Elayne Riggs: Rennies, Wonks and Fen
Have you ever seen a Venn diagram? Here’s an example:
John Venn first published these diagrams in 1880, although similar diagrams were used up to a century earlier. In the above example, the adjectives "happy," "short" and "male" all intersect in the middle, with overlaps also occurring between happy short females and sad short males and so on.
I’ve long thought of my life as a series of intersecting Venn diagrams, overlapping and looping back across time and friendships. For as long as I’ve been socialized I’ve been a joiner, but once I discovered pop culture I both narrowed and widened my spheres of comradery. David Cassidy fandom was probably first; although he was a major media star in the early ’70s, it was the age before personal computers, when paper ruled in the form of fan magazines and newsletters and penpals. At one point I had about 150 penpals (it was okay, stamps were only about 6¢ each in those days), about half of whom were Cassidy fans. We considered ourselves part of a secret cult, sharing a special bond that nobody else could understand.
Because connections in those days were much slower and lower-key than today (and entertainment choices considerably fewer), they were sustained longer. Where today someone could be branded a pariah within the space of a few hours for committing a faux pas an in online fan group, it took months for me to be kicked out of David Cassidy fan clubs for daring to suggest we were all gaga over a fictional media creation and that was still okay. Or maybe these leisure activities just seem more leisurely in nostalgic retrospect. Perhaps everyone thinks the hobby or media crush they were into as kids is more intense than the same interests seem to them later in life.
With me it’s kind of always been intense. In college it was Star Trek (as one of the only students with a black & white TV, I found my room Star Trek Central whenever series reruns aired – and yes, I’m old enough that the Original Series was the only one around at the time) and the Beatles (I’m not that old, they’d broken up by that point but they were all still alive) and SNL and New Wave music and too many things to keep track of. [Interestingly, this fandom was separate from other extracurriculars like chorale or service fraternity stuff. I think the closest Venn intersection then which combined a passion with a social organization might have been a science fiction club.] I didn’t just become interested in these cultural markers, I went full-force into them.
I kept adding onto the diagram after college, from relatively obscure stuff like Uncle Floyd and Dr. Demento and The Firesign Theatre to continued media crushes on the usual suspects to ways of doing things like writing for zines and apas (the forerunners to message boards and blogs). And the more fandoms I encountered, the more I saw they had in common, and the more people I began encountering who, like me, existed in more than one fandom. To this day I’ll meet folks at comic book conventions who know me from my Uncle Floyd "Dirty 30" days or from when I published Firesign’s fan newsletter or my own INSIDE JOKE or even from the regular Washington Square Park meetings with NYU science fiction "fen" (NYUSFS).
In fact, science fiction fandom seemed to be what clued me in to both the best and worst of what fandom meant to me. On the positive side, the "fen" I encountered were extremely welcoming and immediately accepting of a fat young woman with limited social skills. SF was the literature of possibilities, and its fans embraced that ideal of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. As long as you had a love for the literature of the possible and the culture it engendered, you were part of the gang. On the negative side, the sexual pressure was intense, and there was that ugly word "mundane" to describe anyone who wasn’t part of the gang, and once I started acquiring better interpersonal abilities I left that phase of my life behind, deciding I didn’t have as much of a problem with the real world as those who couldn’t see beyond their categories.
Categories bug me. Categories separate us, when we should be coming together. Aren’t all the intersecting Venn arcs proof that people with passion have so very much more in common with each other than they believe when in their own separate spheres? The passion felt by a comics reader who gets to shake Jack Kirby’s hand is no less intense than that felt by a Manchester United fan when they score a winning goal, or Bruce Springsteen fan upon hearing about another E Street Band reunion tour. Even politics has its fandom, or wonkdom since politics is rather more real-world affecting than most other forms of entertainment. I had to smile when a blogger code-named Lambert recently observed of a major political blogger, "It occurs to me that Kos has created a community that follows Democratic party politics with the same intensity and expertise that fans follow ‘their’ sports teams."
It’s all Intense City. And that’s the joy of it, and the curse of it. I’ve been to Renaissance Faires with my dear late friend Leah and heard "Rennies" refer to non-Rennies as "mundanes" as well. That’s a faster turnoff for me than the mock-English accented vendors saying "thank thee" instead of "thank ye." I keep wanting to say, they just don’t get it. For all of their cleverness, their specialness, their passion, they’re missing the point. None of us are mundane. We’re all passionate. It doesn’t matter where we direct our passion, it’s All Good. If it gives our life meaning and brings us closer with others who share the same interests and afford us joy, it doesn’t matter what the object of our passion is. And it shouldn’t matter that others have different passions, as long as they’re not using those passions to harm us in any way.
The longer I live, the more intent I am on continuing to expand my Venn intersections. Won’t you join me? There’s room enough for all.