This past weekend I went to a science fiction convention.
The title of the post isn’t entirely accurate–I was physically present in the hotel where the convention was held. However, despite the stated reason for the convention’s existence, I did not find it remotely enjoyable. It was, in fact, only intermittently bearable.
I will admit that I am utterly at a loss as to how anyone could find such a thing enjoyable.
The convention was divided into four distinct groups. First, there was the sales floor. The dealer’s room was the only part of the convention that was well-labeled. In fact, a casual visitor could be excused for thinking that area was all that there was.
It was a good dealer’s room, as such things go. It took up one of the main exhibition floors and contained perhaps fifty individual dealers. The booths were spacious, there was plenty of aisle space for groups in bulky costumes to pass each other. I can see how a serious collector of fantasy and science fiction memorabilia could find access to the space worth the price of admission.
Next, there was a gaming area. There may have been some mechanism for people to join the games who were not already part of a particular group–I was not sufficiently motivated to go looking for the right person to ask. The program gave no clue as to how it was done. There was a list of what games would be played, but that was all. There seemed to be no staff members in the gaming room itself, at least none who presented themselves as such.
There were panel discussions, and now you know as much as I do about that. A listing of them was available–not in the program, but on a separate sheet. However, this listing did not give anything more than a title and “Room 1” or “Room 2”. In the hotel, there was no “Room 1” or “Room 2”–there were things like “The Willow Room” and “The Oak Room”. No one that I spoke to could say what panel would be held where. Nor were the titles particularly descriptive.
Oh, there were also supposed to be two rooms where they were screening films. I never found either of those. Clearly one was expected to know someone who was setting these things up, or one didn’t attend.
All of which could be considered a passive expression of the fact that outsiders were not welcome, except to spend money at the dealer’s tables. What happened after dark was an active expression of that. At seven in the evening on Saturday the registration desk and security desk shut down. As near as I could tell, the convention staff left then. When I talked about my experiences Saturday night, all of the staff members that I spoke with said that they hadn’t stayed at the convention hotel, and they had left to go spend time with their friends at their own hotels.
My daughter and her friends also left, which I am very happy about, since the convention spaces were taken over by roving gangs of drunken thugs, many of them armed with weapons that may or may not have been props. They were loud, destructive, and drove off anyone who wasn’t part of their gang. Again, if there was any convention staff on-site, they were not evident, and no way was provided to contact them.
I spent the evening outside the front lobby, smoking and talking with the bellmen. In theory there were films being shown late at night that I had wanted to see, but I didn’t feel safe looking for the movie rooms. I do not often fear for my physical safety, but I did that night.
Seen through the lens of my experience at this convention, the events at Spokane last year make more sense. “Science Fiction Fandom”–as opposed to people who simply like science fiction as a genre–seems to be a very clannish group, openly hostile to outsiders. The one party that I attended Friday night (after paying an additional 3$ to enter) began with a ceremony to shame “virgins” and was run by a man who kept up a steady patter of in-jokes and references that was clearly designed to reinforce the line between them and us.
Presumably one could run the gauntlet of initiations and secret rituals and become, at long last, an insider with full rights and privileges, but I am really not interested in jumping through a lot of hoops to be granted the right to be welcomed into an event which is, after all, advertised as being open to the general public.
I do find it interesting that a number of people–some of whom I have a great deal of respect for–have told me that conventions are welcoming to new attendees and are a good way to get to know other fans. I really have to wonder if they have been on the inside for so long that they have forgotten what it looks like to outsiders, or if perhaps they find the process of earning a place at the table less onerous than I do.