The Graying of Fandom – Sanford Begley
I attended Millenicon this past weekend (at this writing the date is 3/22/15), a small Literary con in Cincinnati. I’m not a big con goer, I went because my Lady was involved in several panels and because a few friends and a few legends of SF were going to be there. Christopher Stasheff, David Drake, and Mike Resnick were there, Mike’s daughter Laura was the GOH. They are not those I am claiming as friends by the way; I doubt any of them would recognize me as a face they had seen.
I do not attend cons regularly, simply because my only real purposes for being there are friends and my Lady. Most cons I don’t have any friends attending that I know about. Certainly not enough to justify the time and expense of going to a con. Libertycon in Chattanooga is an exception because so many Hoyt’s Huns and Baen Barflies attend. I have a lot of friends in those groups. People attend Libertycon simply because it is considered the Baen family reunion, I am one of them.
Since I don’t usually attend no matter who the guests are I don’t go often. This gives me a more snapshot view of cons than the average fan who attends regularly. For this reason I am going to give you my impressions of the con and especially the attendees. I don’t know for certain, but I think they are probably true of conditions throughout fandom.
The first thing I noticed was that I felt young there. I’m a couple weeks shy of 57 so that tells you something right there. My impression of the average attendee is of a portly sixty-something gray-haired lady. I can’t say that that is accurate, it is my impression, possibly bolstered by the fact that it would be a decent description of the ladies doing registration. I know for a fact that there were younger women there, men too but that is the overall impression you get walking through the door.
Attendance was down from last year, noticeably so. There were less give-away booths, fewer hucksters, less art and generally less of a crowd. This was at 7:30 Friday evening. There were a few children being pulled around by their parents, a few mature adults, including the parents, the rest were, in appearance Senior Citizens. People I thought of as Senior Citizens at my age.
My Lady had a reading at 8:00 and panels at 9:00 and 10:00. Her reading brought in myself, Ed Stasheff who is a friend, The Other Sean a regular commenter here, and David Burkhead an author and friend of ours. This might sound like a pathetic turnout but, it wasn’t, not for this con. The 9:00 panel was on making money as an artist. There was one attendee who never spoke, myself and five panelists. We made the best of it and basically had a round table discussion about professional art. At 10:00 pm she was in a panel, where there were more in the audience than on the panel. The panelists were good on the subject of creation through destruction but there was little audience reaction.
Saturday and Sunday were no better. I saw one group of a half dozen teen girls, those younger people with their parents, a handful in their thirties and forties. Most of what I saw was close to, or over retirement age. I also saw few people with a happy look on their faces. Many seemed to be going through the motions out of habit.
This all set me to pondering. If this con is like this, and Libertycon isn’t a whole lot better, where will Fandom be in a few years? I know there are lots of youngsters who love SF and Fantasy, gamers galore. Where are they? Probably at Comiccons and other places which don’t feel like retirement homes.
You see, fandom became locked into a mind set somewhere along the line. The Serious people are serious. Laughter and games are not heavily in evidence. Even the staple of con naughtiness is dying, room parties. We got a ticket each into room parties with our registration. We had no intention of using it. this was a working weekend for us. I did however see a very sad man loading his van. He had hosted one of the parties. He looked morosely at one of the many bags of candy he had left and asked me “How do you have candy left after a room party?” I suggested that people don’t eat candy when drinking. this brought the bewildered answer that they didn’t drink the booze either.
Now when I was reading about cons and the wild parties there, back in the old days that was a principle thing that made me want to attend. It is no longer. A couple of the older guests were reminiscing about the wild parties and nudity of the old days. It isn’t going to happen unless we bring back the interest of the young people. To be honest with you, had most of the people I saw there disrobed I would have left. You need young people for skimpy outfits and nudity to work. Lets be honest, if you are over 40 and can still take your clothes off to appreciation of the opposite sex they either are very drunk or you are going immediately into something more personal than a party. The skimpy clothing still exists, you just have to have more than the staid old folks of literature to find it.
Fair disclosure I did not see anything to do with the Masquerade. We were busy with other things. Still it leaves me worried about the future of SF cons in general. If we don’t get the youngsters back cons won’t exist in a few years. Maybe I just had a bad con experience. Maybe other cons are doing well. I don’t think so. We have driven our future forth, if we don’t lure them back we are soon to die. Just one fallible man’s opinion