The World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) was in Toronto this past weekend. What went on?It was a small Worldcon, with about 3500 bodies present. Most people attributed this to SARS, having to deal with crossing over the border, and general promotional problems. Although no one I spoke to said they were having a bad time, everyone seemed to be grumbling about having a less-than-optimum time. Personally, I had a good time.
The main downer for me came from the chaos in the programming department. A number of proposed and scheduled panels vanished into thin air, including the three furry panels. I'd like to emphasize, however, that this was completely accidental, not political. (One of the top programming staff members, the Lady Ketherian, is both furry and a good friend of mine.)
We had a good turnout of people from the fandom, including Fred Patten, Mark Schirmeister, Taral Wayne, Edd Vick, Darrel Exline, Karno, Steve Gattuso, David Bliss, Bryan Feyr and Growl (of FNC), Terry Wessner, Petercat, Kratsminsch, the folks from I-CON, Kevin Duane, and the people whose names I can't remember at the moment. And there were undoubtedly others - we found fliers for the Inherit the Earth game, and for M.C.A. Hogarth's Jokka website. Heather Bruton was there, but was doing her own thing in the art show. Richard Bartrop was going to attend but had to cancel.
Thanks to the folks at TRAACS, we had a Furry Fandom table in the fan area. Since a neighbouring table went unused, we spread our things onto it. Our neighbours on the other side were the Toronto chapter of Mensa.
We had a very nice display, and a huge variety of material for people to look through - lots of comics, zines, fliers, and pamphlets, a binder of artwork, and a binder on the history of the fandom. I don't have any photos yet, but you can see an electronic version of our display, artwork and pamphlets at http://furry.ca/torcon03/ . (Thanks Benjamin, for hosting it!)
(By the way, if anyone is going to a con and wants paper copies of the "What is Furry Fandom" pamphlet or the "Furry Web Resources" pamphlet, I have extra ones available! Also, the above URL is temporary; would anyone be interested in hosting it more permanently?)
I was manning the table for most of the convention, and only went to about four panels. The most interesting one was the "Fannish ghetto" panel, which discussed negative ghettoization within the fan community - there were a whole bunch of subcultures there; filkers, furries, fanzine publishers, gays, etc.
The general consensus to come out of the discussion was that ghettoization happens for a number of reasons. In the worst sense, it's a human tendency to look down on other people, especially when there's little common ground. Another part of the discussion revolved around self-ghettoization. One person pointed out that SF fandom was originally small enough that everyone was pretty much in it together. But now it's grown so much that one sub-group may have almost no cross-over with other sub-groups.
One of the concom at the panel remarked that sometimes self-ghettoization is willfully imposed. For example, the filkers had asked for their own area because it was too difficult to schlep instruments and sound equipment back and forth. On another occasion, he had tried to organize a con with several specialty tracks, only to have the sub-groups turn the con down because they all wanted a larger presence than the con could offer, and did better when they organized their own specialty cons.
There were no true solutions offered to ghettoization, but one fellow said that it was important to recognize differences, and instead of snubbing, to basically say politely, "I can see you're enjoying your fan group, but it's not what I'm interested in, so you do your thing and I'll do mine." On top of all of this was the issue of keeping communication going between the different sub-groups, and if it was necessary. This was really hard to answer. It seemed like it didn't matter much for the sub-groups, but it did matter a lot to the general fan community.
This really struck a chord with me and why I had put together the fan table at the convention: I wanted to communicate between furry fandom and SF fandom, to battle against the media's view on the fandom, and the image that some of our self-ghettoization has brought about - an "outreach" program of sorts. Not to deny some of the things said of us, but to shift the emphasis back to the basics and to paint a more diverse, complex picture of our fandom. What's sad is that although the greater Toronto area probably has over a hundred furry fans, you can count the number who'll attend local SF cons on your fingers. Communication has been pretty sparse, although we were invited to do a panel on furry fandom at Toronto Trek one year.
In the days leading up to the convention, I was considering not taking any furry t-shirts with me, because I have a cynical outlook, and was expecting people to come up and insult me. And you know what? No one did. (Although I think some people just plain avoided us.) We had friendly and interesting people come by the table, and had good conversations. The people who looked through the artwork and comics enjoyed them.
On top of that, the furry room party we had on Saturday night was great! The room was constantly full of people, and had energy right from the start, until I had to kick everyone out at two in the morning. Thank you to Moment, who made our party flier, and to Taral and the hosts of the Fanzine lounge, without whom we wouldn't have had a room to party in!
I know very little about SF, or about books and authors to engage SF fans in conversation easily on the subject, but I had a good time at the convention. I don't know if I made anyone more friendly to furry fandom, but the people who came by our table seemed to like what we had to show, so I think it was worth the effort. Thanks to everyone for helping out!
Miscellaneous personal highlights:
The TV footage from the 1973 Toronto Worldcon. It's amazing how some things don't change much (the fans) while other things change a lot. Picture a bunch of people huddling around this box on a table, and a reporter asking, "Now, what is this?" and the guy on the screen says, "This, is a computer..." The whole audience watching the clip burst out laughing.
Loopy's Mighty Wing Lung Puff costume in the masquerade, competing against a really fabulous dragon costume by Chris Kramer.
Getting to meet some of the Secret Librarians of Fandom. Getting introduced to David Kyle, one of the oldest SF fans there is. And getting to see all the Toronto folk I missed for so long. (Hiker, Pantheris, Maxi, GrimJim, Allan and everyone!)
Taral showing me an East Indian comic book based on mythology. An ad on the back for other issues had a picture of tigers climbing on each other's backs to form a tiger-pyramid, entitled "Tinkle". Very strange.
The fact that the four representatives running the Gaylaxicon party were all straight.
Being frightened at how similar Marlos and Karno look when they stand side-by-side.
My friend Steven showing up in a Tudor-style costume after attending a themed wedding at City Hall. A tourist had approached him asking him if he was part of the exhibits there. He told him that yes, he was part of a theatrical troupe who were re-enacting Shakespeare's historic visit to Toronto before he became famous. The tourist believed him.
A guy marching up to our table just before closing, with his face, neck, and arms painted up like a tiger, who said, a little flustered, "Okay, just who are you guys, and what's this furry thing people keep asking me if I'm a part of?"