What do you do when the fantastic becomes commonplace?
Back in the day, early in the 20th century, sci-fi had a lot of ground to cover. Rocket ships, ray guns, space travel, light-up gadgets—there was no limit to what could be imagined.
A funny thing happened on the way to the future. Reality caught up—and sometimes passed—sci-fi. Space shuttle launches became ho-hum. Middle school kids carry cell phones far more advanced that Uhura’s entire communication panel, let alone Kirk’s communicator and Bones’ tri-corder put together. Our cars not only talk to us, they plan out our route, dial our phones and can call for help if we get stuck. The Internet happened.
Personally, I think that the closer reality became to sci-fi, the harder it’s gotten for the genre to keep up. Maybe that’s why fantasy does so well—it’s easier to surprise us in the past than to predict a future more mind-boggling than the one in which we already live.
There’s a hidden benefit to this shift. Long ago, it was difficult for the average person to imagine a ray gun future because it was so vastly different from what someone living in a rural community in the pre-World War II world experienced, a world that for many people still lacked indoor plumbing and electricity. As sci-fi converged with the real world, it became mainstream.
One quick run through the programming on TV shows plenty of plots hinging on scientific thrills and wonders—as well as fantasy elements and the paranormal—that are on every network and channel, not just Syfy. Books that at one time would have been considered “fannish” become mega-bestsellers, like Harry Potter and Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books. Role-playing games broke out of the basement thanks to video gaming and took over every living room in America. Thanks to Cartoon Network, anime elements are as accessible as sushi at your local supermarket.
How do you keep the fandom flame? In my opinion, fandom wins when it embraces this new crop of readers, gamers and movie-goers and includes programming to attract them. Instead of considering mass-media newcomers as second-class, value their perspective and create ways to draw them further into other elements of fandom by exposing them in positive ways. Put the “fun” back in “fan” and stop taking fandom quite so seriously. Realize that the passing of the torch is inevitable, and is best done with grace and humor.
Older fans often remember the sting of exclusion from the “mainstream” culture. Let’s make sure fandom shows a more welcoming face now that we have seen the future….and they are us.