Convention Survival Guide, Post #9 –
Politics, Cliques, and Other Childish Games
or Three People Can Destroy the Fun for Everyone
Most congoers are nerds, geeks, intellectuals, or any one of a half-dozen fringe outcast groups. In fact, at least half of them are more than one of these particular overlapping side groups. A common problem with most of these groups is that their members were excluded from normal cliques in high school. In fact this tends to be a problem with any intelligent person because frankly there tend to be a lack of peers for intelligent people at any given high school. The small number of people who fit into that category may band together but it does not really take the form of a clique. Also, usually they are so busy being intellectually ahead of the game that most of them are somewhat socially behind. This frequently leads to cliques developing at conventions but this separatism is harmful in the long run to conventions themselves.
I have a friend who goes to conventions. He says that nothing pisses him off more than geeks dissing on geeks. Certainly he has a very valid point. In the Lord of the Rings, you don’t see the elves fighting each other. That is the behavior of orcs. In Julius Caesar’s war campaigns in Gaul you see the Romans providing a unified front while playing one Gallic tribe against another. To this day you see Neopagan groups fighting with each other and doing the job of their enemies.
From at least the 1970s through the early 1990s, southeastern fandom was a united community. No, not everyone got along with everyone else but we all pulled together. Different conventions were in different cities and headed by different people, but the staff for most conventions were usually the same. If a fan had car trouble, we took up a collection to pay for their repairs. If someone started to cause trouble at the convention the fans took care of it before security ever had to.
In the late 1980s, people started coming in to conventions and forming cliques and they didn’t grow out of it. They continue to act like high school students. At the same time, some of the people running conventions started playing political games. In the early 1990s conventions started competing against each other with the result that almost all of the conventions in the Southeast went away.
While there had always been enough room for all the conventions and average attendance was always between 1000 and 2000 at every convention every month, with the exception of the larger conventions like DragonCon and WorldCon, which had larger draws, membership dwindled to 500 or less for the average con. At the same time, thousands of people left fandom, never to return. That’s right: all the BS drove thousands of people away from going to conventions ever again. Their money, their support and their friendship was lost.
In martial arts we endeavor not to criticize other styles. I must admit that I tend to be a bit critical of martial arts as sport, Despite having started out with an attitude that martial sports were more justified in the modern world, I have become very traditional. Martial sports get people unnecessarily injured and are of little use if you actually need them for self-defense. Yes, I think of the martial arts styles I practice as the best. However, I can see particular aspects of other arts which are superior. I can also recognize that what works for me may not be the best thing for someone with a different build and temperament. Both my build and temperament have changed over the years and so have my preferred martial arts styles. This could easily be the beginning of another blog and you may be wondering what that has to do with fandom.
Ignoring the fact that one of the special interest groups that overlaps with fandom is martial artists and that there are in fact a very high percentage of congoers who are also martial artists, we get into the real heart of the matter. If we endeavor not to criticize other conventions and genres, we can see what is good and useful in each of these and incorporate them into our own conventions, writing, or what have you.
Promoting your own brand of fandom or even your own particular favorite book, movie or convention does not require criticizing or sabotaging others. Mutual support leads to success for everyone but stabbing others in the back, while it may lead to short-term success, means that you have to watch every other direction for the rest of your life.
It’s all well and good to promote yourself, your products, your convention, your friends and the things you like so long as you’re not actively sabotaging others. If you had, for instance, a list of conventions on your convention website and you went and removed every convention that was not run by your personal friends, then only those conventions will promote yours. If, on the other hand, you promote a variety of conventions in a mutually supportive network, all benefit. A larger convention will not percentagewise benefit as much by providing a connection to smaller conventions as the smaller conventions will from that same connection, but they all add up.
I have seen conventions where the panels were filled with people’s personal friends while cutting out more qualified individuals. By not associating their friends with the more qualified individuals, it failed to promote their friends while making for a duller convention and eventually, when done to the extreme, this has resulted in the death of more than one convention.
Half the fun of going to conventions is making lots of interesting friends, many of whom don’t have the same interests as you. If you isolate yourself in a clique, while you can stroke your ego, the truth of the matter is that a clique is all about ego and does not actually involve making friends that last most of the time. Now having a group of people you hang out with is an entirely different thing. If you’re supporting each other in your endeavors you will all be more successful.
Of course we all know about that group of guys at Princeton who were busily engaged in tearing each other down and became so successful, but have you heard of that small group of guys at Cambridge who were cooperating with each other on a project they called Monty Python’s flying Circus? Oh wait, yeah, it’s the other way around. It’s the guys who mutually support and help each other. They become rich and famous.
If you look into the histories of Apple and Microsoft, you find the same thing: a group of people working together to accomplish a common goal. Even George Lucas’s success could not have been achieved without the advice of his next-door neighbor, Joseph Campbell, and his best friend who rewrote his early scripts, Brian Daily.
There were even people who provided services for the convention and worked who were harassed until they quit coming to conventions by people who just did it because they could.
The possibility of tearing conventions down in this way was made possible by an epidemic among fandom of lack of self-esteem, lack of spine, and a lack of loyalty. While people who had never done anything for fandom tore it apart by attacking one hard-working fan at a time or sabotaging individual conventions, the majority stood by and watched it happen. People were afraid or thought it wasn’t any of their business but it was their business and when you don’t stand up to bullies sooner or later they get to you.
When someone starts a group, “for the group,” and someone else who has done none of the work tries to take credit and make the group for them either the group has to stand up and say bullshit or the group will go away. The person who made the group has to set things up so that political games won’t undermine it. Of course they can always start another one.
Boy, girl games or boy boy, girl girl games for that matter are a bit more complex. The only advice I can give with regards to that is don’t get involved with people who are playing games and trying to manipulate you. If you get into that sort of thing just don’t let it spill over into conventions, work, or other areas that will affect innocent people’s lives.
Of course, generally there tends to be the problem that the bad guys organize beforehand and catch the good guys flat-footed. This is certainly borne up by history. Another problem in this case is that getting fans to work together resembles trying to herd cats.
I once saw an Australian Shepherd trying to herd about 30 feral cats. As they spread in every possible direction, the poor dog was following his instinct and got this look on his face that I can’t even describe. It did, however, remind me of so many staff meetings that I have seen. The better staff meetings I have seen consisted of people who knew their job and did it. Some of the worst staff meetings I’ve seen reminded me of acting auditions where people lie about their qualifications to get the job that they’re not qualified for and make everyone look bad instead of taking the job they’re qualified for and ending up looking better.
Political competition over control of a group or running a convention that does not get resolved quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction with the people who are actually doing the work being in charge consistently results in the dissolution of the group if it persists over any length of time.
Now if the convention is being run by someone who doesn’t do that great a job, the convention will slowly get smaller and smaller but that can be remedied by a change in who is in charge. That happened recently with ChattaCon, which is now being run better and once again improving. Honestly, one of the biggest blows to fandom was when Uncle Timmy decided to retire from ChattaCon. When he stepped back up and started LibertyCon, we got another shining example of what a con should be.
Soaring conclusion: I have to say that people need to grow the fuck up. A little maturity and self-discipline without a stick up your ass can result in having a lot more fun and everyone else having a good time as well. Until next time, “have fun!”
Copyright © 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III