Culture Convention Watch: BayCon

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BayCon was the first convention to give me problems over my political affiliation. A lot of the people involved in it are also involved in this year’s WorldCon, as it’s in the same location, and so it makes sense that the discrimination I face now on a much bigger level originated here.

I like to monitor local conventions to see just how political their content is, and if they’re pushing that agenda much more than they are trying to accomplish what we all strive for: a fun time celebrating science fiction and fantasy.

I looked in 2017 at BayCon’s programming, the year where I was removed from the programming because I’m a vocal trump supporter, and saw that it was riddled with angry identity politics. As with most conventions after the election, they decided to go all in on grievance and making sure that families, conservatives, christians, and the like were not welcome at their convention. The panels were awash in negativity — where it creates an environment that’s simply not fun for attendees. Part of what led to the culture problems we’re experiencing this year with myself, Kevin Sorbo, and NYT bestseller John Ringo.

This year, I took a look at the programming as well. Like every year, there is a heavy focus on identity politics, which it would be better for conventions and fandoms to move on — especially this year, when 2018 is the year where we’re uniting as one culture, one people, and one love, with the great messages Kanye West is bringing to the people. It’s been a breath of fresh air.

There are actually more identity politics related panels this year than there were last year (by one). What’s interesting about these types of panels is they split groups. This panel is only for African Americans. This panel is for women. This panel is for X group. It goes on, and it always excludes whites, males, and Christians. It’s about division, and about sewing seeds of further division between us, and the best way to frankly run a convention at this point is to knock those out, and just have programming where everyone can love each other rather than lock ourselves into identity groups.

The Panels

I counted 7 panels this year vs. the 6 identity politics themed panels last year, which I’ll go over in a little detail :

Diversified Fandom, Diversified Canon – As much as this is about “diversity” in choosing who to read, these are the same panelists I see on pretty much every identity politics panel across the bay area for the last 5+ years between Con-Volution, FogCon and BayCon. That’s a lot of panels and a lot of same-ness for talk of diversity. I know Dr. Bradford Lyau and Dr. Heidi Stauffer, and they’re both very intelligent, nice people. But will there be real diversity here or will it be a call to action to not read white, male authors like I see at every single one of these types of settings?

Enough with the f***ing Nazis – This is an interesting topic. It’s actually about Nazi-themed books, movies, art, and using Nazis as villains, and how it’s getting tired as a concept. I would have not put the F in the programming even with the stars, to keep a family-friendly discussion in the program, but this could actually not end up an identity politics fest if it’s done right. I hope for that, but it can easily devolve. Participants will have to be careful about the direction here. But actually kudos for an interesting topic idea.

Female Heroes/Female Villains – Finally, a strong female lead. ’nuff said. At least it’s a positive title, unlike years past. Hopefully the panel stays that way.

Saving what we love: the different layers of resistance –  We know what #Resist is code for today, unfortunately. This is probably going to be the most politically charged panel on here save for the second #Resist panel. It shouldn’t be. What would be really interesting would be if they were brave enough to bring someone like me who’s actually resisting the lockstep trends of most artists who are bound by professional publishing. They all have the same message, it all looks the same, what is that resisting? But, alas, these aren’t about brave, new ideas.

Art as Resistance – This should be my panel. Why am I not invited? Oh, because I’m actually resisting. Can’t have that. Stay on the plantation! Same comments as the other #Resist panel.

Fans of Color in SF/F Fandom – Where’s the fans who are color-challenged panel? Again, like the female one, at least this is positive and the theme isn’t on the attack. It’s on the panelists not to let it turn negative.

Afrofuturism 101 – During the same time as Fans of Color in SF. So they’re splitting the split hair.  Programming timing error. I find this topic actually interesting because of Black Panther as a movie and other works coming out.

Gender in fandom and genre media – We see this all the time. This is going to be hard pressed not to turn into a hyper-negative fest. I’ll note my novel, The Stars Entwined, features an alien race, The Tralos, who are genderless and reproduce by molt. I’m diverse, or something.

Sex and Fandom – No, they’re not using the scientific word for the made up word “gender” sadly, though that would be funny since there are 2 sexes. they mean talking about things getting pornier and probably celebrating the culture changing into smut-based nonsense from what it used to be when stories didn’t revolve around shocking/turning people on.  It’d be nice to have a dissenting voice about how shows like Game of Thrones actually hurt culture rather than push anything forward, but that won’t be allowed.

The Result

The end result is — these panels aren’t nearly as bad as last year. Even though the quantity is higher, the negativity factor is lower, which is a good step forward. We have to give Baycon credit in that. Because of pressure of a few insiders, it’s very hard to erase identity politics altogether and come together in fandom. Despite this being Patchwork Fandom as a theme, a large chunk of the population is left out. Only the small patchworks are allowed leaving a big hole in the quilt.

The problem with all these panels is while they could be very open-ended, could have different perspectives, they will all have a monolith perspective. There won’t be free thought, there will only be what the gatekeepers of culture want for thought — much like what comes out of traditional publishing. Nothing else is allowed. No new ideas are presented, just the same we’ve heard for years, at every convention.

But having very few negative-themed panels (the two resist ones and likely the gender one will be the most charged in that regard), they’re moving toward a little bit of positivity, and acknowledging that none of these groups are discriminated against in fandom. They’re celebrated at every convention. How many more decades can the conventions last when they push the political theme this hard, turn away families, turn away fun? It won’t last much longer.

We’re in a new era of unity, and a new era of culture that just started these last few weeks. I challenge the participants of these panels to be positive, to show love, not to attack outside others, not to turn these into competitions of faux-diversity (who can be MORE diverse?), and not to turn it into hatred of half the country. It’ll be very hard to do, but it’s an important step if we’re going to heal science fiction and make it fun again.

If Baycon pushes more toward positivity in future years, and reduces the number of grievance panels, we might just have a good convention everyone can enjoy again.

If you like fun, real diversity in thought and action, you’ll probably love The Stars Entwined. It’s got different cultures working together. It’s got its problems too, but our characters work out of love to resolve them. Check it out. 

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