November 30th, 2003

big ideas

The Fandom Menace

A recent thread in chrissawyer's LiveJournal discussed the "decline" of SF Fandom. In particular, shockwave77598 said,

"The young who would have found their way into SF and SFantasy a generation ago have instead moved into Anime and Manga. DragonCon and Project Akon are huge, even by Worldcon standards (5000 people or so). The result of this is that there's less new blood coming in and SF is growing increasingly older and smaller.

A couple of us have wondered what the cause is without pointing blame; a small answer is that SF doesn't appeal much to a generation that has never known a world without a computer on their desk or been unable to call someone with their pocket telephone. They've been handed the future on a silver platter and don't seem to care much about what's ahead for them anymore.
"

"SF is growing increasingly older and smaller"?

Now, wait a minute.

  • You rarely see a Top Ten Bestseller's list that doesn't include an SF or Fantasy novel anymore, even if you don't include Horror as part of the "Speculative Fiction" supergenre (and Old Time Fen like Forry Ackerman certainly would).

  • It's no longer a wait of three to five years between big-budget, A-List F/SF films -- now you get three to five of them every year. And this time, I am leaving out horror.

  • The current television line-up is crammed full of shows SF/Fantasy shows, and has been since the early '90s. Not a lot of them are Star Trek-style Space Opera, but I can think of at least two that are, even if I don't watch either of them. Almost every broadcast network has fielded an SF/Fantasy show that has done well in the ratings and enjoyed a run of several seasons.


Sure, SPACE OPERA is taking a downturn in popularity, at least on the large and small screens, but I think that has as much or more to do with the excreable quality of recent entries in the Star Trek and Star Wars mythoi. Enterprise and Episodes 1 and 2 have driven people away from Space Fantasy.

SF isn't "growing smaller". Exactly the opposite is happening: SF has grown larger. It's no longer an isolated little fandom -- it's MAINSTREAM. As normanrafferty likes to say, "The Underground Has Become The Establishment". And that means that it no longer suits the psychological needs of the alienated and disaffected outcasts who need some sense of identity to distinguish themselves from the people who alienated them in the first place. "Fans Are Slans" holds little comfort when everyone's a Slan.

To find that same sense of Unity In Persecuted Superiority, Those Who Would Be Fen must delve more deeply into the fringes of Fandom. They hook into Anime and Manga, though even those have become increasingly mainstream. They go Goth. They become Furry.

(I'm speaking as a Fan, by the way. As a teenager, I comforted myself that I Was Fan and They Were Mundane, that I had the imagination and the creativity and the insight to look at the future and dare to imagine its shape, to ask questions and make speculations that Mundane minds wouldn't consider, and as such, I was better prepared to face the World That Was Coming. When I hear some Furries talk about how cruel and narrow-minded "humans" are compared to the animal-in-spirit, it all sounds so familiar.)

Yes, I, too, have always enjoyed tales of an optimistic future, that innocent faith that Progress Will Save Us All. Despite the current popularity of dystopian settings, I don't think that kind of optimism is gone from the genre. Most of those dystopias show people struggling to improve things, to challenge the rotten establishment, to undermine the oppressors.

We live in the future, now and today. Reality has caught up with speculation, and in some ways, sped ahead. SF has changed its focus accordingly: rather than dreaming of a wonderful tomorrow... it depicts the struggle to create the future of those dreams.