The Graying of the Fan—Or Not

by Gail Z. Martin

I attend more than a dozen sci-fi/fantasy conventions each year, mostly along the East Coast. One of the topics that comes up often in conversation, if not as the actual topic of a panel, is the fear in some areas that fandom is graying and that young people aren’t embracing the genre.

I just don’t see it.

If anything, the Millennial generation—those folks now in their teens and twenties—are the most sci-fi saturated generation in history. They teethed on Buffy, came of age with Harry Potter, immersed themselves playing Final Fantasy, navigated the Twilight phenomenon, and exist in a world where a huge percentage of the books, movies and TV shows have a supernatural/paranormal bent. It’s almost impossible for them to avoid the genre. These young people played with light sabers as kids and went trick-or-treating as anime characters.

But here’s what over-40 fans need to accept—the next generation of fans are a multi-media fandom raised in a multi-media world. Few of them are going to go back and read pulp stories from the 1930s or 1940s—why should they? Not only were those stories, however much they may be revered as classics of the genre, written fifty years before they were born, but the sci-fi in them isn’t amazing to people who played with computers in day care, are indigenous citizens of the Internet and navigate iPads, iPods and cell phones with the fluency of a Borg.

I’ve found that when people lament the decline of fandom, there’s really a wish for fandom to remain primarily book oriented, and, if truth be told, on books published a while ago. Yet, as futurists should know better than anyone, time marches on.
I’ve been to cons that eschew media and gaming where people ponder the lack of young fans. Then I go to multi-media cons like DragonCon, and I see where all the young fans are. The next generation of fans want to celebrate the genre as they’ve come to love it—and that goes beyond books to gaming, anime, movies, TV and the Web. Speak their language, honor their interface with the genre, and they will come—in droves.

Something amazing happens at multi-media cons. Older fans discover elements of the genre that they’re surprised to like. Younger fans get switched on to authors who were published long before the fans were born. And just like on a Star Trek episode where two alien races have a positive first encounter, the whole thing works surprisingly well.

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