Neil Gaiman’s Error Regarding Fan Conventions

Posted by on June 9th, 2010 at 8:09 PM

I stopped going to s.f. and comics conventions when I was 13, 14, maybe 15, not more than that. Last summer I went to Worldcon, where the Hugos are given out, because it was in Montreal and that’s where I live. Boy, it was an old crowd, a 40ish, 50ish and 60ish crowd. I saw plenty of people older than me, not a lot who were younger by more than 10 years. I’m in my late 40s and I didn’t feel like I was in the crowd’s upper age bracket.

I recall this because of a plausible remark made by Neil Gaiman, the con’s guest of honor. At one event or another, he told us that people spoke of the graying of fandom. His response to these people was that they failed to take their subjectivity into account. They did not reckon that in the old days, when they attended the cons that had lots of young people, they were themselves young and surrounded by their friends, also young.

But I spent most of my time at cons by myself, and I liked them in large part because the people around me weren’t my age. Back then even a high school senior was something grand, and here I was among college students, among bearded dealers and comics pros in their 20s, even their 30s. The ladder went up to middle-aged grandees like Isaac Asimov and Gene Roddenberry; it kept going to include the occasional example of the unbelievably aged, like C. C. Beck. Maybe kids my age were around, but not a lot of them. I think I would have noticed; I was on the lookout for potential friends ready to talk about science fiction and comics.

Now here I show up at another science fiction convention, and in advanced middle age I find that people are still older than I am. Possibly some trick of perception could be invoked. But my trick of perception somehow brings me to the very same fallacy as Gaiman’s foils, the fans alleged to have fooled themselves by remembering cons full of people their own age. Two tricks of perception, same fallacy, so maybe it’s not a fallacy. Back at the old cons you had more people in the first half of their lives; at later cons you have more people in the second half of their lives. I’ll stand by that as a solid possibility, though anecdotally supported.

Gaiman didn’t offer an argument to back his notion. I find that people don’t often try backing up a mote-in-your-eye gambit. It’s enough just to raise the possibility that a given person’s views might be explained (that is, explained away) by his/her circumstances. People who are new to the gambit tend to be awed by its discovery, even delighted, as if a stage magician had fluttered doves out of a handkerchief. The feistier targets, old hands used to intellectual rough and tumble, will answer back with “ad hominem,” try to rule the gambit out of contention. But no one looks for objective correlatives, bits of agreed-upon evidence that can give an idea of which side’s perceptions are less skewed. Sadly, that would be beside the point.

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