Science Fiction Fandom vs. Media Fandom

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Event: Science Fiction Fandom vs. Media Fandom
Participants: Science Fiction Fandom and Media Fandom
Date(s): 1960s – 1970s (?)
Fandom: Science Fiction
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Much has been made (by media fans) of the tension between old school literary science fiction fans and new media fans when first the two clashed in the 1960s and 70s. SF fandom had been around in the United States since the 1930s when sf was delivered via pulp magazines and was beginning to differentiate itself from other pulp genres like horror, fantasy, and superhero comics; Star Trek, premiering in 1966, was the first American science fiction television show to produce a major fandom, although the sf genre had been televised in the United States before (Lost in Space). Meanwhile, Doctor Who appeared on British screens for the first time in 1963, though it was and remains more mainstream in the U.K. than Star Trek is in the U.S.[citation needed] Nowadays both book fans and media fans are considered science fiction fans. Many larger "science fiction" conventions (both for-profit and non-profit) combine many fannish interests all under one tent -- literary sf, TV and movie sf, anime, gaming, comics, etc.

Much of the early jargon and fan activity of media fandom came directly from SF fandom (fanzines, letterzines, BNF, filking and more). However, "media fandom" is defined differently in different contexts. While the earliest media fandoms were mostly science fiction television shows, and therefore all media fans were also sf fans (according to their understanding at least), "media fandom" has since been used to describe fandoms for all television shows (and more!), regardless of genre. Thus, someone who draws fan art for Community might be considered a media fan, but not an sf fan (unless they also like Doctor Who).

Similar Relationships and Divides

Culture Clash: Star Trek and SF Fandom

the cover of MOTA #15 (March 1976), a science fiction zine portrays two stoic science fiction fans in an elevator at a con surrounded by Star Trek fans, art by Steve Stiles and Dan Steffan
Caption for this negative and mocking 1976 article from the UK paper, "The Guardian," "Trekkie with antennae; embarrassing to the SF straights," an example of the worst of mundane and fansplaining reporting about fans.

The huge influx of Star Trek fans in the late 1960s and the 1970s were an example of some of "free range" fannishness. While the terms Feral Fandom and "gatekeeping" weren't yet used, the fannish divide over space, power, and tradition is similar.

There were many, many instances of the old school, general science fiction fans being very unhappy with the influx of Star Trek fans whom they felt to be huge mobs of immature neos uneducated in the ways of fandom; folks who didn't know the language, didn't know the customs, hadn't "paid their dues," were female (!), were too young, hadn't learned at the knees of the "right" people, supposedly weren't interested in "real" science fiction, and essentially invaded traditional fannish places. And vice versa: Star Trek fans found the general SF/sf fans to be hostile, unwelcoming, snobbish, rigid, and overwhelmingly male and older. The culture clash was huge and long-lived and a major source of discussion.

Robert Runte, editor of the 3rd edition of "The NCF Guide to Canadian Science Fiction & Fandom," points out the three specific problems of what he calls the "1970s' Barbarian Invasion":

More recently, many long-time sf fans, especially in zinedom, considered the rise of Trekdom to be the greatest Barbarian Invasion of them all... What really hurt was the massive flowering of media fandom in general during the 1970s following the example set by Trekdom.

1) "The mere size of the influx destroyed the close-knit intimacy of fandom...Fans felt themselves a minority at their own celebrations ( conventions )...prominent fanzines suddenly became obscure as their print runs fell hopelessly behind the exploding numbers of newcomers...Clubs were also shaken as established fans found themselves out-voted..."

2) "The newcomers were a new type of fan...As viewers rather than readers, they tended to be less be passive consumers rather than active doers. They arrived at conventions expecting the organizers to put on a show for them, rather then get involved...they often seemed to view fandom as a commodity or service they could buy, rather than as something one did. Two-way communication was lost."

3) "...( as with most empires overrun by barbarians ) fandom was already rotting from within...factors had begun to erode fandom's former the mid-1970s there were over a thousand SF ( book ) releases a year, making it impossible to remain current on the whole field...the chances of two fans having read the same book declined sharply, eroding the sense of community which used to stem from a shared literature.” [1]

In 1981, David Gerrold wrote extensively of his conflicted relationship with being known as a TPTB in the Star Trek fandom:

Back in '1973, I wrote to the Torcon II committee in Toronto and told them that I would be glad to be on any panels, but please not to schedule me to talk about Star Trek, because I wanted to be known for my other science-fiction credentials too. They were very understanding. And as a matter of fact, they weren't planning to schedule any Star Trek programming at all.

Well, there was one thing—

Dorothy Fontana had brought with her a preview print of the very first animated Star Trek episode and they were going to show it late Friday night. Unfortunately, there was a problem getting a projectionist—it would be at least an hour and a half before he could get to the hotel—and there were already two thousand people sitting and waiting for the film to start.

It was a hot summer night—and getting hotter. The total convention attendance was about twenty-two hundred, and almost every single one of the attendees was in that hall and getting impatient and angry. So Bjo Trimble, armed with only a chair, a whip, and her own inimitable style, got up in front of this crowd and began to talk to them about Star Trek things — how the animated show was made, why certain decisions were decided the way they were, and so on.

Meanwhile, John Trimble went out looking for reinforcements—he was trying to put together an emergency panel on very short notice. He found me in the bar. He tried to draft me. I said no. Fourteen times. I said, "John, people keep telling me that this continual association with Star Trek is ruining my reputation. And maybe they're right—if enough people believe that, then it's true. This is the Worldcon, and I want to be known as the guy who wrote "When Harlie was One" and "The Man Who Folded Himself" — I don't want to get up in front of this audience and talk about Star Trek! I'm tired of Star Trek!" "But these people aren't—and this is an emergency. The fans are angry, and we need someone who knows what he's talking about and who knows how to handle an audience. Bjo's up there all alone!" He had me there. Not my loyalty to the convention, or even my loyalty to Star Trek— but my friendship for John and Bjo. I felt a strong obligation to those two people so I aid it as a personal favor for them. I got up in front of that crowd, side by side with Bjo Trimble, and did what I had promised myself I wouldn't do—talk about Star Trek at a World Science Fiction Convention.

Well, it was an emergency.

I did my best for them, and I even had a good time doing it—and it felt like the audience had fun too. So 1 figured that I had done my good deed for that year, because I had put my own concerns aside to help someone else. Right?


A couple of years later, I came under attack in the pages of an east coast fanzine. The reason was unimportant, it was just my turn in the bucket; but one of the crimes I was accused of committing was of "pandering to the massed Trekkies at Torcon II."

Pandering?!! I had been dragged to that podium kicking and screaming every bloody inch of the way. (Ask John Trimble, he still has the scars.)

Trekkies?!! I hadn't seen any Trekkies. I had seen two thousand science-fiction fans, ninety percent of the attendance of the 1973 World Science Fiction Convention. What made them Trekkies all of a sudden? That they were willing to sit an hour and a half in a very hot room waiting to see an animated cartoon? They could just as easily been defined as a bunch of science-fiction fans who just like Star Trek a lot.

The editor of that fanzine didn't want to hear the facts, he'd already made his mind up. He refused to print my response. Terrific. This is how fandom says thank you. That was when I stopped being so available for emergencies. I figured what the hell, next time let them have the riot.

But—one of the things that bothered me the most about that incident was that the author of the article had used the word Trekkie as an epithet—as if it were something to be ashamed of.... [2]

Some Fan Comments

In 1974, a fan was impatient with the influx of Star Trek fans at Houstoncon:

[1974]: Like all Star Trek cons, this one had its share of Trekkies. To some people Trekkie refers to any Star Trek fan, but most ST fans find the word demeaning. I myself apply the term to female ST fans who squeal at the thought of just seeing one of the Star Trek cast in person. There were defiantly some of those at Houston. Trekkies are usually less mature than most ST fans and tend to make a nuisance of themselves. [3]

In a 1989 issue of Comlink, a fan groused:

Ever since I returned to fan activity a year ago, I have been carping about the way media fandom has brought about the deterioration of Fandom As I Know It... I am... unhappy about the number of 'media' fans who come passively to conventions to be entertained, and who are rarely capable of stringing ten words together in a sentence -- much less of combining two ideas and getting a third/better one, and who seem incapable of doing anything beyond the level of superficial sociality. I still think there are too many of them underfoot... [4]

In the next issue of "Comlink," another fan replied:

I'll try to respond to your letter even though I have difficulty employing ten words in a sentence. Yes, we are everywhere! Media Fen, Costume Fen, all of us, we're everywhere you go! Lucacons, Westercons, World Cons! We like to be entertained. We enjoy seeing artists and authors do magic tricks and juggle hoops while balancing on a large rubber ball. For too long, we have been judged by the color of our fannish activities and not by the content of our interests. I have a dream where media fen will no longer have to sit at the back of the ballroom during the panels, go through separate doors to con suites, or get soda from separate bathtubs. We will costume you in the halls, we will filk you around the jacuzzi, we will meet the tru-fen where ever they may be until victory is ours. We shall overcome, we shall overcome. [5]

From a 1990 issue of Comlink:

I was especially interested in the comments on the on-going 'readers versus media fans' discussion. I, too, recall the attitude of science fiction fandom toward Star Trek fandom in its infancy. But, actually it goes back beyond that. A few years before the Trekkies, the same sort of thing was happening with the old-line sf fans and the 'hippie' invasion of the late 60's and early '70's -- between, broadly, the fans who crowded around the bar and the ones who retreated to dark rooms with loud stereos and funny cigarettes. But it's just human nature: the existence of an in-group implies out-groups, those pathetic and often obnoxious people who don't share _____ (fill in the blank). Just as Star Trek fans discovering sf cons were often made to feel like second class citizens, so too, at Star Trek cons after the summer of 1977, were people in Princess Leia outfits and Imperial Stormtrooper outfits often looked upon as somehow inferior. Not to mention smaller out-groups. I can recall a serious conversation among committee members at a Star Trek con in the midwest about whether they should ban Runners from their next con. 'Runners' you say? Well, there was a small, but dedicated group of boisterous, youthful Logan's Run fans who wore quite nicely done uniforms and, in keeping with the nature of their characters, spent a great deal of time chasing each other around the function rooms and corridors, and zapping each other with blasters. Admittedly, they could be a little annoying if you were having a conversation in the vicinity, but it hardly seemed reasonable to ban them from a con. Like I said, it's human nature. [6]

A fan in 2006 wrote of discovering science fiction fandom because of Star Trek and writes of the tensions between the two groups:

I joined a fan club, Star Trek Action Group, and my very first convention was Terracon 77 in Liverpool. I've been going to conventions ever since. I eventually discovered that there were local fans and began attending Warped Out, which was the forerunner of what developed into Glasgow's Away Team. Then came 1980 when Glasgow had it's first Eastercon. That's when I learned that there were general SF fans out there. Even although the universities had SF groups, as a student I knew nothing of their existence. I guess they hadn't learned the concept of advertising. Or worse, I was a MEDIA fan, and they didn't want the likes of me in their midst. Once I began mixing with SF fans of various shades I began to learn that I was a member of a much despised and looked down on group, being a Star Trek fan. I learned that there were such things as fannish fans who produced little fanzines which talked about what they had for breakfast or the colour of their toilet paper, and who never seemed to talk about SF. My previous exposure to fanzines was of the Star Trek variety which contained stories about the characters. What these fanzines were was something else. The fannish ones appeared to run the fan rooms at conventions and looked down on anyone who wasn't in their little clique. I learned that they didnt like media fans, considering us as something they had trod in. They seemed to have this idea that media fans didn't read books (come to my house and see how wrong that idea is!). And they didn't like people wearing costumes. [7]

Star Wars Zine Discussions

The Star Wars letterzine Southern Enclave contained extensive discussions about sf vs. media fans in issues 8-11.

Gender Differences

Historically, SF fandom was overwhelmingly male, so much so that some female fans have been made to feel unwelcome. To this tension -- the sense that fandom for televisual sources, the sense that female fans were "doing it wrong" -- is attributed the splitting off of female-dominated media fandom from sf fandom beginning in the late 1960s.

From a 2010 interview with Paula Smith in Transformative Works and Cultures:

The SF guys didn't want to talk about things that women were interested in. Buck Coulson, an SF (and U.N.C.L.E.) writer, used to say, 'There is no subtle discrimination against Trek fans in science fiction—it's blatant.' And the women said, 'The heck with this,' and started making their own zines and organizing their own conventions.... Trek fandom was the mirror image of science fiction fandom. I would say 90 percent of science fiction fandom at the time was men and 10 percent was women, and there was a reverse 10-to-90 men-to-women split in Trek fandom. The two groups quickly diverged; after a while, only about 5 to 10 percent would shuttle back and forth between the two fandoms.[8]

A fan in 2007 posted:

Wouldn't it be cool if the science fiction crowd and the media fandom crowd acknowledged their overlap on a regular basis? I tend to suspect that a lot of ficcers, like me, started out as SF geeks and moved into fanfic because that seemed to be where all the women were. (Chalk that up, in part, to the cluelessness of my youth, but also: yeah.) I know quite a few women in fandom who would be very happy talking about the topics of an SF con, if only they (a) had ever heard of SF cons; (b) had never heard a jillion bad stories of insultingness and social infelicity at SF cons; (c) had programming geared toward their interests; (d) felt more welcome; and (e) all of the above. [9]

In 1992, Henry Jenkins wrote:

Indeed, the largely female composition of media fandom reflects a historical split within the science fiction fan community between the traditionally male-dominated literary fans and the newer, more feminine style of media fandom. Women, drawn to the genre in the 1960s, discovered that the close ties between male fans and male writers created barriers to female fans and this fandom's traditions resisted inflection or redefinition. The emergence of media fandom can be seen, at least in part, as an effort to create a fan culture more open to women, within which female fans could make a contribution without encountering the entrenched power of long-time male fans; these fans bought freedom at the expense of proximity to writers and editors.[10]


See also: Fandom and Profit

One example of the differing cultural expectations of how money, and value, changed hands:

Very little of what you say about fans and what they write is new I found it surprising when I delved in to media fandom, being a long-time fan, that one must pay money for a media fanzine, and it's mostly fiction. In sf fandom, editors mostly trade fanzines for artwork, articles, letters of comment or money (collectively know as 'the usual'). While I can understand that it takes money for a fanzine, since I publish, I was surprised at the attitude that some media fanzine editors had that 'this zine costs money, you know,' as if this would be news. I go the impression that money was very important to media zine editors, while in sf fandom, it's very rarely talked about.[11]

21st Century

A Daily Dot article in 2014 pointed to Worldcon as a vestige of this old divide between book and media fandom that otherwise has ceased to exist in online fandom and younger generations of fans:

The idea of a rivalry between media and book fandom seems borderline nonsensical to anyone who grew up with Sherlock, Harry Potter, and comic book adaptations, but Worldcon is one of the last true holdouts of the idea that only hard sci-fi/fantasy literature is the "real" thing. At one point, I heard multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Robert Silverberg jokingly refer to new media and comic cons as "those other moron conventions."[12]

The article went on to report that at least one person did not know that slash fanfic was still popular because he didn't see them in zines any more.[12] (This lack of knowledge is not exclusive to Worldcon; this editor distinctly recalls a panelist at Arisia in 2013 saying something similar.[13] To be fair, if you weren't looking to read it yourself, you may not stumble on it.)

Further Reading/Meta

  • In a dreamwidth post about RaceFail 09, oliviacirce made some comments about the media fandom vs. sf book fandom divide. (May 2009)


  1. ^ The Canadian Fancyclopedia, 2009, accessed December 5, 2011
  2. ^ Pride & Prejudice, David Gerrold, from Starlog #43, February 1981, page 22-23
  3. ^ HoustonCon 71-74: Star Trek's Koenig a Big Hit, Archived version
  4. ^ from Comlink #40 (1989)
  5. ^ from Comlink #41
  6. ^ from Comlink #46
  7. ^ Thoughts on Fandom by rhionnach posted September 10, 2006, accessed February 10, 2012
  8. ^ Walker, Cynthia W. 2011. "A Conversation with Paula Smith." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 6. doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0243.
  9. ^ comment by vehemently at her journal, Archived version, May 29, 2007
  10. ^ Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. p. 48.
  11. ^ from Comlink #42, January 1990.
  12. ^ a b Gavia Baker-Whitelaw. How the growing generation gap is changing the face of fandom, Archived version, The Daily Dot, 25 August 2014.
  13. ^ aethel. more on fanfic at arisia, Archived version, posted to dreamwidth, 20 January 2013.