Like Waves on a Beach
Within fandom1 there are many questions that are always being asked: What is the nature genre? What exactly is fantasy? What exactly is science fiction? What role does escapism play in all this? What value does short fiction have? And so on. These questions are asked often by younger2 members of fandom because they haven’t answered these questions for themselves. This conversation is good. These are the very questions which define fandom and give it its shape. The continued reassessment of whatever fandom is means that it continues. They are also questions whose answers aren’t constants and do resist objective analysis. So the lack of any really tangible answers mean that the questions will be asked again. These questions are like waves whose rhythms are dictated by the wind.
Often the old answers will be repeated and rephrased by participants unaware that their answer is old. I don’t have a problem with that. Their responses, if independently arrived at, will be original and their own.
What I do have problem with is older, more bullish members of fandom who have their answers wading into discussions to say that this has all be argued before and that we already have the answers to these questions. That may be so. But what’s happening there isn’t helpful. When for example the answer are: “We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. There isn’t a market for it.”3 That’s not constructive, that’s claiming ownership of a question and one set of its answers. It’s often someone trying to shut down a discussion so that they aren’t contradicted or shown to be wrong. I’m not going to speculate on the reasons why people try and claim ownership of these questions… the probable answers aren’t pleasant and don’t add anything to my point here4.
I think that once you’ve found answers to some or all of the questions like this it’s time to stop trying to answer them. The questions aren’t going to go away, but the usefulness of your contributions to other peoples’ discussions about the answers will diminish with time. Your answers aren’t automatically invalid, and you may change your mind, but it is destructive to try and shut down these discussion because think you already have an answer. And, sadly, that’s something I see a lot of around fandom.
1 – An ugly word, but one that will do for now.
2 – Time spent in fandom and not actual age.
3 – Answers drawn from my guest blog post There is an untapped audience for SF magazines.
4 – Really. I’ve thought about it. Think about the possible reasons for yourself.