Thanks to Glee, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and Guitar Hero, my kids know the words to all the songs that were popular when I was in high school, and quite a few songs that made the charts when I was still riding a tricycle.
These TV shows, plus Karaoke and dance video games and the ubiquitous Rock Band have made the hits of the 70s and 80s—and some of the 60s—cool again. Sure, the songs have an updated sound (no chord organs), and they’re not the original artists. But as covers go, they’re pretty damn good. Better than many cover bands I’ve heard. But what really matters is that these shows and games managed to make songs that were meaningless to teens and twenty-somethings relevant and relatable.
So how does fandom go about doing the same thing for the favorite books that aren’t on the radar of anyone under 50?
I think one thing that’s important to note about the Glee phenomenon is that no one lectured viewers about the relative merit of the old songs. Not only that, both artists and performers had to be willing to bend to update the sound. And it doesn’t work for every song. I don’t think we’ll be seeing the car crash ballads of the 1950s revived, unless they’re updated for drive-bys. (It’s possible.)
What does this mean for fandom? Instead of bemoaning the dearth of young people at (some) cons, perhaps some bending is in order from the old guard to entice young fen into the flock. Media cons certainly have young fans in droves, because they like the fames and the TV/movie tie-ins and the costumes. How is that a bad thing? These don’t diminish books; they extend our audience.
At the same time, it’s important to recognize that some stories won’t resonate with readers outside of the time period of the story’s creation because the world has changed too much, even for sci fi. Stories that are overtly sexist, racist, jingoistic or otherwise exclusive will feel like ancient history, not futuristic tales. Some stores, beloved as they may be, outlive their time.
The artists whose work has suddenly become relevant to a whole new generation are profiting from the exposure. The original fans find themselves smiling and singing along, much to the amazement of their kids. (If you’d have asked me if someday my teenagers would know the songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show, I wouldn’t have bet money on it, and I’d have been wrong.) In fact, by closing the musical generation gap, these shows have opened a door to a whole new form of togetherness.
Cons can be a terrific forum for shared interests across generations. I’ve seen it happen. If it’s not happening at a con near you, tune in to an episode of Glee or fire up Guitar Hero and see if you don’t get a few ideas on how to bridge the gap.