Ursula Vernon wrote about the age problem in SF fandom on her journal, and I had a couple followup observations/thoughts/somethings.
Furry fandom, as she noted, is extremely young. Whenever I go to a furry con, I feel like a greymuzzle (wherever you set that boundary)–not that that’s a bad thing. I mean, I’ve been in the fandom twenty years. I should feel like a greymuzzle. But I want to be the kind who says, “Hey, kids, this is what I love about the fandom! You love it too? Come on over and let’s talk about stuff! What are your favorite things?” (I think I am. I admit to being a little baffled over the whole Pony thing, but I’m just delighted to see so many people so enthusiastic about something.)
In SF fandom, I feel like a young radical. I mean, I’m white and male, yeah, but also gay, so I have some minority cred, but even beyond that, I’m furry. I am a fan of this whole genre of books that should have a place in SF fandom because it is imaginative, speculative fiction. Ditto manga (there was NO manga for sale in the dealer’s room at LoneStarCon), ditto YA spec-fic, ditto graphic novels, and so on and so forth.
More than one person responded to my announcement that I’d be at WorldCon with “What’s WorldCon?” These are furry fans of mine who presumably like books (I have had the occasional fan who says “I haven’t read any of your stuff yet,” but I’m considering those as outliers) and yet have no idea that there is a convention every year where an award is given for the most popular SF book/story/novella/etc.
I’m not saying that furries should be going to WorldCon(*). But young fans of good SF should be going, and there are some of those in the furry fandom. I know. I talk to them.
*Problems: WorldCon is expensive. $170 for a membership, and it’s in a different city every year. WorldCon 2014 is in London, and it ends two days before EuroFurence (in Berlin) begins, so a couple of us are thinking about a WorldCon-EF combined trip. But WorldCon 2015 is in Spokane, a month and a half before RainFurrest in Seattle. Unless you live in the Northwest, you probably aren’t going to make two trips to that region in two months for a con. So if you’re a furry, which one are you going to pick?
Many people cited DragonCon on Labor Day weekend as a factor in WorldCon’s decline. “That’s where all the young people go,” I heard. I’m not sure that’s true. I mean, WorldCon was never a 50,000-strong convention. I don’t think it wants to be. They don’t necessarily want people who are just interested in costuming, or just interested in gaming. What they want are younger people who are interested in those things and also books. Right now, books are a secondary interest for most people outside the SF fandom, and I’m not sure how you fix that. Do you set up lots of costuming and gaming and attract a bunch of people who don’t really read, just to get your attendance up? What happens to the Hugos then?
In a podcast I was on this weekend, we talked about that, about how there are kids who love Dr. Who and the Star Trek movies and all kinds of SF media, and it feels like nobody is telling these kids that there are millions more stories like those in books. The kid who watches Dr. Who with her friends, the Game of Thrones devotees, the teens standing in line to get tickets to J.J. Abrams’ new Star Wars movie–these are the kids we want coming to WorldCon to discover more and more stories. And WorldCon does not seem interested in figuring out how to make that happen.
I think they might be looking at Comic-Con, which has blown out its attendance numbers, but many say has sacrificed its core audience on the altar of big media. Many of the Webcomics people we hang out near at that con have complained that they can’t make money anymore, that kids show up and only want to go to the media panels and media booths, and that it’s so expensive that by the time they get their membership and hotel, they don’t have money to spend on books.
Books were very out of fashion at the end of the millenium. They have been coming back thanks to audio and e-books, but they are still far behind movies and TV in cultural awareness. WorldCon, and the SF literary fandom, are all about books, and they are one of the few places where books are still supreme. I think the WorldCon old guard worry about becoming irrelevant at their own convention. I would like to tell them that the path they are on is only delaying that outcome, not changing it.
The way to continue to be relevant is to reach out to the younger generation. There are people out there under thirty who love books, and you need to find them and share your love with them. Bring them to your party, show them how much fun it can be, and let them enjoy it as much as you can. And–here is the tricky part, because I think most people would be fine talking to kids who love exactly what they do–listen to them. Love what they love, or at least understand it and acknowledge what they love about it. When you were their age, you wanted to fly a rocket ship. Cool. They now want to visit the land of Fae, or wear lots of leather and brass, or be a fox-person, or play a Star Wars tabletop RPG. We’re all outside the norm, and we should be celebrating what we have in common. Go to one of their games and try playing it, and tell the players about old space opera. Compliment someone’s costume and ask them what inspired it. Talk to furries about Cordwainer Smith and C.J. Cherryh. Share ideas, share love; that’s what fandom is all about. Then, in a decade, when these kids want to take over running one of your conventions, you will be appreciated and welcome.
If you persist in excluding them, then at some point in the future, someone will take over your con when there aren’t enough of you to win a fight, and they will be someone who doesn’t know you and doesn’t care about you, and you’ll lose your convention anyway.
Coming up: why furries should buy supporting memberships in WorldCons.