*As a veteran Volunteer in exchange student organizations, libraries and the like, and an habitue of Austen fan groups, I DID. But Chris is young.*
Nobody Expects the Fannish Inquisition!
By Christopher M. Chupik
While I had been watching SF and Fantasy stuff since I was a wee Canadian lad, I made my jump into the larger world of fandom the late ‘80s when I went to my first Star Trek convention. It was just a small, local affair with no guests, a few people in costumes and The Voyage Home playing on the VCR. For some reason, there was an entire fanzine dedicated to Tribbles. I think I still have it somewhere in my files. In later years, I went to ConVersion, a Calgary-based con which is now sadly defunct. I was there mostly to meet authors, sit on panels, buy books, meet with my friends and party hard on Saturday night. I have been content to leave the actual running of said events to others.
So, I find it fascinating, in a train-wreck sort of way, when fandom goes wrong.
Fans of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica may recall a certain uber-troll (who shall remain nameless for the safety of this blog) who got himself banned from every single forum he ever posted at with his crazed ranting about the NBC-Universal conspiracy to suppress the Original Galactica and his over-the-top hate of everybody connected to the remake. I have it on good authority he is still ranting, in blogs and message boards where he is the only poster and only commenter.
To say that some people took the J. J. Abrams Trek reboots badly is an understatement. I’ve been rants, name-calling, boycotts, death-threats, etc. There is one anti-Abrams page on Facebook which strictly prohibits anyone pro-reboot from posting there because only “real Star Trek fans” are allowed. Anybody ejected from the group is declared to be “working for Bad Robot” (Abram’s production company).
But whatever you thought of the rebooted Trek, one thing that I noticed was how it revealed just how many Trekkies there really were. Friends and coworkers who had I never suspected of being fans of the franchise suddenly revealed themselves. It was quite a revelation, especially if all you had seen of Trek fandom the past few years was the increasingly small, insular online communities comprised of the same people who had been complaining about everything new since the late ‘80s.
It’s sad to see Trekkies becoming snobs. You would think that a group who has endured mockery for decades would be a little more sensitive to this kind of behavior. Who are we to set ourselves up above our fellow fans like this? This is, however, increasingly a problem with fandom as a whole, with geeks behaving exactly like the elitist snobs who once looked down on them.
To understand the divide, we need to understand that there are two broad categories of fans.
First, there are the regular fans. Maybe they’ve watched/read all the episodes/books of a particular series, maybe not, it’s no big deal. They might go to a few cons, maybe volunteer for a few panels, or even sit on a con committee. More than anything, fandom is fun for them. Let’s call them the Casuals. Most fans are varying degrees of Casual.
Then there are the True Believers, a much smaller faction. They will wage bitter flame-wars over the minutia of imaginary canons. Fandom is not merely a way of life, it is the One True Way, before which all others are inferior. So much of their self-image and worth are wrapped up in fandom that they measure their worth by how much power they’ve amassed over a message board, blog, or con. And no, I don’t mean everybody who runs such things, obviously. I know a lot of people involved heavily in fandom who don’t let it go to their heads.
Eventually, even the thing they claim to revere so much can’t measure up to the idealized idol they’ve constructed in their minds. Fun? Trek isn’t supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be deep and serious! Those stupid Casuals can’t appreciate how super-serious it is and therefore cannot be true fans!
Fortunately, most fandoms are not ruled by True Believers. Those that are retreat inwards on themselves, becomingly increasingly paranoid and insular, attracting no new members and alienating many of the older ones. Dissenters don’t merely have differing opinions, they’re The Enemy, agents of hostile powers who have defiled the holy relics. Infidels must be expelled. Safe spaces must be created.
Where have I heard this before? It sounds so familiar . . .
Of all the hateful things said about Sad Puppies and its supporters, perhaps the worst of all is the notion that we’re “interlopers” and an “outside force”. As a digression, I find it amusing that we’re also accused of being gatekeepers. Somehow, Sad Puppies are both the watchers on the walls and the barbarians at the gates. How we manage this amazing feat of bilocation is unclear.
Oh, the rote incantations of “racist/sexist/homophobic are bad, but I’ve come to realize they’re just the Left’s knee-jerk response to anyone who disagrees with them, spouted regardless of the race, gender or sexual orientation of the person they are denouncing. At best, they are background noise. At worst, they trivialize real bigotry by conflating mere differences of opinion with expressions of legitimately ugly viewpoints.
Hey, how did I get up on this soapbox?
It doesn’t matter if we’ve been part of fandom since the ‘80s, or the ‘70s or even earlier. We aren’t the True Believers. We don’t know the secret handshakes and haven’t been initiated into the Sacred Mysteries of Fandom. A streak of disheartening elitism was exposed in the hysterical reaction to Sad Puppies. Even among those who did not engage in the mudslinging there was an air of condescension. Who let these Puppies in, anyhow?
While it was disheartening to see I am glad the masks slipped and revealed their true faces. Personally, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to lord it over fandom. But human nature ensures that there will always be people who crave to be masters of their own tiny domains. They may talk about defending the noble traditions of fandom, but what they’re really defending is their own power.
We Sad Puppies jokingly refer to ourselves as “wrongfans”, but there are no wrongfans. Not even the crazed trolls or the elitist Trekkies or even the people who chortled at the display of A-holery at the 2015 Hugos. We all belong to the big, dysfunctional family known as fandom. There’s a lot of Odds in fandom, and for many of them — myself included — fandom was a place they found where they could be themselves and let their geek flag fly. So when we hear a bunch of older fans saying that we don’t really belong or never belonged to begin with, it hurts.
I know who I am. I know where I belong. And it’s here, in fandom, where I’ve always been, where I always will be, in spite of the efforts of a few to make me feel like an invader.
Ultimately, the ones who are most hurt by such words are the ones who speak them. Fanaticism is not the way to make friends and influence people. And then there is the vastness of the community to consider. Last year, when the outrage over Sad Puppies 3 was beginning to get nasty, I went to a convention with 100,000 attendees, approximately ten times the number of people who attended WorldCon. I suspect most of those would be Casuals. I also suspect that if I asked them about the Hugo Awards, most wouldn’t know anything about the Sad Puppy controversy. Quite a few probably wouldn’t even know what the Hugos were. Fandom is just too big to be completely controlled by any one faction. David Gerrold may think he’s a big shot, but to most people — and most Casuals — he’s just the guy who wrote that Tribble episode which inspired that fanzine I bought back in my youth. Certainly, that is how I try to remember him, and not as the man who libeled my friends and turned the Hugo ceremony into a travesty.
The Casuals won’t notice or care when the old order rages against the new. They’re too busy enjoying what they love.
And that is the worst punishment I can conceive of for those who have set themselves up as the Fannish Inquisition.