The Desolation of Fandom
One of the things that I have been thinking about rather a lot of late is how genre fans seem to have isolated themselves from each other. I am not quite sure why this has happened. When I was younger I was a member of a local branch of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society in my local town. I cannot recall if it was officially affiliated with the larger organisation, but I do remember it being an awful lot of fun. I was one of the younger members at the time, but the group introduced me to other people who had the same interests as me. We could talk the finer points of Kaled culture or interpretations of things that happened in various episodes. It also introduced me to something much, much cooler – episodes to watch on VHS. This was a point where official VHS releases had only just started, and the BBC were keen to rip off fans. (Does anyone else remember the way that they split six part stories over two cassettes so they cold charge us twice as much? Had the robbing bastards not heard of the E180?). I remember seeing videos of episodes I had hereto only read about – proper tenth generation copies where you had to squint to see the picture and every other word was open to interpretation due to the sound quality. But it was so exciting when these guys played an episode that I had not seen before, irrespective of the quality. Of course, they did not play episodes all that often because all of the older guys had seen them all and could never agree which one to watch, which meant they could tease myself and the younger guys about what they had seen and we had not. But it was never malicious, and I loved those monthly meetings.
And they were pretty common. The next town over had something similar, and I was also involved in setting up a Star Trek local group not many years later (from which I gained some of my most enduring friendships).
Perhaps I am having a midlife crises, or just indulging in the “things are just not as good as they used to be!” nonsense that seems to occupy the older, but none of that local fandom seems to exist any more. When I was involved in fandom as a younger chap, you had to find out about these groups either through word of mouth, seeing a flyer in a specialised shop, or seeing an advert in Doctor Who Monthly or TV Zone. (Or Starburst Magazine, anyone remember that? Though of course it would now be called Opal Fruit Monthly.) I remember good old photocopied newsletters that had to be posted out to members with information about new members or meetings and events. Of course now you can just set up a Facebook Group, you can update people instantly via twitter or other social media. Setting these things up and communicating their existence and news is so much easier than it used to be, and, just as importantly, it’s free!
And yet there seems to be very little out there. I just did a search on Meetup for Science Fiction and Fantasy related groups within twenty five miles of where I live, and found nothing. I expanded the search to fifty miles and found five groups, all a long way away. Get when I was younger I could name four groups that would have fallen into that search area, hell I was a member of two of them!
I searched on Facebook for local groups, using combinations of place names and phases such as “Doctor Who”, “Star Trek”, “SciFi”, “Fantasy” and other variations. The closest I got was an acknowledgement that Matt Smith was born in one of those local towns! I tried similar searches on Google and Bing, and found nothing.
So, why is this? I am aware of a few groups that ran for a while (there was a Firefly club in Leeds that tried to meet monthly but ran out of steam when general apathy prevented attendance and it eventually stopped). It’s not like modern organisers need to slave over a photocopier or printer in order to print the newsletters, or write out envelopes and lick stamps. The part that made it hard work can now be done in a matter of seconds for free online. Logic suggests that, since it’s easier, it should be more prevalent rather than less. Yet it isn’t.
Is it because the Internet has actually caused us to distance ourselves from other people? I knew who my neighbours were ten years ago, I have no idea now.
And could it be a cultural thing? Here in the UK these groups are scarce, but perhaps in the USA they are still very active? Would love to know, if any of my foreign readers (or indeed my local ones) have any thoughts I would be very interested to hear them.
Next month sees the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who and includes many live simultaneous showings of the anniversary episode in cinemas. I am going to see it in London specifically to feel what it is like to be surrounded by like minded people again. I am just steeling myself for all of them to be half my age.
I am in the process of trying to set up something local to my area now. I have made a couple of abortive attempts in the past year, relying on the goodwill of social media friends to share the message. They didn’t, and I gave up after we gained a total of four people other than myself, all of whom I knew and three of whom I had personally invited to the group.
So what am I going to try differently? Well, I am going to go old school. I am going to place ads in local papers and the relevant magazines. There are probably people living doors away from me who have this common interest (heck, someone on my street has “Property Of Starfleet Academy” embossed on his four by four, but I don’t have the balls to talk to him!) Unlike the groups I have been involved with in the past, I can run this one for free (once it has been advertised). I can put at ads at the local library. I can put some fliers in local comic shops. I am convinced that such groups could function again, the person behind it just needs to think outside of the Internet in order to launch it.
I suppose that is sort of part of the mission statement of this blog (the other is to comment geeky media stuff that I am enjoying now). I wish to set up a local group in Northamptonshire and get people involved. I want to publicise other local groups so that more people know that they are there. Ultimately I want to recapture the thill of meeting like minded people locally and enjoying banter with them, just like I used to twenty years ago.
Perhaps this is all the symptom of a midlife crises after all!