The more I research fandom in the 1930s, the more fascinated I am by how politically charged it was. This is hardly surprising considering the political climate of the time. To say that the years leading up to World War II were politically charged is like saying “Apple’s products are kind of popular” — that is, a massive understatement. On the fandom side, according to Sam Moskowitz’ book The Immortal Storm, there was a great deal of debate about the purpose of science fiction. Some believed that science fiction should exist only for the promotion of science itself, that the whole point was to encourage young people to go into careers in the sciences and thus to further the technological might of the United States. Others were less enthused with that idea and just wanted to read some good stories. Later there were the Michelists, part of the Futurians — leftist fans who put out a call for science fiction fans to take a direct stance against the forces of facism, saying that if fandom did not evolve into a true political engine it would surely die (see John B Michel’s speech Mutation or Death). This got to the point that the infamous Exclusion Act at the 1939 WorldCon was the direct result of political infighting about the Michelism; and there are even old fans to this day who still have a bit of an attitude about it.
Curiously, the fans themselves were, for the most part, socially conservative. While there were a few outliers, if you look at photographs from that time period, they all seem to be young men with a habit of dressing in white button down shirts and slacks. David Kyle’s 1998 report about his role in the Exclusion Act says as much about them – Ray Bradbury and Forrest Ackerman were the only fashion outliers, with Ray in a colorful striped shirt and Forrest arriving in costume. I’m still trying to get an angle on their inner thoughts and motivations by reading their memoirs, so I’ll report more on that later; but thus far what I’ve read fits what I’ve deduced from photographs and con reports.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that this hasn’t really changed at all. Every post in Fandom Secrets (my personal thermometer for How Fandom Is Feeling Right Now) inevitably has some sort of massive fight about some political issue or other. These days it’s often over gay rights and transgender issues, mostly from slash fans and anti-fans. Some slash fans are vocal proponents of gay rights; others, interestingly enough, violently oppose gay rights despite enjoying the genre. And again, as a friend pointed out to me, slash fans – particularly fans of ‘yaoi’, which is a particularly Japanese form of male/male slash – tend to be socially conservative, with the vast majority of their stories conforming to oddly heteronormative conceptions of relationships: one partner, the “top” or “seme” conforming to the idea of the breadwinner, the “bottom” or “uke” being the stay-at-home shrinking violet to be swept off his feet (not always true of course! There are MANY fans who outright dislike this sort of thing too).
Then there’s racewank and genderwank, aka the ongoing arguments in fandom over race in the media we consume and how that affects fandom and fan writings (such as fanfiction). There is a largely white bias in media and in fandom, and this becomes an issue of heated debate that touches upon many larger issues, such as the current immigration debates.
This in turn makes me wonder about how the political scene in, say, the 1960s and 70s played out in fandom. What kinds of fights did fandom have around Vietnam, and where was the dividing line? Were certain fans of certain media more inclined to be pro or against the whole thing? And then what about today? In the fan sites I frequent, the fans usually have a more liberal bent: they are largely pro gay rights, largely anti-fox news, largely democrats. But that’s not always the case, and the fracturing comes when the other side comes in. It’s something I’m sadly ignorant of – who are the conservative fans? Where are they? What kinds of things do they like, and what fandoms are more conservative? Which ones are more liberal?
There’ve probably been essays on this elsewhere, more intelligent than I’m capable of writing, particularly on the whole “slash and the LGBTQ community” issue (My god there’s a LOT of writing out there on slash, but not a lot on the rest of fandom – kind of a shame, because while slash is all well and good it’s hardly the be-all and end-all of what fans turn out).
So readers – your thoughts? What political fractioning have you seen in your fandoms? How do your fandoms lean? Is fandom inherently political, and are political fights inescapable? Other thoughts…?