DON’T SIT THERE...
Vince Clarke – ZYMIC 6, December 1957.
Once upon a time we used to say - I used to say, frequently, - that if someone was of the fan type, he or she would find fandom, sooner or later. This sounded fine. It gave fandom a status half-way between Piccadilly Circus and the Catholic Church. Moreover, it eliminated any prospect of having actually to look out for recruits, proselytes and wanderers by the wayside. They would come, as filings to a magnet, to the Halls of the Blessed, and, after suitable probation, enter into BNFmanship.
A look around the fanzine-fandom field of today discloses that even if this was anything more than a pious hope, it is no longer true. The new entrants to fandom are so few as to be practically invisible; and those who do survive the impact of no interest find an amorphous, spineless entity whose lack of cohesion must seem like deliberate obscurantism. There are few fanzines, they are getting fewer, and in them, with the exception of NuFu (New Futurian, edited by Mike Rosenblum), there is very little to show the general underlying structure on which modern fandom is based. There is a general lack of bonhomie, a lacklustre don’t-do-it-yourself spirit; the old guard have their own coteries, a perfectly natural development, but the newcomer must fight for recognition. Who can blame them if they find the struggle too hard?
This situation arises, as a natural consequence, from the happy-go-lucky years of the s-f boom. There were far more magazines on the market, and their publicity for fan affairs - Conventions, fanzines, meetings, letters-to-the-editor - brought in more names, more recruits, than any accidental contacts, any word-of-mouth introductions, could have done. It was suddenly easier to contact the foetalfan - the active-fan-in-embryo, and joyous, ebullient fanzines like QUANDRY and HYPHEN flourished, looking to the past equally with the present and the future. There were enough new faces to make the discovery of the the past exciting; fandom had been persisting for years, it was sufficient in itself. Let fanarchy flourish, and laugh away any thought of an enduring structure in fandom. I did some laughing myself. Fandom was going to continue, breathless, exciting, a small culture but an ever widening one.
Those carefree years have left a legacy of a few remnants of dead and dying clubs, a few fanzines, an almost complete lack of contact between distant fan centres. CONTACT (the news-zine run by Ron Bennett and Jan Jansen) could have spun a network across fandom, to keep some unity which both the old-timer and the newcomer to fandom could grasp, but, without that, what is there? OMPA keeps the. established fans united, though even here the lack of new blood is shown by the lack of partisanship on practically any issue raised. The World Convention should have been a recruiting site for fans - but fans were too anarchic to make any effort this year to present evidence that it would welcome newcomers to fanzine fandom.
AUTHENTIC S-F has folded, and killed another source of contact. By contact, I mean, printing a review of your fanzine (as it used to) or printing someone else’s address that you could write to, to tell them about fandom. Yes, you ... .perhaps. Fandom, suffering from chronic anaemia, drifts aimlessly, and a glance around will make it evident that any delusions of grandeur it may have that it will be voluntarily aided by an enthusiastic group of blood-donors are strictly on the far side of optimism.
It is evident that what we need is a new s-f fan society.
You needn’t read any further if you don’t agree with the general estimate of life in British fandom today that preceded this, because the following is based on the assumption that is correct. It is also based on the assumption that Something Should Be Done About It; before dissenters drift away to their Ivory Towers I trust that they will write and let me know how they manage to be satisfied with Fandom as it droops today...that is, if it doesn’t involve some Act Of Faith.
Why should I pick the Something That Should Be Done About It as a formation of a club? They've tried before, and they’ve failed. Fanarchy, disinterest, lack of time, money, gafia, fafia, have all contributed to the failures, and virtually all those reasons have contributed not once but many times to the break up of successive clubs, associations and societies.
The simple reason why a club is formed is the natural. gregariousness of the s-f fan. By definition, these days and amongst ourselves, if you’re a fan it is because you like to meet other fans, at Conventions, clubs, or through correspondence. We do not call the man who reads s-f a fan, however big a collection he may have. Howard Keel, Kingsley Amis, Dr Oppenheimer and Bob Monkhouse, to pick four names from widely differing fields, we know to be s-f readers, and probably with their amount of income have amassed considerable reading matter. But, in the fan sense, they are not fans.
To the oldtimer, his personal contacts, his knowledge of fandom as a small facet of social culture, and perhaps his fanzine, all give him the sense of belonging, of being one of a group. Even those who criticised structures in fandom - and some of the critics constitute the backbone of fandom - still had that instinct to work together with others of like mind, for destruction if not construction.
The newcomer has none of this. He is the foreigner, the outsider knocking to come in, and the wide-open door can be more of a bar than a closed one with a notice of ‘Members Only’. If you are that simple (but how significant thing!), a Member, you have doubled your points of contact with strangers - common interest plus common Membership.
Psychologically, the existence of a club helps to increase contact between fandom and the foetalfan. Practically, the knowledge of the existence of a club is obviously a sign to the foetalfan that he is not alone in his enthusiasm. It cannot be argued that, on the side of a newcomer, a club can be anything but helpful.
Aside from the obvious advantage of new blood in the ranks, what advantage is there to the established fan? This is the rock on which so many societies have foundered, for at the start of a club the established fan has all the work, and, if he is active, will obviously be giving up some time on fan-affairs of major interest to undertake business which he probably forsook years before, when the first flush of proselytising faded. If he is running a subzine, he may obtain more subscribers and more help, but apart from that, what is there?
This is where we come down to brass tacks. If I, who have been in fandomi 10 years, now advocate the resumption of a fan society in Britain, after at least 7 or 8 years when I’ve quite happily rolled along without giving the whole idea more than an occasional humorous thought, why do I do it?
Reason 1 arises from the task of issuing propaganda for the World Convention. However trufannish it may be to be a lone wolf, however much you cry that your individualism is enough in itself, when fan affairs impinge on the mundane world you are no more than a lone eccentric if you are not a member of an organisation.
This independent existence is naturally quite sufficient for run-of-the-mill fan affairs. But you cut no ice with outsiders - and in particular, newspapers - if you point to a disorganised, if happy, chaos and say “That’s us...no, we’ve got no Secretary except the Convention Secretary, we’ve got no means of communication except the ordinary fan sitting down and writing to everyone he knows at his own expense. You’re interested in fandom, chum? But you don’t live near London, Liverpool, Cheltenham or Manchester? Then you’ve had it, except for writing letters. Who do you write to? Well, I can give you the names of some fanzine editors; they’ll probably be too busy publishing fanzines to write to you, and there’s only four or five, but they’ll be glad to send you their fanzines. What will the fanzines be about? Well, fan affairs, mostly. No, I’m sorry, I haven’t got time to stop and tell you about fandom and its history.......”
We pulled in a lot of reporters at the World Con Press Conference, mostly because the headed notepaper gave us some status, but we didn’t have anything behind that with national interest. Of course, it’s anybody’s guess why so few reports appeared - the simultaneous holding of the British Association annual meeting probably took the limelight and engaged the attention of Science Reporters who might otherwise have played ball but it made me at least sharply aware of our amateur status.
With the diminution of reports of fan affairs in the prozines, the only publicity channel for fandom as a whole, apart from Conventions, is the national press. You have to put up a front, however phony it is, to get any attention from it. A newspaper will give a minority group publicity for two main reasons: it has something to say relevant to current affairs which is likely to be of interest to the majority of its readers, or it’s so damn silly that it’ll amuse that same majority. Right now, science fiction is in an uneasy position between those two points of view, and, whether it matters to the established fan or not, a report or a published view poking fun at s-f and s-f fandom is not going to be attractive to the hesitant.
Allied to this is the attitude of papers to our field when something is printed in them, and brings us to Reason 2: cure of frustration. The saintly fan may like to suffer fools gladly, but even after all these years it still irks me to read ignorant references to s-f and fandom, snobbish reviews, the drivelling of columnists and the conceitedness of scientists who give authoratitive opinions on s-f on the basis of having read half-a-dozen books. It must be an unusually self-satisfied fan who has never wanted to write a blistering criticism of some printed rubbish, but unless an editor is in an unusually indulgent mood that letter, if written, will never pass the wastepaper basket. It's from a solitary crank. The same letter, on the headed notepaper of a society, will recieve...well, several hundred times as much attention - it depends on how big the editor thinks the society is.
Reason 3 is a selfish one, and should appeal to everyone. However large your interest is in the foetalfan, you will find the task of writing pages of elementary explanation on various facets of fandom boring. It’s boring because it is damnably wasteful of time and energy. A few years ago there was a debate in British fandom on the usefulness of a BRE of a FANCYCLOPAEDIA....a history and dictionary of fandom. One was, in fact, started, but petered out in the usual spirit of “Well, if the newcomer is a Trufan, he’ll find out. Someone (else) will tell him all about it.” Since then I, personally, must have felt the need for such a volume at least a dozen times. There is nothing whatsoever in British fandom which can be used as a general introduction to our small culture, yet it is of such primary importance to the inductance of a newcomer that it should be one of the first and most easily available documents in fandom, equal to the ANGLO-FAN DIRECTORY and more basic than THE ENCHANTED DUPLICATOR.
Reason 4 may be a purely personal one, but I’d like to spread it out for general observation. Given that having a club - any club - is better, even fractionally, than having no club, it is a perpetual challenge and an intellectual problem to set one up that will continue. I had my fingers somewhat burnt in my younger days in fandom by taking on a good deal more than I could handle in the matter of a society, but since then my viewpoint has changed. I can see that it is no use setting up a society in a burst of fannish enthusiasm and to expect a wave of enthusiasm to echo back from all and sundry like a revivalist meeting. The people who are competent to run the sort of society which will attain the objects already enumerated must be realists in relation to those goals.
There is no reason, of course, why such a course might not be entertaining as well as constructive; “serious and constructive” can remain a naughty name as far as I’m concerned. For instance, if mere numbers impress newspapers - and, obviously, they must and do - then there is no reason why membership numbers shouldn’t start at something like No. 15,624. If finance worries the organisers, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be on a strictly practical basis - something on the order of membership plus one sheet of rules-cum-catalogue costing 6d, no further correspondence entered into without a stamped-addressed envelope...Directory for sale to members 1/-.. (or whatever Ron is charging)...list of clubs 2d, sample fanzines at cost plus postage...badge extra, printed paper extra, etc. Printed paper? This would be reserved for the use of Fellows (actifans)....etc. These things could be kicked around and beaten out a little; the major premise would be that such a society would not be an end in itself but would exist for specific purposes.
I’m not usually one to view-with-alarm and regard-with-dismay, but the creeping paralysis attending any constructive effort in British fandom is horrifying. For some years fans, busily constructing quotes, eras of fandom, styles of writing and other neat paper tricks in fanzines, have langhed to scorn or, worse, completely disregarded, any activity - with the honorable exception of TAFF - which will involve group participation and benefit fandom as a whole. It is not without significance that during the height of the last ‘Golden Age’ of fan activity the Chicon, the World Convention for ‘52, was run by professionals and old-timers dating back to first fandom. The era of individualism and, to borrow a phrase from a larger field, personality worship, has been brilliant and satisfying to anyone who knows what outpourings of energy have attended individual effort. Fandom has been fun to be in, and it still is, but in the pursuit of fun we have moved very far from our starting points.
Today the newcomer to the fan scene, the correspondent of a prozine who writes to enquire if anyone is interested in corresponding with him or forming a group, is not helped by the fact that QUANDRY was brilliant or SLANT mature and humorous. It is only the brilliant who can run before they walk, in fandom; the number of newcomers who catch the eye of the established BNF and are helped by him or her lessens in direct ratio to the enthusiasms of those BNFs - under the present system.
The point of this comparison is - is this type of patronage, benevolent but personal, satisfactory in relation to the present moribund interaction between fandom and the s-f reading public? Do we wait for the next boom and meanwhile welcome three BNFs per year while bidding farewell to half-a-dozen, or do we go out and get ‘em? Is it beyond the powers of the geniuses of British fandom to look to the future in. their own peculiar sphere?
I’d like to make it clear that what I’m advocating is not a society which could lead to a sharp division in British fandom analogous to the N3F and fanzine fandom in the States. Neither do I fancy a Society in which the officers knock themselves out in entertaining lazy nitwits who regard a fanzine as an amateur prozine. In the past I have heard fans who have attempted to go to the masses wail “But they don’t WANT to be actifans...no interest...won’t join in...etc. etc.” I’ve done some of it myself...and in this present article, in a way. As I see it, our present problems can be resolved by a loose organisation which will spread the news that there is a fandom, and sometimes in doing so strike a small blow for better criticism of s-f. If and when anyone expresses genuine interest, there should be easily available facilities for a more extensive and intensive induction.
I have, naturally, a few more ideas on the subject, but the foregoing should be sufficiently explanatory for the present. What I’m looking for is comment and suggestions - which will naturally receive publicity in a ‘zine similar to this in the next OMPA mailing - and if you want to damn the thing root and crop go right ahead.
Vince Clarke - 1957.
There were of course consequences attendant on this, not
least the actual formation of the BSFA in 1958, founded originally,
of course, as a way of getting people into fandom. How naive that
expectation seems today.
More information will be added to this webpage.
Greg Pickersgill -7th November 2006.