Besides Midwestcon, we always try to attend the DeepSouthCon, since it's the one regional that just about every Southern fan attends. It's also where most of SFPA (the southern apa) meets every year and it's often a source of fan history anecdotal stories. This year, the DSC was in Knoxville, Tennessee, so we also wanted to catch up with some of our Knoxville friends we hadn't seen in a while.
We had some trepidation about this DSC. Unlike most of the Southern cons, we didn't know the people running this one very well. This con also had next to no publicity. We wrote on several occasions for information, but received nothing in return. Even offers to put out fliers on the freebie tables at conventions in our area didn't get a reply. So, we began to call this DSC the "Stealthcon," after the airplane that can't be detected by radar. This con couldn't be detected by fans!
As we drove down to Knoxville for this year's DSC, I thought about fans and con-going in general. With eight hours of driving, that's a lot of thinking time, and I came up with various stages that convention fans seem to go through.
Everyone is different, and some people jump right to Stage 6 without passing GO or collecting $200. However, here are the stages I have seen. I don't include the people who only attend cons to drink or dance, having no real interest in SF or the other fans. I'm talking about the real fans.
Stage 1: The Discovery. A person discovers conventions. The person may have been in fandom for years, attending club meetings, doing fanzine work, or simply reading about conventions. The line is crossed when the fan attends his or her first con. The fan then discovers all the activities at a con -- programming, huckster room, art show, and parties. This is all new and wonderful, and worthy of exploration. Anyone who isn't interested in any of this doesn't come back and doesn't become a confan.
Stage 2: The Entrapment. This is when the fan begins to attend cons on a regular basis. Many fans begin to follow a circuit in their region and make the annual regional their primary convention. There are many fans who only attend one convention, the one in their city. There are also people who only attend WorldCon, no matter where it is. The fan at this point is beginning to make friendships that may last a lifetime. In time, the fan will have a circle of friends that show up at the same cons and hang out together. Besides making friends, the fan begins to attend programming. We all have spent some time at programming, whether it's the panel discussions, banquet, awards ceremony, masquerade, dances, gaming, or films and videos. They may also be interested in attending all the parties in the evening. Many fans start this stage while in Stage 1.
Stage 3: The Organizing. This stage begins at Stage 2, but usually reinforced by a club. Nowadays, clubs run cons as the club's major (and sometimes only) activity. Many a fan has been sucked into confandom by doing a few favors out of friendship for those running a con. For those organizing few, running cons becomes the important part of fandom. We know who they are. They're always involved in running whatever con they attend. They volunteer when they register for a con, or run a section of the local con. They run parties for bids or to publicize the local con. They have all the latest gossip about cons and know all the details about the WorldCons. There's nothing wrong with all this activity, but it's not for everyone.
Stage 4: The Burnout. This stage is usually reached by fans who are serious Stage 3 people. They find every weekend is taken up with traveling somewhere and working a con. Or, they find most of their spare time taken up with con-related activities. Or, they find that not only are their every weekend and spare time taken up with con activities, but their regular job is put aside for con running. The usual sign of this stage is that the fan drops out of fandom. When all the con activities get to be just too much, a fan will gafiate, just to step back and take a breather. In other cases, too much of the mundane life -- family, job, or studies -- is being neglected. Then the fan is forced to drop out of fandom to get work done in other areas, thus fafiate.
Stage 5: The Renouncement. This stage is taken by the fan who wants to avoid Stage 4. The fan cuts back on the number of cons or drops off committees, or learns to "Just Say No" to volunteering. The fan takes the time to be with friends, rather than running off to do a job at each con. At this point, the fan has been around long enough to skip most of programming, but generally attends the parties to see friends and talk about cons.
Stage 6: Just Having Fun. This stage can be reached at any time after Stage 1. This is the stage where the fan goes to be with friends, maybe attend a little programming, maybe cruise the huckster room, maybe see the art show, may dance a little. The parties are definitely in. In fact, that may be the only con activity the fan attends. Many fans are at this stage, usually the older fans and the trufans.
There are no hard and fast delineations for these stages, just general feelings. There may be other stages I've forgotten, or they probably could be rearranged or renamed. But these are my observations, based on over 15 years in fandom, attending cons and the like.
What stage do I see myself in? Well, as we drove out of Knoxville, I realized that I hadn't gone in the huckster room as I usually do. Many of the people I talked to were disappointed in it, so I guess I didn't miss much. I acquired books from the Baen party and a half-price store we found in our travels, so I was satisfied. I also reflected on what a good time I had being with friends, even though the con was loosely organized. When it comes down to it, the friends we have in fandom are the most important part of a con. I'm glad I went. Guess I'm Stage 6. Hope you are, too.
All illustrations by Sheryl Birkhead