(This post is quite unpolished, but I'm putting it up anyway, because if I wait too long it won't be as relevant.)
I just got done with another year of Life, the Universe, and Everything, the annual science fiction and fantasy symposium held in Provo every February. I've been involved with this on and off over the years ever since attending my first one in 1995. While in college in the late 1990s I served on the planning committee, and now that I'm living in the area again I hope to serve on the committee for next year's meeting.
This thing has been going on since 1983. It's a symposium, or supposed to be. I haven't observed it continuously for the past 20 years because I've been away for such large gaps, but when I think back on the times I attended in the 1990s and the last few years, I perceive some differences. Subcultures of science fiction and fantasy appreciation have grown immensely since I was a teenager, with people scrambling to claim the title of "geek" as a badge of honor. My memory might be distorted, but from what I recall, this did not happen in 1994.
Now there are multiplying fandoms burgeoning with eager new geeks. I have relatives who number among these, but they're nowhere near as hardcore as the people at LTUE. Here you see the older generations of nerds: people who were nerds before it was cool. And now they bring their children. Fandom and geekdom might be getting popular, but these people are the real deal and they still don't blend in to the mainstream.
I'm reminded of a Cory Doctorow essay I read:
Standing in Melbourne airport on the day before this year’s World Science Fiction convention, I found myself playing the familiar road-game known to all who travel to cons: spot the fan. Sometimes, “spot the fan” is pitched as a pejorative, a bit of fun at fannish expense, a sneer about the fannish BMI, B-O, and general hairiness.
. . .
Looking for fans isn’t just about looking for heavyset people, or guys with big beards, or people who are sloppily dressed. Looking for fans is about looking for people who appear to have given a great deal of thought to how they dress and what they’re doing, and who have, in the process of applying all this thought to their daily lives, concluded that they would like to behave differently from the norm. It is about spotting people who are dressed as they are not because of fashion, nor because of aspiration, but because they have decided, quite deliberately, that this is the best thing for them to wear. ("A Cosmopolitan Literature for a Cosmopolitan Web," from Context, available here for free download)
I've thought a lot about wearing costumes to LTUE - some people do. It's nowhere near as extreme as, say, DragonCon. It's really not a convention, but I perceive an entropic sort of impulse to devolve it into simply a time and place for misunderstood people to geek out. I've seen these forces operating since I started attending, and that's part of what drives me to want to stay involved: I want to help maintain its academic mission, keep it focused on and aspiring toward academic rigor. Along with that goes a recognition of what Cory wrote, and a realization of why I can't stay away from speculative fiction: in its purity, this isn't about pumping out infinite pulpy repetitions of predictable escape fantasies, it's about exploring ideas - and for me, ultimately, it's about imagining how this world might be different - better.
Mormon SF/F fandom - the old kind - is a strange and wonderful subculture. I don't wholly fit in, and I have my frustrations with it, but I feel at ease there (more at ease than in mainstream Mormon culture for sure). Despite the many ways I see the culture falling short of what I see as its potential - or because of them - I am drawn back again and again, and after attending LTUE this year I feel even more strongly oriented to who and what I am.