Dark Shadows Open Letters

From Fanlore
Jump to: navigation, search
Open Letter
Title: not one specific title, but a series of columns, letters, and reactions
From: Bill Hunt, Kathy Resch
Addressed To:
Date(s): late 1982, and then 1983
Medium: print
Fandom: Dark Shadows
Topic: Fanac, fans as consumers
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.
first page of Bill Hunt's column in Inside the Old House #20

In the 20th issue of Inside the Old House, Bill Hunt in his semi-regular column called "Dark Tower," took his fellow Dark Shadows fans to task for being what he felt too passive in their fanac, forcing a handful of active fans to do all the work.

His column was followed by an open letter from Kathy Resch which was printed in Inside the Old House #21.

There were also numerous response letters of comments from fans, the vast majority of them admonishing Bill Hunt for both his message and its tone of delivery.

This column was Bill's last contribution to Inside the Old House.

Excerpts from Bill's Column

This is going to be a heavy column, folks. And one that will probably have some pretty heavy limguage. So if you can't take serious talk and adult language, you'd better just tum the page and continue on in the Dark Shadows fantasy world…

[snipped]

Having been in DS fandam for five years now has allowed me to meet a lot of people. Most of them at ShadowCons, same through editing Chosen Haunts, same through this column, same from reading fanzines, and same through personal correspondence. The fanzines are, of course, the major communication media in fandom. But being the major communications media, I wonder sometimes if they are being used by the majority of the readers. I'm going to pick on Inside the Old House and The World of Dark Shadows for some of the following information, which, I hope you remember, is highly subjective. Looking through some past issues of both zines, these fan writers' names appeared most often (at least every other issue): Dale Clark, Kathy Resch, Marcy Robin, Jeff Thompson, Maria Barbosa, Richard Levantino, Geoffrey Hamell, Adriana Pena, Jean Graham and Jack Kennelly, and probably some others which I overlooked. Most of these people I have met. They do stories, letters of comment, articles, or are editors/writers. Another list of names: Barbara Fister-Liltz, Judi Boguslawski, Janet Meehan, Jo Ann Christy, Shari Metcalf and Jane Lach. All talented artists and all have appeared in the zines for many issues running. (Isn't it interesting that the majority of the fan artists seem to be women? Come on guys, let's get some equality. I know you're out there Mike Mastin. Let's see some pen and ink work from your talented hands.) The thing is that these people seem to do a majority of the art and fiction in DS fandom. Where the hell are the rest of you?…

[snipped]

So far, I've talked about 25% of Dark Shadows fandom: 10% writers and artists, 15% letter writers. What about the other 75%? What the hell do the rest of you do? That's kind of hard to say. If I had to put it into one word, it would be consume. Consume. That's all you people do. You're kind of like an enormous void, a black hole that sucks in material. The material disappears into the maw and nothing ever escapes from that blackness. Not one word. There are some people who come to the ShadowCons and just consume. They buy the new novels and zines and head for the video room and watch the DS episodes. And that's all they do. I can swear that there have been attendees to ShadowCons that I have never been able to speak to because I simply never have been able to find a chance to talk with them. It was a rush to the viewing room from the dealers room and not a stop in between because they were showing the tape where Barnabas picks his nose before going down on a victim. These people are warm bodies. They sit in front of the glass teat and suck away. In programming for the cons, times have had to be set aside for potty breaks. Otherwise, people will sit there mesmerized, and pee their pants. Though whether this reaction is because the old bladder can't take it anymore or because of something seen on the screen is yet to be determined. And what do the creators of the fan projects get back from these consumers? Not a damn thing. Not a letter of praise or a comment of criticism. Thomas Jefferson said that people get the government they deserve. Perhaps it's true in DS fandom. Maybe the creators get the fans they deserve. Those people will slave over hot typewriters and drawing boards deserve contempt and disdain for letting their imaginations go and trying to create something that is original and entertaining….

[snipped]

The reason that I am saddened is also the same. The goal of being like their favorite character has created a type of tunnel vision, a view that they can't escape, or won't escape. Like flies in amber, they stay where they are, hamstrung in their own little closed universe. Never wanting to venture out for new excitements or new adventures. Just being content to play over in their minds the adventures of Barnabas, Quentin and company, never wanting to see what a rich diversity of life exists in the world. There is a vast majority of people sitting out there on their asses, reading this, and saying to themselves, "oh, he's not talking about me. I don't go to ShadowCon just to see the tapes of Barnabas picking his nose. I go to look at the art and hear the guests speak and look at what is for sale in the dealer's room and..."

Yeah, I'm talking to all you people who are thinking like that. You might notice that all the verbs used in the above paragraph are all passive. Not active. Passive. It means you watch the parade pass by instead of participating in it.[1]

Excerpts from Kathy Resch's Open Letter

first page of Kathy Resch's letter
There are, unfortunately, a lot of people in this world who think that they know what is best for all of us. In politics, we call them dictators, strongmen, ayatollahs. In religions, the dogma is lad down by any number of authority figures, all having the arrogance to set themselves up as having a direct path to the voice of God.

These people seem truly incapable of accepting something very basic to reality: People do not think alike. If you disagree with them, you're either ignorant (in which case, with smug condescension, they'11 offer their expert assistance in aiding you to find the Truth), or else, through maliciousness, you are deliberately denying the Truth, and, as such, if they have the power, you must be punished. If not by deed, then by word. Heretics never have an 'easy time of it. In their denial of this reality, they turn their backs on something far more important. Humanity is kinship, like the snowflakes from the sky. And, just like these snowflakes, not one of us is like another. Our individuality is our identity; any attempt to take that away lessens us all. One of the favorite tactics these people have is the label. It's simple and convenient. With one stroke, you're made less than himan. You become a simple cog in a vast machine; the homogenization of humanity into simple statistics, abstractions. The problem with labels, though, is that there are so many of them...

[snipped]

What I've said in this column so far has been general, and can be applied to very many situations. But I' d like to get specific now. The purpose of this letter is, of course, to reply to Bill Hunt's "Dark Tower" column in "Inside The Old House" #20. Upon reading it, I was struck by the fact that Mr. Hunt and I seemed to have attended entirely different ShadowCon's. Marcy Robin and myself were co-chairs of DARK SHADOWS programming, and so were present at those activities the majority of the time. Oddly enough, I don't recall ever seeing Bill there, which leads me to wonder just how he came to the observations reported in his column. But then, it's far easier to categorize people at a distance. It's easy to point to a crowd and generalize, and not see that the crowd is made up of individual faces. And the faces have names, and voices. And suddenly it's not a crowd anymore, but a group of alert, interesting people, all with their own viewpoint, their own tastes and interests and backgrounds, their own unique presence.

He saw a crowd of faceless drones, 'consumers'. I saw something far different- I saw fans from all over the country gathered to share their feelings for a very special show. I saw people exchanging information with each other on where they were from, their interests, what they did. I saw friendships being formed or renewed. I saw people enthusiastically take part in contests, auctions, in fan activities such as filksinging. I did not see a group of zombies who had to be told when to take a 'potty break in order not to pee their pants'. Though Bill might think it should be, fandom is not and should not be a hierarchy. There is no need for everything to be channelled through a central point. Simply because he does not have contact with most other fans does not mean that there's nothing going on out there. There's a pretty intricate pen-pal list. There have been DS parties in several parts of the US and Canada. The Grayson Hall Gathering. The DS party at Magique's disco in New York. I know of very many people who have formed fast friendships through DARK SHADOWS fandom, when they discovered other people who share both this, and many other interests. But Mr. Hunt has not taken the trouble to become informed on this, and because he is not, anything that does not directly concern him must obviously have no value.

Mr. Hunt seems to find it peculiar that people would watch episodes being shown at a convention, attend panels and other activities which he terms passive. Strange, isn't it, that a full 20% of these passive fans, at a previous convention, took part in the costume contest. People want to see DARK SHADOWS episodes? How surprising. I guess Mr. Hunt can't imagine why people who have, perhaps, seen a few episodes twice in fifteen years, might want to see them again. He must not realize how many of them are seeing these episodes for the first time. This isn't "Star Trek", "Outer Limits" or "Twilight Zone", whose episodes have been rerun 10 to 20 times in every major city of the country. These aren't horror movies available on the late night show, or for those with VCR's,at every video store in the country. The closest comparison are those people who are into Japanese-originated fantasy shows, or British ones like "Blake 7". "Dr. Who" used to be that way, too, before it began its current fairly widespread showing. Ever been to a convention showing any of these things? The rooms are silent, the people attentive, taking advantage of an opportunity they may never have again.

[snipped]

104 people (seven times more than what Mr. Hunt quoted) is nothing to disparage or "overlook". I'd say that it's a pretty terrific percentage. Since Mr. Hunt is setting himself up as such an expert, I'd like to know just how he conducted his research. He couldn't have consulted more than one issue of TWODS, for example, as three of the people he lists as 'regular contributors' --aren't. Does he see my mail? Does he see Dale's? Does he see the constant stream of letters of comment, news clippings, photographs, puzzles, current events items, trivia bits, bibliography information, personal encounter information that I receive? It is the rare person who does not write at least a few lines about the issues. I've been involved with political campaigns, one of the most vital interests people can have. I've also been involved with various aspects of fandom--science fiction, horror, fantasy, "Star Trek", "Darkover", "Star Wars", "Close Encounters", "The Prisoner", and "Dracula", to name a few. And in all my involvement with all these things, I can truly say I've never seen a higher degree of involvement than that I'd had with DARK SHADOWS fans. Which brings me to my final point.

No one is arguing about Mr. Hunt's right to write his column, But before he does his next one, a word of advice: Check your facts first.[2]

Reactions and Reviews from Fans

My, Bill Hunt's most recent "Dark Tower" certainly was dark, wasn't it? I felt lucky two of my submissions appeared in #20 just so I could feel exempt from his withering scorn. My only comment, trite as it may sound, is that you catch more flies (or DS fans) with honey than with vinegar. Alienating people and putting them on the defensive may stir up a temporary flurry of angry letters (which may well have been Bill's intention) but won't, I fear, encourage would-be writers and artists on the verge of sharing their creations. On the other hand, maybe DS fans have grown too complacent. I'll be interested to see what happens.[3]
I wonder what such infantile whining is doing in your fine fanzine. I am referring to Bill Hunt's column, which I hope shall be the last one to appear until he decides to grow up. ...why should all fans be active? Do they have the time for it in the first place? Is DS the main interest in their lives? There is no reason that it should be. There is a whole world out there. There are such things as jobs, family obligations, other interests. DS is not the end all and be all of existence. It is nice that someone has an interest in it, but it is not a matter of national importance if people do not give it as much as they can, only as much as they are willing to. There is room for marginal fans as well as devoted ones. As for the behavior of people at the cons, the way he complains one would think that fans rioted, tore up the hotel, committed lewd acts and got themselves arrested. No, all they do is that they watch tapes, go to the exhibits, move about.... No fan is obligated to start a relationship with another, although it is nice when they do. And be honest, do we do what we do to please the fans? I know I don't. I write to please myself. And it is nice if others enjoy it, yes. And it is nice if we start corresponding, too. And it is nice to have feedback. But no one has said that we had an automatic right to it.[4]
My only comment on #20 is of course about Bill Hunt's "Dark Tower": if that's adult language, guess I'm no adult: I'm 26.[5]
… just a little note: the foul language in Bill Hunt's column was a little offensive -- to me at least -- I can see why he did it, but would rather you didn't allow it again.[6]
I agree that #20's "Dark Tower" column is going to create controversy - of a positive sort, I hope. I had two seperate reactions to Bill's "kicking" me. My initial reaction was to get very angry - I was ready to fight with him, after all, he started it. Then I did other things for two or three hours. In the intervening time, my reaction changed to getting up after being knocked over and just sort of circling him - not turning my back on him and keeping out of the way of his feet and fists - while trying to figure out why Bill knocked me down in the first place.[7]
Reading his column this time was a surprise...it was a surprise since it puzzled me. 1 found myself extremely interested in what event (s) could have triggered his action to write on this particular subject...and in such an inarticulate manner. I was confused in his intention as he started his column by treating the reader to warnings of "heavy" reading and then the following content I found held arguments laced with fantasy and obscenity. Whatever prompted his catharsis to write this particular topic must have indeed frustrated him to such a degree that he lost his usual intelligent style of written expression. I was also disappointed in his point-of-view. Bill summarized his column theme as "reality". Even though he qualified his definition as his own I couldn't find any definition of the word in the column's content. At least, not to my experience. I wish he would elaborate on how he sees the world because from what I see his "reality" of life's choices are just as narrow, if not more so, as the people he is berating for being more active.

I can applaud his frustration that feedback on creative projects can sometimes seem non-existent and then from seemingly the same people.. but, that phenomenon is not unique to DS fandom. you will always find 2% of the population "doers" whether it be the business world or fandom. And I do believe that participation in DS fandom is much more than 21 so our average is indeed very good and should be lauded as such, not denigrated as in Bill's column.

I would suggest that Bill Hunt familiarize himself with his audience. Most of his readership are adults who lead complex and demanding careers and lives. The fact that these readers do not participate as zine or con contributors or make letters of conment may have nothing to do with their intelligence or a deficiency in their lifestyle or relationships. On the contrary, it might indicate that their time is devoted to some other aspect (i.e. career, homelife, sports) or that their particular creativity does not lend itself to zine showcasing (i.e. sculpting). As far as feedback is concerned I would like to quiz Bill...does he write every newspaper or magazine he reads about what he thinks of what he has read? [8]
After being properly admonished by Bill Hunt's "Dark Tower" column, I must agree. I am one of those "consuming black holes that suck in material". Your pages are full of wonderful talent. I especially like the work of Geoffrey Hamell and Judi Boguslawski.[9]
As for Bill Hunt's column, DARK TOWER...I'm still not quite sure how to respond to it. I can't help feeling that if I try to make a rebuttal I'll come across as getting defensive over something that comes a little too close to home. And there would be a certain amount of truth to that; I cculd do more than I do now and I'm going to try. But I've seen much the same kind of thing happen in theater (particularly community theater) where a few really committed people wind up carrying the show. Unfair? Yes, but the level of participation for anyone in anything is still largely up to them. Besides, maybe in something like DS fandom it's better to have at least some "silent support" (consumers according to Mr. Hunt) than none at all. I don't happen to buy that for myself - I goof off and I know it and I feel bad because I'm a writer and could do more….[10]
"An Open Letter to Bill Hunt" As a person who discovered Dark Shadows less than a year ago I feel compelled to reply to your column on fan apathy. I share your frustration with people who have turned into zombies but I'm not sure I like your method of cure. Anger and the juvenile language you describe as adult will not motivate people. Shared enthusiasm and praise would be more effective. Creative fans need consumers just as actors need an audience....You point out the dynamic quality of the series, its characters and its creators, all necessary for success in TV. But success is measured by size of the audience, a majority of whom only sit and watch. And if enough people watch, the show is a hit. Some of us are naturally shy and feel we have nothing to contribute, and some of us are so eager to see DS episodes again, having been deprived of them since the last con, that we find it hard to stop watching. People need to be inspired to respond actively to creative ability in any media, but they must be encouraged in a positive way, not resentfully ordered. Reading your column makes me aware of your displeasure. But you seem to have written it only to let off steam and to impress the reader with the strength of your hostility. You make no suggestion to improve the situation. I sincerely believe your anger is not going to make apathetic fans participate more fully in ShadowCon. What I'd suggest is encouraging those who were once new fans to help by reaching out to newcomers, by talking to them and making them feel welcome.[11]
Re: THE DARK TOWER...why should anyone be pressured into meeting other people's expectations? Yes, there are those who only buy the zines and join the clubs and attend the Shadowcons...and THANK GOD FOR THEM! NO fandom can exist on the barter system...we require consumers to provide the funds so we can print and produce these things. Everyone has a very involved life outside of fandom; with the demands placed on each and everyone of us these days by careers, society, families, government, church, etc. it's a wonder anyone has the time to attend the cons, or read the zines or join the clubs, much less participate in them. What's happened to that word I've heard so often in DS fandom, when describing us—Family"? Yes, I know: "Being in a family requires the assumption of responsibility". This is true. But It also demands understanding and patience and respect for others beliefs, and ways, no matter how different from our own. When that understanding ceases to exist, what you have is not a "Family", but a "Patriarchy". By the way, for all my participating, I also love watching DARK SHADOWS episodes...especially as well presented as they always are at Shadowcon, and as often as my duties will allow me to be there, you will find me in the screening room, along with a lot of interesting, warm and friendly people (All in full control of our bladders, thank you).[12]
Since Bill Hunt was kind enough to include me among the contributors I feel I can speak my mind freely.... from a fan's viewpoint, and on that level I was offended. You couldn't possibly afford to print ITOH solely for the dozen or so contributors. We are dependent on the silent majority for their subscriptions. Without their great numbers and financial support our stories, art, etc., would never see the light of day. With the increases in postage and printing costs it is probably these 'consumers' who are keeping the zines afloat. May I add that it is also these 'warm bodies" that turn up in great numbers at ShadowCon that keep individual membership rates low enough to enable more fans to afford the event. Bill gripes about fans who do nothing but condemn and criticize. There are and always will be people like that. But instead of giving these people a gentle prod by suggesting ways in which they can discover the joys of contributing he, too, chooses to ridicule. There are better ways of encouraging action than beating someone over the head with a baseball bat which only breeds resentment. Some people simply aren't as obsessed by DS as others and maybe that's the dividing line between the two groups.[13]
Re: Dark Tower. Of course a lot of fans don't write anything - they don't have time I They're too busy living. And who ever said they had to be writers or artists? Fandom is a form of relaxation and a social activity - not a literary competition. Who the hell would we be writing for without them? I can't help wondering at such snide superiority on the part of a person who does so little himself- whose novel, announced 3 1/2 years ago, has yet to see completion, and who can't even turn out a "Dark Tower" in more than five out of ten issues.[14]

References

  1. ^ from Inside the Old House #20
  2. ^ from Inside the Old House #21
  3. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  4. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  5. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  6. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  7. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  8. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  9. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  10. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  11. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  12. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  13. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21
  14. ^ from an LoC in "Inside the Old House" #21