The “Fannish Enough” Question

In the Challenge Cheryl series of articles, Mike Glyer asked:

What must somebody do to become “fannish enough”?

(I’ll leave it up to you to deal with the related issues “for who?”, “why bother?”, and “so’s yer old man”….)

Mike is quite right to highlight context here, and I’d like to start by addressing a very specific context: that of the Fan Hugo Awards (Best Fan Writer, Best Fan Artist and Best Fanzine). The Hugo awards do not define what it means to be a “fan”. As with many other categories, they leave such decisions up to the voters. If people get nominated in the fan categories then it is assumed that the voters have spoken and that those people are indeed “fannish enough” for the purposes of the Hugos.

There are still people who claim that I was “not worthy” of Hugo nominations, and who think I should give back my award. There are also, I understand, people who think that John Scalzi should not be allowed to compete as a fan. Those people are welcome to their opinions, but their opinions cannot change history. The historical record says that both John and I have been nominated for fan Hugos, and Emerald City has won one. If anyone wants to change that record then they should take their case before the WSFS Business Meeting. Until such time as they do, and succeed in persuading WSFS to retroactively change the results of the Hugos, then John and I are clearly both “fannish enough” for the Hugos.

That, however, is a very simple case. It doesn’t address why those individuals feel the way that they do, or whether their opinions might be more valid than those of the WSFS membership as a whole. The trouble is that “fannish enough” means very different things to different people.

The usual group that comes to mind when such issues are raised is CORPSE Core Fandom, that group of hardcore fanzine fans that seems to think that the fan Hugos belong to them (or perhaps should be scrapped if their preferred candidates don’t win). And to be fair, they do have something of a case in that they can claim to be the descendents of the original science fiction fandom that started back in the 1940s. In those days, fanzines and letters were the only way that fandom had to communicate, and writing them was what fans did.

Then again, the line of descent isn’t quite that clear. I’m not a great expert on the Sercon v Trufen war, but as I understand it the original fanzines were rather more like Emerald City than like more modern ‘zines. They talked almost exclusively about science fiction. When some fanzine writers started to write about other things, they got accused of not being fannish enough. And today’s fanzine fandom is actually descended from those early rebels – people who felt that fandom should be more than just writing about science fiction.

I should add that con runners are by no means innocent of exclusivity. In the debates over the cost of Hugo voting some people appear to have been suggesting that if you are not prepared to attend Worldcon on a regular basis, or at least pay substantial sums of money to subsidize the con-going activities of those who can afford to attend, then you are not serious enough about fandom to be allowed a vote. That’s a type of “not fannish enough” argument.

On the other side of the coin, when Kevin was involved in helping run the Calgary Westercon, some of the local Calgary fans were strongly opposed to that convention. Amongst the charges leveled against Westercon was that it was an elitist event for boring book readers, and that a proper fannish convention should be going out to attract the sort of high-profile actors that real fans wanted to see. Westercon, it appeared, was not fannish enough for some of Calgary fandom.

Conventions like Westercon and Worldcon actually try to cater for a fairly wide audience, though bringing in actors is generally beyond their budget. If you have ever been involved in a Worldcon committee then you’ll know that budget debates are always tied in with arguments about what actually belongs at the convention. There is always someone who says that huge sums of money could be saved if you scrapped the masquerade, which they think has no place at Worldcon, despite the fact that it generally attracts the biggest audience of any event at the convention. Someone else will then call for the scrapping of the filk program, or the gaming room, or the writers’ workshop. Sometimes a Worldcon will actually try to do away with one or more of these. But they will always come under fire from groups of fans for whom what they have scrapped is the number one attraction of Worldcon.

All of which is to say that fandom is incredibly diverse. One person’s “not fannish enough” is another person’s “core fandom”. So what can it possibly mean to be “fannish enough”?

It might be instructive to look at another community for parallels. Another group of people that is extremely diverse is the queer community. That involves all sorts of different folk. On the one hand you have Barney Frank and his pals who are determinedly gay but are mostly strongly gender normative. On the other you have the “gender deconstructionists”, for whom Senator Frank simply isn’t queer enough. You have bi people who claim that everyone is really bi, and non-bi people who claim that bi people are liars. You have people in the trans and intersex communities who claim that they have actual medical conditions that deserve treatment, and that consequently they are not perverts like those queer folk. And you have gay people who claim that transsexuals are simply gays who couldn’t face up to their gayness and changed their bodies to try to pretend they were straight. The list of internal rivalries goes on and on. It is very much like fandom.

However, a significant fact about the queer community is that everyone in it sees themselves as an oppressed minority of some sort. There are two ways in which you can deal with that. One is to try to cozy up to “mainstream” opinion by claiming that you are only a little bit queer, not a raving goofball like those other queers. Sometimes that works, at least for the privileged few who are able to assimilate, but much of the time it just goes to prove the old maxim about “divided we fall”. The other option is to recognize that there is a whole raft of different types of queerness, and that the best tactic is for queers of all sorts to stick together and support each other. Or at the very least to accept that your personal queerness doesn’t have to be the same sort of queerness as the next person’s queerness.

Could we apply this sort of thinking to fandom? I don’t see why not. Some people, after all, are omni-fans already. I won a Hugo for writing book reviews, but I’ve also helped run conventions, helped stage masquerades, been an SCA member and lost 10 years of my life to role-playing. Kevin has made amateur Doctor Who movies, loves anime, worked in a comic shop and as an agent for an artist, and has published filk songs and a short story. And if there are aspects of fandom that we don’t have much interest in, we are happy to see them go on. We both subscribe to the idea of Worldcon as a “big tent” event at which all of the various tribes of fandom can gather together and keep in touch with each other.

And maybe that’s what being fannish should be all about. Why can’t it be the case that people who are “not fannish enough” are not those who fail to adhere to any particular narrow definition of what fans should be, but rather people who fail to accept that fandom is a diverse and wonderful community, in which we all have a place? To my mind the sort of people who are not “fannish enough” are people like the folk who go to Discworld conventions in costume but say they are only fans of Terry Pratchett and they don’t want anything to do with those science fiction weirdos. They are the people who claim that the books they read are serious science, and they don’t want anything to do with that awful fantasy nonsense. And they are people who claim that you can only be a true fan if you read and write paper fanzines. Those people, I submit, are not fannish enough, and they should broaden their horizons.

8 thoughts on “The “Fannish Enough” Question

  1. Here Here!!
    Well Said.
    As the chair of a Westercon, I too have that More Inclusive attitude to fandom. A Gen Con should only be limited by the # of rooms and the $ Budget as to what should be programed. That’s the best way of it.

  2. Oh, and as for your writing. It’s a fanzine, written by a fan for the fans. Mostly book reviews, kind of limited, but they were good and useful book reviews of SF&F so it fits the definition. As is Scalzi’s fan work, again by a fan for the fans. It’s like saying the Benford Twins shouldn’t be fans (they wrote fanzines long before Greg went pro). Scratch a lot of Pros and you’ll find a fan just under the skin. Being a fan of the style you like to write is the best way to become a Good Writer.
    Works for me.

  3. Right on! Also, great parallel to GLBT (sorry, don’t cotton to the word ‘queer’ ;-).

    There are parts of “fandom” that make me roll my eyes–same with parts of the GLBT community–and I’m sure some folks in each roll their eyes at me and my tastes. But the world’s big enough for us all, yay!


  4. Kendall:

    I used “queer” to avoid having to use GLBTQQi (which is I think is the latest all-inclusive acronym, but I could be wrong).

    For everyone else that’s Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex.

  5. Yeah I know…I just don’t like the term (but then I also don’t like GLBTQQi…it’s a mental strain for me to type GLBT…sigh, I need a different tag for this collective ;-).

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