and “Best Novella.” But the current rules don’t allow works to be eligible in more than one category. Yeah, “change the rule” but that’s a sacred cow some (very loud) people don’t want to kill. I’m OK with killing it.
There’s a technical problem that YA books don’t follow the Novel/Novella/Novelette/Short Story length standards. We can make up new standards appropriate to YA, or we can chose to go length-agnostic. That’s not a political minefield, it just needs a consensus decision.
The other technical problem is classification. Many YA publishers and authors have different standards for what’s appropriate content. Content-based classification is doomed. “Published under a YA imprint” is a pretty good working rule, but it does exclude self-published books and YA published by small presses that don’t have a separate imprint for their YA titles. Solvable, but politically loaded, quite possibly with the publishers and authors. I don’t have a good idea on this.
Then there’s the purely political problem. If the technical issues can be solved, I would love to see a Worldcon trial the award and demonstrate it’s viable (yes, this can be done). But a (very loud) group of people thinks there are already too many Hugo Award categories, and will try to block any new category, even a viable one. The only solution is to outnumber them.
I would like to see a functional rule for a YA Hugo pass. I really hope this new committee will combine a passion for the stories with some skill at rulemaking. I’m getting tired of the bickering.
I don’t think having a YA Hugo is going to fix the “there aren’t enough young fans going to Worldcon” problem.
We do need to work on better and more attractive programming at cons, and getting it out there earlier. Of the three people leading the London Worldcon programming team, 2 are under 40. I think that’s good.
The membership cost is a psychological problem. Yes, it’s expensive, but membership is perhaps 10% of most folks total convention budget when it’s not in your backyard. People traveling from remote places to Dragon*Con and Comic-Con International probably pay more for hotels than Worldcon attendees do, because the demand is so much higher. But the costs need to be brought down, and that’s a lot of budgeting exercises (boring, I know).
And the travel costs are prohibitive for many families with kids. But that’s also the case with Dragon*Con for anyone who doesn’t live within driving distance of Atlanta, or for Comic-Con for anyone who doesn’t live within driving distance of San Diego. For me the charm of Worldcon is that it’s a different place every year, and settling down would only shift the travel costs burden to the same people year after year.
I thought I was in a minority of one in wanting a YA Hugo to be voted by YA people. That was the impression I got from the SMOFs list.
Just to put things in context the membership of the Worldcon is not shrinking. It recruits as many new people each year as it loses and there’s no sign of that changing.
I’ve been thinking about this (and kicking ideas around with folks on reddit — /r/printsf) and while I agree with you, I think there’s a structural problem with worldcon as an institution that renders it difficult to change. In a nutshell: it moves around every year, and it costs a lot to attend. Even a supporting membership is in the $50-100 range! Actually buying an attending membership is around $250-300, if it comes to your town — and travelling to worldcon and staying in a hotel easily adds $1000 to the price tag. At which point, your response about the price of entry-level housing in Toronto comes into play: worldcon is a paddling-pool for secure, middle-aged, middle-class people who can afford to go, and many of whom follow it around from year to year.
Does this sound like the right bunch of folks to vote on an award for YA genre fiction?
Comicon, Dragoncon, and so on *stay in the same place*. They’ve got professional management teams to grease the rails, and they’ve grown huge. If you want to go, you know where it’s going to be held years in advance (no random guessing as to which continent it’ll be on!) and you know there’s going to be a *lot* of stuff there, not just a group of middle-aged jet-setters all of whom know each other.
Worldcon is probably impossible to reform from the top down because it moves around and it’s run by a different team every year. From the bottom up, it will only reform as the demographic of the attendees changes. And these issues are a self-reinforcing problem.
This is what I said at Cheryl Morgan’s blog on the same subject. It needs to stay in one place, have a single centralized management team that can dedicate energy and resources to both old practises and new ideas. I do like going to new places and seeing new things and new people, but the regionalism is more a benefit to the participating hotels than it is to attendees.
So you’re OK with cost-shifting the travel expenses to the same people every year?
That would make something that calls itself Worldcon into something very different. As it is there’s a heavy US bias which makes it financially impossible for most of us in the rest of the world to attend. Membership, airfares and accommodation could easily total $5,000.00. I’d imagine even in the US it would be upwards of $1,000.000 for many. Settle it in one part of the US and it will just be another US SF convention. That’s fine if that’s what you want it to be but if you want it to really be the world’s SF convention then its total constituency has to be considered.
If we have WorldCon in ONE place & ONE place only, then it can no longer be WorldCon, because it will not serve the entire SF community. It moves around to give *everyone* a chance of attending, & NOT just the “rich jet setters who all seem to know each other.”
There is ONE major problem with having YA only voted on by YA member: It is one category that I (andI expect many like me) would actually read and vote on. I usually do go to Worldcon. I stopped reading/voting on Hugos many years ago as more and more, the nominated books were nothing I would choose to read and VERY few of them were worth the effort when I read them for the sake of voting. Yeah, Yeah, I should nominate books I like. They stand little chance of getting on the ballot. But YA books, those tend to run more to my taste. Finally. A Hugo category worth reading.
As for the aging of Worldcon, I brought my kids up in it. Part of the problem is the traditional labor day is very difficult for college kids. For school kids , too, though I never had any problems taking mine out for two or three days at the beginning of the year. I like the new trend of a “Young Adult” rate that is less than full adult membership. We will all be in London next year: non-labor day and young adult pricing.
Wow. This was stunning and brilliant. Thank you so much — I feel like, as a 40+-year-old woman in the industry, I keep saying, “Where are the female fans my age?” But this reminded me that it’s more than that; even in saying that, I was still looking partly in the wrong direction.
Thank you — this is lots to mull over.
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. And I wouldn’t automatically dismiss the problems you noticed — forty-something women are a powerful market on their own. Without them, E.L. James would have no career. Ditto Mary Higgins-Clark, Elizabeth George, and a whole bunch of other authors. The lack of recognition for women is another part of this problem. I was happy to be joined by women on most of my panels, and so I think things are going in the right direction parity-wise, but not in terms of attracting audiences.
Amen on all counts – I just posted back to something on the Chronicle of Higher Education that smacks of the issue:- On an article about a MOOC using zombie culture as a jumping off point for physics lectures, one fellow posted that it’s brilliant to bring in a wider audience with entertaining ideas and suggested Big Bang Theory as a good show to hook an international audience. Oh, the foam and condescension in the response from one person about how we would offend a lot of cultures with zombie memes when those cultures respect their dead, and it was a puerile infantile interest, and so forth. My post back to him mirrored a great deal of what you said above (aside from pointing out that the OP had suggested BBT as an alternative for the wider net) – capped that I ran an anime convention for nearly a decade in Denver and used it as a great launchpad to get the interest of young folks and saw quite a few of them grow up to have a grip on interculturalism and the larger world which they extended past Japan as they matured, even saw a few grow up to do international work. Sneering at fiction written for our in-between generation disregards not only the value of the medium to pull in new readers but also an immense opportunity to help them learn and grow in areas from social understanding to personal acceptance. My ridiculous little convention let people hitting a peak of hormonal misery and social confusion get together and write together, draw together, costume together, play games and watch videos and generally squee together, and latched that onto some panels where they actually learned while they were at it – and the kids were really open to it. Our panel on the Japanese WWII internment camps was *packed* and the kids really moved by the film and the speaker who was a niece to an interned woman. I can safely say if I’d just put that panel out as a meetup thing most of those kids would never have heard about it at all much less gotten up the nerve and gumption to attend it. There is vast value to our entire community in pulling in the new generations and giving them a voice, a grounding in the wider world, and a feeling that someone else understands where they’re at, not to mention interesting panel presentations – and not the least in that vast value is whether the conventions can manage to sell any tickets, and thus survive as community gathering points, once our 60-year-old demographic goes the way of the dinosaurs.
Great post, Madeline – I agree on all points. (Also, that Heinlein book… yeesh.)
I’m about 30 and female, but yes, I was there as a “pro” not a “fan.” For that, yeah, I might choose other cons. I saw other 30 year old females there, but yes, almost all authors and yes, almost all white. And we sat around the Broad Universe table and griped about how many of us were not put on panels this time. (Certainly, there’s limited space, but there were also many three person panels in the end. I didn’t hear about the off-site book party, but I was working the table and rather busy anyway.) I think many fans would agree this issue is a problem…but welcoming other demographics so they’ll really come is tough to arrange…aside from inviting Neil Gaimen as guest star (worked at World Fantasy San Diego–teens bought every spare membership!). Yes, by contrast, teen literary cons like the Harry Potter ones have plenty of panels on minorities, queered characters, young people’s issues, etc. (In 2012, Chicago Worldcon there was a jarring TRACK of panels on how to write the mysterious unknowable characters known as “women.” I was shocked. No one wonders how to write male characters–they’re just “normal”) There are certainly other cons that welcome minorities and/or young authors. Wiscon is the famous one, and there’s Readercon or Misti-con (Harry Potter for gen X, basically). Pop Culture Association is academic, but certainly is more diverse and up-to-date on sf and f issues. I might get in a mention of Wiscon’s new west coast sister Fogcon coming up in March…maybe we could discuss this issue there.
I do think that something needs to be done to help the demographics. After all for the genre to survive new customers have to be brought in when the others well, die off. I would point out however that the various film companies you mentioned have only figured out how to push the young 15 – 24 male demographic. At least consistently. That’s why we get so many action movies and comic book movies. If those movies attract others well all the best for the studios but they’re not exactly micro targeting those groups. When they try it doesn’t work out terribly well usually.. Just look at the repeated failures to develop a film franchise based around young females. Another Twilight or Hunger Games hasn’t worked. The film industry being naturally conservative presumably will entrench and continue to go after that male demographic.
Unfortunately this quickly leads to a chicken or egg argument. If you can’t get people in the door willing to pay $250 (Seriously how many teenagers/Twentysomethings are you going to find who are going to put up that kind of money? That’s before flights and other incidentals). Why should they be catered to? but if they’re not catered to they are not gonna show up.
As much as I think the young adult award would be a good idea I can’t see that changing the demographics of the entire convention that much.
Scalzi did consciously right that young adult novel in his ONW universe. Though considering there hasn’t been any follow-up from him I’m assuming it didn’t work as far as acting as a bridge. At least not yet anyway.
Honestly not trying to be a downer here but I think there’s a bit of an attitude of.
1.Young adult award.
3. Profit and inclusiveness.
Well, they might start by lowering the price tag. Or aiming toward cities with real public transit infrastructure, which favour younger attendees. Or inviting guests that kids actually care about. Or developing activities that they actually enjoy, like games and cosplay competitions and video competitions and fanfic recitations and concerts and sketch comedy. All of those things go on at other cons. And while all of those cons are less expensive, they’re not cheap. And yet Anime North manages to boast over ten thousand attendees each year, while WorldCon tops out at around five.
It’s not about the award. I picked the award as an issue because it’s pretty concrete. But really, kids care less about the awards than they do about hanging out with their friends doing fun things and buying cool shit. Because awards shows are boring. The Hugos would be more exciting if they were hosted by people who were reliably funny, and not racist or sexist (as has happened at some BSFA events), and the whole thing unfolded like a dinner show where participants could get well and truly wasted. That would be enjoyable. I might go, if that’s how it worked. As it was, I took a bubble bath and watched Breaking Bad from the comfort of my big fluffy bed at the Hilton.
Oh, yes, the “Why does Worldcon cost so much?” question. This has come up many many times, and the short answer is that it costs a lot because it has to. (Less than many professional conventions, but a lot more than most science fiction conventions.) Google a little and you’ll find essays diving into the economics of this; I know Kevin Standlee, himself a Worldcon chair, has laid out the reasons more than once.
American cities don’t have real public transit infrastructure. Well, maybe SF, New York and Chicago do, maybe. But those are cities that aren’t conducive to lowering the price tag, their facilities cost a bucket to rent.
General SF conventions used to have anime rooms before Anime conventions became ubiquitous. You can thank Fred Patten from LA for bringing anime to Worldcons and Westercons in the 70’s, and the SF fans who created fansubs as the technology became available, for sowing the seeds of anime fandom. But now? Who needs an anime room when you can see everything on Crunchyroll?
Gaming areas need to be improved, and to do that we need to recruit fans who are into gaming.
I’ve run video competitions at cons. This isn’t a “if you build it, they will come” thing. Just adding a video competition and festival doesn’t instantly translate into video producers (fan or pro) submitting.
I will get a bit ranty about “cosplay competitions.” Up until the late 90’s, anime conventions had “Masquerades” and they were just like SF convention masquerades. Then someone discovered the internet (probably the same person who didn’t know “otaku” was a nasty slur in Japanese) and decided to relabel them as “cosplay.” But they didn’t change anything. Only now North American fans don’t understand where “cosplay” came from (hint: It’s the 1984 Worldcon in Anaheim, and a Denver friend of mine at Nan Desu Kan interviewed the Japanese magazine editor who coined the term), or what “cosplay” in Japan is like (hint: It’s not what North American fans do at North American anime conventions).
Ironically, Takahashi-sensei’s choice to borrow “costume play” from English was because he though Japanese fans would find the direct translation of “Masquerade” into Japanese aristocratic and stuffy.
I love the fun of cosplay, but I think many people lose the creative art of costuming and focus only on the dressing and acting. I also hate to say it, but of all the costume competitions I’ve run, the only one where I’ve had to disqualify entrants (yes, the only time was more than one entrant) for cheating was a cosplay competition at an anime convention (the second year we ran it, so we weren’t new and neither were the rules).
This is all REALLY true, and I say that from the opposing perspective.
I’m in my early 30s, and I go to Dragoncon. I’ve never even considered worldcon. 15 years ago, when I was at the University of Liverpool, and hanging around the John Wyndham archives with it’s librarian, I never considered going to WorldCon.
Everything I’ve heard, and the inferences I have drawn, lead me to think it’s more a fuddy-duddy, carpet-slippers type of event, somewhat stratified and where it seems everyone’s evaluating if you’re a ‘good enough’ fan. It’s the literary version of the Shatner SNL ‘get a life’ sketch.
It may not be true (and my only direct experience is from the joint Dragoncon/Worldcon Baen panel last year but that’s how it *seems* and that’s the issue. (FWIW, my only published book atm is non-fiction – http://www.nosafeharbor.com – but I’ve got some SF I’m working on, and two of the 7 panels I did at Dragoncon this weekend were on books – British SF/F literature, and The worlds of Terry Pratchett.
Oh, and there’s a 3rd event, besides PAX and Dragon con that’s taking a lot of the younger market (and some of the authors) and that’s Burning Man.
Nodnod. Burning Man, Maker Faires, and other events that invite and celebrate DIY (Do it yourself) activities without the sort of gatekeeping you see in traditional publishing.
We’re trying to pull some of that youth and DIY energy into the 2014 NASFiC in Detroit (Detcon 1 – http://www.detcon1.org). There is now a regional Burn called Lakes of Fire (http://www.lakesoffire.org/) in Michigan in addition to a hugely active Maker community. These things remind me of the energy the CONvergence folks in Minneapolis have & had, and it’s weird to me that I’m *just* old enough (or inner establishment enough) that although I have friends in the community, I feel on the outside of it.
There is so much truth in this that it hurts. How can anyone not know that the reason that attendance at WorldCon continues to drop has everything to do with the fact the con establishment has turned its back on the Next Generation? I am increasingly convinced that writers and other publishing pros don’t get that we are living in the fricken FUTURE and that there is more than just LPs and cassette tapes and CDs that we need to let go of!
Disclaimer: I don’t read YA. I’ve found it disappointing even when written by authors I really like. It’s just not my thing in the same way that literary fiction is not my thing.
I’m a man in my late 30s and felt left out on multiple axes. I mostly read fantasy – but the vast majority of panels were more about sci-fi. I love urban fantasy, but it never gets nominated for best novel. I only read e-books, but they had no presence at all in the dealer’s room. I have absolutely no interest in cosplay and very little in TV/movies. The chairs were so narrow I couldn’t sit next to anyone without at least bumping shoulders. My beard is really not up to the standards of Worldcon, either in size or grayness.
I’m against adding a YA Hugo category in the same way I’m also against adding Urban Fantasy, Hard Sci-Fi, Epic Fantasy, Space Opera, Talking Cat, Super Hero, and Media Tie-in Hugos. Right now, the Hugo awards are strictly about the medium and NOT about the sub-genre and I like it that way. Every argument for adding a YA Hugo can also be made for Urban Fantasy. Younger readers, good exciting work, big market presence.
I’d be all over adding another award like the Campbell with similar community voting, but I really don’t want the Hugos to end up sliced and diced among 15 different marketing categories. I don’t want to say that YA is more important than UF by making it the one Hugo category that’s not either medium or professional status based.
Perhaps we fans should band together and try to nominate some of our favorite novels from the normally un-nominated sub-genres next year. I’m sure having a YA or UF book on the list would get some attention.
YA is an age category, not a subgenre.
Yes. Absolutely. Apples and oranges. The slippery slope, it is actually a single step, and flat from there.
And that’s the only way I can sort of squint at it and see it maybe being sort of justified, except that all the folks squeeing about the amazing work being done in the field are talking about the quality of work from the POV of an adult audience and not the act of bringing more youngsters to reading. I’d actually be more comfortable if it wasn’t “YA Literature” but instead “Bringing young people to SFF fandom” or some similar construction.
YA is absolutely a marketing category just like all the other sub-genres. It gives you some ideas about qualities of the story and tells book stores where to shelve it, just like any other novel.
The good done by a YA award is in helping librarians and booksellers choose what YA to stock. And, yeah, a YA Hugo wouldn’t be the only game in town. And, yeah, that benefit might go most to the authors and publishers.
Worldcon in San Antonio was my first SFF con. I’m the lead moderator for a Fantasy community website with more than 40,000 members (most in their 20’s) and was surprised at how few authors associated with this group were included by the Worldcon organizers. Maybe a 20% overlap or so.
There was an underlying feeling of exclusion among the group of writers left off of this list. No outright complaints, but they certainly received fewer panels and similar opportunities. In some cases, authors were outright rejected from participation. (At least one is a NY Times Bestselling Author.)
It was . . . odd to see this happening ahead of Worldcon. Great demand by fans. Desire to participate. Exclusion at the cost of age / internet culture related diversity. A feeling of outside looking in among the authors that appeal to a younger and online generation.
We ended up hosting 15 authors for Q&A sessions during Worldcon. A process where several thousand online fans were connected with writers at Worldcon through the internet and, at the same time, ‘live’ at the con. Authors, fans and organizers pulled together to simply make it happen. These unsanctioned and ‘not Worldcon worthy’ events went quite well.
We also hosted a successful, inclusive and cross-generational SFF party Saturday night that brought in 350+ authors and fans. We gave away more than 150 SFF novels and helped to facilitate relaxed interaction among all. Fans attended from Worldcon and it was also an event where fans who couldn’t afford to attend drove hours to meet authors. Another need met that didn’t have to be unsanctioned.
It felt good to add value to the SFF community this way. Still struggling with the fact that it had to happen around the system rather than being part of the system.
I was at that party! It was a fantastic party. You guys did great work, and I tried to move around the room thanking people (especially Myke Cole) for putting it together. At the same time, I’m one of those folks who had a ton of programming despite being a relatively tiny fish. So I guess I benefitted from it on both sides. I don’t know. Somebody in Texas liked me, I guess.
What I am certain about is that truly innovative developments do happen at the margins first and foremost before being recognized by the mainstream. This is a thing that’s taught in business and design school, but never really gets internalized no matter how many consultants deliver PowerPoints on the subject. So keep doing what you’re doing. You are adding value. You’re adding a ton of value. And hey, if you ever start producing SF-related content, I’d be happy to participate.
You were there! Glad you caught the tone that evening. It was a party on the surface, but it was also a gathering to meet some (surprisingly) unmet needs. A fun part of the evening was seeing diverse levels of support as well.
Agreed on the innovation front. No question that these events will continue on the fringe until the need is met internally. It’s not an ‘us versus them’ thing. Well, at least not on this end.
Been trying to teach the SF groups how to build a strong community. “Too much work” has been the reply. Hold onto that thought, though – might be some opportunities soon.
I was going to make a post about how pros have to choose between Dragon*Con and Worldcon when they’re the same weekend…
…but then I realized I was misreading your comment.
I have to say I love your guerrilla programming. On Sunday, I had a meeting with the heads of LonCon 3 programming, and we were talking about techniques to do pre-con programming on the net, and extend programming in other ways. Would you be interested in being put into contact with them by someone who works in their division?
I think there’s room in the system for your ideas 😉
I only go to science fiction conventions such as Worldcon because I’m a writer and they are a place to hang out with other writers I’ve met, but it is a recent thing for me and left to my own devices they are not conventions I would go to at all, because so many of the people I do not immediately know feel like people a generation older than me. (And that like that other Chinese American author, I also play the “count the number of Asians” game.)
The cons I go to because I attend to have fun are Anime Expo and Blizzcon, where I can feel the buzz and energy of an enthusiastic fanbase, and truthfully, even though I grew up reading western fiction, most of what I read now comes out of Japan.
So, I’m 27 years old. At Anime conventions, I’m generally the oldest guy in the room. At SF conventions, I’m generally the youngest. Now, there used to be some *heavy* crossover between anime and SF fans. However, nowadays, neither side seems to want to try. Most SF conventions don’t have panels discussing anime, nor SF anime in the screening rooms. Comics? Sure – but not anime, and the Anime Conventions are where the younger viewers are these days.
Really, if we want to get more younger audiences coming to SF conventions, then we need to work on cross-promoting. Go to the anime conventions, and try to put on panels helping to provide a gateway for anime fans who want to get into literary SF. Similarly, there needs to be programming on SF and Fantasy anime at SF conventions, so when people from the anime cons come to SF cons, they have something that might catch their interest.
Finally, and here’s the big one, if we want the younger generation to consider the Hugo & Nebula Awards relevant, then the people who have a say in what gets nominated for those awards, whether the SFWA or Worldcon Attendees, need to start paying attention to SF and fantasy anime, and start seriously considering it for nomination. By contrast, only one work of anime has ever been nominated for a Hugo (Spirited Away), and it didn’t win. When Worldcon was held in Japan, no-one from the host country made it on the ballot in any category, in a situation where they would, basically, have had the home-field advantage, as Japanese SF readers would have been able to attend the con for significantly less then readers from the US, Canada, or Europe.
Now, I know there are some SF professionals out there who do follow anime and manga. I remember listening to a live episode of the SF Squeecast, where the panelists were asked about what anime they were watching or manga they were reading, and pretty much everyone on the panel had something they could give as an answer. That’s *great*. We need more of that. If we want to fight the greying of SF fandom, then we need to show younger fans, particularly those among anime fandom (which again, skews younger then SF fandom, and probably comics fandom, by a long shot), that there is a place for them in SF fandom, they will be welcomed in SF fandom, and there will be *non-pandering* programming that is *relevant to their interests* in SF fandom.
All we need to do is expand *our* horizons, so we can in turn expand *theirs*.
I invite you to come try Dragoncon. We have whole Ainme tracks, and screening rooms. We have a fantasy track, a SF lit track, We have a Space track (lots of speakers from NASA and similar), we have a science track (home-built fusion reactor by a high school student – CHECK!), we have a costuming track, we have a law+technology track (where I work); like robotics, there’s a track for that too. And this is all AS WELL as the typical media SF/F convention stuff, your Star Trek, star wars, Joss Whedon, and stargate stuff.
And one thing it’s started doing, to target the younger audience is an actual programming track, aimed at kids, called Kaleidoscope. Stuff like Spongebob, Fraggle Rock, and Powerpuff girls get covered, so you introduce them that way.
It’s an amazing event, and no wonder It’s ‘alluded to’ in John Ringo’s Queen of Wands.
I’ve recently read John Ringo’s crazy rant about the Hugo awards and why he prefers DragonCon over WorldCon – that’s not the type of endorsement that will convince me to try DragonCon!
Thank you SO much for articulating this SO brilliantly.
Thank you for reading it!
Great post, Madeline! I’m kind of in the no-man’s-land between baby boomers and Generation X, but since I work in IT with people 20 years my junior I tend to lean towards the latter – and thus find the “greying” of fandom somewhat alienating. Sure I read Asimov and Dick back in the day, but now I read Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie and of course yourself! Like Laurie, I mostly go to the more staid conventions for professional reasons (and to hang out with writer friends), but I’m starting to branch out into cons that will reach an audience whom I hope will enjoy my (non-YA) fantasy fiction with its LGBTQ characters and (gasp!) females with agency.
For example, we have a new convention here in the UK called Nine Worlds that prides itself on being inclusive and covering all kinds of geek fandoms, from cosplay and anime through to more traditional literature. And I just discovered we have a cosplay/anime con right here in Cambridge, which I’ll definitely make an effort to attend next year. I may be rubbish at video games, but it was anime that really helped jumpstart my geekdom after a hiatus in the 1990s. Some of us old dogs are pretty good at new tricks 🙂
Ooh, I saw tweets about Nine Worlds! (Probably yours.) It sounded really interesting, for exactly the reasons you outlined. I just get this feeling that we should be focusing more on the genre, not the medium that tells a genre story. If we’re really interested in the ideas, we should listen to them wherever they come from.
I was at Nine Worlds. They got a lot of the things you’re complaining about wrt. worldcon right — very right. Because it was a first con in the series, and they had a bit of not-invented-here syndrome, there were some rough edges; but they’re planning on doing it again, and I hope they succeed.
My main fear is that in 2014, their selected weekend is suicidal. They’re running a con in London the weekend before the London worldcon, which in turn is the weekend before the Eurocon in Dublin. And they clash with the Discworld con, which is already a sell-out — it may be the last public appearance by Terry Pratchett. Upshot: they’re splitting the cosplay/fanfic/YA/fantasy con-goers with Discworld, and a lot of panelists are going to be saving their energy for Worldcon instead. (I am not sanguine about this …)
My main hope is that if they survive 2014, then by 2020-2022 they’ll have a team in place and ready to run the next British worldcon, addressing most of the diversity issues with worldcon. Except by then things will have moved on and we’ll have new headaches to worry about …
Nine Worlds clashed with Leakycon (YA and Potterfolks) this year and didn’t suffer, I think it’ll be fine.
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Every word oh-so-true, and none of your arrows poisoned, but perfectly aimed. How do they not get it?
Madeline, thank you very much for nailing this down. I’d just like to add an extra note to agree with Becca Feiner’s comment. Since I quit writing, I’ve focused on raising and researching carnivorous plants, and I regularly show plants at various conventions through North Texas. As a vendor, I wrote off WorldCon because of its equally exclusive policy of requiring that any potential vendor had to be submitted in front of a jury for consideration, AFTER confirmation of purchase of a full WorldCon membership for every person who would be at the vendor’s space. Seeing as how that additional $400 to $600 would wipe out any possibility of profit, I passed on the show: requiring a full membership was idiotic, seeing as how most vendors are lucky to see the outside of the dealer’s room at a convention during operating hours, and the last thing most of us want to do after working for eight to ten hours is go sit in more panels when all we want to do is soak our feet. (When friends ask me about why I won’t do certain conventions, because they absolutely love those conventions, I have to explain that there’s a huge difference between being at your favorite restaurant for a birthday party and being at your favorite restaurant to wash dishes and scrub the toilets. I wouldn’t pass up some of these opportunities for anything, but it’s work, and I no more want to hang out after the dealer’s room closes and play Twister than most people want to hang out at their day jobs at 7:00 on a Friday night.)
Anyway, I’d already had issues with some of the, erm, fervent people at literary conventions about my plants (including the one guy who screamed at me about having something that his kids wouldn’t just throw away after he died, because his sister’s family pitched her complete collection of “Worlds of If” and “Galaxy” after she died), and the thought of driving six hours to San Antonio in typical Labor Day Weekend heat was about as appealing as a hot Clorox enema. At my wife’s urgings (I raise plants and she sells jewelry, and we’re usually a team at conventions), we decided to purchase vendor space at AnimeFest 2013, a big anime convention in downtown Dallas. It was a big risk, seeing as how all we had were recommendations from other vendors about the show, but we knew that WorldCon and Dragon*Con were good ways to go broke even if we had typical positive sales. Last Thursday night, we set up in the Sheraton in downtown Dallas, and then spent the next four days surrounded by attendees easily young enough to be our children.
Now here’s the punchline. The standard argument against trying for a younger audience at most literary conventions is “Oh, those kids are only interested in movies, TV shows, games, and comics. They won’t go for anything else.” Like hell. These kids were HUNGRY for something new. The only negative experiences we had all weekend were from the herds of thirtysomething hipsters who came in on Saturday, and that’s because they couldn’t understand why anyone would have a booth that wasn’t full of bright shiny objects and primary colors. The main attendees were curious as to why someone would be selling plants at an anime show. When I explained “These are carnivorous plants, though, they went nuts. One asked me about the meaning of my company name, the “Texas Triffid Ranch,” and wouldn’t leave until I’d given her the information on John Wyndham’s novel. (Of course, telling her that pretty much postapocalyptic movie and novel over the last fifty years owed a big debt to Day of the Triffids didn’t hurt.) Others wanted to know about the dynamics of how Venus flytraps closed their traps, and still others wanted to know the reality of these plants as opposed to their portrayals on television. And that was just the start: they were open to listening to new ideas and new inspirations, so long as it came from an old guy who didn’t treat them like idiots or obstacles.
And about the minority population at WorldCon. I’ve been lamenting the state of affairs of most conventions being painfully white for most of my time in fandom. I now know that anime conventions are generally very friendly to black and Latino fans as well, which is why they’re going there. The kids can come in and know that the old white folks aren’t going to give them stink-eye while hiding their wallets, and they can relax and have fun. They’re also even hungrier for new stimuli and new inspirations than I was at their age, and they were absolutely thrilled to meet vendors who weren’t ignoring them or blowing them off because “you wouldn’t understand.” Most importantly, they’re already really good at knowing which media have their backs and which ones really don’t matter, and the only thing they really need is advice. That advice has to matter, though, because sneering “This is what you need to read” is something they already get from teachers.
Four days later, I was absolutely exhausted, and I honestly thought about cutting back on my convention schedule because it was starting to interfere with such basics as housecleaning. (To get ready for a typical show, I might burn through the previous four weekends getting plants in shape, because the day job that pays the bills is both mentally and physically exhausting.) After having a couple of days to think about it, and after reviewing the photos I took of the high school and college students who gleefully bought plants from me because nobody else at that show had anything to offer that was anything like that, I’m probably going to reconsider. Between this and the Dallas convention All-Con, which specifically encourages high school and college fans, I haven’t felt this excited about the future of fandom since I first entered it thirty years ago. New kids, new rules, and they have no patience for either the control freaks or the Cat Piss Men who comprised old-time fandom. Me, I’m looking forward to it.
What a great story – that sounds like an awesome experience.
I was part of the Orlando in 2015 Worldcon bid, which tried to address some of these issues. We spent $$$$ of our own money to bid; we had our heads handed to us, coming in a distant third. I wonder how many people who are concerned about this issue voted for us? (Let me make clear I am speaking for myself, not the committee, and I am 58, part of the dying demographic.)
What was the head of programming on, anyway? My offer to do a workshop on Asperger’s Syndrome was rejected without a word. Every other time I’ve offered it at Worldcon packed the room. Would a popular panel of interest to young parents been so awful?
Eva, I won’t presume to speak for the vast majority of people who voted against Orlando. I’ll just note that the only time I ever encountered anyone from the Orlando bid was at ConDFW in 2012. Worse, those of us in the dealer’s room remember the character doing the pitching on getting vendors for Orlando. That was a really tough show for most of us, due to the way the hotel was arranged, so we weren’t particularly thrilled with being cornered by the duly appointed Orlando rep and TOLD why we needed to come out there when we’re already barely squeaking by. When said rep literally shoved a customer out of the way to push the convention and cost me a sale, well, that’s when I swore that I’d sooner make a YouTube video of my collecting the money to attend and then running it through a leaf mulcher than go to the show. Sadly, this character not only didn’t catch on that his bragging about the number of Harry Potter stars the convention was going to have as guests wasn’t making him any friends, but he was an equal opportunity offender of congoer and vendor alike.
And on that subject, please let me make a plea for all con organizers and promoters from us vendors. I know you’re thrilled that you think we’d make a wonderful addition to your convention, and I’m thrilled by the ones who don’t look at us as readily available capital on two legs. However, PLEASE. Either come through at the beginning of the day or at the end, when we can process what you’re trying to tell us. Make sure that you already have contact information available and that it’s remotely readable: most of us aren’t insane enough to drop everything to go to a convention where our contact info is a Hotmail account, the Web site is still “under construction” three months before the event, and all of this is written in Sharpie on notebook paper. (Oh, and responding to vendors querying about information by pushing on them a Kickstarter campaign to pay for promotion and advertising is just the height of professionalism.) Never, EVER, interrupt a vendor talking with anybody with your pitch: either move on to the next vendor or wait until they’re done. And in the name of Arioch, if a vendor says that attending your convention isn’t possible, practical, or sane, don’t continue to whine and wheedle about how “we’d really like you to be there” in the hopes of changing the vendor’s mind. We’re usually trying to be polite and not hurt your feelings, but you tend to start crying when the response is “my biggest show of the year is on the same weekend as your event,” “I’m already booked solid for the year,” or “I can’t afford to spend $750 on booth fees, transportation costs, hotel space, and incidentals to be your free entertainment.” Sadly, Sparky out at ConDFW stomped all over these, and while his behavior there may not have been the main factor why Orlando lost this year’s bid, it was a major contributing factor for those of us who weren’t allowed to chase him away with a baseball bat.
Very, very well said! I’m one of the organizers for the successful Detroit NASFiC bid and the topics of relevance and inclusion are ones we continue to talk about as we look to find ways to bridge that ever widening gap. We have a local con, Confusion that has done a pretty good job of it by embracing inclusion and the Detroit NASFiC will be doing the same. If you have particular ideas that you think would be helpful, I/we would be very pleased to hear them as we continue to strive to make this much more than your average WorldCon knockoff.
Don, I’ve been keeping very close tabs on the Detroit NASFiC since it was first announced, and not just because I would have been a local if my parents didn’t decide to move to Texas in the late Seventies. Very seriously, good luck to you: I have a feeling that this will be a NASFiC famed in song and legend, and if I can get the time, I’ll be there myself.
Madeline, I agree with almost all of your descriptions of Worldcon, and certainly with the conclusion that it’s becoming irrelevant to younger audiences and would need to make extremely significant changes to become relevant.
As a staff member at the con, I talked with young members of some sub-genre communities in Austin and San Antonio with con events, and came to the following conclusions:
1. They’d rather run their own events, where everything is about their sub-genre, than go to a Worldcon.
2. Many of them aren’t used to volunteering — they are used to getting paid to provide entertainment or activities. (They like to be dealers — many are active in Etsy or Urban Crafts Uprising.)
3. They don’t want to buy weekend memberships or stay at the con hotel. It’s too expensive. They prefer to buy day memberships for the days when their sub-genre has events and they plan to crash with friends who live in town.
4. The women want a con that is very baby-friendly. They expect to be able to have very active young children with them all day.
4. They don’t particularly like or trust people over 50, don’t find it pleasant to be around them, and have no enthusiasm about working with them in a volunteer environment. They have no idea who Connie Willis, Robert Silverberg, or even George R.R. Martin are. Neil Gaiman…maybe.
5. When it comes to volunteering, they want complete control of what they do, and would rather try something completely new and different than some variation of things that have been done in the past.
6. They don’t see the need for months of advance planning, and won’t engage in it. They are used to pulling together major events in the span of a month, and have little fear of failure.
I could go on…
I recently spent three years working with a major folk festival (250,000 attendees in one weekend) in Seattle that had evolved into a boomer demographic. Five years ago the festival faced a choice: become an event for boomers and let the younger folk musicians go elsewhere or make changes to bring the 20-somethings in and keep it an all-ages festival. The decision, made with great difficulty, was to remain all ages. It was accomplished by intentionally drawing almost all of the core organizing staff from the 20-30 age range. Once this was done, young performers appeared in the programming, and, predictably, there were loud, angry complaints from the older performers (including key volunteers and donors) who had always assumed they’d be programmed.
Bottom line: Nobody died, and the festival is going strong. I would note, however, that the majority of donors and volunteers remain in the boomer age group — the festival now needs to figure out how to get the young ones to contribute as well as attend and perform.
What do you think it will take to push Worldcon toward this type of change?
BTW, did you notice that this Worldcon had a record number of one-day memberships? No surprise. See point #3 above.
Interestingly, I started going to Folklife either right around or right after the decision was made to attract a younger demographic. The sheer number of teens (who are old enough that they are there because they want to be, not because they are being dragged along) and young adults there makes me very very happy.
I’m getting a bit too long in the tooth to be the youngest person at a concert…
Perhaps you could talk to the organizers of Arisia. The con is extremely kid-friendly, and offers three options for attendees ages 2-12. There is Turtle Track, which is $65 for four days of childcare for children 2-6. Then there is Fast Track, which is the (variable) normal membership fee for four days of kid-oriented programming for children 6-12. There is also Kid-in-Tow, which allows children under 12 to attend free provided they are with a paying attendee at all times. Speaking as a loyal (and childfree) congoer, the convention suffers very little from the addition of these children.
It’s true that Arisia is smaller than Worldcon, but its 2013 attendance number was 3,629, putting it within a thousand of LoneStarCon 3’s number. I know for a fact that several of those attendees were parents and friends of mine who could not have been there without Turtle Track and Fast Track. In other words, rather than a flat impossibility, a comprehensive child track like the one Arisia manages every year is well within possibility.
I just got back from Dragon Con … 70,000 people in six official hotels. I’d say the average age was about 28 years old and the vibe was noting but electric from Thursday night to Monday afternoon.
The revolution has already happened. WorldCon carries *zero* weight for the majority of fans – it’s already seen as a niche con that caters to people over 50 and the lit-only crowd.
The “modern” form of fandom – which is dominant today – began in the mid-1990s and is the result of 1) the internet, and 2) 500 channels that people born after 1980 grew up watching.
When those of us over 40 years old were mere nerdlings, the easiest way to get SF content when we were younger was reading SF books and magazines.
Aside from skiffy, the only reliable SF on TV was either Twilight Zone or Trek (or their late-night/weekend reruns) or Doctor Who reruns on the local PBS station. And, we’d get things that were nominally SF (Bewitched, some of the better Saturday Morning Children’s programs) – or an occasional movie that wasn’t complete crap.
But for us old farts – the cheapest and easiest way to feed our youthful hunger for SF was through paperbacks and used bookstores or informal swaps.
But, starting with the 1990s, the rise of digital cable and the bazillion Internet options led the SF cup to runneth over.
The world of our childhood died because of broadband technology as surely as weekly general interest magazines our parents and grandparent enjoyed – like Saturday Evening Post, Look, and Life – were killed off by over-the-air broadcast TV tech.
And with so many options after 1990, the floodgates to Millennial Fandom opened wide. Millions of people now consider themselves fans – and that fandom is usually not book-based.
That’s because for most 35 and younger today … reading a novel is/was likely the HARDEST way to get a youthful SF fix.
Sure, there are many younger fen who are primarily interested in books, but I guess percentage-wise, it’s fewer than 5% of younger fen. Most of them have TV and film as their primary fandom.
Yet, many of my 45-and-older peers expect the younger crowd to adapt to our ways – to step in line and do fandom our way … because it’s always been done this way and it’s the “proper” way to be a fan. (Like that is ever going to happen.)
For my peers, many still divide fandom into “(real) Fandom” – which is print-based – and “media fandom” for non-print SF.
For example, Worldcon (and the Hugos) are set up like this – with a book focus that drills down to almost-absurd word-count minutiae – whereas non-print SF is an almost afterthought, lumped together oddly so that a multi-million-dollar TV show and a taped Con acceptance speech are in the same category. (ridiculously overbroad)
This does not speak to most fans under age 35. (And probably most fans under 45 – judging anecdotal evidence from looking at my own fannish friends).
So, since they cannot – by and large – relate to us, the young-uns are dumping us and our ideas and forming their own fandom – one that is not print-based; one where books are a tertiary – or minor – subset of their overall fandom.
The contrast is quite stark in the hotel-based cons. (Don’t get me started on convention center cons – that’s a different topic.)
If you wanna see a bunch of gray-hairs, go to Worldcon or Westercon (or Baycon in my home town).
If you want to see a very even spread of ages, including lots of young people, go to Dragon Con or cons like DC.
Fandom is changing. What fans want out of fandom is different for those Baby Boomers and older vs. those in Gen X or born later.
Fandom is the ultimate in democracy as “fandom” is what fans say it is. And, as the last Baby Boomer turns 50 next year – I believe many in the new generation of fandom will increasingly see “traditional” fandom as anachronistic and quaint. And attending our cons either as backward and boring – or quaint anachronisms, like visiting an Amish community as a tourist.
My instinct is that at some point – say before 2024 – Millennial fandom will absorb older fandom as the older fen die out and are replaced by a younger generation and its multi-media fandom.
Judging by sheer numbers – there are many, many are more of them. They have bigger cons. Their cons get more attention in popular culture, by content creators, and news coverage.
Maybe they *are* the culture of fandom and traditionalists are the ones who failed to change with the times and need to develop a taste for the new fan culture?
This leads to a second query:
Who should be doing the work here; why should they have work to develop a taste for something we like when they are perfectly happy the way they are?
To me, when we have that expectation, we sound like parents reminding the kids to eat their Brussels sprouts.
This is an issue we face in Silicon Valley start-up land all the time.
Many companies here that fail, do so because the decision makers design a product for themselves rather than for the target audience.
It’s not reasonable to expect long-term success if you require the people you want to attract to all but abandon the things they already like and are used to and then do additional work to meet our needs and desires (which probably are not their needs or desires).
The programming and focus should evolve to suit the interests of the target audience as it changes over the years.
If cons want broader success among younger fandom, they need to change at a root level and embrace media as equal to (and sometimes better than) print.
If those who run the traditional prestige cons do not want to do that, then the Powers that Be should be realistic & stop trying to achieve something they will never get.
There is nothing wrong with being a niche fandom and doing it well. And, everyone will be happier for it.
Do I see the death of lit-based cons? No. But I do see them increasingly become a niche form of fandom. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)
You’ve just articulated, not quite in a nutshell, why Baycon is busy dying… and Fanime and Anime Expo each have over 30,000 people.
Too bad nobody was willing to listen 20 years ago. Might have made for a more interesting dynamic.
It’s not just Worldcon. I’m on the concom for a traditional SF con, and we want a younger, more diverse audience, but can’t seem to bring them.
I went to DragonCon this year instead of Worldcon (I was recruiting artists for London next year). I enjoyed it very much.
I kept wondering why I wasn’t seeing many people my age, and very much not women (I’m in my early 40s). Then I also noticed I was seeing no toddlers: lots of babies, lots of older children but no infants. So I took a look at the child care policy. DragonCon offers no childcare for children aged under 7. In a convention of 55,000.
So DragonCon may indeed be young, but has it ever occurred to you to wonder why it has *stayed* young over thirty years?
That’s bullshit. They’re attracting a younger audience (and that audience’s parents), and they should be willing to care for that audience (or at least provide quiet rooms for breastfeeding, crying, de-compressing, etc.). That’s a policy with the (hopefully uninended) consequence of excluding women, since women are disproportionately expected to be the ones responsible for childcare. Did you speak to the folks at DragonCon about the policy? Because I’m sure they could find sponsors who would love to buy up extra space in exchange for branded kid-friendly territory. WorldCon was located at the same space as People en Español this year, and it was clear they were very welcoming of kids and families.
Way to deny Farah’s actual experience at Dragon*Con.
Or did I misunderstand what you’re calling “bullshit?”
I think you misunderstood. I can’t speak for Madeline, but I read it as how the lack of such a program was bullshit. I have to agree with her: the sign of a good convention these days is one that offers something to encourage parents with small and smaller children to attend. Otherwise, they might come out before they have kids, but then they drop out because they can’t get child care (or, equally likely, they want the kids to be involved but don’t have any options to do so). Some get back into the habit when their kids are finally old enough to take care of themselves. Some skip out for a decade or so: an old running buddy from my congoing days is only now considering coming back in, after nearly 20 years away, because his son has enough health issues that it wasn’t an option. Others? Well, those are the ones you just don’t see again.
(can’t reply under Paul, hit max comment depth)
Yes, on re-read, I did see that interpretation, which is why I asked. But I also saw the accusatory “Dragon*Con draws parents, and you should have talked to them about it!” interpretation.
As to the meat of your comment, I see the same thing in my wearable art club. We meet on Saturday mornings, prime soccer-mom time, and we lose members when their kids hit school age. If we get them back, it’s when their kids are old enough to drive to practice themselves, and on weekends they don’t have games.
We need better kids programming, but Worldcon may be ahead of the curve there. LoneStarCon 3 had amazing kids programming, but it was tucked away where adults wouldn’t find it (a selling point for the kids). I had a meeting with my LonCon3 div head (who revolutionized kids programming in UK and Irish conventions and was running kids programming at LSC3) outside their room, and they had some really cool presenters leading kids activities.
We have good people who develop good kids programs, we just need to listen to them, and let them do what they do well.
We need better teen support. I don’t think LSC3 had a teen lounge. But having somewhere that teens can get away from their parents for a bit is a vital first step. Often that’s enough, teens can take advantage of more all-ages panels with topics they’re interested in (which comes back to “we need better and more diverse program”).
We need to get more late teens and college students involved in programming. We need to listen to them and fill in the gaps with their input.
I second the B.S. claim about no 40-somethings. If you didn’t see people in their 40s, I seriously doubt you went to Dragon Con this year. We were all over the place – even at 4:30 a.m. at the rave and drum circle.
Sure, the average age was probably late 20s.
But, there were lots of elderly folks, too. In fact, I stuck up a conversation with a woman in her 70s about the youthful energy and generational intermixing at Dragon Con.
In years past, DragonCon offered daycare to under-7s. They stopped a year or two ago, citing either expense or lack of interest (I forget; both is also possible) as the reason.
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Madeline- Thank you so much! At 54 I am relatively new to fandom, having been introduced by my partner about 10 years ago. He’s been a fan all his life. I am amazed by how white, staid, grey, male, and contrary fandom can be. Living in a college town I see young people all around me expressing their interests in fandom in so many ways…except con attendance. I’ve shared your blog with the chair of the 2014 NASFic – DetCon1. I have great hope that Detroit responds to these issues in a big way. Yay for you Madeline!
“Living in a college town I see young people all around me expressing their interests in fandom in so many ways…except con attendance.” – Anne
Maybe you are going to the wrong cons?
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Another thing I’d like to add to the mix is the problems with promoting WorldCon in the first place. Namely, although quite see some sort of social media presence, it still comes down to knowing beforehand where the convention is going to be, and where it’s already promoted. Namely, at other literary conventions, with the same greying issues as WorldCon.
That in itself is bad enough, but then the actual selling process was almost identical to what I used to see with genre magazines in the Eighties and Nineties. Namely, a table in the dealer’s room or Artist’s Alley with a couple of banners, a stack of photocopied flyers (these days, very occasionally, postcards), and a bored attendant who just can’t understand why people aren’t setting fire to buses full of paraplegic nuns for the opportunity to get to the table. Since the programming isn’t nailed down yet, and usually won’t be until a few weeks before the convention, the main selling point is “Look at what else you can do in the vicinity!” Actually, that’s unfair: the real selling point is “Don’t you owe it to yourself to see what the big deal is about?” This is only with the convention committees who actually budget for an actual table: I’ve had several sales lost as a dealer when a customer is literally shoved aside by some pushy dweeb who wants to sell me on buying vendor space for a WorldCon bid that probably won’t happen. Or who’s shouting down everyone else with why we should all pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of being a vendor. Are they out pressing the flesh through the rest of the convention or (horrors) hitting related events? Hell, no: holding a con party, filled with the Usual Suspects who are out there for the free food, is good enough.
My comparison of this sort of promotion to that of genre magazines in the Nineties is deliberate, because it demonstrates a nearly identical blind spot. I can’t tell you the number of magazines, semiprozines, and fanzines I saw in the Nineties with this sort of arrangement at conventions, assuming that people would just hand over $30 for a subscription to a magazine that may or may not see another issue. Now look at the usual beginning fan, especially ones still in high school or college, or fresh out of either and starting their first jobs. Not only was that $30 a pretty impressive chunk of disposable income, but the immediate choice was “spend it on a magazine where I might get my next issue six months to a year from now, or spend it on something I can take home right here and now.” The only other option was to grab a subscription flyer, where it might remain tacked up on a corkboard for the next couple of years before finally being thrown out. No efforts to remind people that the magazine could be available at various outlets (at least, while the magazine distribution market, such as Fine Print, still existed in a dependable form), no efforts to offer incentives for subscribing…nope, you’re just supposed to trust the guy in the “Lady Death” T-shirt that you were going to get a return on your $30.
(And if this sounds as if I’m writing from experience, oh yes. I regularly run into one character at conventions who hit me up for $25 for a subscription to his first magazine 25 years ago…where all of the subscriber funds all evaporated because everyone was arguing over who would be the first full-time employee. And then there were such joys as “Science Fiction Eye”, which went from a reasonably dependable biannual publication to going as much as 2 1/2 years between issues, before shutting down very quietly in 1999 and leaving its subscribers in the lurch. Friends refer to “Science Fiction Eye” as “The Last Dangerous Magazine,” which I find potentially libelous: contributors to “The Last Dangerous Visions” got PAID.)
So picture the situation. You’re a typical teenage fan going to a big literary convention for the first time. Wandering around the dealer’s room, you hear about this thing called “WorldCon,” which you’ve never heard of before now. You’re asked to plunk down $200 right then, which is probably more than the entire paycheck from your afterschool job for two weeks, with a vague mention of guests that you’ve also probably never heard of. Even better, when you ask who these people are, the eyes roll. As far as other events, you’re referred to nearby tourist attractions and restaurants, most of which sufficiently expensive that you couldn’t go there anyway, and that you could visit without having to pay the $200 WorldCon fee. And that’s before considering the cost of hotels, transport, and incidentals such as food. Why, all you need is about $1500 on hand to do anything at the convention, for a pig in a poke. Suddenly, the local media convention, which pretty much exists to sell autographs, doesn’t sound quite so bad. Hell, if you had that kind of money lying around, you’d probably use it to buy a used car or put down the deposit on an apartment, meaning that you could finally move out. And yet people wonder why WorldCon skews so old.
And while thinking about this, I thought harder about one of Madeline’s comments about the dealer’s room being full of vintage hardcovers while the current generation of new fans reads books on their phones. That, right there, is another issue, and one that is so insidious that nobody realizes it yet. Up until relatively recently, those book dealers were a very big deal, for those of us searching for a particular book that we simply couldn’t find during our perambulations through our local bookstores. Now, a quick search through Amazon or AbeBooks will bring up any number of options. I understand why so many independent bookstore owners scream and yell about people using the stores solely as Amazon showrooms (myself, I quit carrying books at my booth about four years ago, after at least three people came up, picked up a volume, scanned the barcode on back, discovered how much it was running on Amazon, and demanded that I match the price), but I also understand that the old model is failing, hard.
Where this affects conventions is that we’re seeing a serious sea-change in how convention dealer’s rooms are needing to evolve. Much like surviving shopping malls, the effective dealer’s rooms are no longer a we-carry-everything all-encompassing venue, but ones that carry items that you simply can’t get elsewhere. The days where someone would head out to the local K-Mart or Wal-Mart, clear out the Star Wars or Star Trek figures, and sell them at a local con at a 200% markup are as dead as 8-tracks. Not that this stops people from trying: I’m regularly floored by the occasional vendor who comes out with a huge collection of the same Doctor Who stuff currently available at the local Hot Topic, and then gets sniffly about how s/he didn’t even make back the table cost. (And how do I know what’s at the Hot Topic? DON’T YOU JUDGE ME.) For the most part, the items that sell well are either handcrafted or otherwise rather rare: costuming accessories are coming back in a huge way, as are garage-fabricated games and toys, and then there’s always that one guy who *cough* sells something really odd, like plants. For the first time in years, the dealer’s room is a destination at many conventions, where attendees come out specifically because they want to buy something that they can’t get via Amazon. As with books, fans have all sorts of options as to where to get the mass-produced stuff, and they no longer depend upon cons to get their fix.
And that’s where it’s getting a bit sad. I know one book dealer who goes from con to con with the same assemblage of vintage books, and he insists upon having his booth right up next to the front door. The other book dealers insist upon similar treatment, so all anyone who looks inside would see were books and shelves. At one show, the rest of us vendors were insistent about opening up another entrance to the dealer’s room, because that one entrance was blocked off either by the few attendees browsing books (some of whom literally growl or scream at anyone who tries to get past them, and I won’t go into the ones that flop on the floor in front of the booth and refuse to move so others can get in) or by people trying to see past them. Sales aren’t getting better in that: between Amazon and an increasingly E-book-literate fandom, one dealer I know is desperate to sell off all of his trade paperbacks because of the poor return. The one I mentioned earlier just sits back and glares at any vendor who might do more business, or get more attention, than he is at any given time. I’ve even had a couple of half-assed complaints from sycophants of that vendor that somehow my doing well at a convention was taking away money from the book vendors. To this, I say “bullshit”, loud and proud. Money at a convention isn’t a finite resource that never leaves the room once attendees bring it in. Customers will buy what they want to buy, and if they’re looking for something other than books, and don’t have any reason to deal with the seventysomething crank who shoos them off because they’re asking for something he refuses to carry, they’re going to take that money out with them.
Anyway, the real point I’m trying to make is that I think the current attitude about books being collectible is one that’s going to end with my generation. (And for the record, I turned 47 last week.) The kids and grandkids of my friends have no problems with the idea of books, but the idea of getting an autographed copy and hanging onto it is quaint. The idea of hanging onto loads of books in the assumption that they’ll magically increase in value as they get old is baffling. The idea of paying the price that Some Guy set on a book, without researching it and discovering that Some Guy’s value was pulled out of his butt, is insane. And the idea of buying vintage genre magazines, especially at some of the prices charged by the collectors at conventions, is nuts.
And one final observation about the future of bookselling, especially within the genre. I have no doubt that standard print books will continue, much like the continuing collector’s market for vinyl records. However, I’m seeing a really interesting phenomenon at the local Half Price Books chain. About ten years ago, I looked at my fiction library, asked myself if I was ever going to read any of these books again, and started selling them off. Then I went through my whole writing portfolio, selling off the magazines to which I’d contributed back in the Nineties, whenever there was a market for them. I was relatively lucky: I actually covered my rent for a few months with these sales, because I was doing that early on, and they were mostly being bought by collectors who thought they were going to profit. (My entire run of “Science Fiction Eye”, for instance, was bought for $18 by a guy who told me, over and over, that he was glad I’d hung onto “a big piece of science fiction history.” He immediately turned around and put those up on eBay for $25 per issue. Last time I checked, they were still there, because nobody gives a fart in a high wind about “Science Fiction Eye”.)
I’m now seeing some of those very same books showing up at Half Price Books, sometimes with my old receipts in them, and every time they do, they turn out to be part of an estate sale. Savvy estate sale organizers have learned that while the family may point to one site or another that has individual pieces of a library at some insane price, there’s a big difference between what the seller wants to get and what a buyer is willing to pay. More often than not, the family lets the organizer try to get what they can, and so the organizer just packs it up and sells it all at Half Price. This way, the organizer doesn’t have to deal with the booksellers trying to get a further discount, or the Cat Piss Man who starts honking that a book is a ripoff at $2 because it’s a reprint instead of a first edition. It’s just not worth the effort any more, and getting $500 cash right then and there for a monster library is a better return on investment than trying to sell them all individually and probably getting about the same after the one or two desirable books get pulled from it.
And here’s where it gets funny for me. For nearly twenty years, I was told over and over that the three digest genre magazines stayed with their digest format for one reason. Namely, longtime readers don’t want a standard magazine format as a replacement, and they’ll complain bitterly if anyone even suggests it. I discovered later that it’s because of the number of longtime fans who get shelves made specifically to hold all of those old issues of “Analog” or “F&SF”. I even met one who still kvetched about that short period in 1964 when “Analog” went to a standard magazine size, because those issues messed up his collection.
Well, those fans are all dying, and their families try to get some return on a complete run of the digest of “Amazing Stories”. The reality is that while a few might be put out on the shelves because of some perceived value (the first issue of “Asimov’s,” for instance), they’re very rapidly put on the discount shelves because nobody’s interested in buying them. Same with many of the autographed books that come in. You can always tell when a Half Price employee in charge of acquisitions came from another bookstore, because they always put up some ridiculous price because “it’s out of print, and therefore hard to find.” The smart ones, though, mark their books to prices where they might actually sell, and they’re brutal about marking down “collectible” books so they have room for more. And although the oldtime fans will have meltdowns when they discover that those old magazine collections aren’t being gold-plated to improve their value, they’re usually just dumped very discreetly into the recycling bin in the back. Just as there’s no value in hanging onto thirty years’ worth of back issues of “Time,” there’s no value in hanging onto multiple collections of “OMNI”. For a while, Half Price would bundle up paperbacks, magazines, and VHS tapes and sell them for $3 or so just to move them, but now there’s not even room for that.
Younger readers might hang onto books for a short time if they have some serious sentimental value, but they don’t hoard books the way people my age and younger did. Back then, we hung onto books partly because of the cost and partly because we never knew if we stood a chance of finding another copy. Now, that’s not a concern, and it’s usually cheaper to buy a replacement on some book than it was to buy it when it first came out. Some of us are breaking that habit, but many others continue yelling “I like the smell of old books” as a justification for sticking with print books. I suspect that for the kids of my nieces and nephews, they’re going to look at collecting old books solely for the smell in the same way they’d look at collecting riding crops and buggies solely for the smell of fresh horseshit. For the vintage booksellers, the next couple of decades are really going to suck.
Here let me put a response I gave to A.C. Wise on her Women to Watch list that she was gracious enough to censor.
“If you think you are doing a service to people who have it worse, then why be self serving and only speak up for women all the time. If you want to champion some group that you feel is weakened by the “Devilish White Male” and cannot stand on it’s own then why not be amongst the first to speak for even more repressed minorities like the Handicapped.”
Cat got your tongue?!?
p.s. I added in the “Devilish White Male” one has to play to the audience Hmmmm.?.!.
I have literally no idea what you are talking about. Why are you bringing drama from other blogs to my blog? Is your daily life really that lacking in conversation? Probably so, if this is how you talk to people.
It’s interest to see this demographic concern… and to realize it may be creeping up slowly on my own genre, that bein’ Furry Fandom. Furry’s only had cons of its own since the 1989, has had a history of youthful attendee demographics (18-30), a high openness for LGBT folks, women, and people of color, and solid growth from 2000 to the present.
And in 2011, the Bronies started having conventions, and their growth cycle has made us seem like pikers. Furry conventions took twenty years to reach overall numbers that have taken Brony conventions three[*1], and it’s left the furry fandom a bit flabbergasted. There’s some people who think that eventually this will drop off and these folks will ‘fold back into the furry genre where they belong’, which is in my mind a poor way to think about it, and the same attitude that has lead to the greying of Worldcon.
Bronies are folks that will need to be actively courted with respect, and a presentation aspect of “You like your fandom? You’ll probably like our fandom too!” I don’t think the Furry fandom has, or needs to have great worry.. but it’s an active consideration for us. As the furry fandom ‘leaders’ start hitting their 30’s and 40’s, how do we keep conventions relevant and geared to the under-30 set?
In short: I started attending furry conventions at 25. I’m on the board of directors of one now, at 38, and I’m about midrange for board age. We think all the time about how to keep our con both what we like, and what younger people and people interested in different genres like, because we want to keep growing.
I think part of it may be that Bronies have a major media property behind them that’s easily recognizable. They also gather at high-profile spaces like Reddit, so organization is both bigger and more nimble. Basically, they have brand recognition and a built-in infrastructure that required no development costs.
Went to LoneStarCon3, my first con attendance since Denvention 2008. The graying of attendees was extremely evident (myself included, of course). My friend and aspiring SF writer/publisherfrom Saudi Arabia, Yasser Bahjatt, attending his first con of any kind, also commented that he had expected the average age of attendees to be much lower. I enjoyed meeting new writers and talking with old pro-ish and fannish friends from years back, and was treated very well by the con planners and other staff. I was on fun and appropriate panels. But I felt the overall lack of energy. Except for some of the panel topics, the con could have been occurring in Boston 1971, the first WorldCon I went to.
The demographic has definitely evolved: many of us earlier fans loved SF because we wanted to help create the worlds that Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, et al were writing about. And we did. Now, in this new world of that very future, we cannot expect fandom to have the same inspirations we did when we had only books and magazines and B-movies to experience.
For some older fans, it might be that inexpensive Relaxacons will fill the need for reminiscing and companionship, versus the $2K or more expenses of a US WorldCon or NASFIC. As for me, I’m off to Dragon*Con next year (first time since 1998), to see what the Next Future holds.
I was also at LoneStarCon3. It was only the 2nd convention I had ever been to, and my first Worldcon. I’d have to say it was pretty disappointing. I knew it wasn’t going to be as big as something like ComiCon or DragonCon, but I was expecting more given that it was billed as “The World Science Fiction Convention”. Over the years I had also read a lot of stories describing all the fun and wacky stuff that goes on at a Worldcon and I was really looking forward to seeing it myself. Maybe that was true in the 70’s and 80’s, but it wasn’t the case in 2013.
At 33, I seemed to be one of the youngest people there aside from the kids that came with their parents. I also noticed the distinct lack of energy. I was expecting more “fun” stuff like the local convention here in Wichita that I went to last year.
There, it was a smaller crowd, but they were enthusiastic. A large percentage of the crowd was walking around in costume and there were a lot of panels with games, performances, etc. There were also some more serious panels and discussions. They didn’t focus on one specific thing and included programming for science fiction, gaming, fantasy, comics, anime, horror, steampunk, etc. There was a good variety and something for everyone. I was actually one of the older crowd at that convention and I really enjoyed myself.
Worldcon didn’t really have the same experience. I only saw a handful of people in costume, and many of the panels were pretty dry and full of insider information that was aimed at someone that had already been attending these things for years. Seems like every panel I went to there was someone trying to start a discussion about events that happened at a previous Worldcon 30+ years ago. To be fair, I did like some of the panels and I thought the ones you were on were among the better ones, Arlan. Just would have been nice to have more variety. Looking over the schedule for Salt Lake City Comicon, or Dragoncon this year, they had a lot more options available. Plus, a lot of my favorite authors skipped Worldcon in favor of going to DragonCon, and it looks like even more of them are going to be doing that in the future judging by what I’ve read in the other comments here.
As of right now, I don’t think I’ll bother attending Worldcon again. I might make a day trip up to Kansas City if they win it in 2016, but traveling several hundred miles and paying for 6 days worth of hotel rooms is definitely not going to happen if it goes somewhere else.
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Thanks for your great article!
It was brought to my attention by someone else who is part of our group discussing how best to provide and protect youth in our PNW area cons and highlighted after the Spokane bid was secured for 2015.
I am amazed to hear there is no YA category for the HUGO and more amazed to see people speak against the thought of one or against YA material in general.
The greater scifi genre started as essentially YA material, relegated in the 50s to “those crazy magazines the kids buy” and comics. For many of us when asked how we came to the genre your answer will be things like “A Wrinkle In Time”, “Narnia”, “The Dark Is Rising” and “Have Spacesuit-Will Travel” (oh hey, a Hugo nominee).
To call YA “genre/sub-genre” is to say that it is about an interest in.. what youth, I guess? It is a writing category, with a particular skill base and as such deserves its category.
Keep the faith! The Old Guard forgot the graciousness the original fandom greeted them and now want only their ossified memories of a filtered glory days. I wrote and article for Argentus over 10 years ago about the “Unwelcoming Face of Fandom”, per the editor’s assignment, and the response only underlined the issues. Many cons have adapted, such as NorWesCon, OryCon, ContraFlow, and others. The cons that don’t adapt…are on life support.
I should really go to NorWesCon some year. It would be an opportunity to see my parents and friends back home.
This is a great post that outlines many of the problems with Worldcon (a convention I have rarely attended and decided to stop attending five years ago after the Denver con for an overlapping set of reasons to those mentioned here). More established (but not superstar) writers can be and have been dismissed and ignored by Worldcon programming over the years, and the lack of new blood will kill the convention unless it changes.
As my daughter (a Millenial) says: “People my age don’t know about and don’t care about Worldcon.” And frankly, I don’t see why they should because they have so many other more interesting venues available to them.
Which brings me to my one caveat about this otherwise excellent post: Your anecdote about the 54 year old man you were on a panel with. Clearly he hadn’t given much thought to how things are different for the younger generation. But as a person the same age as this dude, I was made uncomfortable by what appeared to be a blanket “different life experiences/different values” as if he stood in for all people that age and older. Those of us who have children and young relatives who are Millenials & post-Millenials totally get why this generation is reading dystopias, and meanwhile older writers like Suzanne Collins are writing dystopias that speak to some of those concerns, not just younger ones. The comment struck me as needlessly ageist although I am guessing that was not your intention. Age does not equal inflexibility nor do all people over 50 have the same life experiences and the same values. He was pretty damn clueless, if you ask me, and I agree that clueless people in positions of entrenched authority create an unwelcoming environment for the rest of us.
Oh, ageism was not my intention whatsoever. I have personal experience of the intellectual flexibility of people far older than I am; my partner is almost twenty years my senior. My workshop mates are mostly in their forties and fifties. That’s what makes moments like that so frustrating — I’m used to so much better, and I expect people to rise to the occasion and not live down to a stereotype.
It IS frustrating and exactly why Worldcon is no longer the epicenter of change (which it once was … decades ago).
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Interesting article. I considered going to WorldCon this year for the first time, at least for a day pass, because I was actually going to be in San Antonio that weekend and had a place to stay. Another reason I was considering it is that I’d been disappointed by other SFF cons I’d been to, because most of them did nothing with books and authors. I like comics and movies and video games and all the rest (including anime and manga), but my true love is SFF literature, and cons in Dallas where I live just don’t do much with that. And I’m a reasonably young guy to have such ancient treeware tastes, exactly the new blood you say they should want! So I perked up when I read the huge list of authors that were going to be at WorldCon.
But I didn’t go. Why? Because the website was so #$%@%$ badly done. I was unclear about what was actually going on and when, whether authors I was interested in were actually going to be available for signings or meet-and-greets or whatever, despite the dozens listed. So I tossed the idea and just hung out in San Antone with my family. The problem seems to result exactly from the moribund attitude you discuss here – the assumption seemed to be that everyone worth anything already understood what goes on at WorldCon, and there was no need to dirty their hands with anything like advertising or a decent FAQ or reasonable data display architecture or the rest of what actually gets new people like me to come. Eventually a lot of the info that would’ve attracted me was put up, but it was mere days ahead. I’m not the only one I know who had this reaction, either. It just wasn’t worth $75 to take that big a chance.
Hi Madeline, saw this link going around Facebook and came in to thank you for the post. This speaks to me, as a fortysomething fan, as a reader who historically has VERY seldom bothered with hardback editions of anything, and as an author of ebooks. Plus, my wife Dara is involved with the Norwescon concom, so the whole “graying of fandom” thing is something we keep tabs on too. It’s a challenging problem, and I wish I knew what to do about it.
This though is at least a start.
This is *exactly* what my husband and I have been discussing recently- how little cross-polination and outreach there is, how the ‘Internet Generation’ and the way they consume sf/f genre is marginialized, how there’s active resistance to anything that embraces, or even acknowledges, modern ‘geek’ culture.
It’s sad to go to a major con, filled with people who enjoy costuming, games, science fiction and fantasy storytelling, etc; walk up to one of the attendees and say “You should go to Worldcon!” and have them go “Huh?”. Or point out an author that won a Hugo and have them say “What’s that?”
What David Speakman said above is very true:
“The revolution has already happened. WorldCon carries *zero* weight for the majority of fans – it’s already seen as a niche con that caters to people over 50 and the lit-only crowd.”
Worldcon is almost completely unknown, and completely irrelevant for most of the under 35 generation of fandom. And as far as I can tell, most of Worldcon’s membership is OK with that. I was told flat out once “They have their *own* cons!”, and how dare I suggest that we recognize genre achivement outside of the lit set.
It is, as my husband says, “The big con for book fetishists”. And if they want to keep it that way, that’s their choice. But it means that the Hugos stop being something meaningful outside a small nitche of fandom.
Should Worldcon become DragonCon, or PAX or any of the other huge geek conventions out there? No, it doesn’t have to. But it (and other ‘classic’ sf/f cons) need to stop acting like those other cons are irrelevent to the fandom.
I just want to say thank you for linking to my post, I’m glad that I could provide an alternate view point to the people who know something’s off, and are looking for ways to change it. I agree that WorldCon doesn’t have to change, but younger people, as you mentioned, have little income. For something so expensive, and usually far away, the ROI isn’t worthwhile for most of us. I’m lucky, I’m employed with a disposable income, but while I had a blast socializing, that’s not enough to get me to spend that much money on a con, when I can attend a con that offers networking, programming and other options more suited to my demographic.
WorldCon can do just fine for a while, if it doesn’t change, but I probably won’t be there. I’ll be chilling out at the Comic cons, Anime Cons (Anime North shout out) and more local lit cons that aren’t so expensive.
One thing I noticed on this trip to the US: how much TV advertising there is for prescription drugs, many of them to treat what are often age-related ailments like high cholesterol and acid reflux, as well as meds to help people quit smoking.
I left the US in 1994. Every time I come back, I see more and more of these commercials. This year I’ve seen more than I ever have before.
The worldcon isn’t the only thing that’s greying.
All older people aren’t hanging onto outdated ideas. Most of the people I know who are my age are looking ahead, not just hanging around waiting to die and bitching that things aren’t as good as they used to be.
OMG PAT CADIGAN AT MY BLOG.
It’s true, it’s not just older people. As I mentioned to Kate Elliott earlier, my own partner is almost twenty years my senior. He felt uncomfortable at the con. He felt like it wasn’t his crowd. So the difference isn’t entirely generational. I think what may be happening is that the con acts like a magnifying glass, focusing the traits that can come with older generations of fandom. And these aren’t really generational ideas, per se. Rather, I think it’s a communications strategy and style, and a way of organizing the infrastructure of the con. Those things haven’t changed one whit, as far as I (or many of the commenters here) can tell. From the choice in programming to the choice of GOH to the way the con changes hands each year, there are a lot of infrastructural elements that keep younger people out, that exist purely because it’s traditional. That latter part, the traditionalism, is what worries me. It’s the essence of conservatism, and when it goes un-considered it can mean the slow decay of a community — even a community that means so much to so many. It’s not that I don’t enjoy some traditions. I do. But I allow myself to be critical of them, and try to re-evaluate them when I (sometimes belatedly) realize they’re excluding people.
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You acknowledge the dilemma of an SF community hobbled by its age and assumptions. You suggest that the community needs to change to survive, and could thrive by exploring instead of resisting change. Thank you. We have incredibly gifted authors that bring complex aliens and worlds to life, yet their human characters have all the racial and cultural diversity of melba toast. How many times have I wanted to say “Wow. British backdrop. That’s your idea of foreign? Underwhelmed.” I am thrilled when I see new works by authors who understand, express and live in a global community. Ian MacDonald, Steven Barnes, Saladin Ahmed, Aliette de Bodard, Octavia Butler, Ken Liu, Tananarive Due – these folks get it. It isn’t hard. Thai food, sushi, taco trucks, Indian buffets – common place, right? So where are the human counterparts in the stories? A multicultural market spanning all age groups is hungry for stories that with more human depth and flavor than melba toast. The SF community has two options: youthanization – embrace, adapt and expand – or euthanization – ignore, insult and ossify, kill itself despite ample opportunity to thrive. I pray for the former, not the latter. Insha’allah. Namaste.
Well said, Madeline. I’ll reserve many of my comments because I really don’t want any more trouble than I already have on this measure, but well said.
Although I will add that it’s interesting you mentioned World Fantasy. I was warned off that event by an organizer because “it’s not for cosplayers, it’s serious”. It was a uniquely insulting comment that was not intended to be such. I hate that I have to sacrifice one element of things I enjoy to be “taken seriously” in another. #sollidarityisforoldnerds I guess.
PS: Day of the Triffids rules hard.
Liana, I saw cosplayers at World Fantasy last year. I’m sure of it. I’m sorry somebody said that to you, because while it was a “serious” event, there were moments of levity and overall I found it to be a fun atmosphere. Part of that is the hotel; the Sheraton has done Polaris enough times that they actually know what the hell is going on and how to handle it. I’ve noticed the same bar staff there year-in, year-out, which tells me they really take care of their employees. So much of how a con feels comes down to service staff. The folks at the Marriott Riverwalk were smooth as silk, taking the time to find me vegetarian food all over town, and it’s those little things that can make a difference to your total weekend’s experience. But that’s a rant for another day.
I will say that WFC is “serious” in that much of the conversation is academic. Literally academic, as in suggested and carried on by people with Ph.Ds. But I sat next to a Ph.D. in cosplay at WorldCon this year, so I’m pretty sure academics are down to costume if the mood takes them.
Try working a World Fantasy. You’ll learn different. Costume at World Fantasy is quietly but strongly discouraged by the WFC board. It’s very much a serious convention for serious literary people.
I’m a costumer, and I ran hospitality at the 2009 World Fantasy in San Jose. We got strong pushback from the WFC board for having the temerity to decorate the consuite in theme for the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth (Poe’s Baloon Hoax, commercialized with service from San Jose to Fiji) and were looked down on by serious literary people (who thought it was just generic steampunk, because they weren’t apparently serious enough students of Poe). Liz Gorinsky ran a guerilla “Let’s Wear Halloween Costumes on Halloween at WFC” on Facebook that year. We had a blast.
That’s what my exposure to it was too. I was interested in volunteering. Changed my mind after the cosplay talk, and the amount of negativity on the online group boards. I had never even suggested I would cosplay. It hadn’t gotten to that stage in the discussions. I understand that there’s a time and a place for everything. The implication was that I didn’t, and I functioned under some sort of compulsion to look ridiculous.
The one event I attended at the last world fantasy was a lot of fun, and I made some great contacts. It’s just sad that they’re turning away fresh thinking because they’re confusing fun with brainlessness.
To be clear, I wish World Fantasy the greatest success, I do not believe the Toronto organizers were the originators of the anti-cosplay policy, and I know it’s a lot of work to organize every year. I just think that they’re losing good people with this policy and the way they’re presenting it, especially since you have to pay over one hundred bucks to even work the convention.
World Fantasy is very much an industry conference that is also attended by fans (and mostly run by fans), and membership is capped. The people the WFC board is concerned with keeping are the pros, editors and agents, and they’ll go for the networking regardless.
So for funny, the San Diego WFC honored Neil Gaiman, and with a deserving (and ridiculously famous) GoH like Neil, they filled up really quickly with Neil Gaiman fans, freezing out a bunch of pros who didn’t bother to register early and got excluded by the cap. There was a lot of hand-wringing about that.
WFC knows what it wants to be, and works really hard to be that. Taking that as a measure of success, they succeed regularly.
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I agree with much of what is posted above. It seems the SF establishment is fundamentally conservative (as most establishments become, I suspect), and needs our help to be more future-looking, as SF requires.
However, I was at Dragoncon. It’s great for young adults, especially those who want to party late into the night and have rowdy fun. There was very little there for kids, especially compared to our experiences at previous Worldcons, with creche and many activities for little ones. Consequently, I saw relatively few children compared to Chicon and other Worldcons I’ve attended.
I started thinking about this, and wanted to say, “But Worldcon is such an important part of our shared history of fandom!”
And then I realized that “being part of history” isn’t really a selling point.
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[A] For Michael O who says conventions where he lives in Dallas don’t do much with F&SF – related programming. He should Google-up FenCon and ConDFW.
[B] About WorldCons having different staffs every year: At the very top level, yes. But there is a stratum of middle management that has been known for years as “the permanent floating WorldCon committee / staff”. This group is, of course, ALSO graying, whatever the age of the organizing committee members.
My husband and I had not been to a WorldCon for [literally!] a generation: Chicon IV, in 198[2?]. Anyway, before our daughter was born. And she is now 29. We’re not really fans of HUMONGOUS! conventions, which is why I’ve never sampled DragonCon, but we did our honeymoon in San Antonio, and LoneStarCon 3 was a good excuse to go back there for the 45th anniversary. All of which gives you a pretty solid hint of how gray WE are…
Back when we hit Fandom [mid-1970’s; MidAmeriCon was our first WorldCon] the buzz amongst the established fans was ‘all these Trekkies are diluting our Fandom!’. And then the first STAR WARS movie came out, and all THOSE folks were ‘diluting our Fandom!’. Until they organized their own conventions and the Great Divide between literary and media conventions came to pass. Ideally for me, a WorldCon should be a sampler of as many Fandoms as can be recruited onto the organizing committee.
Margaret, I’m in Dallas, too, and I agree with you about both ConDFW and particularly FenCon. In fact, I’m currently pushing for new fans to go to FenCon as hard as I can. Here, we run into the same problems, though. The older crowd definitely knows where it is and when it’s running. However, when I do shows with a younger crowd, the nearly universal response is “Huh?” Con parties at other conventions is all great, but we’re all falling down on trying to interest new fans. (Incidentally, and this is an idea anyone can steal, one of the better ways to get name recognition for a con is to engage local middle school, high school, and college English teachers and professors. At the very least, I’m canvassing local teachers to let them know about FenCon, so maybe they’ll at least pass on a postcard to a student who really needs to know about the convention. I’ve also suggested offering contests for younger fans to nominate their favorite SF-friendly teacher for a free three-day membership. Either way, it’s a matter of getting word out to a crowd that literally doesn’t know the convention exists.)
An excellent summation, which I’ve shared as much as possible. I’m afraid I’m still looking around the room and counting the number of women I see — I forget to look at other marginalized groups. I’ll be more aware in the future. I have noticed the dearth of younger people at traditional cons, certainly when compared to things like Fan Expo, which I’ve been attending for the last few years.
I help to organize a small mystery-writing festival, and it’s been like pulling teeth to get them to feature YA authors. The reasoning? “Our audience doesn’t read that” and that’s from some of the authors on the board. Short sighted? You think? On the other hand, considering how the age of the populations skews, can we really assume that only young people are reading YA? Wouldn’t the numbers being sold say otherwise?
Again, thank you for an insightful piece.
I think there may be some overgeneralization going on about “fuddy-duddies.” There is a dangerous tendency to lump everyone from one generation together … oh, those “kids” with their anime, those old writers with their stuffy ways. Yeah, I’m a boomer. And so I must be such-and-such … I’ve seen a lot of Boomer-bashing around on the internet, and it really bugs the shit out of me. We’re not all the same, you know.
I’ve been going to Worldcons since my 20’s, when people of my age hung together and did the original cosplay … wearing hall costumes when it was considered “normal,” though ours were based on SF book characters, not anime or gaming or comics. We had a blast. Eventually our group split up, and I continued going to Worldcon. And it changed for me, because I felt I didn’t fit in, especially after writing paranormal romance for more than a decade. Numbers gradually declined from close to 10,ooo to the current 6,000 or so.
I grew up when most people looked down on SF/fantasy. Yes, we fought those battles. And after that, I found myself fighting for respect as a fantasy romance writer, since for a long time SF writers and readers really did look down on romance, and I felt like a fish out of water. Now all the but oldest ones (the women, anyway) accept the crossover that’s going on and that stigma is disappearing. I still see a great deal of sexism at Worldcon, primarily because it is often dominated by older men who find it hard to accept that the world they knew is changing. As I happen to be the old-fashioned kind of feminist, this has distressed me a great deal and I have been feeling increasingly alienated from these more hide-bound writers. There is definitely a sense of self-entitlement among a number of them (so much so that I’ve asked not to be on panels with them), but they represent a relative minority. They are not all alike, either.
I’m 54 now, and I still feel like an outsider at Worldcon. My first urban fantasy came out this year, after 19 years of writing romance. I don’t fit in with any of the older groups there, most of whom know each other, have been published multiple times (my 20 or so romance novels don’t count, of course) and aren’t really interested in including “new” authors–and that means any “new authors,” regardless of age. I didn’t go to many panels, since they didn’t really interest me, and so I spent my of my time alone. Just as I did in my teens and twenties. My insecurities remain the same as they did when I was much younger. And, my husband I are not wealthy. We didn’t buy our first house until we were in our 40’s, because we couldn’t afford one, and then we had to move out of state to buy one. My income as a writer was slashed by 3/4 two years ago. We may have to scrape the money together to attend any con next year … so this bit about all these wealthy older people is also a misconception.
We aren’t all cut from the same cloth, no more than everyone under 40 is. We are not all against younger fans or their interests. You can be sure I’m not, nor is my 58 year old husband. I’d be glad to see a YA novel Hugo (though in general I regard Hugos as something of a popularity contest, like RWA’s Ritas and similar awards.) We were very happy to see younger folk, and disappointed there weren’t more. You know why? We recognize that the future of this genre and others like it is in their hands, and we want it to survive. We both happen to like comics, good anime (we are picky … Miyazaki is our favorite), genre movies, and a lot of stuff outside printed SF. I still read the old paperbound kinds of books, but my husband reads almost exclusively on a Nook. I’m an avowed Loki (MCU), Wolverine (MCU) and Firefly fanwoman. And I frankly don’t give a flying F– how old anyone is as long as they display compassion, a desire to engage, and mutual interests.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to party late into the night and Cosplay (which I did myself), but there’s also nothing wrong with wanting something else, too, regardless of age. So when I hear that the Hugos (which I don’t attend) should be like a dinner party where everyone gets smashed … well, that’s very alienating to me, because I never got smashed when I was young. I was virtually the only SF reader I knew in my teens and 20’s … except at cons, where I met my friends from over the country. I don’t see any reason why everything should cater to the young OR the old. There should be plenty of variety. I have trouble with that aspect myself where Worldon is concerned, and the fact that it’s a “reinventing the wheel” every time is part of the problem.
I have been considering attending my first DragonCon next year, since my agent says most of her authors are now attending that instead of Worldcon. Will I meet with hostility and be just another outsider because I’m 54, and the writer I want to attend with is 60?
It shouldn’t be “us against them.” I’ve learned, to my dismay, that there’s a lot of that going around in the genre: men who think feminism is a dirty word, more established writers with no room for “new” ones, literary vs. media, and now this. I don’t know what the answer is, and I don’t want compromise with those who don’t consider women or new writers worth cultivating, but there has to be a middle ground in SF cons between media, partying, cosplay, etc. and literary content, including both old (or older) people and young (or younger) folk.
Thanks, SueinNM – I was beginning to wonder if I should just tiptoe back out the door before someone noticed the 62 year old. The problem, of course, is good old Future Shock. Some folks manage just fine floating on top of the water as the tide comes up, others have the painter tied too short, get pulled under and drown. Spend your whole life creating and contributing to a different subculture because you don’t like the main one, then see what looks like someone else trying to toss it out like so much junk, you’re going to freak out. Thus the tendency to pull in and ignore the outside world because after all, to an extent that’s what worked before.
Not sure if there IS a solution, actually. I got into this hobby in the ’70s for all the opportunities it had to do interesting things, and am still here. Cosplay, writing, reading, acting silly, filking, talking with other fen (the Internet has been a godsend here!), zine publication (for awhile anyway; I may get back into that sometime, since an ezine means not having to worry about printing and postage!) I find the Makers to be the most interesting recent development in local fandom (I love Arduino to pieces – am about to use a Lilypad to rewire my Technomancer cape… 🙂 ). I guess the ultimate advice for the individual is the same as that given to the gal who was wondering about the “fake geek” nonsense (and BOOOOOOOOY is that nonsense. I can tell you far more about, say, classic X-Men than you ever, ever, ever wanted to know. 🙂 ) . Just remember The Fun Is Out There… That’s me over by the pool dressed as Totoro. 🙂
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1. I don’t mind smaller conventions; I rather like the size that Worldcon is currently at, where you can get a chance to meet your favorite content creators in the hallways, be able to speak with them, and not (in many cases) hold them up from their next engagement. (It’s always good to ask; you don’t want to get in the way of panels, bathroom, or food.)
2. That being said, it’s not impossible to make a convention more relevant without losing the scale. I’ll give a nod to Andrew Trembley, upthread—the recent Westercon in Sacramento was a gem for having panels with differing topics, a wide variety of speakers, and several deliberate events addressing inclusiveness and proper behavior. Moreover, though I hadn’t heard of the main Guests of Honor before the convention, the exposure to their works showed me why they had been picked.
3. Publicity, publicity, publicity. It’s bad for Worldcons. I have several suggestions for the upcoming Worldcon in Spokane, including the one which talks about the pow wow which is held the week after. It would be a good idea to reach out to the local tribes and throw some invites and panels their way. Topics? I don’t know—brainstorm with them. Get their best speakers and run with it. *I’d* go to a panel on storytelling, for example. But yes, social media, “meet the GoH,” and definitely pushing the Hugo voter’s packet as a means to learn more about the current literary crop.
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A 56 year old boomer, I paid $4.75 registration for my first con, when I was a college freshman. Fantastic & thought-provoking post. Thank you! It’s a shame that Worldcon isn’t doing more to appeal to young folks, & I hope they take commentaries like yours to heart. I take a different view from a lot of those who’ve commented here, contrasting particular conventions. I look at convention fandom as one thing. From this perspective we’re doing fine with young people.
The divide is actually as much economic as social. Once the kids are out of the house (and ideally through college) you get the time and money to do stuff like Worldcon. When you’re a parent, you take that same time and money, and go do Yellowstone, or the like. My kids are fixtures at some of the local cons, but if Worldcon and Disneyland are the same money (and they basically are), I will never win that argument.
See you in 6-10 years.
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Yep. My first house cost in the $40K range: but I was making $7,300 a year at a high-tech job. And before that I was making $56 a week if I worked full time.
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Thank you for writing about all the things that I have been mulling over in my head and cannot seem to express!
And thank you to all the amazing people who left insightful, thoughtful and nuanced comments to this post – I have been as inspired by your ideas as I have been with Madeline’s!
I keep coming back to this post again and again and again. My focus is on the SCA (that medieval recreation club), not so much WorldCon, but your words resonate, and I’ve shown this entry to many many people.
Thank you for posting it. Part of me keeps having the knee-jerk reaction of wanting to say that you are wrong, but you are definitely not. I hope it sinks in…
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Hi, I’m 23 and I have never been to a SF “book con.” A number of people on this thread have asked how to promote to the “kids these days,” and where people my age find out about events. Mostly, I get involved in fandom stuff, including attending conventions, because I hear about it on the internet or from a friend. Many of the people I know who write a lot also read a lot – and increasingly, that reading includes blogs like this, tumblrs, fan fictions, etc. I’d rather read a news article than a history book, a lot of the time, and I’d rather read a brief or moderate-length fic or meta post than a whole SF novel. I read novelettes and short stories when they’re linked on blogs I’m already following, but that happens less often than I’d like.
I got here from a link in a Geek Feminism comment thread. Prior to that, I’d heard of WorldCon, but just as a “book con” (i.e. not as fun as Dragon Con or other younger cons, focused mostly on SF books, probably mostly people old enough to be my parents). There are some local “book cons” that happen on weekends when I’m not doing much (Boskone and Readercon) but I perceive them as only interesting to people who read a lot in novel-length format.
I’ve helped to organize a local larp con for a couple years, and we are sort of outgrowing our space, so I am not actively trying to promote the con to more people. If I wanted to promote a con to young people, though, I’d absolutely post to twitter and tumblr and Facebook. I’d also try to find out what fandom events are already happening locally that skew young – there’s a Facebook group organizing fifty-to-100-person Homestuck meetups and another, slightly smaller Nerdfighter organization in my area. Board games nights at local colleges and cafes, Magic tournaments, video game events, genre readings or discussions at bookstores, comic shops – if you’re looking for young people to plug your con to, I don’t perceive us as all that hard to find.
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Lots of hate here for the Boomers, but it wasn’t a generation of ordinary people who put us into this mess.
Eisenhower warned against the proliferation of the Military-Industrial Complex. The boomers were the ones who heard that message, but they were helpless to stop the overpowering strength of the greed of corporations and rich individuals from manipulating governments into starting or jumping into these wars. And no one has been able to stop that exact process, of the moneyed getting the poor to send their sons and daughters off to die so that the rich could become richer, at any point in the hundreds of years that it has been going on for.
And we blame Baby Boomers because they’re somehow “in charge” now. But they are not in charge. Our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, us ordinary people are not the people who are in charge. There is a moneyed class of people who are pulling the strings. Did you grow up next door to a Senator? Me neither.
But yes, let us blame Boomers, because we are upset that they had a better standard of living than we will have. Yes, it is upsetting. I even think it’s tragic. I, too, lament the fact that I will never own a home and that I will never get to have a child of my own because of the lack of job prospects and the financial insecurity I have been saddled with.
But it wasn’t the Baby Boomers’ fault. They are pawns in the same game in which we are all pawns. They were not agents of our own destiny. Nor will we ever be, if we fight they who could be our allies. Because fighting each other is exactly the kind of distraction that will keep us harmless and stop us from fighting the real problems.
If you think the people who make these decisions to send our people off to war, or to depress the economy to keep wages low, or to allow large corporations to profit off the land while leaving us environmental disasters toe clean up are the ordinary moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas of the Boomer generation, then you’re dead wrong.
Worldcon is a feeder con — local cons have younger demographics and stay in one place, and in a way they feed into Worldcon…. Which needs to cater to an international crowd , Japan, England, Australia — this year was a our first Spanish Track, Canada has French tracks or English ones depending where it is run…. Worldcon is for the best SF in the World… and is not limited to English language writers, it needs to move around, that is part of its charm.
Young people going to their local cons get hooked, and as they age, and their monetary needs change, they take a leap to the Worldcon (usually when it is close) then start going.. And might I suggest before assuming there are no young people, take a look in children’s programming, alot of folks raise their kids in the con environment…. just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they are not their….I went to Orycon for 30+ years before I found out a co-worker has been going to the convention as long as I have, people tend to run in their own circles at large conventions and don’t meet everyone!
As for programming, this Worldcon was smaller, and if the conventions numbers are down, programming and panel slots go down as well. Programming then focus on the tracks the chair wants… and this changings with each Worldcon.
The focus for this convention was Texas, Spanish Programming…and we were asked to put on a serious Poetry track inaddition to our standards – writing/editing/publishing tracks
See, though, “the best SF in the world” isn’t always in prose format. People respond to different things. District 9 was a lot better than some novels. The Bioshock games are less predictable, and more nuanced, than some novels. Of course a lot of movies and games are crap, too, but that’s the thing: Sturgeon’s Law applies just about everywhere. So saying that WorldCon is only for the best of SF isn’t quite accurate. It’s for the best of some types of SF.
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Hi, just found your site from a Worldcon thread on Metafilter. And you know, it says something about the current state of fandom that my immediate reaction on seeing the title there was “Some writer or GoH must have said something stupid about women, or race, or both.” I’m glad it wasn’t the case this time. Nice hustle, Worldcon.
Anyway, as far as the fate of SF cons go, I was involved in a minor way with the revival of Westercon this year. In a couple of the all-group meetings one of the planning staff objected repeatedly to the fact that Westercon was having programming for things besides literature. She literally sneered as she said “This is a genre con, not a…MEDIA con.” I asked my partner what her major malfunction was, and she said “She’s one of the people who helps run Baycon and Silicon.”
And that right there says a lot about why Silicon is dead, and Baycon and Worldcon are dying.
To its credit, Westercon did a credible job of opening things up to more diverse programming, and on a very limited budget. I can only hope that the next set of people to ruin the con follow the recommendations from the current staff.
There definitely is a culture clash between the older and younger fans, but also in the way they go about things. Take the long-term planning Karen Anderson mentioned: younger fans tend to be skeptical of the involved planning process of conventions, and rightly so. In my experience, much of that time it’s taken up by an endless series of interminable meetings. Let’s have the meeting to set the agenda of the meeting about the meeting that will define the meeting protocol. Meetings are what people do instead of getting things done. Younger fans tend to be used to working with a less centralized, internet based environment- why travel two hours and waste a day on something that can be settled with some e-mails and maybe a skype session?
Incidentally? The woman I mentioned above was insisting on holding more meetings, especially with the department heads. People were opening laptops and showing her the con website “Hey, here’s the person you need to talk to, here’s her e-mail”. She wouldn’t relent until someone stood up and said “Hey, I hate meetings. Does anyone like them?”
Anyway, I think one of the key things on having a more diverse programming schedule and fan base is to look at proposals not with a “no”attitude, but rather one of “how could this work?” Take anime rooms for instance; someone mentioned there was no need for them with Crunchyroll. But that’s not why one has anime rooms. They serve three functions:
1) Serving as a meeting point for people with a common interest.
2) Showing anime on big screens with good sound systems (one hadn’t seen Giant Robo or Spirited Away until one’s seen them on a theatre sized screen).
3) Introducing fans to classics or obscure yet good anime they might not of heard of.
4) Introducing new non-fans to the medium.
And that applies to any number of activities, ranging from live-action films, to gaming, to crsfts. It’s why cons are there in the first place.
The thing is, with the internet, there’s no “need” for conventions at all. It’s really a case of how you make them attractive to a wide client base, of pulling in people with one thing, and then introducing them to other new and interesting things. It’s that learning experience that keeps people and cons young.
It’s this last point that I wish more people would realize. In the age of the Internet, there’s no real need for cons. As such, cons should be trying to remain competitive by distinguishing themselves and really thinking about what prospective attendees and future attendees actually want, while maintaining the programming that has kept the core customer base.
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Excellent piece and wonderful exposition of the problem/issue/however you wish to characterize the situation.
I’m a boomer who gafiated, apparently for the critical years while this whole shift was taking place. Consequently, when I returned to fandom and cons, I was probably able to see these issues more clearly than those who’d stayed in the pot as the temperature was slowly being turned up.
I’ve subsequently been one of those who has been urging the boomer fan community to open itself up, work with the next gen and try to do for younger fans what the “greatest generation” did for my cohort – embrace us, welcome us and ‘show us the way’ – while also remaining enthusiastic about OUR enthusiasms.
It used to be that when everyone sat around the fire (well, the guys anyway) the few oldsters there had seats of respect and reverence – because they’d demonstrated their worthiness through mere survival. The young were eager to learn what they had to impart because there was a good chance that it would contribute to their own survival. To balance that, it was the youngsters who left the fire; they were the ones who returned with new knowledge and they were the ones who went out and ‘did’. New knowledge tempered with old experience.
It would be nice to see that kind of dynamic (the good parts) return.
My own efforts at Amazing are pointed in that direction: we have a wonderful mix of ages, sexes, interests, races, orientations, backgrounds (and always looking to expand and strengthen that mix); a younger) colleague and I participated on Sofacon 2013 addressing just this issue (fandom & generational divide). I’ll be linking to this article in this Sunday’s news roundup.
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