Fandom is not a family

happy-family-1316701-639x797Ok, I know this one will probably get me some flack but it needs saying, because it’s an idea which has impacted the frames of reference for our current conversations: Famdom is not a family. What this means is that it’s a cop-out to say, “I put up with homophobe uncle John and besides he doesn’t know any better,” as a justification for why we should just accept that our sub-culture will always include bigots.

But what is Fandom if not a family?

Fandom is a loose-knit collection of communities

Seriously, even calling Fandom one community, let alone one family, is a misnomer. There is a professional organization called SFWA, another called the HWA, there are various convention boards and membership lists, and each of these things could be called a community. And some people cross between these groups, some people might be in dozens of these groups, but that doesn’t mean the groups are all one polyglot community.

And this is important, because people can choose who they want in their communities. Part of the core of all this year’s kerfuffle was when, a while back, a certain individual was invited to leave one community (SFWA) after a public meltdown.

Fandom is a sub-culture

With specialized language (mention a SMOF to one of your non-fannish colleagues and see the look of complete unrecognition), dress (not just cosplay either, the ribbons, the pins, they’re dress markers), and interests (obviously) fandom is almost the textbook definition of a sub-culture. And, looked at in this sense we don’t have much choice about who adopts those cultural markers. Anybody can like genre fiction if they want. Anybody can learn the Turkey City Lexicon and the acronyms that get tossed around at cons. Anybody can learn what the in-jokes are and what those damn ribbons mean.

But here’s another example of a sub-culture: punk rock. Now both Jello Biafra and Michale Graves are very much part of the punk rock sub-culture but they probably have almost entirely different takes on politics, philosophy and well… everything. There’s probably nobody who would suggest that the former lead singers of the Dead Kennedys and the Misfits are not real punks; and yet Biafra is a left-anarchist, while Graves is a staunch conservative.

And yet, I doubt anybody would try to talk those two into touring together either.

Fandom is a workplace

Not for everybody, but for lots of people: writers and actors, makers and booksellers. For these people Fandom is where they work. It’s simultaneously built of their suppliers, colleagues and customers, sometimes all in one body.

Now here’s where we can make some progress between the wide-open, anybody can sign on nature of a sub-culture and the much more exclusive nature of specific communities. Because we have a pretty strong understanding of what is acceptable and not acceptable reasons to invite somebody to leave a workplace. And it’s not because you don’t like their politics. But when it crosses a line from, “I disagree with this person,” to, “this person is harassing their co-workers,” then we’ve got a pretty good reason to exclude them.

And this is a pretty good litmus for how to decide what people we want in the Fandom tent. We want the people who don’t:

  • Touch inappropriately, stalk and sexually harass people
  • Threaten people with violence or incite other people to violence
  • Advocating for the extermination of a sub-set of people or for discrimination against people on the basis of inherent traits
  • etc.

And I’m going to say right now that there’s plenty of conservatives who don’t do any of these things. And there are leftists and centerists who do some or all of these things. And how we treat them should not be dependent on their position on a political spectrum but on their actions.

And besides, why do you tolerate bigotry from your relatives?

My relatives are pretty cool so I don’t have much experience with this, though I have to remind certain relatives on occasion that Conservative does not equal stupid or evil; and the thing is I do that even though I disagree entirely with everything Conservativism stands for, because I understand that it’s possible for decent people to disagree wildly.

But if a relative told a racist joke at Thanksgiving dinner, I’d say, “that’s racist. Why would you say that?” Progress depends on us, personally, having the courage of conviction to confront outmoded and harmful discourse.

If you say, “Oh, that’s just Aunt Jane, she’s from another time / some specific place / this or that faith; she doesn’t know any better, bless her heart,” you’re letting that particular thread continue unchallenged. And bigotry should be confronted by all decent people wherever it’s found.

Fandom is my workplace. I come there to network, to sell and to buy. I come there to learn and to teach. Many of my friends are members of the communities that compose fandom, and I’m happy to use the elements of material culture that signify membership in the sub-culture. But it’s not my family. So while I’m happy for the big tent to include communists, anarchists, socialists, liberals, centerists, conservatives and libertarians, I won’t tolerate harassers and unrepentant bigots. A big tent is great, but we can choose what is acceptable behaviour in our group. And if somebody violates that behaviour we can invite them to leave.

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