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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Your Aardvark began going to SF conventions in 1980. The Dread Dormomoo and I packed up shirts, paints, airbrushes other fannish oddments and her Craftsman air compressor (the one that sounded like a Harley) and headed to PhilCon, where she painted shirts ranging from unicorns to a portrait of Johnny Mathis.

Yes. Johnny Mathis.

Thus began 28 years of huckstering. (That is a story in itself. The dealers at SF cons originally sold books, fanzines, and doodads to pay their expenses at the con. They were called "hucksters". This changed to "dealers" sometime in the '80s, but with "Just Say No" and other cultural pressures, it became more acceptable to call them "merchants" or "vendors" or "exhibitors".)

I am a huckster. The soulless sanitizing of what was an organic natural thing is an annoyance.

It has long been my contention that SF cons act as a type of church, a gathering-place for lost souls with tangentially common interests. At work, these people could not gather around the office water-cooler whilst everyone was talking about The Big Game and ask, "Whadja think about Spock's mating ritual last night?", or if they did, they did so precisely once. The con provided a place of fellowship, AND a place to acquire goodies that were not available at Sears.
It was a time when "online" was where you hung the wash, so you went to the con, hung out and chatted and smoked and drank with your fellow fen ("fen" is conspeak plural for "fan"), and you bought books and 'zines and obscure model kits and fan art in the huxter room (more conspeak).

Enter the age of the mega-store, and mega-merchandising. Star Wars and Wal-Mart almost coincide on the scene, and it's a match made in...well, we'll see. Dime stores were still afoot, and Roses and Hills stores were places you could get toys like Star Wars or Space 1999, and you could order stuff from Starlog magazine advertisers, but for REAL hard-core SF goodies and garage model kits, you had to go to the cons, where you could also meet the authors, TV stars, movie stars, or at least the guy in the costume (no, Dave Prowse is NOT Darth Vader...he's the tall guy in the suit.)

Star Wars sparked the popularization of science fiction in Polite Society, and inadvertently began the burnout of trufandom (more jargon). The short version is: If I can buy it at Wal-Mart, then why go to the con? It further polarized the two wings of fandom: the FIAWOL branch (fandom is a way of life) and FIJAGH (fandom is just a G**d***** hobby). Since the the last three wretched Star Wars Anakin-is-an-emo-kid movies, the over-merchandising has been so over the top that Wal-mart will not be carrying Clone Wars toys. The joke around our house waiting for the Episode 2: "Why haven't they released the new movie?" "They're waiting for all the Jar-Jar Binks figures to sell at Wally World.".

This carries over to the other Big Budget Sci Fi extravaganzas. Overexposure has made SF not special any more. It's like Christmas every day; after awhile you run out of excitement, and places to put your stuff. Sci fi fandom becomes a mega-church, glitz and numbers. The gnosis of trufandom is lost to the hoi polloi.

Oooooh...the Aardvark sounds like an elitist.

A major reason for the decline of (ahem) "quality fandom" is that original SF fandom was literary-based. Reading was required, not staring at a screen, mouth agape.
"The Thing" was a good movie because it was based upon John Campbell's story "Watch the Skies!" Cons have devolved into a loose assemblage of competing fetishes (the costume contests tell all). The foundation has decayed, the structure totters, things fall apart, the center does not hold.

I have seen the same thing occur with anime conventions. When Japanese animation was an interest of a sub-culture, the cons were THE place to see new series, meet artists and voice actors, and buy videos, manga, and import model kits. AND prance around in cool costumes. Now, with the Cartoon Networkization of anime, everybody loves Naruto and Inuyasha and isn't Ed cool in Full Metal Alchemist?! Now it's Just Another Thing. The kids who were self-consciously polite in the Japanese Mode have been largely replaced by kids almost wearing costumes, and proclaiming their love of subtext.

The point is: familiarity breeds contempt -and cliche. Overexposure has rendered much of Fandom, (or perhaps Con-dom) contemptible. What was the province of the thinker has become a realm of mindless amusement.


Rigel Kent said...

Everybody's an elitist in one way or another Aardvark. The only variance is what different people consider elite.

MacLaren said...

Judging by his tone, it sounds like Rigel thinks he's better than you!

Ian McLeod said...

"Elitism is simply the preference of the better above the worse." --Fred Reed

MacLaren said...

I am a cheese dip elitist. I fill myself to the top with artery-clogging dairy product... yet I stay thin. It's almost patrician, actually!

Rigel Kent said...

Speaking as a fat bastard elitist, you know what I hate? Those folks who go on about how much they stuff themselves, but then stay so thin.

I'm just glad we don't have anybody like that here.

The Aardvark said...

You know, there are ALL KINDS of reasons that people stay very, very thin....

The Aardvark said...

The upshot is: those who think they're better than everyone else are annoying to those of us who are.