Underground Fandom (essay)

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Title: Underground Fandom
Creator: M.J. Fisher
Date(s): April 1976
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
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Underground Fandom is a 1976 Star Trek: TOS essay by M.J. Fisher.

It was printed in Spectrum #24.

Some Topics Discussed

  • "Who are the people in fandom that make all of the decisions and pass the word about so-and-so and you-know-who?"
  • the structure and organization of fans and fandom, why it is important
  • fandom as a place where everyone's jockeying for position and power

From the Essay

Fans have admitted in the past that the structure in fandom comes close to anarchy and that the less formal structure: the better. Although this may seem the case outwardly fandom actually is structured in a subtle but very definite way. Some months ago a correspondent put down in a letter what she considered to be the hierarchy of fandom. I had reasoned something of this sort for awhile but never seen it on paper. The following is a condensed but comprehensive outline for the structure of that hierarchy:

1) Armchair fans
2) Trekkies
3) Neofans/Trekkers
4) Contributing or Established fans
5) BNF's

This list is helpful in putting a name to those groups of fans which are so often talked about. These five groups can probably be subdivided and there is a big gap between the Establish Fen and the BNFs but these 5 gross units should serve,to illus trate the pyramid of influence and power in fandom.

So now, a structure is established or at least assumed to exist for the sake of argument. It seems only natural that fans would have organized themselves into some sort of structure and it is probably inevitable. First, mankind is basically not an anarchic creature but a social one, so that any group of people that get together is likely to begin organizing a crude government from the very start. Second, fandom is composed mainly of members of mankind (with perhaps a few honorary BEM's and ET's). If you follow the syllogism out to the third conclusion it becomes apparent that fandom is also destined to develop a more complex government or organization as time passes.

Fandom is still young, and the structure isn't all that apparent, but it is necessary. There are probably dozens of functions that a government structure has in fandom; the most important is that it binds us together under some kind of coordinated system. A government also serves the purpose of keeping a unit (country, state, county, or network of people-such as fandom is) in equilibrium, that is, maintaining its structure over a period of time against external and internal changes that might otherwise dissolve the unit. Clearly, we want to maintain equilibrium in fandom.

A government in fandom also serves to police itself or maintain checks and balances. In this way a fan must work his way up from tl',e Armjhair to the BNF with the aid of talent, experience, a little incentive and a lot of time. Anyone pinpointed in fandom for being a Fake Fan, who steps on toes in order to achieve that title of BNF, won't last long. There is a psychological conditioning that most fans go through on their way through the pyramid which will set the rest of fandom against a person who tries to get what he can't possibly deserve or hasn't earned properly.

Armchair fans have almost no knowledge of fandom, and most Trekkies are more interested in Star Trek in its pure form than in fandom. Neofans however, are people who have broken into fandom and are learning the ropes. From this point on you can expect to see people to begin influencing the structure of fandom or at least taking part in it.

The real activists exist with the Established fans and the BNFs. These people have worked their way up through most of the pyramid. Most Established fans can be considered ST trivia experts not because they have worked toward that goal but because trivia is just something you master to be able to contribute to a lot of discussions in fandom. These people have a vested interest in fandom. Most of them have devoted years of their life, thousands of hours of their time and effort and have spent thousands of dollars of personal money. These people are the most likely to be the underground directors of fandom.

I have mentioned before in Spectrum's pages that the powerful congregations of fandom's upper echelon lie in geographic regions where fans are more numerous (the major areas are New York, California, Texas, the Great Lakes, and the Rockies, the latter, despite its low population concentration has produced a surprising number of fans and zines). These powerful cliques also get together at cons in individual conclaves. The major lines of communication lie with the mail and partially with the telephone, but Established fans & BNFs tend to be well-spaced.

Two sources of organization and influence in fandom that I have not talked about before in Spectrum are sercon fanzines and the Star Trek Welcommittee.

The two fanzine's that are devoted mainly to sercon (serious & constructive) fandom are Halkan Council and Spectrum. Halkan Council has the unique ability of being able to turn Neofen into Established Fen or the latter into BNFs. HC is read by some of the major activators in fanaom and offers other fans the opportunity of getting in print with a simple letter, and doing so every month at the most. This makes them noticeable in fandom and also makes HC quite a name-dropper as zines go. Spectrum too, undoubtedly has some effect on the fans that read it. It is an effect that I am not in a position to judge well though.

When it comes to influence however, the Star Trek Welcommittee has the most powerful potential for power in STrekdom. Since S.T.A.R. faded away the STW has been the only major collection of fans in the country. Now, STW's overt function is to collect knowledgeable fans together to answer other fans' questions. Because of this there is a power structure that exists in the STW below the surface. All of those knowledgeable fans in STW (over 140 of them) are also active members of fandom. Among those 140 fans exists a sizable chunk of the tip of fandom's hierarchy. Within its grasp the STW has a good number of BNFs and quite a collection of some of the most active established fans in fandom. The STW still maintains a strict neutrality of opinion and never ventures too far out on the editorial limb, but it is still quite an organization to reckon with because it is seething with power and through proper manipulation it could conceivably alter the current values or the entire course of fandom. This isn't likely to occur but it is more than possible and something to keep in mind.