This Is Not “Fandom”

Over the past week or so I have seen quite a few people complaining on Twitter about the evil SMOFs. This doesn’t exactly surprise me, but at the same time I’m always interested to see what they’ve been up to, and actually they are not always at fault.

One of the clear issues is programming at Chicago, which is apparently generating a lot of angst. I have no involvement, so I have no idea whether we are facing a Toronto-style disaster or it is just a lot of entitled whining. What I will say, however, is that as someone who has been officially blacklisted from program by a Worldcon, I’m finding the complaints of conspiracies by people who are not getting as many panels as they think they deserve a bit over the top.

Something else that is doubtless bubbling along is the idea that, because René Walling is a past Worldcon chair, everyone involved in Worldcon is liable to be an evil creeper. I remind people that René is no longer involved in the Hugo Award Marketing Committee, and if he has any other responsible positions in WSFS I expect that to end with this current Worldcon.

The main excitement, however, appears to be a consequence of someone’s delusions of grandeur being taken seriously. No one — not Kevin, not Ben Yalow, not Vincent Docherty, or any other well known Worldcon runner — is an official spokesman for fandom. Some people think that they are, and to understand why requires a little history.

Long, long ago in the dark ages known as the 20th Century, all fandom was plunged into war. Some people insisted that the only legitimate function of a fanzine was to discuss science fiction. They were known as “Serious and Constructive” fans, or “sercon” for short. Others held that “Fanac is what fans do”, that is that anything that fans do is legitimate fodder for a fanzine, and if you wanted to write about your cat, or your passion for trains, or feminism, or whatever else engaged you, that was OK. This latter group called themselves Trufen (which meant True Fans).

In time the Trufen won, in no small part because they had the fearsome satirical pen of Langford on their side. And anyway, Worldcon was growing fast and the idea that fandom was centered on paper fanzines became a bit silly. But if the idea of True Fans reminds you of people like the True Finns and other people with deeply conservative political ideas then you won’t be surprised that there is still a small rump of people who believe that they are the sole true guardians of authentic fannish tradition. They call themselves Trufen and Core Fandom and if you don’t know much about them you might assume that they are somehow representative of fandom at large. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the most prominent members of this group is Arnie Katz. To get some idea of what he’s like, you can read his views on the Readercon affair, or his lead article in this issue of his fanzine. He’s also apparently still telling other people what they can and cannot put in their fanzines.

Katz does have something of a track record of throwing his weight around. He’s railed against me for a long time, and I’m afraid I tend to laugh at him. And wave my Hugos in his general direction. But if he and his friends had any real power, or spoke in any way for the majority of fans, I would never have won those Hugos. He doesn’t even have any role in Worldcon. He doesn’t attend (even when it is in his home state). He despises WSFS (and Kevin in particular). And he apparently thinks that the only legitimate “Worldcon” is Corflu, the annual fanzine fan convention.

Of course Arnie is entitled to his opinions, but he doesn’t speak for fandom, for WSFS, for SMOFs, for fanzine fans or even for the vast majority of the people who identified as Trufen back in the days when it mattered. Treating Katz as if he is in any way official and important is like assuming that Fred Phelps speaks for all Christians. Just ignore him, or if you must take notice, laugh at him like I do.

14 thoughts on “This Is Not “Fandom”

  1. The funny thing is that the way you portray the dichotomy, the position of the alleged “trufans” is clearly right.

    The statement that “the only legitimate function of a fanzine [is] to discuss science fiction” is obviously wrong and silly.

    The statements that “fanac is what fans do”, that “anything that fans do is legitimate fodder for a fanzine,” are obviously correct.

    Now as it happens, I recall vanishingly few actual instances of people involved with “sercon” fanzines in the last two or three decades making categorical claims that only their kind of fanac was “legitimate.” It’s very difficult to imagine such a statement coming from, for instance, Bruce Gillespie. Or Jeff Smith.

    You have to go back to the 1950s to find that kind of attitude widespread in “sercon” fannish circles — people like James Taurasi and Sam Moskowitz deriding fans like Boyd Raeburn for filling their zines with chatter about “jazz and sports cars.”

    By the time I emerged from a chrysalis in 1975, that sort of stuffiness had been mocked and parodied into the ground.

    So I’m not sure why you would characterize this as the dominant attitude of fans who focus on writing and publishing material about SF, when it obviously isn’t. It obviously isn’t your attitude. It obviously isn’t an attitude that’s had much currency for a very long time.

    I do agree that there are corners of self-declared “trufandom” that have become a bit too humidly in-groupish for my taste. As I said, I don’t recall a lot of instances of sercon fans claiming a monopoly on “legitimacy”. But I sure do recall Arnie Katz making exactly such claims on behalf of his brand of fanac, to my face, at a mid-1990s Corflu.

    And yet I don’t really think Arnie is typical. As far as I can see, most of self-declared old-fashioned print-fanzine “fannish fandom” is much too relaxed to sign up for the kind of “war” you’re describing.

    Certainly I don’t see Dave Langford, for heaven’s sake, as a follower of Arnie Katz, as you seem to be implying.

    I don’t blame you for feeling ill-treated by certain factions of fandom, but this narrative is, as far as I can see, extraordinarily oversimplified, to say the least.

    1. Hmm, obviously I didn’t explain myself very well. I certainly wasn’t around when most of this happened. I’m happy to believe that there were stuffy sercon people once, and you need to understand that to know why sercon is occasionally brought up as something that fans should resist. People did use the charge of sercon as a reason why Emerald City should be banned from the Hugos. But, as I tried to make clear, that conflict was all a very long time ago. The war, and the need for people like Dave to be in it, are over. Quite rightly, nobody much cares any more.

      Arnie, meanwhile, is still in his foxhole, fighting a war that most people have forgotten, and whose cause he has largely reinvented to suit his own purposes.

  2. Posts like this are why I <3 you. I lacked a lot of this background.

    My problem with the Worldcon programming, if such it is, is that quite a lot of it did not look like my cup of tea.

    And if we're polling, I suppose I am by nature a sercon, but understand that fandom's not an academic journal and is supposed to be fun–I'm an acafan. So I'd prefer to see a proportion of x serious discussion, y cats and whatever. (And naturally, if you're driving slower than me, you're going too slow, and if you're driving faster than me, you're a maniac.)

  3. “People did use the charge of sercon as a reason why Emerald City should be banned from the Hugos”

    I’m sure this must have happened, if you say it did. But I can’t even figure out how such an argument is supposed to work. Leaving aside the fact that I reject both its premises and its conclusion, it’s an airplane with both of its wings bolted onto the same side. To quote somebody or other, “That’s not right. It’s not even wrong.”

    Really, to the extent that there was ever a “war” between fannish fanzine fandom and other kinds of fandom, it was more over issues of scale than anything else. A lot of people who were identified with fannish fanzine fandom (not the Katzes, but lots of other people) were also enthusiastic participants in the wave of small, focussed, serious-about-written-SF conventions that began in the late 1980s with Minneapolis’s Fourth Street Fantasy Convention and the Bay Area SerCons, and which led to Readercon and similar gatherings. A lot of us identified more with “fannish” fandom, not because we weren’t interested in SF, but because we were unhappy with a fannish mainstream that we saw as getting further and further away from many-to-many discourse and more and more favoring a one-to-many, performers-and-audience model of what fandom and conventions are about.

    This also explains why TNH and I have become much friendlier to a great deal of “media fandom” than we were in, say, the 1970s — because media fandom in 2012 is no longer something that only happens at giant (and often for-profit) “expositions,” but has, instead, diversified and spawned lots of high-quality many-to-many conversations. (Or at least, we’ve become more aware of them. It’s entirely possible that we’ve simply become less ignorant.)

    Really, subject matter has always been vastly overrated as the core issue in many narratives of these subcultural conflicts. Tone, scope, and scale are usually much more central issues.

  4. Hmm, I think as a thumbnail sketch, the above is okay-ish. It reads like someone who had something explained to them, them explaining it to someone else. And that’s cool, and okay, but it’s not quite right.

    I think the explanation of sercon is a bit over-played. Sort of trying to show two sides, there is a suggestion that the sides are equal in duration and fervour, and that’s just not so, as such. Sercon is/was always one view of one stream of fannish activity. It was certainly upheld in core SF conventions as more legitimate than say, all that ‘media rubbish’ you found in those other types of fans and conventions, but it was never, to my direct experience of being in core SF fandom from the 1980s, as anything other than: one stream within core SF. It was not more legitimate within SF cons/fandom than any other stream.

    It’s also interesting to see TrueFan (deliberate use there) described in the way above. I’d have said that it was always a description on people who were fanzine focused. But that may reflect the whole coming on board in 1980 kinda thing, and also being Glasgow fandom, not a USA based one. Also, given my in and out of fandom over the decades, I’d not be the person to have a good overview on this!

    What is important, is that no one has ever been more of a voice for fandom than anyone else, despite their own illusions of such. I’ve never known anyone one, or any section, to be seen as The Voice ™.

    Oh yes, and ps… media fans always had the same level of quality that core SF did. At least in the UK. It was just illegitimate activity in the eyes of the core SF crowd.

    One day we need to talk about the gender balance back then, and how completely negated Star Trek cons were in the 80s in the UK, as they contained mostly women… 😉

  5. So does that mean both sides at some point referred to themselves as Trufen? Just when I thought I was getting it all straight….

    1. No, the Trufen term has always been the property of fanzine fans. It’s just that the people who use it most vociferously these days use it to mean something that would probably horrify most of the people who started it.

      Personally I think it is an unhelpful term, because it implies that some fans are not “true”, but I have been persuaded over the years that I mustn’t dump on decent people who have identified as Trufen but want nothing to do with Mr. Katz.

      1. I personally never used the word very much, except ironically or in jest, for pretty much the reasons you mention. Back in my day (waves cane), we just said “fannish fandom,” i.e., that part of fandom that was more about one another than about a particular Subject Matter. I have noticed an increase since the 1990s in the frequency with which the word is used unironically.

        The term comes from Walt Willis and Bob Shaw’s The Enchanted Duplicator, which makes it doubly odd to see it hijacked for sectarian up-with-us, down-with-those-other-fans purposes. Since if The Enchanted Duplicator has any point, it’s that fans should fanac as they please rather than letting anyone tell them what is and isn’t “legitimate.”

        1. Funny, when I got into fandom in the mid-90s, I did notice people using “trufan” in ways “geek pride” is used today.

          That is to say, even the people not using it to exclude others were using it to set themselves on a pedestal. It became another “fans are slans” kind of statement.

          Of course, these days I’ve read people who see “trufan” on a continuum with “fakefan” at the other end. Well, more, “trufan” as the tip of the iceberg and “fakefan” as the rest of the iceberg.

  6. I’m jumping into this discussion as a relative novice in terms of knowledge of ‘fandom’ but as a life-long SF fan who decided 2 years ago that I didn’t need anyone’s permission to start a fanzine, so I did.

    A few months back I received a letter from Robert Lichtman who told me to ‘downsize or fold’. 1.5 weeks ago I discovered the ‘discussion’ going on in Fanstuff, where a group of people have written numerous letters and essays full of vitriol over several months’ issues, disregarding facts where facts are inconvenient. I’m a live-and-let-live type of person myself, very supportive of diversity, so I haven’t been able to understand why these people are so angry. Like Trudi Canavan says on her website, sorry if you don’t like what I’m doing but I’m doing it for those who do like it. The response to my blog has been enlightening, teaching me entertaining new jargon complete with a smattering of history. Most importantly of all, I’ve been learning about the factions in fandom and learning that the quiet majority are a diverse and tolerant, even accepting and supportive, group. Thank you all.

    1. Fandom is a very large pub. With lots of tables, and people at the bar.

      The tables are having different conversations. Some people never leave a table. They sit in the same table, in the same chair, and have the same conversation, every time. Different parts of the conversation, but the same subject. They often have wee acolytes at their feet, who haven’t got bored yet.

      Other people move between the tables. They spend time on one, move on, spend time on another. Some spend the entire time walking around and never sit at a table. They just like listening in.

      The people at the bar tend to sneer at the people at the tables: how small and limited they are!

      Just like life. 🙂

      And being fandom, when the tables are too limited, we’ll put up a tent to the side and bring in a new table. Shock! Horror! 🙂

      Just remember, that everyone at one of the ‘never changes’ tables, was once the one with the tent, hauling in the new table.

      And some of the people at the bar, were thrown off the tables.

      And the analogy bends, and breaks… shatters on the floor. 😉

  7. @Patrick (& some of Cheryl’s stuff):

    discussions of sercon vs truefen were contemporary in my neck of the woods (NJ/NYC/Philly) as late as 75-80; I received a grant from my university to publish a “fanzine” and there was much discussion at the time amongst the local crew and those external to it from such farflung regions as Minneapolis fandom, DC fandom, Baltimore fandom and Boston fandom.

    BOTH camps were heard from vociferously, and, at least within my own way of thinking at the time, there was no reason why one could not participate in both (which I did, producing both the Sercon semi-prozine Contact and Don’t Bite My Toe, a letter-zine similar to many APA contributions at the time.

    Of course this contemporary discussion is entirely moot: NONE of the folks involved are producing Fanzines, insofar as they are not cut on mimeo stencils, nor printed on twilltone. When someone starts doing that again (with good subjects covered by good writing and surrounded by fabulous fan art), THEN, maybe, we can discuss which is better or more deserving of a title. [;)]

    But back to the issue: perhaps the timeline of these things is not as monolithic as has been suggested by earlier comments. Perhaps different groups experienced this ‘war’ at different times and in different places, which may offer one explanation of its persistence.

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