Public Image

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Title: Public Image
Creator: Sonni Cooper
Date(s): June 1981
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek
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Public Image is an essay by Sonni Cooper.

In it, she bemoans poor fan behavior at two recent cons, and poor fan behavior in general.

The essay was published in The Center Seat (June 1981).

The Essay

Recently, because of the attempt on the President's life, fans have been in the public eye. Then, topically, a film "The Fan" portraying a psychotic fan is released. The fiction seems to have become the reality. We, as fans, are identified as a lunatic fringe, unstable, and dangerous. Immediately we try to defend ourselves. We aren't really like the madmen the public has been led to believe we are - or are we? Let's try to examine what image we really do project.

At the Sheraton Plaza La Reina Hotel, the very same hotel in which we are having our WEEKEND, there have been two science fiction conventions within one month, EQUICON and PHANTASMICON. Bjo Trimble, the mother of Trekdom, reached back to the "good old days" and put on another EQUICON. Those of us who have been in fandom for years looked forward to the event with great anticipation. Another Equicon! Back to the good old days of fan run conventions! Hooray!

Well it wasn't. It wasn't because Bjo and John didn't try, but things have changed, and not for the better. It's difficult for me to write this article because I think I represent a group of fans who are the cream of the crop. Bill attracts a special kind of fan: intelligent, polite, well-groomed, and in every way the very best in fandom. Try to explain that to a hotel manager who has just had the braille markers removed from the elevators, whose elevator indicator light covers have been stolen, and whose $750 glass table has just been shattered. It is not easy.

I remember appearing on a television show and discussing the extraordinary cooperativeness of Star Trek fans. And what a bunch they were. In an auditorium full of people (12,000) there was hardly any litter, even where food was sold. When the fire-marshal got upset by the crowds, people actually gave up their seats so that the program could continue. I doubt if that could have happened at either EQUICON or PHANTASMICON. What was evident in these recent conventions does warrant comment, because there is a noticeable and an unhealthy change in fandom which is taking place.

Have any of you ever heard of peace-bonds? I'm sure most of you haven't and neither had I, until recently. They are plastic ties which are used to make weapons inoperative. Weapons? What do they have to do with fandom? The conventions are bristling with them. Warriors with realistic guns of all varieties menace people in the elevators, strut down the hallways, and scare the ordinary folks in the hotel out of their mind so I found myself making excuses for the "fun" the fans were having. The runners which Logan's Run spawned bothered people also, but didn't go to the extent these most recent hostile facimilies [sic] have. Star Trek fans are accustomed to gentle solutions, tolerance, the personification of IDIC and acceptance It's frightening to see fandom changing into a group belligerent people who see the future as a totally hostile environment.

Even those fans who have gone into fantasy seem to have picked periods in which fighting was prevalent and try to emulate the knights in shining armour, bashing each other happily and planning "wars" in which they can shine. True, fiction needs conflict to be exciting, but living that fantasy is something else. Whatever happened to the fans who genuinely believed in making the future a better place and were working toward that goal? Our society has changed and become more aggressive and with it fandom also* How sad.

I don't wish to imply that all fans are as described here, just that the trend is frighteningly obvious to the experienced observer of fandom. Bill gets his share of strange letters and my local FBI man knows me well. There could be no way a letter such as went to Jody Foster would be overlooked here. We have letters from Christ and the anti-Christ, (at least we're balanced), and all kinds of other mishegos (even a sandwich once).

Accepting the public image of fandom is difficult, but not entirely undeserved. An attempt was made on the President's life, and John Lennon was murdered by a fan. How can we make the public understand that these people are mad and incidentally fans?

Must we always be in the shadow of the "fanatic" from which the word fan is derived?

When people ask me what I do and I tell them I head the WILLIAM SHATNER FAN FELLOWSHIP I always qualify that with a statement which I believe is true - in both Star Trek fandom and in WISH itself people are brought together by a common love - and there can't be anything wrong with that.

If any of you have a constructive suggestion as to how we might be able to combat the negative image fandom has acquired I'd be interested in discussing it. Certainly, we can project a more positive identity to the word "fan."