Fan Service

"When I moved here from the west coast," said Marlin May, a black, homosexual SF fan who I met first on Twitter, and who compared "coming out" as an SF fan to "coming out" as gay, "I didn't know a lot of people. But when I started going to con[vention]s here, I felt like I was home. I was back where I belong."

It was a sentiment I heard over and over again from people at Arisia, New England's Largest Science Fiction Convention (attendance: about 3,000). On one panel, the moderator opined that cons are “where we seem to fit. In other places is where we're playing roles,” with the deliberate irony that the convention was full of role playing games. One woman I talked to referred to Arisia specifically as a “lifestyle con”. This was a convention run by fans for fans to come and hang out and play and fuck. Which helped explain the lack of corporate presence that one finds at your average comic book convention. There were no booths for major publishers here, no b-grade sci-fi actors being paid for autographs, no developers giving advanced previews of their latest video game offering. A panel on the future of Doctor Who, which at New York or San Diego Comic-Con would have been made up of writers, producers, and/or stars of the TV show, was instead made up entirely of fans. The moderator began “Well, we've only got fifteen seconds of footage to go on, so I'm not sure what we're going to talk about,” and then the panelists started talking about their favorite episodes of the show instead. Most of the panels were simply manned by other fans, who didn't seem any more qualified to talk about a given subject then those in the audience, which was probably why the audience felt so entitled to give their own opinions at length whenever the mood arose, as if everyone was part of the panel.

Among the entertainment offerings, along with movie and tv show screenings, there was a comedic stage show lovingly parodying the old time radio programs of the 30's and 40's, in which half of the jokes were not jokes at all but merely references to geeky media, lines drawn from this or that tv show, movie, book or video game, thrown out to thunderous laughter and applause. There were many panels about and performances of something called 'filk' music, which is basically folk music about geeky subjects designed so anyone can come and sing along. There was also a "pagan mythpunk singer-songwriter" with a wonderful voice who, in one of three performances at the con, dressed up as a pirate and sang a whole set of pirate songs, depicting romanticized tales of girl pirates sailing the high seas and getting laid by selkies.

And there were the costumes, so many costumes, thousands of hours of work represented in stunning recreations of carefully embroidered Victorian hoop dresses, leather-and-steel-clad post-apocalyptic warriors, elves in cloaks and pointy ears, uniforms from every space opera TV show or movie, anime characters in long, tight-fitting coats. And, the Steampunk fad in full swing, there were more goggles and corsets than I could count. One man was dressed as a "pony-monkey", his full body suit covered in sewn-on parts of stuffed animal monkeys or ponies which he said took him 100 hours to put together. It was a reference to a song by geek-beloved musician Jonathan Coultan, and people would quote lyrics at him as they walked by. Saturday night culminated in a “masquerade competition” in which each participant came out and performed a little skit based around their costume. An hour in I ducked out to see the movie Moon being screened in another room and when I came back after, the masquerade was still going on.

The thing that surprised me the most, though, was that many of the panels had nothing to do at all with science fiction or fantasy, the ostensible topic of the convention. The term 'lifestyle' was apropos; there were at least five panels on polyamory, panels on 'alternative marriages', BDSM, paganism, gender, flirting, “coming out”, “your kink is OK”, and “Relationships 101,” among others. In one panel, a panelist talked about how hard she'd pushed to get furries brought into the mainstream of fandom, and a furry in the audience in homemade fox-ears and bushy tail, mewled appreciatively. (A larger convention, I-CON, which takes place on Long Island, has a whole track of nothing but furry programming.) A panel that was supposed to be about why fandom appeals to so many people with “alternative lifestyles” quickly devolved into a discussion about how to explain to your children about your polyamorous or BDSM relationship. Afterwards, I felt like I needed a shower. (This is not intolerance. I tolerate anything as long as it's between consenting adults. That doesn't mean it doesn't gross me out.)

I spent most of the con trying to understand exactly why, rather than feeling like I belonged, I felt extremely uncomfortable, even repulsed. I had long conversations with people in which they told me flat out, “You're one of us. You know all about Doctor Who and program computers and argue about fantasy novels, and you can be in denial about it, but you're one of us.” They even went so far as to say that people who were really obsessive about anything, say, baseball stats or engineering or philosophy were really fans (or, dear lord, fen) at heart. A panel on "psychology and fandom" spent a lot of its time talking about the psychology of intelligent people, of passionate people, as if these traits and fandom were mutually inclusive, even as they also acknowledged that not all smart people were fans, and danced around the idea (without ever explicitly stating it) that the intense desire to escape into a fantasy world was borne of unhappiness and loneliness.

I'll be the first to tell you that there's nothing wrong with escaping into a fantasy world every once and a while. But I can't help but balk at fantasy as a lifestyle, at people who recreate themselves and their lives so that they can spend as much time as possible inside a fictional world. Lots of people at this con also go to RenFair and Burning Man and participate in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Lots of them were or are into the "goth" scene. (Two people described SteamPunk as goths who had discovered brown.) Their minds have defected, at least on some level, from the world of contemporary adults to a different world in which their identities can be fictionalized, romanticized, idealized, in which the rules and restrictions of modern society are gleefully thrown off. And when they gather together there's a certain prickly cliquishness that crops up. One audience member at a panel opined at length how fans need to give up their sense of entitlement and superiority so that they can reach out to the general public, the people fans often deride as "mundanes". Fans are justifiably defensive of their lifestyle because they know that much of the public at large recoils from their behavior.

So why do I feel so uncomfortable here? Because I feel like they've taken cultural touchstones, things that I love, and turned them into holy relics, defined entire lives by their fictional worlds. They've done this with great flair and creativity and often humor and truckloads of passion. But it's the very essence of materialism. If you are not your wallet and you are not your car then you are also not your hand-sewn hoop dress, your goggles, your furry ears, your fangs, or your proton cannon. You are not a Na'vi or a Starfleet officer or an Air Bender or a cartoon cat no matter how much you want to be. Which realization, in turn, forces me to take a hard look at myself. I often call myself a “book person”, I'm a book blogger, I read constantly, though I tend to buy books faster than I read them, and I fiend for used bookstores where I can turn up cheap treasures. These are traits anyone at Arisia would instantly recognize as those of a geek, a fan. In fact, this kind of obsessive passion about something and self-identification with it would be the very definition of a geek or a fan for many of the people I talked with. Which makes me wonder if this too isn't a form of materialism, whether it's healthy to define myself by any objects, even my beloved books. I am not my books. I am not even my desire for books. At what point does the passion stop being a service to you, and you start being a service to the passion?

See my whole Arisia photo album


Wait so... since i have been

Wait so... since i have been married and divorced and thus experienced emotional hurt and pan... then monogamy and dare i say marriage are also unethical for all people?

i think if you think hard

i think if you think hard about it, you'll see why that's not a valid point.

Hurt by what exactly?

The answer to J's riddle is in the details of whether it's the structure marriage in general that hurts people, or the details of that particular marriage. Which is not to say I buy his ethical argument - as I tend to think different rules can and do apply to different people in different contexts, but despite indications in his tone elsewhere, his thought on this topic is generally really sophisticated, and I will do him the credit of checking out the body of thought he has referred me to first.

Incomplete moral philosophy

[[[ (1.) a principle P that allows for an action A is ethically sound iff. there is no person sharing certain characteristics such as reasonableness and the desire to know what is right and what is wrong who can reasonably reject P (for a discussion of why this metaethical theory over any other, see T.M. Scanlon's "what we owe to eachother." I personally find the book very convincing and think any other rational person should as well) (2.) Many, if not the vast majority of people, experience great pain when someone they love has sex with or expresses feelings of romantic love towards a third person (3.) That pain is a sufficient reason to reject a principle that would allow any person to operate on a principle that allows multiple romantic relationships (3.1) note i'm talking about romantic love relationships, not lots of casual partners, which is less problematic (4.) Therefore, there is some reasonable person who would reject any principle P that would allow for multiple romances as advocated for by polyamorists (5.) Therefore by 1 and 4 polyamory is unethical ]]]

I just wanted to break in here and say I find this argument to be extremely underwhelming, but am not really that familiar Scanlon's arguments, other than having heard a few people toss the book's title around. I find this to be static and circular, what is good is socially acceptable, what is socially acceptable is good, and you end up with the whole chicken/egg and change problem. You also have the underlying utilitarian assumption with (2), which is going a bit unstated and seems weirdly nested in this whole thing. I mean, the whole crux of this thing is how do we characterize a reasonable moral view, and there you are back into grand moral causes, etc... unless you're saying that any grand moral cause argument could be accepted under this criteria when postulated by a rational person, which I doubt.

I will dismiss out of hand any moral argument that doesn't allow for the possibility that a social consensus by rational people about what is wrong could be incorrect and require change, and am having trouble picturing that possibility with the scenario you've described.

Just for clarification - and speaking as an anthropologist - J is dead fucking right when it comes to jealousy/rank/harm/things we would recognize as being abuse, etc. being the norm for polygyny (and the much rarer cases of polyandry) throughout the history of all human societies. Just pay attention to the mythology of any culture that has practiced it and how rife it is with hatred between wives and the children of different mothers, etc. I'm not challenging any of that which follows as to why suppressing jealousy is often an act of self-delusion, and the idea that it is suppressed easily or that jealousy isn't normal in polygyny/polyandry is a misguided anachronistic take (by those who are *ahem* often creatively anachronistic).


scanlon is a better ethicist than me, and he can do a better job of making his point than I ever will, and clearly better than I have, because his formulation of contractualism, which is what i based that argument on, is specifically aimed at rejecting the notion that what is right is what there is a social consensus about. he also specifically attacks the utilitarian notion that what is good is what brings about the greatest aggregate happiness, or the least aggregate sorrow, however you want to phrase it.

I'll attempt to unpack the argument a bit, but really I think that everybody who is the least bit interested in ethics ought to read What We Owe to Eachother. it's possibly the most important book on ethics since Rawls's A Theory of Justice.

so the basic idea is what you stated, that greatest aggregate utility for social consensus is flawed because you can end up with a situation where a great disutility is inflicted on a small minority that because of their size the disutility can be outweighed by the small gains in utility for the vast majority of the population. further, you can't go with principles that someone can reasonably accept because there are people who are self-sacrificing and even masochistic who might be willing to tolerate something that other people wouldn't in the service of the greater good. People in fact do this all the time. So Scanlon's contractualism takes the opposite tactic and says ok, formulate a principle and if there is no person (who shares a few basic traits that scanlon takes to be shared by people who are inclined to make moral judgements) who can reasonably reject that principle, then you can use it to make moral judgements. Where it gets tricky is with what exactly counts as a reason, what a reason is, and how they have motive force for moral agents. The basic idea though is that if you come up with a Principle that permits people who are self-deluded to consent to being harmed by you, even though they have consented, it doesn't make it ok because SOME reasonable person could reject that principle because of the harm it would cause them were they in that situation. The Reasonable Person in this case is very similar to the fictional Reasonable Person that shows up over and over again in the law, I think, wherever there is a problem with making hard and fast rules. I think sexual ethics is analogous to a lot of law in that way.

Anyhow, I still feel like I'm doing Scanlon a disservice, but I hope that clears up some up some of the confusion and really, its a great book that I can't recommend highly enough.


I will look into the book and get back to you. It's certainly an interesting argument, but it will definitely all come down to the nuts&bolts on those points for me.

there's a good intro in a

there's a good intro in a paper that scanlon wrote before the book came out where he sketched the outline of his version of contractualism that I think makes for a good introduction. it's called "Contractualism and Utilitarianism" and it's pretty widely anthologized. A decent sized library system will likely have an ethics anthology that will have that paper in it. Also, the stanford philosophy encyclopedia article on contractualism is a good overview of the theory and its problems. (and it does have a few problems where there are competing theories and explanations, most notably in what constitutes a reason, and the scope of who is included in things being affected. It also doesn't work to generate a theory of animal rights, I don't think, but then I dont think people have an ethical responsibility to animals in the same way that they do to other people so that doesn't bother me as much as it does some people.) I tend to fall back on Scanlon though because of all the moral theories at work in the world, his makes the most sense to me of what we actually do when we engage in moral judgement.

It comes from Kant

(Admission: I have not read Kant or Scanlon in some time.)

What you are referring to is an update of Kant's Categorical Imperative, which states, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Scanlon rephrased it in his idea of contractualism to read, "An act is wrong if its performance under the circumstances would be disallowed by any set of principles for the general regulation of behavior that no one could reasonably reject as a basis for informed, unforced general agreement." Scanlon differs from Kant in that he talks about actions which none could reject, rather than which all could agree. The idea is to allow all involved to pursue their own interests subject to allowing others to do the same.

Your argument is that any action that cause pain is a violation of this idea. Yet in the circumstance of relationships, there are many such actions that can causes pain to another or to the self. This is regardless of the kind of relationship. If I were within a relationship, and my partner desired to be with someone in addition to myself, my refusal to allow her to do so would cause her pain. Her desire for another might cause myself pain. The key here is that it might - some people do not desire more than one partner. Some people do suffer if their partner desires another. The complexity of human relationships and emotions make it extremely difficult to apply one rule or law to all humanity.

The idea that polyamory and other "sexually risky" actions always cause pain is based on the idea that if it would cause pain to some, it is disavowed by the idea of contractualism. One might argue that getting into any relationship is "sexually risky" - the Dalai Lama certainly does, as he suggests leading a chaste life as one that leads to the least suffering. Yet would you consider that it was not polyamory itself that causes the suffering, but the possible actions of those involved in the polyamourous relationship? You have admitted that it works for some, but must the fact that it does not work for everyone mean that it is ethically wrong? This argument could be applied to any other form of relationship, be it gay, straight, monogamous, or polyamorous. Not every relationship will work for everyone, and if one is in a relationship that does not work, it will cause suffering. And even if they are in one that works, it may still cause suffering.

It is one's actions in a relationship that may or may not cause suffering, not the kind of relationship itself. If I were to take actions that "no one could reasonably reject", I would treat my partner(s) with fairness, kindness, respect, understanding, and in ways that fostered healthy communication and comprehension. As no relationship is the same, it is ethically easier to under contractualism to consider that it is the motivation of the action as much as the action itself to consider before rejecting it. Additionally, it is not reasonable to reject an action based on its impact to a single individual, but on how it impacts others as well. If a significant number of people were being impacted negatively by people entering into polyamorous relationships (or any other kind of relationship), it would be reasonable to reject it based on this principle. We will disagree on what a "significant number" is, but even you admit that there are some "healthy" individuals who can exist in poly relationships without causing a negative impact.

You also speak of people who are "unhealthy" in relationships, such as sexual predators and abuse sufferers. Hobbes' social contract, which both Kant and Scanlon based their work, is based on the actions of the rational, and those who are not are outside of the bounds of the contract. Kant and Scanlon both believed that the actions of the irrational cannot be used to hold into account the actions of the rational. Thus, holding "healthy" practitioners of polyamory accountable to the thought that their lifestyle attracts the interest of people who are "unhealthy" or irrational, those who act outside the social contract, cannot be supported by Scanlon's work. Although you argue, and perhaps correctly, that it is the responsibility of a social group to police itself against such individuals, either through education or rehabilitation, this is a task that the whole of society has failed to take up to complete success.

Finally, Scanlon's idea also allows for two individuals to have differing ideas of what is reasonable, so long as those ideas to not come into immediate conflict with each other, such as in this case, a staunchly polyamorous person person dating someone who insists on monogamy. If this were the case, the reasonable action would be the one that no reasonable individual could reject, which is perhaps that the two not be involved in a relationship. It is not the relationship itself that is causing the problems, but the actions of the people involved in the relationship. If those actions cannot be reconciled, then it is reasonable to reject it. But if the actions can be reconciled, there is no reasonable cause to disavow those actions.

There is one other thing that I am curious about - what makes this circumstance less problematic for people casually dating, instead of "romantic love relationships? I look forward to your reply, both about this and about my main argument.

Oh, and thank you for reminding me of Scanlon's work. I should pick up a copy of What We Owe Each Other. I would highly recommend that you re-read it yourself, and also read some of the excellent criticism of his work, as that has always helped me understand a philosophical standpoint better. The Dalai Lama's stuff is good, too. I recommend Ethics for the New Millennium, in which he describes his ethical philosophy in layman's terms, and reading up on Scanlon again reminded me very much of it.

just to let you know, i do

just to let you know, i do intend to respond to this. but you've given a lot to think about and it's not something I can toss off in 15 minutes so i need to find a block of time to sit down and think about it before I can get back to you.

"... defined entire lives by

"... defined entire lives by their fictional worlds" -- But you're not seeing these peoples' entire lives. You're seeing a weekend. We go home to jobs and kids and bills, too. You raise some good questions about materialism, but your objections to decades-old fannish terms like "fen" and "filk" come from somewhere else.

Thanks, Thomas A.

That's the first response that pops up for me as well. I dressed up (in a pretty low-key way) as "80s Guy" for the Saturday club dance. It was fun; I have a lot of nostalgia for the 80s. But my iTunes isn't filled with 80s music; right now I'm wearing a brown sweater and jeans, not a white jacket and narrow silk tie; when I talk about music these days, I talk about Arcade Fire and Tom Waits and The Apples in Stereo. You can't deduce anything about my life from what I wore on Saturday night at Arisia, other than the fact that I don't have a stick up my ass. One weekend a year, I like being goofy in a supportive environment.

This is not to say nobody in fandom is ever unhealthily obsessed — there's a bell curve here, and I could offer my own snarky observations of Arisia — but your premise is a bit like going to a football game and wondering "How the hell can these people lead normal lives when they're painted orange all the time?"

These are good points, and I

These are good points, and I accept that there are fans who go to cons but also have a life outside of fandom.

For example, my wife and I

For example, my wife and I (Hi, we're the family in blue in the last picture accompanying the main post). Remember there is a difference between the converse and the contrapositive, and that the existence of screwed-up people does not imply the non-existence of well-adjusted people.

For some value of well-adjusted that includes being too busy enjoying the con and taking care of the kids to remember to take our own pictures, so thanks for including it (friend of ours noticed it and pointed it our way).

But can you wrap your head

But can you wrap your head around the idea that MOST of us are like that? We go to cons to let loose, to play the fantasy for all it's worth, and escape for the weekend before we have to go back to the drudgery of real life.

The great thing about conventions geeks is that most of us do indeed know the difference between fantasy and reality. It's that that sometimes, we make the conscious choice to ignore it.

"The thing that surprised me

"The thing that surprised me the most, though, was that many of the panels had nothing to do at all with science fiction or fantasy, the ostensible topic of the convention. The term 'lifestyle' was apropos; there were at least five panels on polyamory, panels on 'alternative marriages', BDSM, paganism, gender, flirting, “coming out”, “your kink is OK”, and “Relationships 101,” among others."

Since you later refer to yourself as a voracious reader and a book blogger, I'm surprised that you focused on the lifestyle panels and never seemed to notice the literature track. We had ~50 panels and ~25 readings, and the track included well-known and up-and-coming authors as well as fans. You might have enjoyed that more.

I went to a number of the

I went to a number of the literary panels. You're right to point out that there were a lot on offer. However, a) there didn't seem to be nearly as many literary panels as there were lifestyle panels, b) the literary panels there were didn't seem to foster serious discussion in the way that, say, panels at ReaderCon tend to (and I understand that Arisia is not ReaderCon), and c) perhaps most importantly, and again in sharp contrast to ReaderCon which was loaded with many of my favorite authors, there were almost no writers I had heard of. In fact, I counted exactly one, and that was Gardner Dozois. And I'm a pretty well-read guy in the field. So I focused on the lifestyle stuff in my article because it was more striking and more interesting to talk about. But you're right to point out that there were literary things going on.

We did have a few

We did have a few best-sellers and award winners... but yes, we're lighter on the heavyweights than Readercon, which I also enjoy.

I do wish there were more lit panels than lifestyle panels; I'm poly myself, but think that the number of poly panels we have, for instance, is pretty excessive.

one of the big problems we

one of the big problems we have is that so much gets piled into 'fannish interest'. Almost every 'Fannish interest' panel I was on this weekend would have been better served being in Science (more appropriately Science & Tech, or my proposed Fandom 2.0 track). At any other con, my 40 years of Sesame Street panel would have been in Media. We're shoving too much into what should be a small track of stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else, that was supposed to be a catch-all that started out as very different thing.

Also one needs to be careful about using 'lifestyle' panels and 'Lifestyle' (euphemism) panels. We had an excellent *lifestyle* panel on Saturday that was 'Disability and Fandom'; we needed it, and I think it was incredibly helpful to those of us who run access services, and provided a place where we could meet others at the con with access needs. But it's definitely a lifestyle panel. When I hear people saying they want fewer lifestyle panels (and some of it I agree with; I also think all poly/kink panels should return to where they were before, post-watershed, which is WHY we have late night panels at all), I worry because many people mean ALL of the lifestyle panels...including some important ones, like my little disability one.

I tend to draw a distinction

I tend to draw a distinction between the Fan Interest track, which includes stuff like the disability panel and Sexual Politics and Fandom, and the "lifestyle" focus of some of the panels on that track; I'd've called your panel fan interest rather than lifestyle, for the record. I'm not disparaging it.

(There were a lot of issues for wheelchair users. Hopefully that'll be better next year.)

I totally don't get why the Sesame Street panel was considered fan interest rather than media!

New authors

One of the things I appreciate about Arisia is that they have a large number of writers I've never heard of doing readings. By relying only on published works I am relying on someone (an editor or publisher) telling me what is worth reading. By attending readings of authors I've never heard of, I get to determine if these works are worth pursuing further. Some of these people are self published, which does not carry the stigma it once did and some of these people are attempting to get their works published, which I can potentially assist by sending mail to publishing houses with a commentary that I would buy a book by person X. Do I believe my letter will really get them published, no. Do I believe that if a work crosses their desk and they heard the name before, it's more likely to stick.

I do enjoy hearing my favorite authors reading their work but in general, I've read their work so it is more the enjoyment of hearing if the inflections I put in are the same as the author intended. I also hearing new work that I'm not likely to hear any other way. Will I enjoy it all, no but I have still heard something new and I get access to works not otherwise available.

Name correction

I-Con has one 'N', not two.

Fixed, thanks.

Fixed, thanks.


I hope you'll consider the bibliophile's con, Readercon, in July, if you'd prefer a more narrowly convention, better matched to your interests. Sorry you didn't feel comfortable at Arisia. I'm often taken aback there, but try to exercise my acceptance muscles. I'm also the organizer of what more than one Arisian has described as "too harshly real," the blood drive. Despite your concern about what many choose to do at Arisia, please recognize not everyone does these things, and many of those with relatively mundane sexual habits choose this venue as when they prefer to give the gift of life. Enjoy.

I went to the last ReaderCon

I went to the last ReaderCon and loved it, actually. Here's my report:

I'm an Arisia-goer, who would

I'm an Arisia-goer, who would much rather be sewing a costume or making up a filk song than broadcasting cruel and hurtful things about an entire community of people. I think a real test of being a "grown-up" is knowing when to keep your smallminded opinions to yourself. Shame on you.

case rested.

case rested.

Where do you draw the line?

Your commentaries are insightful and interesting, and I bothered to read every word, but like your friend points out, the content is marred by the vitriol.
I attend the convention and have for many years. I even donate my time on occasion to help out. However ... I am not a furry. I do not have a 24/7 bdsm lifestyle. I don't have social issues, asbergers or problems relating to and dealing with adults or children, in or out of fandom. I do not, so far as I or my immediate associates are aware, possess any disabling mental problems (I hope). I am not poly. I am not going to attack you or jump down your throat to defend anyone, nor am I going to throw twigs on the fire to tell you that all is well between consenting adults, because, frankly, sometimes it really isn't. I have seen more then a few relationships that concern me. I have seen more then a few situations that I find disturbing. I have seen young, damaged women desperately seeking validation in the attentions of persons wholly unsuitable for them, and it makes me uncomfortable. I do not like to see 13 year old girls acting like streetwalkers in a hotel lobby and I find nothing attractive in older, overweight people wearing clothing way too revealing and obviously designed for teenagers acting 'kittenish' or simpering, it's just silly. I wish very strongly that the convention had a few less poly panels in the alternative lifestyle track and was a bit more widespread in covering other alternative lifestyles if its going to have that programming track at all - its very one-sided. I am aware that this convention, like many others of its kind, has problems that do not have simple solutions. On these things, I think we agree.
However, there are points we do not agree on, that I hope you will give as much consideration to my thoughts as I have given to yours. You present the vast majority of the community as diseased and broken, and there, sir, I think you have failed to see its real value. All of what we have discussed so far is fringe and surface and extreme. And while you and I both do not enjoy seeing those who lack a solid grip on consensual reality cossetted in a situation where they are indulged in their lack of polite social behavior (I was raised in a gentile household and am often disgusted by people who cannot display even the veneer of courtesy and insist on claiming 'eccentricity' instead of learning any form of manners or personal hygiene), you clearly missed the entire subset of fandom that are truly amazing and wonderful people. People who would help each other through all kinds of adult, mundane problems without a moments thought for recompense. People who would drop their own concerns in an instant to care for others in sickness or need. People who go out of their way to help friends move, find living places, find jobs, find child care, find elderly care, find ways to help the physically disadvantaged. Even those who donate time and effort to help young artists, writers and costumers find inspiration, find a place to learn and grow and develop their talent and give them confidence to express themselves in the world - they are providing an irreplaceable service to those young people who may grow up to contribute real works of artistic talent to the world. Some of these 'social misfits' care more about answering the common woes in everyday society then most of the well-adjusted, normal adults I have known - from supporting charities to homeless shelters to foodbanks to women's shelters to animal care organizations - and I assure you that I do not hail from some redneck backwater or some bizarre Jerry Springer zone of America to have not met a reasonable number of well-adjusted, normal functioning adults in today's society. This may be an unusual microcosm, but it is a microcosm that, in its own socially backwards way, cares deeply and infinitely for all that would offer it the smallest bit of understanding. You don't even have to be one of them for them to care about you - and that may be some of the rarest and most adult behaviour I have ever witnessed.
These are not subjective 'feelings' or my jumping to defend anyone - I stand back and observe. I do not always like the veneer that lies on the surface, but when you bother to look long and deep enough to see beneath it, you find that many of these people have banded together out of the underlying factor that they are better at being human then a good percentage of their 'normal' counterparts. There is, perhaps, something in the makeup of science fiction and fantasy fans, that makes them believe the worlds they want to live in can be real, and they do their part to answer the sad and destructive things in this society that work against those ideals. I wonder what is more grown up then that?
So, I have said my piece, make of it what you will. I truly hope you find something in life that heals the bitterness you feel, there are actually good things out there too. I used to think like you, I scorned, and scoffed, and hated, and made fun of people like this. Then when there was real tragedy in my life, it was these people who were there to help me. Not people like you. Not people like who I used to be. But these people, the ones who all those who didn't offer a hand scorn and deride, are the first to forget that and extend a hand to those in need. And no, I do not feel indebted, I am not speaking out because I 'owe' anyone anything - I am not even signing my name or claiming credit for my words. But to those who do not judge or condemn, when they are judged and condemned so very harshly, perhaps one should be a bit humbled and a little more accepting. For those that find happiness in simple pleasures that do not hurt others, it really serves no greater good to cut them down.

Very, very well said. In the

Very, very well said. In the midst of angry heat, you brought light to the subject.
Thank you Jane Q.

you're missing the point

if you agree that the way that cons are run enables some people in dangerous, unhealthy behavior, then what does the fact that not everybody is broken have to do with it? My criticism of the whole community is that the people who are ok and can see stuff is fucked up don't do a damn thing about it. my criticism of your stance is that you're accepting the unacceptable. and if you're right that the vast majority of people involved in organizing and directing cons are more like you and less like the folks who are fucked up, then i don't understand how you so all so easily ignore the harmful elements of what's going on in your community and why from all appearances you are more interested in encouraging those elements than in minimizing them.

i ask again, what does BDSM, polyamory, or any other kink that you might name have to do with SF? Why let it in at all? Fetishists and the kink community have their own venues, its not like if con organizers just said "hey, all this stuff about sex really has nothing to do with what cons are supposed to be about, lets not do it" those folks would have nowhere to go. my criticism is that in acceting this stuff, you're complicit in the harm. that's my criticism, and your assertions to the contrary rings very false to me.

Numbered List

(1) Heinlein
(2) Neopaganism
(3) I don't think fans would be evaluated better or worse on a Milgram-esque experiment than anyone other grouping of people.
(4) I distrust that your dislike of fandom really has much to do with harmful sexual practices and think it has much more to do with distaste for other, more aesthetic reasons.

1. the fact that fandom still

1. the fact that fandom still takes heinlein seriously is a whole other kettle of fish.

2.) i don't see a necessary connection between neopaganism, science fiction, and kink other than the fact that there's a weird and I think telling overlap between them

3. probably not, but again, so what? just because everybody behaves badly in social groups, its beyond the pale to point out how a specific group is fucked up? particularly when its a group that likes to hold itself out as somehow above the run of the mill "mundanes?" That, to me, is an invitation to criticism.

4. there are absolutely aesthetic reasons that i dislike fandom. those, however, are not important enough to get argue about. the fact that lots of stuff in fandom are things that i find boring or tacky is a separate issue that I don't really care enough about to want to argue about. I feel the same way about lots of things. the difference with fandom is that it crosses a line into something that I think is a much larger social ill and is in fact a breeding ground for things I find troubling, which is why the widespread acceptance of harmful sexual practices is what I'm being critical of.

Thought I had said something here...

Thought I had posted here, but nothing turned up.

Anyways, (1) Heinlein's later works ARE con culture. Look at John Kessel's take on it:

"Heinlein's late novels become a dialog with himself. They take place on a stage in his mind, sealed off from disturbing influence. This airless self-reflexiveness appears as early as the last scenes of Stranger in a Strange Land, where for pages we have a party attended by all the characters who agree with Mike and Jubal. They sit around and talk at each other and screw and the rest of the mad world is sealed out (except for selected forays outside to "discorporate" people identified as enemies). By the time of The Number of the Beast, this party has taken over the entire book, the outside world is beyond cleansing, and the only answer is escape from fictional universe to fictional universe."

And (2) most neo-pagan groups are more influenced by fantasy and scifi of this ilk than they are be any historical or anthropological understanding of polygyny/polyandry. For (3), the source of these con culture issues is probably not specific to con culture if it is prevalent in many other places, and (4) fair enough.

that's an interesting point

that's an interesting point about neo-paganism. one thing that's always bugged me a little bit about them is that there are a lot of people writing for a neopagan audience who are clearly just making shit up. And frankly, when it comes to mythology, I have no problem with making shit up. Go nuts. I make shit up all the time to inform my religious practices. but it's always weirded me out that rather than getting really heavy into the anthropology and archaeology of norse, germanic, and celtic cultures, just to name three big ones, many neo pagans seem to be more interested in recreating a romantic world that never really existed than in investigating and reviving the actual religious practices of pre-christian europe.
i've also thought it was telling that it tends to be the stuff that sword and sorcery fantasists drew on, specifically tolkien, that neopagans are mostly interested in. particularly when there's much more primary source material for the various paganisms of the mediterranean that are themselves quite a bit older and less fraught with bias than the fairly late documentation of the Druids in Brittannia and Gaul.

Not a lack of interest...

Not a lack of interest, but an inability to check their bias in at the door. I mean, we're talking about a community of people who, for the large part, if you really grilled them on their beliefs, would break down and admit that the gods and goddesses they honor don't exist, but that they really want them to (the more sophisticated neopagans will tell you that paganism is a clever metaphor for how the universe functions). The ones who don't bend on the existence of gods and goddesses are generally into the weird, racist sub-groups of neo-paganism.

Having done archaeology in prehistoric periods of Europe I run into these people all the time, and they believe they ARE genuinely interested in actual past peoples, but they are unwilling to accept things from the past that don't mesh with their beliefs. So what you have is a large community of people who read the archaeological and historical literature, go visit sites and museums, and show up at talks, who are just ignoring 70% of what's out there. I mean, this isn't a statement on the whole community, more wiccans get their impression of how prehistoric Europe was put together from a book or two they checked out from the public library by Marija Gimbutas, sure, but I just want to say that the interest is there, the ability to see anything they don't want to isn't.

The fact that there are more prime sources on the Mediterannean religions is one of the two main reasons that neo-pagans DON'T generally practice reconstructed versions of the religion -- it's hard to make something fully fleshed out and pretty well understood jive with an anachronistic, escapist set of beliefs about how it should have been. The other main reason is that most neopagans are white people of presumed celtic ancestry - whether this presumption is accurate or not - and it's a revitalisation / return to pre-Christian ancestral beliefs thing for them.

it's the "return to

it's the "return to pre-Constantine" religion thing that gets me the most I think. Because really, i think that if one is so inclined to get in touch with ancestral roots, it's not like there was a monolithic pre-christian faith. Paganism was decidedly polytheistic all over the ancient world with all manner of minor local gods, tribal gods, interacting religions and what not. But more importantly, the barbarian conversion as I understand it started happening well before Constantine declared that the empire would be Christian. It's notable, for example, the extreme efforts that the pre-state catholic church went to to stamp out competing christian ideologies, Celtic Christianity being an important one of those. I guess what it ultimately comes down to for me is that a lot of it seems like a dungeons and dragons view of polytheism, where paganism is seen as having a set pantheon and priesthood recognized in an official manner in much the same way that the medieval church did, and that's just not what polytheism does. One of the biggest revelations I've ever had about religion was a visit to Vrindaban with some Hindu friends I made on a festival day when I was in India. Modern hindus are still polytheists, but a lot of what that seems to mean is that there's a lot of little monotheisms competing with eachother and you can pick and choose how and which god to pay respect to when you feel inclined to piety. It was very remarkable. We went to a famous temple to Krsna and got blessings from the priests there and I felt very honored to be allowed to look on the god. But at the same time, the whole structure of a religious system where multiple gods are truly seen as valid, it just doesn't seem like something that you can recreate with a minority New Religious Movement. Particularly one that's based on the rejection of other gods as "not part of the system."

Heinlein and con culture

Heinlein's later works ARE con culture.

Okay, my knee-jerk reaction is "Oh, is THAT why his later works suck so much?" Probably a little uncharitable, but I found his jump from pretty insightful, compelling stuff to indulgent Mary-sue-fanfic-caliber chum to be jarring, and not in a good way.

As for the con culture thing, here's the thing: I've been to all kinds of these stupid things, and 'con culture' is the biggest problem with these types of conventions. The 'fannish lifestyle' programming, the irritating nerdspeak that crops up ("fen?" really?)... that kinda stuff. It's incestuous, self-perpetuating, and leads to an otherwise fun gathering becoming a big in-jokey circle jerk of insiders. It translates to function space bursting with the same 1000 people who go to every convention in the region, filling up lobbies with their con-suite fed bulk. Conventions for the sake of conventions, so you can throw room parties to promote other conventions, the main activity at which is promoting other conventions. It's guests who keep getting invites beacuse they've been guests at conventions, and 'fan guests of honor" who have that status because they've attended a lot of conventions. It's giving the stink-eye to "mundanes" (you know, the people walking in off the street who might want to learn about this crazy sci-fi stuff). It's panels about how to run conventions. It's panels about how to run panels at conventions. It's panels about how to socialize with other "fen." It's a closed-system loop that accomplishes nothing, educates nobody, and exists for its own sake. It leads straight to a dearth of good, accessible programming, which plays into why events like Arisia stay so small, in spite of the fact that there are Harry Potter books in every household in the country and despite SF being more popular than it's ever been. In short, it is fandom's anti-life equation.

Make no mistake, I still have fun at Arisia-- but I learned pretty quickly that, more than most cons I go to, doing so requires making your own fun: bringing a good group of people, and finding creative ways to fill up the long hours when most or all of the program is taken up by "fan lifestyle" bosh, political arguments, etc. I'd love to see a gradual reduction of this type of programming, and I do my part by suggesting panels and participating in the program, but I seem to see the same stuff crop up year after year. I'm hoping that the large amount of new space at the Westin will be a game-changer, in this regard.

interesting insights. Thanks

interesting insights. Thanks for commenting.

You make a lot of assumptions on very little data

You assume that because I do not jump to condemn, I do not do anything about what I see. You assume a great deal from a position that contains very little actual data and a great deal of speculation and opinion. It is difficult to hold an intelligent debate with someone who screams at anyone who does not offer proof of their assertations, then offers none themselves other then pop psychology and right wing rhetoric. Personally, I think you are as entitled to your opinion as anyone else here, there or anywhere, but I think there is a degree of personal responsibility in any mature society in how and where we express those opinions. Now, to the contrary of your opinion, I do quite a lot to correct things that seem dangerous or unhealthy - one situation at a time, in quiet, private solutions that do not result in embarassment, ostracism or loud, screaming public outcries.

In fact, I am rather proud that I have helped quite a few people - and likely reached far more in far more positive ways then I think you will be able to reach with your methodology. I would wonder if you see such a problem, why you do nothing constructive to help and instead spend such energy and effort bending words to be as pointed and hurtful as you can make them? There are more then a few people in the community who go to great efforts to change or stop things that are truly dangerous or harmful - but because you don't know about them, or understand the community, you immediately assume that everything you see is blanket approved or, worse, allowed and ignored out of apathy. But you really don't know what you're talking about, and you try very hard to be as nasty as possible when you could have simply asked.

You don't hurt me, because I am a bit more thick skinned and choose not to let you hurt and choose not to BE hurt, merely by another person's opinion - I am not so easily threatened or insecure - however I wonder why you would point out that there are such damaged and needy people, then strike out at them with a bludgeon instead of offering compassion and education?

As far as the question of what do sexual subjects and kinky relationship have to do with fantasy or science fiction, then I truly suggest you acquire a historical and literary education - from the ancient classics right up to modern day. You are dealing with genres and subjects that push the edges and test the limits of all facets of human discovery, and those kinds of topics have always been part of the mix. Apparently some people didn't notice - but it has been there, to one degree or another, in fantastical and exploratory writings since Ancient Egypt, I assure you. Should you wish to enjoy the most mainstream example of erotic writing in a work of art meant to inspire the human spirit, I suggest you read the Song of Solomon. This is just the modern expression of an age old trend - and the writings are science fiction AND fantasy - in case you missed that.

You like to sound very certain of yourself and very certain of your points, but I question you actual knowledge base, the conclusions you make from your lack of actual empiracal data, the assumptions you jump to the minute someone doesn't tow your line and your level of actual education on any of these subjects. I think, sir, you are in way over your head and, to quote the obvious, I do not enter into battles of wit or debate with unarmed persons.

1. "You assume that because I

1. "You assume that because I do not jump to condemn, I do not do anything about what I see"
you're blurring a distinction. It's not about individuals acting in single circumstances, its about the structure of a communal activity that actively encourages the bad behavior. Good for you for taking on individual bad actors. Are you doing the same thing to con organizers who are fostering the environment where such people feel free to act that way?

2.) "It is difficult to hold an intelligent debate with someone who screams at anyone who does not offer proof of their assertations, then offers none themselves other then pop psychology and right wing rhetoric."
this is a comment thread on a blog, not the Journal of the APA. If you have a question about what facts I'm basing specific assertions on, you're welcome to ask. Most of it is personal experience. As for pop psychology and right wing rhetoric, well, that's just silly. Nothing I've said has anything to do with either thing.

3.) "But you really don't know what you're talking about"
more us and them nonsense. I'm not "one of you" so I can't possibly make my own observations about what I see you doing. Believe me, I can be much nastier than I have been. But I want to point out that it's not the damaged and the needy that I am condemning, it is the people who don't recognize that they've created a space where the damaged and the needy being exploited is seen as acceptable and the widespread lack of concern about that. From what you've said, it sounds to me like you recognize that these things are problems, and yet you're defending the system that creates the problems. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

4.) "what do sexual subjects and kinky relationship have to do with fantasy or science fiction, then I truly suggest you acquire a historical and literary education "
Again you're blurring a distinction. There's a difference between talking about representations of kink and sex in a text and having a how-to seminar about kink and sex. It's the latter that I question the relevance of. Further, don't make the mistake of assuming you're plumbing the depths of my knowledge from reading a back and forth between Eric and myself. Eric and I have known eachother for close to fifteen years and can speak to eachother in a shorthand that doesn't require us to go into lengthy justifications about where we're drawing conclusions from. I'm happy to have a more in depth discussion with you and if you want to know specifically what facts and observations I'm drawing on about specific points, I'm happy to go into more depth. You shouldn't leap to the conclusion that just because in that previous thread I'm not closely documenting where my opinions are coming from, however, that I'm not capable of doing so. If you think something I'm saying is dubious, point it out and we can have a conversation about that.

Indeed, assumptions make for poor conversation

You are correct, sir, and I owe you an apology for loosing my temper and choosing inflammatory words. It was not my intent to engage in a flame war, so for my own error in jumping to conclusions I am sorry.

I do see your point that taking content from your abreviated conversation in shorthand with your friend led to misunderstand - it was far too easy to make the mistake of coming to wrong conclusions - and I will attempt to not do so again.

If I may address some of the points you made in your previous response in a more clear and non-agressive fashion. I would first like to state unequivocably that my commentaries and views are my own and do not officially represent the Arisia Corporation, Arisia Policy or the Arisia Convention Commitee in any capacity, regardless of what level of participation, volunteer or staffing position I may have or will hold. Just to be perfectly and legally clear that my comments, observations and opinions are my own and represent only myself in the case that my choice of words or commentaries on Arisia policies or practices not be misinterpreted as official Corporate statements.

On the discussion under point number 2, I apologize for my choice of words. I understand that you are condemning those who foster an 'unhealthy' environment for the damaged and needy, however on that I request that you read my responses below which address that concern.

On the discussion under points 1 and 3 - there is a valid concern directed toward the "one of you" and the "us and them" mentality that you brought up, but I disagree that this makes your observations invalid or discarded. What in fact limits the perspective of your observations is, again, a lack of data that isn't so much an "us and them" as simply not having detailed knowledge of enough of the people behind the scenes and of what precautions or attentions are being paid to the situations that concern you. Such things are far less visible then what you are able to observe, and I think you will agree that it is far easier to see the questionable behaviour displayed in public then it is to know what the organizational level of response to such things are.

I am not, in fact, an isolated individual who sees the various problems of the convention and tries to correct them. I am only one of many, the extent of whom you would appear to be unaware of from your previous commentaries. This is understandable - there is no good reason that anyone not directly involved would or could be aware of them, so I cannot fault you for your lack of awareness. They exist from the basic level of convention attendee or participant up to the leve of convention staff; people that spend considerable effort keeping an eye on any behaviour or practice that merits concern or safety issues, as well as those who keep a close watch on any persons at the convention that might be considered to possess a potentially predatory nature. Understand that as a public venue, the convention staff and organizers cannot control who chooses to attend, but any person who does display questionable behaviour is not simply ignored or permitted, and in extreme cases, will likely be removed where the convention committee deems it necessary, but they are certainly not unaware of such.

As far as the programming and panels that have drawn your attention, I would like to make two points.

First, regarding Arisia in specific as opposed to any other convention in this genre, it is the basic nature of the convention that you seem to be at odds with. Arisia was designed from the outset as a less serious, more 'edgy' convention, intentionally meant to focus on costuming, 'fun' programming, and parties, with an inclination towards lifestyle topics and practices. There are a plethora of serious and literary only conventions out there in the genre - Arisia is not one of those. It is meant to have a grittier feel - if that's the right word - and so part of what you have been addressing is by design and therefore not a failing on the part of the convention organizers. Now, even I willa gree that at times it goes a little too far as I have said previously - but also again there are internal watchdogs who keep an eye to the extremes and watch out for the safety of convention attendees, especially those noted as younger, less experienced or 'damaged'. I believe this (in part) answers point number 4. As to the literary discussion, I should like to engage you in a detailed discussion drawing on specific points and sources to examine the history of alternative relationships in the science fictions and literary genre - I believe the discussion would be most enlightening and interesting.

Second, within that same programming track are a number of individuals that take it upon themselves and pride themselves on providing a safe environment within the various lifestyle programs. By safe environment I mean that they instruct and inform on safe practices beyond the explanation of 'safe words'; they have informative discussions on legal definitions and limitations, on the distinctions between consensual and non-consensual practices, what does and does not constitute abuses, how to recognize real problems or issues, how to deal with accidental problems, and even to topics on issues that people in family situations might have to deal with. While many of the panels hold no particular interest for me, I do recognize the value in there being forums for people who do choose these lifestyles to have a safe place to bring their problems and concerns for discussion, and for there to be people who will non-judgmentally provide answers and guidance. And, lastly, perhaps you find such a preponderance of such practice and behaviour at this venue simply BECAUSE the venue provides those panels and spaces for just those people to come and discuss just those topics.

I should like to hear your thoughts and responses and look forward to continuing our discussion.

Regards, 'Jane'

Some thoughts

Quack, clean your own house first. Trying to Justify an inflammatory post with "i'm too old to waste my time on internet fights with people who i think are unlikely to pay attention to what i'm saying." and then spending hundreds of words doing exactly that, makes you look like you're full of shit.


Eric, you have some good points that you bring up, and I'd like to chime in with A) Some suggestions as to what might be contributing to the discomfort you noted, B) a couple of comments from someone who's been attending the Arisia con intermittently since the first one and, C) some background history.

I'll do it in reverse order, naturally. *grin*

First off, 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.

Secondly, over the years, the level of "alt-lyfstyle" has varied. It actually got so "Bad" (and this is coming from someone who was on one of the early BDM panels at Arisia), that I would have considered large sections of a Con "Non-childsafe" (not as in danger but as in R+ rated). Things basically just got overbalanced. The balance shifts back and forth.
My wife and I have been concerned by the amount of "lifestyle" track in the Con, but hey, easy to fix - Suggest and be on panels yourselves. It's what I did this year, and "School of the Future" was _packed_ and we could easily have had more panels more narrowly focused on this and related subjects, and I'm suggesting some for next year.
I'd like to see more solid content in some of the panels, but that's a whole other post.

Finally, there is a certain amount of that "Gabba-Gabba Hey!" that goes on in large groups. "You're like us!" It's always kind of bothered me, as I cleave somewhat to Mark Twain's comments about clubs. It made me uncomfortable in a small way, in the same way that talking to football/baseball/hockey/Republicans/Democrats "fans" does. Someone wants to put you in THEIR pigeon-hole. It's a human thing and I've learned how very very normal it is, and it really doesn't bother me any more.
Unless you're _afraid_ you're tuning into one of "them" (insert Zombie moaning noises *grin*). That background question you ask yourself: "How much time AM I spending on -insert name of hobby- when I could/should be doing something Worthwhile?"

Really really finally: Yes, I know there are "walking wounded" at cons, some of them healing, some of them are just Fucked Up and not going to get better. On the other hand, MOST of the people there are simply entertained by whatever it is that entertains them at Arisia, they go home, to school, to work, and go back to living their lives...just like any other human activity. Better than some and no worse than many other pastimes. As long as it's not taken to extremes, which can be said of...well...ANYthing.

note that i was talking to

note that i was talking to different people when my tone changed. context matters.

also, i'm being nicer in more

also, i'm being nicer in more recent posts to prove a point to Eric.

"My wife and I have been

"My wife and I have been concerned by the amount of "lifestyle" track in the Con, but hey, easy to fix - Suggest and be on panels yourselves."

There's an assumption that I have some kind of investment in improving the con here. I don't. If the con turns me off, I'll simply not attend it again. In retrospect, it seems (from what I'm gathering with these comments) I would have been better off at Boskone than at Arisia. But I don't think I'll being going to any more SF cons this year other than perhaps ReaderCon.


I meant that more as "we had a concern and we saw that as a way to address it in our case." Obviously if you (or anyone) decide the con ain't your bag of cats....

Boskone might be a bit more up your alley. I've been considering checking it out this year, since it's in the same hotel Arisia is moving to, but that's my motive. Arisia definitely is and always will be a bit more of a "Party" con. If you go, I'll be interested to read your review!

I question the sincerity of

I question the sincerity of someone who complains that fannish culture creates an environment where people can get hurt, psychologically, when he is so eager and so practiced at writing words that hurt, psychologically.

As to fannish culture doing anything about the possibility that folks might get hurt: that's what the "alternative lifestyle" panels are for.

People get together and talk about the problems, the pitfalls, the genuine dangers; how to empower oneself and identify and avoid predators. This is the way to deal with such problems; not by ignoring or banishing them, but by shining a light on them.

i think if you think about

i think if you think about that, you'll see why it doesn't make any sense.

Oh, Borgnine, how I missed

Oh, Borgnine, how I missed ye.