Science fiction has become very acceptable in the United States; there's a cable channel devoted to it, the biggest movies all seem to be science fiction, and SF has a large following on television and the web. The old adage, "It's a proud and lonely thing to be a fan" no longer seems applicable. But in all this acceptance of SF and fantasy and the crowds of people tuned into what used to be that "strange Buck Rogers stuff," the actual SF fan seems to have been left behind.
Despite all the interest in SF, I have to wonder when, or if, this phenomenon known as SF fandom will be acknowledged by the world at large. True fandom is still an unknown. Will fandom, with roots back to the first WorldCon in 1939 or the first fanzine in 1930, ever be considered as a subculture? I'd like to think we have an interesting culture and some day an anthopologist might 'discover' us.
The media image of SF fans is that of people who dress up as their favorite TV characters or crazed UFO-New Agers who sit around spouting psycho-babble. Every time a TV series shows a 'science fiction convention', it's really a Star Trek convention. Even the SciFi Channel, a cable channel devoted to fantasy and science fiction, doesn't know much about us. Their special on the 1996 WorldCon was shoddy and somewhat insulting. The host, who spent more time chasing William Shatner's 'wig' around the con than looking at the events, seemed bewildered that anyone would want to sit in science panels and didn't quite seem to catch on that it was actually a literary convention. Even something as simple as listing the Hugo winners was filled with errors; the idea of the Retro Hugos was just too complex for them. Apparently, the SciFi Channel's idea of SF fandom seems to be limited to male teens whose sole interests are comic books and video games.
The saddest part about all this is that mundania is now taking over our best form of expression -- the fanzine. Several years ago, there were articles in national newspapers about this new form the GenXers had taken up -- 'zines! (...as distinguished from the fannish zine with no apostrophe.) Even we were involved in this. I've previously written ["The *Zine* Scene" in Mimosa 14] about being contacted by The Washington Post on a story about fanzines. The writer seemed very interested in zines in general and I was hopeful that fandom would have some representation and recognition. When the article came out, though, it turned out to be about the GenXers and their 'new' form of communication -- photocopied 'zines that featured a mishmash of images and words. There was nothing about the history of fanzines and no indication that there was a group of people who had been publishing them for decades, and who even had coined the word they were using.
On the web, the mundane 'zine is out there competing with the zines of fandom. Will the 'zines be as successful as fandom's zines? Somehow I don't think so. Our zines are more than just babble, they reflect our 'tribe' -- who we are, from an anthropological sense -- and the things that hold us together as fans, such as our history.
Our fannish history is important since it's what separates our conventions and zines from the popular view of science fiction fandom. Maybe someday we the real SF fans and our history will be known, but until then we'll just have to keep spreading the word ourselves. So, what are your waiting for? Write that article, draw that cartoon, pub your ish! It still is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan -- even in a crowd.
Title illustration by Sheryl Birkhead