Grant Kruger (thirdworld) wrote,
Grant Kruger

Worldcons, fandom and the "evil" smofs

I returned to participating in the SMOFS list this week (an email discussion list for volunteers who run SF&F conventions around the world) after almost a year away, and a difficult year it was. It's too soon to tell, but going by some of the discussions I've been reading, it feels a grumpier place than I left. Like any list, or forum, or bulletin board... or LJ, there are the usual trolls, grumps, positive folks, etc. Being all volunteers it is a better group than most, but still also a place of more opinionated know-it-alls than most others. A couple of formerly strident voices have faded, though most of the familiar ones remain, and new strident voices have replaced the ones that faded.

Some of the topics are the same topics I remember, as if they never stopped. We fans do like to beat a dead horse until it is no longer even dust. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Still, they are a good bunch, even though it has definitely been a shock to the system to have the old deluge of smof emails return to my in-box. And I have to remember to turn my, "Despite the harsh way their email seems to be worded, you know so-and-so is a nice person in person" filter back on.

In the mix of emails came a link to Worldcon history from 1953, including scanned pages and wonderful tidbits of history (Worldcon is The World Science Fiction Convention). The 53 Worldcon gave us the renowned Hugo awards and it appears to have played an important role in shaping all the Worldcons to come, and probably the World Science Fiction Society as well. Triggered by these discussions, and based on the following quote, I had a few thoughts of my own, and posted a variation of the comments below to the list. The quote was:
"After the convention, the chairman sent thanks and a financial report to members. Total convention membership was 1,150, of whom 633 actually registered. The chairman estimated that at least 650 were in attendance. (The traditional "warm body count", appearing in later Worldcon program books, is 750.)"
Worldcon membership rates at the time were a mere $1 a head. A great many paid membership, bet never attended.

To me the document seems pretty damned detailed and complete, and shows plenty of smart forward-thinking. Therein lay many of the seeds of the Worldcon many of us/you love, and the kind of fannish positivity not always in abundance.

Back to the matter of the difference between the number of memberships bought and the number of people who actually attended. I don't think the concept of supporting members (those who want to aid a convention financially even though they can't attend, or later in the history of all this, who want to be WSFS members and vote on the Hugos) existed then, because if it did they would have said so. Based on the number of official attendees listed by them, we are looking at 400-517 non-attending members, or about 35% to 45% of their members who did not attend. That's pretty damned high, particularly for the time (not the ease of travel we have today). I don't think that WSFS existed yet, and since it was the first year of Hugos it is hard to gauge if they had any impact at all yet (likely very little).

Yes, I know that every convention has its no shows, but this number seems exceptionally high. It seems to me that those 400-517 fans were buying into more than a convention, or an award, that they were buying into a community. This is intriguing, particularly since the relationship between Worldcons and WSFS is a great gray area (some feel WSFS does not really exist and others want it to be a central controlling body, and everyone else is in between. It is also, maybe sadly so, quite irrelevant, because Worldcon is what it is now, a vastly different creature to the Worldcon of 1953, and many things have changed and that is just the way it is (and Worldcons total are totally f*cking awesome). Still I find all this quite charming.

There are many other gems in that document that I can't help but enjoy.
"Our expense account should open the eyes of those people who think that putting on a convention is a simple affair, and should be educational to those idiots who spread the rumor that the convention committee was lining its pockets with the proceeds."
Hahahaha! The more things change the more they stay the same. Despite Worldcons believing in full disclosure (some more than others ;) ) and making documentation on their finances freely available, there remain many idiots to this day who are convinced that volunteer con-runners are making a fortune (the reverse is true most of the time - ask kevin_standlee about the gigantic personal debt he incurred while helping to make ConJosé happen in 2004).

There was plenty more in that little historical treasure that I enjoyed. They spent $60 on an optimistic 1500 badges, lost $250 on the overpriced hotel banquet (another fannish tradition) and their miscellaneous expenses included telegrams (how they would envy us our web pages and emails). They ended up with a deficit of $56.18, but with $373 still owed to them for exhibit tables, sale of stamps (eh?) and program ads -- things we generally require payment for up-front these days (maybe lessons learned?). So they had a "possible profit" of $316.82, and I can't help but wonder how that one turned out.

That was a hell of a Worldcon, a massive milestone in Worldcon history. My thanks to them. They rocked!
Tags: fandom, smofs, worldcon

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