Considering Fandom

One thing I seem to have gleaned from the flurry of comments to Tuesday's post about Arisia is that I went to the wrong convention. In the words of one of the commenters:

Arisia started as a "reaction" to another more literary "Con" - Boskone. To make it short, Boskone was trying to focus more on literary works, and in short become more "serious". Arisia was started as a "fun" con. There was a very specific focus in the early days on - Costuming (in the halls and masquerade), Parties, and an openness to movies/anime/"whatever". (Please be aware that I am simplifying grotesquely here) But the basic idea behind Arisia fundamentally is that it's a less "serious" con, even though there's a strong contingent of interest in literature & Science/Science Fiction.

Looking at the schedule for last year's Boskone and the guest list for this year's, I see none of the "alternative lifestyle" material of Arisia and quite a lot more writers I enjoy and topics that look interesting to me personally. Had I done any research whatever, I might have discovered this and saved myself a lot of bother. I won't be going to Boskone next month, for a number of reasons not the least of which is I'm a little conventioned-out after Arisia, though I may go next year while I don't think I'll be attending another Arisia. (I do wonder if I'll find myself something of a pariah at conventions from now on because of my posts. I suppose I'll have to go and find out.)

I also realize that I cited people in my piece who weren't aware that I was going to quote or paraphrase them in a blog post. I apologize if anyone was put out by this, and in the future I'll tell people what I'm doing. (I have a hard time thinking of myself as "press", but I suppose technically I am, and it was suggested I should get a press ribbon at future cons so people know what I'm doing.)

Then of course, there's my compatriot here at Wet Asphalt, JF Quackenbush, who pissed a lot of people off with insults and name-calling. Long time readers know I've publicly questioned his vitriol level in the past and did so again here at length, mostly because I desperately wanted a thoughtful discussion and not a shouting match. When J finally reigned himself in, he became much more interesting and persuasive, and reminded me of why I liked listening to him in the first place. So to him, I say this:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Special Comment - Keith Olbermann's Name-Calling
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Back to the point. There's a lot of stuff that made me uncomfortable at Arisia. I've already expressed my misgivings over what I call geek materialism, but I'd be lying if I said all the poly/bsdm stuff didn't wigg me out too. One commenter on the previous post wrote something that really made why much clearer to me:

As I said, I'm in a monogamous, faithful marriage. However, if my wife expressed interest in seeing another person, I would not feel jealous, and if it made her happy, I would support that. It doesn't bother me at all. Why is that? Because I have absolute trust in her, and absolute knowledge that we love each other deeply. There is no need for jealousy when one is secure in their relationships.

Wait, really? Your wife screwing some other dude wouldn't "bother you at all"? I'm sorry, that's fucking weird. I don't know how else to put it. I'm not a conservative guy, in fact I'm pretty much a socialist. But that's just fucking weird. I mean, hey, far be it from me to tell you how to feel about your wife's sex life. I'm not here to debate that with you, and I'm sure you'll go on about constrictive social norms and how our society produces infidelity and divorce and on and on. Whatever. I just kind of feel like I went to a stamp collector's conference and found out it was full of panels on eating other people's boogers. "They're an excellent source of protein and a wonderful form of intimacy and there a long history of philately and booger-eating," say the panelists slurping down each other's boogers. Ew, say I, that's weird and kind of repulsive and goddamn I just wanted to hear about stamps.

Again, this is not intolerance. I tolerate a whole lot.

So what's the takeaway with all this? Arisia is not the convention for me, that much is clear. There's also a lot more going on in fandom than I quite understood, and I think it'll take a lot more conversations for me to tangle it all out in my head. And I thank everyone who's willing to engage with me earnestly on the subject.


I'd rather be Jon Stewart

I'd rather be Jon Stewart than Keith Olbermann. And I still say invective has its place.

if the only tool you have is

if the only tool you have is a hammer....

One thing that occurred to me

One thing that occurred to me after reading your previous post is that when panels were distressing you, you didn't just say, 'huh. I don't want to hear about this, it's sort of repulsing me'....and leave. The programming department certainly does set the tone for the convention, but with 6 to 8 panels happening on all sorts of subjects from 9 am to 11 at night....there was no reason to stay where you were uncomfortable, unless you'd decided that being uncomfortable would make for a better blog post.

You had control over your experience at Arisia, and you seem to have decided that what you wanted to see were the things that were squicking you out. Now, one of your main complaints here is that no one *stops* people from doing things that might be harmful (such as abuse survivors indulging in harmful, attention getting displays). But you yourself seem to have chosen to do something harmful to yourself (attending poly panels when you think it's 'fucking weird', or BDSM panels when you disapprove of the scene). And you know what? None of us stopped you. No one at the con knew your motivation for going to the panels. We couldn't. But you went to them and then posted that 'doctor, it hurts when I go like this'. Don't go like that. Intolerance IS declaring everyone who doesn't hurt when they do that is 'fucking weird'.

But there was no reason for you to. There were lots of other things you could have done, and you kept on at it, continuing to formulate a perception of fandom based on attending the stuff you knew you wouldn't like.

I never go to always seems like such a pain to haul myself out to it (and this year, yes, I am hoping to attend the fetish Flea Market in RI, the same weekend, should you wonder where on the kink spectrum I fall, though I didn't make any of the panels at Arisia). I went to Readercon once and was bored by it - the panels had no focus, only one of them (a single panel workshop on writing with Barry Longyear) stayed on the subject, and the con totally shut down after 7pm. They just don't suit me, and that's okay, with me and with all my friends who love those cons.

Filk makes me want to gouge my eyes out. So oddly enough, I don't go by the filk rooms. I create the con that suits me out of the tools that the convention supplies me with. That's my responsibility to myself, but you seem to be blaming all the other people for not having the con you wanted.

"Now, one of your main

"Now, one of your main complaints here is that no one *stops* people from doing things that might be harmful (such as abuse survivors indulging in harmful, attention getting displays)."

Now you're confusing me with Quackenbush. I never said that. And you're coming to strange conclusions from that that I don't want to unpack right now. (Being grossed out is not the same as being harmed, I never said or implied that anyone should have tried to stop me from going to panels.)

"One thing that occurred to me after reading your previous post is that when panels were distressing you, you didn't just say, 'huh. I don't want to hear about this, it's sort of repulsing me'....and leave."

This is a fair point. I only went to two "alternative lifestyle" panels, one that was supposed to be about why there was so much kink in fandom (because I was curious) but didn't spend much time actually on that topic, and one that was "subculture mashups" because Marlin invited me. The description of the latter panel, incidentally, said it was about stuff like "goths who are also anime kids", but in fact spent a lot of time on alternative sexuality, so in that case I wasn't expecting it.

But to go back to my stamp metaphor, I think if I went to a stamp collecting conference and discovered that there was a whole track about booger eating, I would be a little wigged out even if I didn't go to any booger eating panels. And listen, if alternative sexuality doesn't compare to booger eating for you, I understand that, I'm just giving you my perspective. And I fully support things like the Fetish Flea Market that are what they say they are, which lets me know clearly that I should not go to that sort of thing myself. There's lots of sorts of conventions in this world that I would never consider going to and know I wouldn't enjoy.

Which brings me back to the point above: I went to the wrong con. I didn't know. I mean, maybe I would appreciate it if Arisia was retitled Arisia: Kink, Filk, Costuming and SF Convention to give me a better idea of what I was in for, but whatever, Arisia doesn't have a responsibility to me and I should have done more research. Obviously ReaderCon and perhaps Boskone are more my speed.

I will say this though: If I were a young person, a teenager or whatever, and I went to this as my first con because I was curious about SF culture and didn't know any better, I would never go to another con again. Which might indicate that it should have a more descriptive subtitle like I suggest.

Arisia's subtitle

Arisia's subtitle is, "The largest and most diverse SF/F convention in New England." Now, one can definitely make a case that diverse doesn't mean the same thing to everyone and it might not be clear that it features BDSM and poly panels in addition to writing and publishing panels. I will agree with you that not all panels stay on topic and it sounds like you got into a couple of those; I will also say that we publish the panel and event schedules (not as much) before the con (as we would like) so perusing that might well have given you an idea just from the tracks listed and their content.

Personally, I think Arisia could do with fewer "lifestyle" panels and more SF/F panels but I don't run Programming and Arisia does have sort of a duty to run the programming that its attendees want; balancing that isn't always an easy job but it is a necessary one if the con is to survive.

There are some "broken"* people who go to Arisia and I'm sure there is some "inappropriate" behaviour that goes on but, as others have said, you'll find this in any gathering of people, especially any gathering of people who share one or more interests. I'm certainly not a socialist so I believe the con's duty is only to prevent the law from being broken and try to label "adult" content as such; it is up to the individual attendees to decide what is okay for them.

Full disclosure: I was the Events Division Head this year (I was responsible for the stuff in the ballroom plus video, anime and films and the blood drive, probably none of which would squick you out except some of the anime). So while I wasn't responsible for the panels, I do generally support Arisia and the type of con that it is.

*For some definition of "broken" such as socially inept.

Yeah, when it said diverse I

Yeah, when it said diverse I thought it meant it had non-white people.

I admit I didn't look closely enough at the event schedules and so one beforehand, which is why I was surprised. (As I said, I didn't do the research.)

I think you're being too

I think you're being too apologetic.

I wouldn't know; my first big

I wouldn't know; my first big american con was, in fact, Arisia (I'd been to smaller 200 attendees or so cons before it). I was 21. So not a teenager, but still in school at the time. And not only did I go back to Arisia, I went to dozens of cons every year for the next 5 or 6 years. I dragged new people to Arisia and they loved it. There were a LOT of 'teenagers or whatever' there having a really good time, and it wasn't just the kids raised in con culture. There was a very vibrant lounge for people from 13 to 25 right next to the con suite, that was always pretty lively.

Actual teenagers certainly will be back. If Readercon and Boskone (maybe) are more your speed, that actually argues the same thing...last year Readercon declared that anyone 18 or younger would need to be accompanied by an adult at all times. So teenagers, for the most part, aren't even welcome at that con. They are welcomed at Arisia, with programming for them, and hangout spaces for them, etc.

It just doesn't feel like you actually saw the con, as much as you saw a couple things that bugged you, and then became so aware of the things that bugged you that you didn't keep looking with an open mind. The final schedule had almost 400 panels and events, about 20 of which (I actually only counted 15, but I bet I missed some so I'm going up) were kink or poly panels.

Now, I want to make an argument for next year to move all the kink and poly stuff with the exception of the panel on Poly Parenting back post-watershed (if you move the Poly Parenting panel out of the midafternoon, the poly parents get ticked because they're parents and often can't come to evening panels after the babysitting, fast track and teen programming are finished for the day). But we have so few panels on the subjects that they don't even merit their own track. As I mentioned, I didn't even *get* to any of the panels, and I like them, because there just weren't that many - unless you focused on them so much that it became all you saw.

I'm not sure you understand

I'm not sure you understand where I'm coming from here.

I said if _I_ were a teenager. When I was a teenager I would've walking into Arisia, seen what was going on, been totally squicked out and turned around and left. I except that's not true for all teenagers, but I'd say if you didn't have some kind of predisposition for it (for whatever reason) you'd be weirded out. This sort of goes back to my article on the "geek problem"; geekdom often intentionally shuts out and alienates the mainstream by positioning a lot of weird shit into prominent positions in its particular subculture, intentionally removing itself from the mainstream, with Arisia being a particularly extreme example.

Yes I'm focusing on a small portion of the events, but they, shall we say leapt out at me. And I think it's understandable that they did and you can't pretend that they're not a bit more, I don't know, shocking than a panel on the future of Doctor Who. And to be fair, I didn't just complain about the alternative lifestyle panels, I also complained about filking, about the lack of professionals on panels, about the sheer length of the masquerade, about the general materialism, a whole host of things that bothered me about the con.

Was there anything I liked? I liked the screenings, including the anime and the films. I thought a lot of the costumes were remarkable. I thought the "Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year" panel with Gardner Dozois was very interesting. I enjoyed talking to a SCA guy about the practicality and techniques of European long sword. There were a handful of things I liked. But my overall feeling was one of discomfort, and that's what I wrote about. And I think you need to be able to understand why someone would be weirded out by Arisia, because I don't think I represent some kind of outlier in terms of people being uncomfortable with a lot of this stuff.

Funny, I think the exact opposite.

"I will say this though: If I were a young person, a teenager or whatever, and I went to this as my first con because I was curious about SF culture and didn't know any better, I would never go to another con again. Which might indicate that it should have a more descriptive subtitle like I suggest."

I seem to think most teenage geeks, at the height of their feelings of ostracism and with those nasty raging hormones would be pretty susceptible to full immersion in such a community. Especially if they'd been prepped by reading later Heinlein or had been secretly drooling over Piers Anthony-grade centaur breasts.

ergo, my complaints about the

ergo, my complaints about the lack of protections and social controls...