Sell Out is Old Hat

For sentimental reasons I keep an eye on what research is coming out of Southampton University. One of the recent projects they highlighted, carried out with the help of researchers from Bath and Birmingham, looked at pop festivals. Specifically they wanted to know whether young festival-goers today felt that the events had “sold out” by attracting commercial sponsorship.

If you talk to people my age that’s not a question worth asking. Of course they have all sold out. And what’s more Pride festivals have sold out too. And science fiction conventions must be protected from commercial influences at all costs.

Apparently, however, we think that way because we are old and out of touch. The researchers commented:

Our research found that few noticed or were concerned about corporate sponsorship or how their consumption choices were being constrained. If anything the involvement of well-known companies and brands in music festivals had made these events seem less threatening and more accessible to a wide cross-section of people who identify with mainstream culture.

I can see that being true of SF conventions too.

Also of relevance to us is this:

One of the most striking findings was just how important events like Glastonbury are to those who attend them. Dr Andrew Bengry-Howell adds: “Lots of people drew comparisons between the sense of community they encountered at a music festival, and the lack of community they encountered in their everyday lives. The experience of spending time with people who share their interest in music and festivals, and, for some, the experience of camping, going to sleep and waking up with people that they perceive to be like them.

That sounds very much like what people say about conventions. Except the camping, of course. And the sleeping. Interesting.

5 thoughts on “Sell Out is Old Hat

  1. Having been to many music festivals and sci-fi conventions, I have noticed that they share a similar “tribal” feel. The community is defined by the difference between those inside the event and those outside–a literal “in-group”/”out-group” situation.

    As someone who knows painfully few genre enthusiasts in his day-to-day life, the chance to become one of the tribe for a weekend is what draws me to conventions.

  2. Same here – I work with lots of IT geeks, many of whom are into SFF, and yet they’re not “my tribe” in quite the same way that the convention crowd are. One of the reasons I love Twitter is that it keeps me in touch with people whom I only get to see two or three times a year. We humans are intensely tribal people whose natural community size is around 200 people, and no amount of technology is going to change that in the foreseeable future.

    *waves at Gareth, whom I hope to meet at a convention soon!*

  3. I expect my peculiar ideas about government’s duty to provide health care and education and so on can be put down to me being old and out of touch as well. Translation: “experienced and not easily brainwashed.”

    Commercial interests exist to make money. If they become involved with sf conventions (if? I thought that ship had already sailed) they will need to make money out of them, and therefore attending sf conventions will become more expensive at no benefit to the attendees or the genre, pricing the experience out of the range of ordinary fans who stand most in need. Therefore involving commercial interests in sf conventions (or indeed in anything in which they are not by nature already involved) is a bad, bad, bad idea, and anyone who does not see that is paying no attention to the man behind the curtain.

    1. I totally get that, but every time I find myself making what sounds like a “kids today” argument I go and listen to Bob Dylan and wonder what it is that I might not understand. The times are always changing.

  4. Zander:
    While my instinct is to agree with you – I have to ask – HS Debate Nationals was sponsored by Lincoln Financial this year – and it cost no more than usual – in fact, from what I could tell, beyond their occasional ads in the books, there was little impact to this weeklong 4000 person event (sound familiar? there a lot of Worldcon elements, for sure) – so I guess I’m suggesting it *is* possible to do – I wonder what has to be done to make them feel like they got their $$ worth without changing the cost or feel of the event.

    OTOH, when Ren Faire in NoCal allowed itself to be sponsored by Dr. Pepper it was a fracking DISASTER in terms of look & feel of the event.

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