A few weeks ago, I was honored to be a fan guest of honor at Oasis 23, an annual fan literary convention held in Central Florida by the Orlando Area Science Fiction Society.
This was my fourth year attending that convention, and one I have proudly added to my annual stops along with Necronomicon in the Tampa Bay region, that I have attended for nearly a decade.
But something I noticed at both these conventions, and it’s not just exclusive to them: There was too many times when I was the youngest person in the room. And I’m not terribly young at 34.
Don’t get me wrong, older fans are the best. They have knowledge going back to the Stone Age, and are wonderful people to spend time with. However, they are still older fans, and are not really bringing younger people with them to also experience science-fiction and what it’s like to be a part of fandom.
Sadly, it seems that conventions, at least in Florida, have changed a lot. I can understand why Oasis and Necro might struggle a bit with younger people as most of them will only read Harry Potter and Twilight (and not really pay much attention to such classic authors like Richard Lee Byers — love that guy!), and so literary conventions might not be their cup of tea.
But at the same time, it seems even “media” conventions — which typically bring in actors and such — are still struggling in a tough economy, and in one where it seems only older people are interested.
The first convention I ever attended was in Orlando in 1996. It was a Vulkon that featured Kate Mulgrew from “Star Trek: Voyager.” I remember how packed that place was. My dad and I were tightly squeezed in our seat for the main presentations, but there was so much to do. Friday night had a watch party for “The X-Files” as it aired of Fox, muting the commercials so that we could discuss what we saw. Klingons were everywhere, and were “arresting” people for charity, forcing them to pay a fine, or visit their torture chamber (which was them in a small room having to listen to Sinatra real loud).
There were people in costumes everywhere, especially young people, teenagers, and the like. To me, fandom at conventions would last forever. But now, I don’t know.
What will it take? That’s a good question. Ann Morris, a columnist here who has spent many years as one of the organizers of Necronomicon (and where I met her), talked a little bit about this a few weeks ago, and I want to mirror some of what she said.
Conventions need to really look at attracting young people. If that means providing more activities that would attract a younger generation (like less talky panels, and more interactive offerings); bringing in guests related to Twilight, Harry Potter, the recent comic book movies etc.; or to simply start passing out flyers at schools, it really needs to be done.
As a fan, the convention is the place where we can be reminded why we love being fans of the shows and books and movies that we are. It helps us meet other people who are like-minded, and gives us an avenue to celebrate the things we love.
I’m 34 now, and when I turn 64, I still want to be going to conventions, like Oasis 53, Necronomicon 2040 and Vulkon: The Next Generation. It will mean we as fans will have to try and bring younger people into the fold, and it also means conventions will have to work to find ways to attract that youthful demographic to their hotel site.