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Scheherazade in Blue Jeans
freelance alchemist
Fandom: The Next Generation 
15th-Jul-2009 03:09 pm
Hearth
The latest trigger for the latest greying-of-fandom flareup = a flyer distributed at Readercon titled "This is your father's Readercon!" (Read all about that here. Then come back.)

This flyer, and some subsequent behavior, pissed rather a lot of us off. You can see some of that going on in the comments of that post, so I do recommend that you read. And then read this and this.

What I said at Diesel yesterday, to roozle (herself the mother of some kickass younger fen): "I don't want my father's Readercon. I want my daughter's Readercon."

I don't want SF/F cons to shrink in on themselves and wither and stagnate. I want them to grow. I don't want to be part of an exclusive snotty club. I want to share what I love.

And you guys, I want new conversations, and much as I do truly love next year's memorial guests of honor (Philip K. Dick and Ted Sturgeon), that's not where the new conversations are. That's not where the growth is. I want to talk about stuff that's going on now. I want to speculate about what the future of SF/F will look and feel like.

I want my con. And my daughter's con. And I think a lot of us want that. Because dude. Writers. If you're not reaching out to younger fans, how are you going to maintain a career?

So what I want to look at is not just what alienates younger fans - because I think we already have a textbook case of that in the Readercon flyer issue and subsequent comments by the head of programming there. I want to look at how to welcome younger fans. To show them that this is their place, too. To make a space for them at the table.

Because they're not just our future. They're our present.

My daughter is 14. She's been a panelist at Arisia and Pi-Con. She's participated in fandom charity auctions (she made a piece based on catvalente's Orphan's Tales books). She writes and draws - she and her friends have a fantasy shared-universe comic/story. She reads broadly, and not just YA. She's passionate and articulate and hella smart, and SF/F fandom is a big part of her world - all her friends are geeks! And I feel like she'll be excluded at next year's Readercon, due solely to her age (note: she attended and enjoyed it last year).

So let's talk about how to welcome younger fans. I'll throw this out there for ideas and opinions. Elayna's at Explo through Friday night, but when she returns, I plan to interview her and some of her friends about this. If you know any teen fans, I encourage you to discuss this with them. Because it shouldn't be about us deciding what Kids These Days want. It should be about what they genuinely want.

EDIT: For reference, the infamous Boskone letter that this is reminding Boston congoers of. (This is why there's an Arisia. I'll leave it to people who were there to give more history on that.)
Comments 
15th-Jul-2009 07:24 pm (UTC)
We were just discussing this (full disclosure Rugrat is 10, and while very into sci-fi he has no interest in going to cons where he'll be relegated to child care as opposed to engaging with the authors he likes or their books) and kiddo is all over the idea of kid centered programming that lets them discuss YA fic, workshops to write their own fic, panels put on by them about their preferred genres and a dealer's room/dealer's tables skewed toward them. He actually suggested a KidCon or the nearest equivalent inside the adult cons.
15th-Jul-2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
We actually have some of that at Arisia - it's called Fast Track, goes up to age 12. And teen track, which encourages teen panelists.

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15th-Jul-2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
I am a teen and fan and writer. I have attended a bunch of cons, because I wanted to and I got my parents to go along with it.

If I were to design my perfect convention which welcomed teens? There would be at least one panel which was "the panel where the adults sit down, shut up, and listen". There would be a teen track of programming--not just "gaming hour" or whatever, but occasional panels for teens, by teens.

There would be discussions and parties in whatever passes for a 'teen consuite' (names may vary), not just video games. Every 'teen consuite' at every con I have been to is the kids of con-goers who are okay with the con but aren't in general all that involved with it. These are the teens that cons can start with; if they engage with these teens, these teens can tell their friends that hey, this convention thing isn't so boring after all.

And maybe even a discount membership rate for teens? Because teens often rely on their parents for paying for things like cons, and depending on how understanding the parents are, discounted rates could be a godsend.

There's probably more, but that would do to start with.
15th-Jul-2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
All excellent points!

You were at WisCon, right? How did you find that? I'd like to bring Elayna next year; I really think she'll enjoy it.
15th-Jul-2009 07:27 pm (UTC)
A good first step would be revisit and scrap their policy of open hostility towards minors, something that, as far as I know, makes them unique (and uniquely condescending).
15th-Jul-2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. Big difference between a five-year-old and a fourteen-year-old, and Readercon is the only con I've ever been to that doesn't seem to know that.

(Disclusure: we lied last year to get then-13-year-old Elayna a ReaderTeen badge. Because she was interested in attending panels on her own, and she damnwell knows how to behave.)
15th-Jul-2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
I think I'm going to post more about this later. May I link back to this post?
15th-Jul-2009 07:43 pm (UTC)
Yep. (Thinking in terms of PhilCon?)
15th-Jul-2009 07:57 pm (UTC)
I am a teen. I read things, I write things, I attend conventions. I am now in college (and over eighteen) but I am still under twenty, still a young fan. (This year I attended Wiscon and Fourth Street Fantasy. Last year I attended Fourth Street Fantasy.)

I agree with aamcnamara on the reduced rates. My parents are not SF/F fans, do not attend conventions, and, while they are fine with me going, would not be paying for my con memberships. This means I must save my birthday money and things to pay for memberships, travel costs, etc. A discount for teenagers and college students would be very helpful and useful. It might help people attend conventions which they could otherwise not afford and bring new members.

I would like to see programming focused on what teens think. I would like to see more questions like those in this post. I would like to be asked if current things are working for me. I would like a way to meet other young SF/F fans. I would like to be taken seriously.

Like [Bad username: aamcnamara"/], I would like spaces for teens that are focused around discussion and ideas and less around the attitude that these are the children's games or the teen's games so that they are not bored while the adults go to panels. I would like to see programing for teens who have come to the conventions because they want to be there.

I would like to feel included when I attend panels and other programming events. I would like to be approached like anyone else and not discounted. Mostly this happens but there are some interactions where I feel my opinion and thoughts are discounted because of my age.

I probably have more thoughts on this but these are the ones that have occurred right now.
15th-Jul-2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
I am convinced that you are too interesting to be let off the main track. Admittedly I'm reasoning on somewhat little data there.
15th-Jul-2009 08:06 pm (UTC)
I'd just been re-reading and reading when I saw this.

I am extremely unlikely to attend any con; the Boob Project thing pretty much meant I won't change my mind on that.

But for what it's worth . . . all generations. I would like to meet the SF authors I read when I read SF (a lot of whom are dead, sadly, but some were comparatively new and are very much still around), but I would also want to meet the brand new peeps I've not yet had a chance to read, and I don't see any reason why either a teenager or a person older than me should be less interesting to talk to. I submit that that is the future of fandom, because after all, there are books yet to be written . . . and old, old books that someone has not yet read.

M
16th-Jul-2009 01:09 am (UTC)
that's a shame, because the Boob Project was very quickly squashed, *by* fen, and if you're letting an impression you formed as a result of that badly done piece of stupid keep you away from something you might be interested in ('I would like to meet the SF authors I read...') you are only causing loss to yourself.
15th-Jul-2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
An interesting dilemma. There's a fear among older fans, I think, of giving up the crutch of their perceived status. They're still plagued by doubts and seeking approval.

I think one thing older fans can do is make a commitment to generosity. Rather than hoarding life energy like negative ogres, they can recognize and affirm younger fans.

This can be tough, because it means a stepping down to a level playing field. Different points of view must be recognized and validated, which means you have to open yourself up in places where you still have work to do. It's all horizontal now, and that's scary to people used to a hierarchy.

While progress is occurring, "Children should be seen and not heard" is still a default attitude in many corners. There's still an ingrained refusal to recognize the rights of youth culture, on all levels of life experience. A practical example of something to overcome are policies such as that which yendi points out. That's a matter of action.

Perhaps the practical start in being generous as an older fan is to support and encourage efforts to overcome atomization of younger fans. Once younger fans can get together and have discussions, they begin to see how much they have in common. They see that older fans take them seriously enough to listen. That leads to activities that break into the collective and start movements in consciousness raising.

Give younger fans the tools to get together and share what interests them and they'll use it. They'll teach older people what they know if you give them a chance to be included.
15th-Jul-2009 08:46 pm (UTC)
A decent number of new YA authors (I'm thinking thegraybook, sarahtales) are having successful fan-experiences centered around their signing tours.

I know budget has got to be an issue, budget and transportation. $10 is a lot if you're on a teenage budget, especially if you're too young to have a job and your allowance (if any) is going to books. If you can't get a ride, you're walking or on public transit. There are also location problems. Getting dropped off at a bookstore and hanging out in a public park? Not so much of a problem for many parents. Hanging out in a hotel with people you don't know? More of a problem.

Those aren't so much issues for teens whose parents will also be at the con. They are if you're the only branch of fen in the family.
15th-Jul-2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
I've felt as you do about a number of conventions; the runners seem to want to cut out the youngsters and their interests. What brought me to fandom and conventions back in the early 80s was the all-inclusiveness; I guess that there's been a backlash in which gamers, anime fans, comic book fans, re-inactors, and media fans are rejected before they even present themselves. The first I really recall having it shoved in my face was a ConJose, where I'd expected to be able to buy some gaming material that I hadn't found locally, only to arrive at the convention to find that they were vigorously stamping out any gaming actions, and wouldn't allow the hucksters to sell any game related materials.

I think it's disgusting, and I think that this paring down of what a convention will allow distresses me to no end. And I think it spells the demise of "your father's (enter whichever convention it is here)".

15th-Jul-2009 11:07 pm (UTC)
What is it with the kid-unfriendliness in genre? :P

Mompunk soon, plz!
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16th-Jul-2009 01:04 am (UTC)
this is, really oddly, why I'm going back to school. I've talked with my nephew and other kids, and much like how, in the 50s, adults were designing kid's television without talking to kids and paying attention to them (enter Sesame Street), web sites and new media right now is being designed without finding out what actually works with kids (what *addicts* them, sure! what educates them, helps them and interests them not so much).

As a former kid who started attending cons at 13/14, and contributing to them regularly (I beat canadian authors Jim Gardner in a punning contest at age 15, and Rob Sawyer at age 16) as an adult then, I find this sort of thing ridiculous (I left home to live as an independent adult, with my father's support, at age 17, but I couldn't go to Readercon? (I didn't get emancipated because it took about 6 months in a non-emergency situation, and I would be 18 before it was over. but at 17 I had graduated HS, and was done with the whole 'home' thing).

I believe the area could really benefit from a more old-school con; something more like the cons I attended in the mid-80s, but the fact is the cons of 20+ years ago were much friendlier to teens...could you act like an adult? could you converse like one? Then your age didn't matter.
16th-Jul-2009 01:08 am (UTC)
From an outsider's observation/perspective, I feel that kids should be welcomed into fandom, because they will be the ones bringing it into the next generation (and generation beyond). So far I have seen kids welcomed at Swancon (Western Australian convention). I can't comment on the US cons, because I don't have the opportunity to attend any of them.

And the slogan 'This is your father's Readercon' is just off-putting on many levels. No doubt it was meant to be humorous... but it just felt wrong, because fandom has changed so much.
16th-Jul-2009 01:15 am (UTC)
The issue of how to get everyone involved in cons is far from a new one, and I think that the booming popularity of media cons like DragonCon vs the smaller audience of events like Philcon highlight that struggle.

Mixing it up is important.
That means making sure that folks like Phillip K Dicks is included.

I know you and I have strongly different viewpoints on what I'm about to say, (and please don't bash on LOTR right now as it's such a huge part of my heart)) but..I am reminded of a coworker, years ago, agonizing over whether or not to allow her grandson to read Tolkien.

"Has he read Harry Potter?"
"Yup."
"Then let him read what came first."

Yes, by all means, let's celebrate what's new and current - but for the same reasons we read classic lit in school, we shouldn't forget what came first.

It's a balance that many cons are still trying to find. The way to work on that change is to get involved with programming. And from what I've seen in other posts about Readercon '10, a lot can - and will - happen between now and next July.
16th-Jul-2009 01:17 am (UTC)
Oh, like I said, I'm a big fan of Dick (hee!) and Sturgeon. I just think we need the old AND the new. And this plan is anti-new.
16th-Jul-2009 03:15 am (UTC)
I can't speak with any authority to Readercon's issue as I've never worked it. As an attendee, I've always felt an undercurrent of elitism in the con, and also pretentiousness. There are some in the numerous threads about Readercon have said things like "It's completely pretentious, you should come."
See I've always believed pretentiousness to be a bad thing, unless it's played for humor.
So there may be a great many people shocked by Readercon's elitist manner, but I'm not one.
As for "Being Your Father's Readercon", that's just bad customer service and marketing. You always want to strive to give your audience more of a good thing if they like it, not less. I'd originally thought "Wow, this must be because they're hurting for cash *that badly*". Clearly this is not the case.
At the end of the day though, it's one man's vision/show. His bat. His ball. If he wants to go play somewhere else or by different rules, that's his call.
16th-Jul-2009 04:48 am (UTC)
You're touching on some major issues I've had with fandom over the years. I have been lucky in the cons that I attend. Boskone and Darkovercon make a time for me on the last day of the con so I can hang out with fans in particular, even though I try to say hi to as many likely-looking kids during the con (and they will say hi to me, or their people will introduce us). I know I am often invited to cons because the con committee wants more young attendees and they figure I might be a draw. I certainly do my best to talk the con up so they come looking for things like the dealer room, the anime room, the art show, costuming, and other authors as well.

These days we have a larger fan base than ever to attract, thanks to the vampire (and coming werewolf) craze and the Harry Potter books. For those of us who have been scared to death for the future of science fiction, there are now some very exciting YA and YR books coming out in science fiction, with current technology, dealing with issues modern teenagers take an interest in. Teens are a gold field--and they aren't being brought in on the excitement. If sf&f fandom treated them with the respect they get from YA and YR publishers, we wouldn't be freaking over the graying of the con and the graying of the field.

What will it take to get cons to court younger attendees?

Oops, sorry. I forgot I was on my private lj monicker.

Tamora Pierce
www.tamorapierce.com

Edited at 2009-07-16 04:48 am (UTC)
16th-Jul-2009 05:05 am (UTC)
If sf&f fandom treated them with the respect they get from YA and YR publishers, we wouldn't be freaking over the graying of the con and the graying of the field.

That! Yes!
16th-Jul-2009 10:19 am (UTC) - old vs new
My con experience - first convention, attended by myself, at age 13. The hotel even let me take my own room.
But then, banks let me open accounts with no need for an SSN, I could drink at 18 (and started a lot earlier), get a rental car when under 21; everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone else, we never had to lock the doors on the house or the car, leaving your (well-behaved) kids home alone wasn't a child neglect offense, and we all walked to school, up hill, in the snow, not because we couldn't afford shoes but because we WANTED to, dammit!

Lot's of things have changed. We've learned a lot in the intervening decades, we're aware of a lot more and sheer numbers have enforced cookie-cutter approaches to many, many issues.

On the other hand: genre fiction came from somewhere, fandom came from somewhere and if the 'kids' want the old fogeys to sit down and shut the F up, they need to realize that communication is a two-way street. Some younger fans (I won't be cookie-cutter here) do not pay due homage to the past that is responsible for delivering what they enjoy now. They want to dismiss it as old crap, not worth their time. Many have not a clue that their most recent fave is actually re-worked and updated old crap - not new at all.
Older cons worked very hard not to see generational dividing lines (I benefited directly from that sensibility) - and those who are stating that there will be no audience if we don't embrace and encourage younger fans are absolutely correct - but let's not OVER-correct in the opposite direction. Let's get back to the center and embrace and champion dialogue, mutual respect and openness to the new: stuff that appeals to the youngsters is 'new' to the graying old fans and, chances are, stuff that appeals to the graying old fans is 'new' to the youngsters. Newness and discovery is our common ground.
So - I'll sit down and shut the F up - as long as you're willing to do the same when it's my turn.
16th-Jul-2009 12:09 pm (UTC) - Re: old vs new
Let's get back to the center and embrace and champion dialogue, mutual respect and openness to the new: stuff that appeals to the youngsters is 'new' to the graying old fans and, chances are, stuff that appeals to the graying old fans is 'new' to the youngsters. Newness and discovery is our common ground.

Yes. This.

As I commented to someone earlier, I'm a fan of the proposed memorial guests of honor (Dick and Sturgeon). I could talk about them all day, and look forward to sharing all of my golden-age pulp SF with my daughter! But cutting all contemporary authors and subgenres out of the picture to focus exclusively on dead white men is a problem, to say the least. Let's talk Dick and Sturgeon, absolutely, but let's also talk about what's being written today, and there's a lot more diversity there.
16th-Jul-2009 12:48 pm (UTC)
This particular debate has been raging in Fandom and in the Medieval organization to which I belong for a number of years now.

Part of making space for families with children is educating people about how to deal with children at a con and how to deal with irresponsible parents. There is no law that says that if you see a poorly-parented child that you have to stand there and say/do nothing. The words, "Excuse me. Your child is disruptive and you need to stop it from what it's doing immediately or I will have to contact the con staff." are amazingly powerful. If you're not comfortable with that, point to the rules, "Hey. Con rules say that you have to be in the room with your child. If you don't follow the rules, I will report you to the con staff and request that you be ejected."

Having a con staff that is educated about what to do is as important (if not more). The con staff should know how to let a parent know that their child is restricted by certain rules and that the parent is responsible for making sure that those rules are followed. Then making the parent conform (with the alternative of ejection) in a reasonable manner. This is customer service stuff that is easily taught and easily learned.

It is worth having panels where people can talk about their experiences and discuss how the parents can band together to create space for their children, and thereby create space for other children. Coming forward with a plan to the con organizers is a great way to get the organizers to listen. Telling the organizers what you want is fair. If the organizers insist on ignoring you - stop going and put your money where the organizers deliver a product you like.

I truly believe that the case is that most con organizers/Autocrats decide to treat children like wild animals that are to be caged and controlled rather than treating children like people. Children's activities traditionally have been about moving children from the event/con rather than including them in the action. Including children in the action so that they have an investment in the culture and are part of the community.

Investment in the culture/community is what keeps kids (and their parents) involved. If the event/con involves the whole family the parents are more likely to stay with the organization rather than leave to be part of an organization that welcomes children. It's good business. Really.

I don't want to imply that the older folks are irrelevant, because we're not. We (I'm 39) just aren't what's going to move things forward. Not to mention, new ideas and change are what makes things relevant in the context of now and children are part of what drives that change.

I just hope that we can all find the ability to create the space and allow kids to contribute and be part of our lives and our hobbies, rather than being treated as a useless appendage. I also think that it is not unreasonable to ask for reasonable accommodation for our children, beyond some coloring books and video games.
16th-Jul-2009 05:01 pm (UTC) - recently local YA Fantasy author
Kristin Cashore, the author of the great YA book "Graceling," has just moved to the Boston area. She has written strong female characters and characters with disabilities (not your father's fantasy). She might be willing to do something at a shadow ReaderCon.

Edited at 2009-07-16 05:02 pm (UTC)
16th-Jul-2009 05:04 pm (UTC)
I was actually asked this at ReaderCon this year. And in all honestly, I'm not really sure. Because what I want is other fans my age, and then it gets somewhat recursive.

One of my favorite things at WisCon was the First timer's Dinner, which gave people like me who didn't know many people and hadn't found anyone she knew an easy way to find other similarly lost fans. I think if cons did something like that, for new people or just teens, it would make it a lot easier to meet people and have conversations which is really the best part of a con.

16th-Jul-2009 11:14 pm (UTC)
I feel like "adult congoers might drag their kids along, maybe with the kids' enthusiasm and maybe not" and "kids and teens want to go to cons of their own volition" are two distinct issues (though possibly interrelated--as when the kids-of-congoers tell their friends about a con)... not all adult fans have fannish children, not all young fans have fannish parents.
17th-Jul-2009 04:08 am (UTC)
I was 17 when I attended my first con. At that time I knew a little bit about fannish traditions and history, but not much. As time passed, I've learned more (APAs, fanfunds, etc.) as well as observing in real time as various subsets of fandom hived off and became their own worlds (gaming, comics, filk, furries, anime, etc.). Because of my interest in "classic fandom," I often had the experience of being "the youngest person in the room" (I still often have this experience - until last month I was the youngest member of FAPA.) And because of my interest in a number of the independent subfandoms, I often find myself in the position of talking to someone and realizing "We're both fen, but my fan experience is disjointed from their fan experience at a number of different places."

And I said all of that so that I can say this: Throughout my experience of fandom, here are a number of factors that I've observed that factor into this situation:
- Many older fen feel disrespected and ignored, like younger fen have no interest in the traditional of fandom. They're sometimes right.
- Many older fen feel that older fen have stopped keeping up in what's current in SFF and also in fandom, but instead cling to some idolized "golden age" of their past. They too are sometime right.
- One definitely generational thing that I have observed in older fen is a tendency to get into length, rancorous arguments over obscure points of fannish history and tradition which the vast majority of fandom could care less about. I think it's like office politics - the less is at stake, the more vigorous the fighting.
- Younger fen experience SFF in a radically different way from older fen. Case in point, science fiction magazines: Where once these were the center of activity in the genre, the only people I know who continue to read them are aspiring authors.
- Fen of my generation (I'm 35) seem to have a greater desire and expectation of having their children be involved in cons and other fannish activities.
- I've observed a lot of disgruntlement on the part of some older fen that not only is their experience of fandom not the entirety of fandom anymore, for some people it's not even the central part of fandom.

I'm sure I had a point when I started out with this, but I seem to have lost it now and gotten bogged down in minutia. I think the main things I really wanted to say are:
A. There's no such thing as monolithic "fandom" anymore - your fandom isn't congruent to my fandom and THAT'S OK.
B. There needs to be open and honest communication - with egos shoved aside as far as possible - between people of all ages, in all parts of fandom, if we're going to keep the big tent of fandom standing and not have fandom fly off into a variety of separate, smaller parts, each weakened by loss of connection to the others.

/soapbox

edited in order to turn off italics after turning them on.

Edited at 2009-07-17 04:09 am (UTC)
18th-Jul-2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
This is insightful.

I think another important piece of the puzzle is that younger readers can do most of their fandom online. It used to be that SF conventions were one of the few ways to talk, in realtime, to other people who shared your interests. Post-Internet, and especially post-Web, there isn't that same crushing pent-up desire to be among your own kind. That being the case, young fen are less likely to want to go through an initiation period before being considered worthy. (I've seen a couple of comments elsewhere to the effect of 'we will watch you and observe you before we decide to interact'.)

(BTW, I'm 50, and the Internet has always been the core of my fandom. But that makes me unusual in my cohort.)

Edited at 2009-07-18 05:40 pm (UTC)
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