Celebrity Worship

Via Mike Glyer I found this report on Denvention3. It is always good to hear that people enjoyed Worldcon, but one particular comment stopped me in my tracks:

I go to a panel discussion to hear the panel members’ opinions – not the audience’s. The audience contributes questions, not their own opinions, which is a concept that many attendees did not seem to grasp. (Exceptions, of course, for notable authors or professionals who happen to be in the audience.)

Having moderated very many panels in my time, I’d be the first to admit that there are audience members who need to be restrained from expressing their opinion interminably. However, that’s a small price to pay for a community that values discussion. Being a famous author does not automatically give you a monopoly on knowledge or wisdom. And if Worldcon ever becomes a convention where the point of attending is to worship at the feet of celebrities I for one will stop attending.

11 thoughts on “Celebrity Worship

  1. I think the line “Exceptions, of course, for notable authors or professionals who happen to be in the audience” explains the first part. She was there, at least in part, for a show and to see and hear people she’s heard of. I wonder how she felt about panels that included people like you or me, or “worse,” people who were fans but didn’t have that “Hugo nominee” credential.

  2. You may be right, and I’ve only skimmed the report, but that’s not quite how I took this remark.

    I’m more interested in what the panel think about a topic because they have (I hope) been chosen because they have some connection with the subject, and thought about it in advance. It’s not about who you are, it’s about what role you’re playing right this minute. Or that’s how I interpreted it…

  3. It could be taken as “stop those sad little fans from talking,” I guess, but I’ve seen (from the audience and the shaky table up front) far too many panels hijacked by some lunatic in the fourth row with an axe to grind to really disagree.

    Some people come to panels with the expectation that they’ll be able to talk as much as those on the panel, which just should not be so. I’m a (former) editor and a publishing professional myself, and I don’t jump up and pontificate, even when I’m sure that I know much, much better than the panelists. I consider that just courtesy: it’s their panel, not mine.

    Short comments are occasionally OK, but the audience should mostly be in the business of asking questions. They can be tough, pointed questions — I hope they will be — but the all-too-common “let me explain what I think about the five topics you’ve discussed for the last ten minutes” commentor should be hounded by attack budgies until they give up.

  4. The sort of audience member Andrew talks about is exactly the sort of person I was referring to in my original post – the type moderators need to be very wary of.

    It was the exemption for “notable authors or professionals” in the audience that caused it to read “celebrity worship” to me.

  5. I suspect that it had more to do with someone being at her first worldcon (and I got the impression hasn’t attended many other SF cons) and more familar with the social rules of other conventions/conferences where it is only the experts (whether in the audience or at the front) speak. It reads to me as though she thinks people were being rude – that she didn’t understand the participatory nature of what she was seeing. Most people are a little star-struck their first few cons.

  6. Adrienne:

    Obviously we all hope that people change their attitudes upon contact with fandom, and clearly this person loves the event so we want her to come back. But that’s why it is sometimes necessary to point out to people that they don’t quite understand what’s going on.

  7. Well, according to her post, she’s familiar with Westercon and fandom in general. But I have to disagree with her comment that we’re only there to hear the panel and the audience can only ask questions. While the audience member who sits in the front row and freely comments on ANYTHING is most annoying and is promptly silenced by a moderator (to the extent possible), discussion is what it’s all about. Yes, panelists are (hopefully) worth hearing.

    I went to a panel on women, sf and the military and the panel had limited first-hand information on the subject. They were writers, not military experts, though some had served. The audience had plenty of first-hand knowledge and in more than the military. There were firefighters present as well. The discussion was polite, but it was a discussion and it involved heavy audience participation. Best panel I attended for sheer audience satisfaction. I went to other panels that were on professional topics I needed to know about and they were :::yawn::: a bit boring because it was just the panelists and the questions. Necessary, but not what you would call lively.

    And I’m not sure about her comment about big writers being kind to the little people. Hell, they wouldn’t exist if we didn’t buy their books. Many of them remember being on the fan side of things only too well.

    I’m glad she enjoyed the con and I would like to hope her comment was based on one of those difficult people who have to talk no matter what and not one of the panels where there was a real exchange going on.


  8. I noticed this discussion from the linkback – and thanks for coming by to read. You are correct, I am not a vastly experienced SF conventioneer – but I have been to a few.

    No, I’m not a celebrity worshiper, although I realize that my posts probably came across like a gushing fangirl at times. We all put our underwear on one leg at a times and are fallible to the same degree.

    In some cases, the panels were not as well informed as the audience (one of the Heinlein panels comes to mind), but in general, we chose sessions based upon wanting to hear the panel members speak on the subject matter.

    In general I enjoy the give and take of discussion about the topic at hand – the SF fan and creative community is capable of some fabulous conversation and idea generation on a wide spectrum of subjects.

    My issue was exactly what Andrew & Oz were referring to, the discussions that were hijacked by someone in the fourth row with an axe to grind. Occasionally, in spite of some really valiant attempts at moderation, that got a little out of hand.

  9. Hi Jeri:

    Many thanks for dropping by. I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up. I’ve seen many panels where there are one or two people in the audience who think that they are the only people around whose opinions are worth listening to. I’ve been on a few panels with such people too. Panels about Heinlein are, I suspect, particularly prone to attracting such people.

    The issue, however, isn’t about whether one is a pro or a fan. The issue is about playing well with others. I have, on occasion, had to tell an author on a panel to shut up about his books and let the other panelists get a word in. If we all respect each other’s opinions, the whole thing goes a lot more smoothly.

    And, as Oz says, sometimes the folks in the audience can be very knowledgeable. The “SF Outside the English-speaking world” panel was a bit like that. The panel had people who could talk about Spain, Portugal, Israel and French Canada, but the audience contributed information about Scandinavia, Finland, Russia and various other places. There were, I think, only two industry professionals in the room.

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