the sad decline of the american nerd
Fatman and two black Robins.
All fan conventions, be they about comics, RPGs, anime, or whatever, were spawned by science-fiction conventions. Some believe that the first of these gatherings took place in October 1936 when nine sci-fi fans traveled from New York to the Philadelphia home of Milton A. Rothman, a nuclear physicist and founder of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society. There’s also a contingent of people (mostly British) who hold that the first real science-fiction convention occurred in Leeds on January 3, 1937, and attracted about 20 fans, including Arthur C. Clarke.
In the decades following those two meet-ups, sci-fi cons focused almost entirely on literature, and there was little distinction between fan and celebrity. These early adopters understood that true science fiction is more cerebral and philosophical than most assholes will admit, and at its heart, the genre is about predicting the future of human existence based on current technology, politics, trends, and attitudes.
The arrival of Star Wars and its unprecedented mainstream popularity shifted most people’s idea of sci-fi from this “literature of ideas” to “lasers and spaceships.” It also changed the nature of science-fiction conventions. At some point in the 80s, they withered from meetings of minds who wanted to discuss the meanings of things into gatherings of off-kilter individuals who want to live inside fantasy worlds. For instance, costume contests have been a staple of sci-fi cons since the early days, but back then people didn’t parade around in them all day and throughout the evening while they looked for other “characters” to have sex with. And while I admit to loving the cosplay element of all major cons, I recognize that playing dress-up and pretending to be a cyborg is the opposite of intellectually discussing literature concerned with the future of mankind. Still, both are good times.