Minicon 50, part 2: Why are we still having this panel?

The Minicon blimpNow that it’s nearly a month after Minicon, and there have even been other cons since then, I should probably start writing things up a bit more briefly, lest I never get these done. Work continues to be busy, but I finally have a little free time, so hopefully I can get some of this written up quickly.

This panel was not especially related to gaming, but it is related to fandom in general and how fandom progresses (or doesn’t).

There were a lot of good examples of panel topics that keep coming up: “Women in science fiction”, “The differences between SF and Fantasy”, “The effect of the internet on fandom”, “Growing up in fandom”, “Writing 101” and many others. John Taylor mentioned that he’d been on five different Philip K. Dick panels in recent years.

I feel like there are a few categories of panels here:

  • Panel topics that we keep having because they’re always fun. “Trivia for Chocolate”, “The Year in SF” or (when he was alive) “Ask Dr. Mike” are examples of this. If someone asks why we’re still having these panels, the answer is generally “Because it’s great!”
  • Panel topics that we keep having because they keep being necessary, even though we’d rather they weren’t. All the discussions about harassment, sexism, racism, etc. in fandom very much belong to this category. And a lot of us wish that these kinds of panels could stop, because that would mean that we didn’t need them anymore. Some of us are quite burned out on having to keep having these kinds of conversations.
  • Panel topics that we keep having because someone thinks they’re still useful, even though they probably aren’t. “Differences between SF and Fantasy” was mentioned as an example of this. “Greying of Fandom” might be another example of this.

A lot of it depends on the execution, of course. Many panels can remain good when redone with a different group of panelists. And of course it’s important to remember that just because I’ve grown tired of a given topic, that doesn’t mean you have. It can be difficult for a con’s programming department to come up with ideas that are both fresh and widely-appealing, but sometimes it’s good to do those separately rather than trying to combine them in the same panel.

Similarly, it’s of course possible to turn any panel horrible by addressing the questions in the wrong way. One panelist mentioned a “Women in fandom” panel where the description questioned whether or not it’s a good thing that more women are getting into fandom. So many things wrong with that!

Having worked for many years on Minicon programming staff (and a few on WisCon’s), I know how difficult it can be to come up with new panel ideas that aren’t fail-tastic or boring or any of a dozen other kinds of wrong. It can be hard when you don’t have fresh ideas in programming, and (related to that “Greying of fandom” panel) this becomes difficult if you have the same tired group of volunteers running programming.

There ended up being a fair amount of discussion of how programming works, and how it can go wrong: forgetting panelists’ scheduling requirements, bugging them for the fourth time about topics they’ve already said they’re not interested in, having insufficient inspiration.

Dr. Taylor mentioned that he’s in the process of doing an analysis of trends in panel topics at fannish conventions. I think it sounds completely fascinating, and I’m looking forward to seeing his results.

There was a lot more that I don’t have space to discuss here. This panel ranged widely but also deeply. It was quite good.


Minicon 50, part 2: Why are we still having this panel? — 1 Comment

  1. The different categories you outline make useful distinctions. It will make me think for a second before proposing new (or are they???) panel ideas at cons.

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