Answer the Question: Yes or No?

“Have you stopped beating your wife?”

It’s the classic heads I win, tails you lose question.  Especially if you are forced to answer it without being allowed to respond in a meaningful way.

This is a game that I largely associate with conservative discourse.  We’ve seen it on capital hill, we’ve seen it on O’Reilly.  And it always seems to come from conservative mouths.

It has been adopted for two reasons, I think.  One, because conservatives are often more interested in grandstanding and scoring points than they are in getting to a real answer and because, as a group, they seem largely unable, or at least uninterested, in dealing with nuance.  This too can be seen across the spectrum of political debate:  there must not be global warming because it was cold yesterday – nope, not interested in what scientists have to say, they’re all biased anyways.  The solution to gun violence is more guns – nope, not interested in your studies that suggest otherwise or your excuses that proper study has been hampered by politics.  Trickle-down economics works!  Anyone with facts to the contrary must be a shill for the Occupy Movement.  Vaccines cause autism – having an answer is more comfy than not knowing. The Hugo awards are fixed by a cabal.

They want simple explanations – yes or no answers – for everything.  Why?  Not sure, but it may have something to do with the fact that facts frequently do not support their world views, nuance can’t be delivered in a sound bite, and, apparently, because people who actually know stuff tend to be more educated than otherwise and educated people are dangerous, largely because they tend to make up their own minds on the issues rather than parroting the sheep bleatings of pundits.

I should hasten to point out a bit of nuance here:  the above may seem to be an indictment of all conservatives and all conservative thought.  1. I address the ideas, not individuals.  The things people say and write are different from the individual.  I’ve got plenty of friends who express idiotic ideas.  They’re still friends and that idea they expressed is still idiotic.  2. the above is directed at publicly disclosed expressions of conservative thought, which may very well be disproportionately biased towards those individuals who find some value, economic or otherwise,  in doing so.

Do I need to lay out a connection between puppy movements and conservative politics?  It’s there, it’s been expressed, if not admitted to, by puppy proponents.  The subjects addressed, the arguments advanced certainly align with conservative thought, so much so as to make little to no difference.  The fact that they’ve adopted the yes or no rhetoric is kind of the icing on the cake.

Today I learned of Kevin Trainor Jr.s post SF Won the Culture War…(via File 770).

Kevin attempts to demonstrate that traditional fandom has spent the past 40+ years doing nothing but turning away other would-be fans because they don’t do things the right way (pun maybe not intended).

He starts with Star Trek fandom and in typical conservative fashion, attempts to simplify nearly fifty plus years of history thusly:

“The Trek fans flooded into fandom, and in the first of a sadly repetitive series of dumb mistakes, fandom turned on these newcomers and made them aware that they were most certainly Not Welcome. Fandom’s open and non-judgmental culture suddenly became harshly critical of “drobes” who ran around in Starfleet and Klingon uniforms they hadn’t even made themselves, and Trekkies who seemingly had no other interest in SF outside the series. This was horseshit, of course; perhaps predictable horseshit, given that so many SF fans (as I mentioned previously) were more than a little lacking in social skills, but horseshit all the same. Trekkies were in many cases SF fans fired up by the campaigns to bring the show back, fans writing fanfic, fans writing fanzines to publish fanfic and fanart in, fans starting conventions to which bemused actors were invited and besieged by legions of fans seeking autographs. In short, fans doing fanac, but not in the Approved Manner or on the Approved Topics. And so Trek fandom and its conventions, for the most part, went its separate way from traditional literary SF fandom.”

Excuse me, I was there.  I was a Trekkie before I was a Fan, and I left after two years of fanfic (mostly atrocious slash), two years of fan art (Spock in the shower), mostly throngs of autograph seekers mobbing actors who would later say to them “Get a life”.

But let me back up.  Who organized the first Trek conventions?  Fans.

Who flooded Paramount with letters begging the studio not to cancel Star Trek?  Fans (Trekkies did not exist until the show went into syndication).  Who wrote the best episodes of that show?  SF authors.  And what, pray tell, were those authors before they were authors?  Fans.

Why was there a disconnect between Trekdom and Fandom?  Because shortly after it began, Trekdom was co-opted by commercial interests that had a need to pack as many paying customers into a hotel over a weekend as possible.  This is not Fannish.  Because radio, television and film are one creative step (at least) removed from the literature.  Written SF is a direct conversation between the author and the reader, mediated by the imaginative capabilities of those two same people.  Other media forms are filtered through multiple imaginations before they get to the “reader” and, therefore, are not as pure an experience.  Fans value pure artistic expression.  They thought Arena was a pretty darned good Trek interpretation of Brown’s absolutely wonderful short story of the same name.  They accept the limitations of television show budgets and the substitution of a humanoid lizard for the tentacled red roller of the original story.  But they also made note of those limitations, usually to the detriment of the Trek episode.

In short, if any real rejection of Trek fandom took place back in the late 70s and early 80s, is was because Fandom is about everything SFnal, while Trek was all about one single show – a mere 75 hours of television programming, stacked up against (at that time) nearly four decades of conventions, fanzines, magazines, small presses, anthologies, ground-breaking novels and thousands of conventions.

What really happened when Trekkies found themselves “not welcome” at traditional conventions?  They discovered that traditional conventions were not all about Star Trek.  There might be a panel or two devoted to it, there might be a dealer or two selling memorabilia, there might be a costumer or two dressed as a Klingon or a mini-Horta or in Star Fleet uniform.  But the convention was decidedly oriented towards other things:  authors and their latest books, magazines and their latest issues, fanzines that didn’t gush endlessly over shirtless Sulu.

If you walk into a KFC, you can order a Big Mac, but you won’t get one.

When I walked out of my last Trek convention (for the traditional SF con Philcon), it was because I was looking for something MORE.  Not to relive the same experience over and over and over again.  I’d already watched every single episode multiple times, already memorized the blooper reel, already aced the trivia quiz (well, 98 out of 100 anyways); already decided that I didn’t need to invest my dollars in a command shirt, already built the AMC model kits of the Enterprise, Klingon D-7 and Romulan Warbird, already had the trading cards, already had a bunch of production stills, didn’t wear jewelry so passed on the IDIC pendant, already met Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Majel Barrett, Gene Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner…(and this was so far back that I didn’t even have to pay a fee to hang out with them!).

Believe me, I understand obsession (as does my wife, often to her frustration).  But I chose to obsess on science fiction, not just one single (excellent) expression of it.

And guess what?  I’m perfectly fine with the fact that a lot of my fannish friends still enjoy going to Trek conventions.  Or Star Wars conventions.  Or Firefly conventions.  Or Doctor Who conventions.  Or gaming conventions.  My Little Pony conventions for that matter.  And I’d be happy to hear about something interesting that happened at any of them.

Here is where I come back around to the lack of handling nuance.  Mr. Trainor wants us to believe that there is something wrong with Fandom because, back in the 1970s, Worldcon wasn’t renamed World Trek Con, the Hugo Awards didn’t all go to Trek stuff and WSFS didn’t allow itself to get diluted by tens of thousands of Trek fans “who seemingly had no other interest in SF outside the series“.

In fact, what happened was, traditional conventions and fandom continued to offer what they had been offering before, and Trek conventions, in all of their commercial glory and obsessive focus on (now six television shows and 12 feature films) Star Trek grew and thrived.  Sometimes, other fans decided they wanted MORE and found their way over to a traditional con, where they were welcomed with open arms and hopefully found the MORE they were looking for. (And when they didn’t, they went to a Star Wars con or put on their own damned convention that focused on what they and their friends wanted to focus on.)

Nuance.  I know it may be difficult to keep track of the fact that different kinds of science fiction oriented conventions may focus on different things, but hey,  there it is.  Go to a Trek convention and you get Trek.  Go to a traditional con and you get traditional fandom.  The Trufan really only experiences a conflict when they are into Trek and have to choose between a traditional con and a Trek con that are both being held on the same weekend.  (Oh, the horror!)

Nuance.  If Fans hadn’t taken to Star Trek, talked about it at traditional conventions, there’d be no Star Trek phenomena.  If many Trek conventions hadn’t gone the commercial gateshow route (because of the “rejection”), there’d be no place for those thousands not interested in SF outside the series to go.

But none of that happened.  What did happen took place within the finest traditions of fandom:  some people with a special interest went off and did their own thing (relying on the tools, connections and experiences they’d gained from traditional fandom) and now we all happily co-exist in the greater world where everyone is allowed to make their own choices about what kind of conventions they’d like to attend.

There’s a lot else wrong with the piece’s conclusions, but I don’t have to bother to pick it apart as nwhyte does a fine job in the comments.

This is all part and parcel of the endless water torture drip of puppy fandom.  Ignore the actual history in favor of their simplified narrative.  Open up Trufandom to the thousands that have no other interest in SF because those thousands can be persuaded that their populist arguments are correct.

But since they like simplification and lack of nuance so much, let me ask my own question:

“Have you stopped promoting slates for the Hugo Awards?”

3 thoughts on "Answer the Question: Yes or No?"

  1. Gary says:

    Kevin has an even more ridiculous post full of strawman arguments trying to respond to you, Steve. You nailed it and this post and he doesn’t seem to realize he is confirming what you said in his response.

  2. Hey, wait… where’s my “Like” button?

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