Let me tell you a story of a group of friends who went to a pretty good high school in Southern California back in the early-mid 90’s.
These kids (let’s call them “Those Guys”) were a strange bunch. Band geeks, D&D nerds, one jock (not sure how he slipped into the group), and all future Eagle Scouts (though they did not know this at the time). They were ostracized by their peers, mocked by everyone at the school (including the jock, which surprised him to no end). They were, in no uncertain terms, the non-elitists.
But something funny happened on the way to success and life.
Richard became a leading physicist and currently teaches at USC. Michael is a psychologist. David is a associate professor at a very good UC school. Jason is… well, here. The other three (Mark, Neil and Robert) I don’t know what happened to. But I’m sure they’re doing well (or well enough) since none of them had “quit” in them.
Now, I look at those guys and realized just how strange we were. We were complete weirdos and were made fun of, and yet we stayed true to ourselves (okay, I sold out by becoming a writer and using them a lot in some of my stories…). I also look at fandom as a whole and see something quietly similar and yet, seething with the same elitism that plagued all nerds, geeks and dorks since high school.
The all-powerful need of cliquism.
Yes, it’s a word.
No, I won’t prove it.
One of my favorite authors posted today about how she is no longer being invited to Dragon*Con. I was, well, shocked that the concom wouldn’t offer her a free pass since, after all, she’s a freaking major award winning author who happens to have a few bestsellers to her name. Her response was fairly polite, if a bit demure: she doesn’t think she’s cool enough to be a “real pro” at D*con. It got me to thinking about how I see fans who were ostracized as teens by the popular kids are the ones running the conventions now, and how they seem to have their own cliques and circles. They exclude “outsiders” who aren’t like them, and sometimes are very active about this. They oftentimes don’t even realize that they’re doing this, which is funny since most of us were on the outside looking in during the formative years of our lives.
But does this make it right?
I will admit that my own experiences with concoms has been hit-and-miss. There are some great ones (Libertycon comes to mind immediately, as does Mysticon, two cons I love attending because of their all-inclusive attitudes), while others seem to be more caught up in the “cool” factor of being a con and less about what cons were started for in the beginning. ComicCon is insane, Dragon*con is becoming such, and I really dislike the way FandomFest is cast aside for stars who are well past their prime (James Marsters, Bruce Campbell and Stan Lee excepted). What happened to the con being about the fan and less about the names? I know we authors sometimes have ridiculous demands (a free pass, maybe a case of soda?), but when did those who were being kept out of the cool circles suddenly become the gatekeepers of fandom?
To put this bluntly, the fans who spend the most money on our books are dying off. This sucks, because we often lose dear friends (Pam “Pogo” Poggiani comes to mind. I still miss her snarky responses to my inane questions and comments) and there is nobody to step up. The gatekeepers have done a pretty good job of chasing away younger readers and making things generally uncomfortable for new authors breaking in to the business.
This post, by the way, is probably going to have many people burning me in effigy. So be it. It needs to be said.
My fellow fen, you are not the way, the truth, the light. You are not needed to be gatekeepers but peddlers, offering your wares for a sample to get them hooked. You are book dealers, hiding in the dark corners like drug dealers, offering a taste of a world that nobody could ever imagine. WHY are you guarding those precious gates so forcefully? Why are you afraid of letting in those who are not exactly like us?
We are a powerful force with much capability to do good. We have two paths we can follow: we can be like those who once ostracized us, mocked us, ridiculed us, and created a genre of persons who now do the same to others; or we can be welcoming, let in everyone who likes to read and be geeks (even the cosplayers, bless their little anime hearts) and create a bond in society that not even politics can break (though I’m certain that if we left politics out of it, the bond would be even stronger). We can welcome the uncool, because we were once uncool.
In short, don’t be a dick.
And for the love of all that is unholy will someone tell Cherie Priest that she is most definitely cool enough!
EDIT: I mistakenly added Pam Uphoff in the original draft instead of Pogo. I’m not sure where my mind was at the moment, but I can assure you that Pam Uphoff is still alive and kicking. In fact, I think I just felt her boot upon my derriere for screwing up a departed friend’s name…
Edit #2: Apparently Bill Watters felt the same way I did and wrote an article about this same subject a few days before I broached it at the Examiner. Here’s a link.