Nov 13 2008 5:33pm

Fandom In a Coma

Just a few days ago I learned of a group of gamers and sci-fi and fantasy enthusiasts at UCLA. I joined their mailing list with both hope and trepidation. Hope, because I’m sick of normal people and I’m in need of camaraderie. I haven’t so much as watched Farscape with a kindred spirit since Benjamin Franklin was president. I’m jonesin’ so bad I could almost LARP. 

Trepidation I feel for two reasons. First, because I am not entirely sure that the group isn’t strictly for UCLA students—which I’m not—and I have no intention of being the “creepy old guy.” Second, because fandom in Los Angeles generally blows. 

Maybe my years in Seattle spoiled me, what with all the reading and role-playing and conventions and geeky folderol that goes on in that lovely, moist and caffeinated city. Here in Los Angeles, though, it’s a different story. 

I’ve never been entirely sure what’s to blame for the lack of nerdgasms in the 310 area code. Maybe it’s the fact that you can find yoga classes for your pet gazelle far more easily than spot a used bookstore. And in Santa Monica, where I work, you’re almost more likely to run into Joss Whedon at Starbucks than you are to meet a Browncoat. Maybe good ole “cooped up in a basement with rulebooks and Mountain Dew” geekery just doesn’t grow in a town full of bikinis.

I’ve searched LA for something resembling the fan-friendly atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest but to little avail. The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, though historic and famous, is an absolute deadly bore. The motto of LASFS is “De Profundis Ad Astra” which I believe is one of Voldemort’s unforgivable curses, used to rip your soul from your body and affix it eternally to Burbank. 

Their primary thrust—if that isn’t too exciting a word—is less to discuss and enjoy sci-fi and fantasy than to preserve the history of their own group. It’s been around a long time. It was founded, as I recall, by Ashurbanipal, Copernicus and Hugo Gernsback, and the clubhouse smells like they never left. The big fun of LASFS meetings is reading the minutes from their last meeting. No kidding. They’re not so much sci-fi fans as fantiques.

Despite all that, I was so desperate for a fix that I attended their meetings for damn near a year, which is just long enough for a few of them to notice I existed. Eventually, I gave up on the whole sorry affair and exiled myself from the Bog of Eternal Stench altogether.  
Loscon, the annual convention here in LA, is run by LASFS and has all the whimsy of a colonoscopy. In their defense I should say that they do get some big names to show up, some really quality guests. Well done there. But as for…you know…fun? Con-fun? No way. I don’t just mean sharing fan art in which you’ve painted Admiral Adama as a cat with dragon wings, or bragging about how you totally ate all the Skittles in the hospitality suite. I’m talking about the kind of fun where hotel security wakes you up at noon and you don’t know how you ended up in the lobby aquarium or where the slowly leaking blow-up Dalek came from, but the empty bottle of Absinthe in your bloody fist looks familiar and you suspect you owe a few semiconscious furries an apology before they regain their wits and call a lawyer. Yeah, fun! 

You’re not going to find anything of that sort at Loscon. Though I hear the Scientologists put on a pretty fancy ice cream social in the party wing. Sprinkles and everything. (Party wing, indeed. Hmph! You know nothing of party wings, Yawn-Con! A tube of Pringles and an open door does not make a party.)

Needless to say, I will not be attending Loscon this year. I’d rather eat spicy light bulbs until I bleed internally. I’ll gladly fly to Seattle every year for Norwescon. I wouldn’t dream of missing it. But I will not even take a bus to LAX to go to Loscon again.

So, what is a Los Angeloser like me to do? 

I mean, damn, there are MILLIONS of people in LA. Surely some of them must know their ass from a bag of holding. But how do I find them? If this UCLA group doesn’t work out, what should I do? Shall I go begging door to door for social engagement in my Soylent Green t-shirt, clutching a copy of Astro City like an old family Bible, wishing that some secret enclave of cool nerds will take pity on me, bring me in from the cold and sit me down by the fire with a blanket and a plate of nachos? Dare I dream that they will, in great kindness, play Settlers of Catan with me and quote Mystery Science Theater 3000 until the pain stops? What do you think, sirs?

Any advice? Commiseration? Any LASFS members spoilin’ for a rumble? Help me,, you’re my only hope.

Tzut Tzut
1. WillieMcBride
Any advice?

I have no idea. I live 9875 km away from Los Angeles.

But thank you for this post, I needed to laugh today after having battled rain, cold wind and a (slight, to tell the truth) high water to attend a workers' meeting and having consequently spent the rest of the working day as wet as a drowned rat.
Zack Weinberg
2. zwol
I grew up in Los Angeles and my general opinion is that, provided my parents and grandmother had time to evacuate first, and my current residence were outside the blast radius, I would not mind in the slightest if the cursed place were wiped off the map by your choice of doomsday machine.

That said, I recall Interesting People to be found associated with a Hollywood showing of Rocky Horror; unfortunately, this was more than ten years ago now and I don't remember which theater it was. Also, if UCLA doesn't pan out, try Caltech.
Jason Henninger
3. jasonhenninger

My wife used to be in the cast of that very Rocky show (assuming you mean the NuArt Theater), though that was before I met her. I don't know any of the current cast. Maybe I should check it out.
4. Schizohedron
What I'd do:

• Visit your Friendly Neighborhood Comic Store/Independent Bookstore/RPG store, hang around enough to befriend the owner and regulars, and ask if they know of any gaming/fandom groups, or if they would interested in forming a new group.
• If you form your own new grop, pick a tight focus; just saying you have a "science fiction fan group" is too diffuse and will blow away like smoke. Don't be afraid that this will limit you; specialization stands out among the masses, and you'll have plenty of time to digress from your digressions after the minutes are read.
• Don't position yourself as the antithesis of any existing fan group; forge a new and positive beginning and identity.
• Make meeting fellow fans in real life the focus of the group, rather than online. If you can convince time-crunched geek Angelenos that it's worth the drive, the social anxiety, and the risk of being the first one to speak at your gatherings, you will put together a dedicated, tight tribe. (This is another area where a narrow focus will aid you.)
• Failing all of this, connect with fellow LA-area resident Wil Wheaton and see what he does, where he goes, the conventions he visits. He is a Name-Level Geek with his own keep and 2-20 followers.

Best of luck!
5. Tom Galloway
Assuming the UCLA group (starts with E, ends with a) is the one I'm familiar with, at least back in their beginnings they had no problem with me being a non-UCLA person (on the other hand, I was effectively their grandfather, having founded the club at UNC-Chapel Hill that their founder had been part of as an undergrad). They also, last I heard, had a fair number of alums still socializing in the LA area, so you wouldn't necessarily be creepy old guy.

On the other hand, since your only idea of "fun" amounted to "drunken debauchery" they might not be your cup of tea either.

Seriously, while you do mention Settlers and MST3K later, and I can see why folk might have problems with LASFS' style, but there's a real difference between what I'd consider nerd/fan fun and whimsy and the sort of experience you describe.
Jason Henninger
6. jasonhenninger
Tom @5

You are thinking of the very group I meant, and one of the members has since told me that age/studenthood are not considerations.

As for the debauchery=fun, it was of course a huge exaggeration for the sake of snarky humor. I don't actually require jello shots and duct tape to have fun. Honestly, I have a perfectly good time making silly jokes and watching movies, totally sober.

LASFS, however, is too tame for me, too sedate and tradition-bound. Not to mention that the entire time I was there, maybe three people ever gave a damn or tried to engage me in conversation. So I gave up. The last straw was being asked by the greeter-person, after attending for a year, if I was a guest. I was like, wow...never mind.

Obviously there are people for whom LASFS is perfect, otherwise it'd died off long ago. I'm just not one of those people. But understand please, neither am I a fratboy. I just like extreme descriptions.
7. Tracey C.
Sorry, no help, just chiming in to say don't move to North Carolina, either. It won't help.

(Chicago's good, though, as is apparently Boston)
Peggy Kolm
8. Peggy
You think you have it bad in LA, you should move 70 miles east. We don't have a "friendly neighborhood bookstore" unless you count Borders or B&N (which I don't). The only local SF fan group gets together to play RPGs and watch Buffy, neither of which particularly interest me. Thank FSM for the internet!
9. Tom Galloway
Jason, fair enough. I hope you understand why I came to the conclusion that you might be a fratboy (emphasis on might). Good luck with the Es, and for any who were around way back in '86-'87, please say hi for me.
Justin Adair
10. Hobbyns
Schizohedron has it right. Can't disagree with a single point.

As an expat (from Australia) who moved to California years ago (had a son born in Orange) the comic book stores were the best place to hook into the local scene. They usually diversify, since you've got the Pokemon night, the Warhammer night, D&D, etc. etc. and many of the attendees of these hooked me into the LAN party scene-which was more my forte at the time. Now I realize that isn't what you were shooting for, but in each particular group, the law of averages dictated that you'd find a few ppl who shared your particular tastes in movies, books, general fandom etc., and alternate friendships/groups were formed.

Either way, Comic store owners are usually very friendly and courteous and eager to encourage the growth of the local community, and once you make a few friends, you'll find the diversity of interests are more than what you see on the surface.

Of course, as a male, I didn't have to deal with the cliched (but totally realistic) levels of testosterone and just general fanboy wackiness, but I don't really have a solution for you on that score, though having read your books and online posts for awhile now, I have the distinct impression that you can handle yourself in any situation :-)
Justin Adair
11. Hobbyns
Um, this is stupid but I just realized after posting my comment that this wasn't a Bluejo post. I got my tabs mixed up. My bad, seriously, dude, but ignore that last paragraph, like, totally.
Cathy Mullican
12. nolly
I've always enjoyed LosCon -- it was my first con (in 1999, when I was less than a year out of college -- I'm no old fogey by most standards), and this will be my 10th. So I don't know if anything I have to say will be of any relevance. I'm down in San Diego, so it took me 8 years or so to get through my 3 free meetings and actually join LASFS. Nonetheless, my roots in fandom are at least half in LASFS, and I've met some of my closest friends in fandom through LASFS.

First, for the benefit of those reading who are less familiar with the group, let me point out that there's rather a lot more to LASFS than the Thursday meetings -- Second Sundays gaming, various movie-watching events like Estrogen Zone, etc.

You can pop down to San Diego for our cons, but if LosCon is too "tame" for you, you'll probably be mostly disappointed. Try hopping up the the Bay Area for Baycon, though; sounds like it may be more your speed.
Sandi Kallas
13. Sandikal
If you think LA is bad, don't come to Orange County. I think it's the anti-science fiction capital of the world. I did go to a Star Trek convention in Anaheim about 17 years ago. Orange used to have a bookstore that specialized in sf&f and mysteries. I went to a book signing there when David Brin was promoting "Glory Season". That store just specializes in mysteries and horror now.

I'd love to find out about the UCLA group, but it now takes 1-1/2 hours minimum to get there from here. When my daughter started school there in 2001, it took 45-60 minutes unless it was rush hour. Traffic sucks.
14. Schizohedron
@Hobbyns 10: Thanks very much! I actually went to bed thinking I'd come on too strong with the advice and wishing I'd added at least one "YMMV." Which, of course, it may.
15. Easterner
First, I'm not a member of LASFS and never went to one of their meetings

I did go to one NorWesCon a few years ago and came back convinced I should never again spend the money to go to one, I may one day go to another con in Seattle, but it won't be NorWesCon.

I don't require alcool to have a good time (don't take me wrong, I do enjoy a good bheer, have drunk my share of rocket fuel and Romulan blood wine) but I've been to cons where absolutely no alcool was served and had a blast anyways.

And if you were to wake up in the hotel aquarium cradling an empty bottle of Absinthe at a con I was running, you'd find it real hard to get a membership after that.

All this to say that YMMV.

Also I think you are a bit out of line with some of your comments, it's one thing to say you didn't enjoy going to a club's meetings, it's another to be patronizing, rude and insulting.
Angelle Gullett
16. Angelle
I moved here about a year ago, and have the same problem. I did meet some cool people and have a good time at last year's Gallifrey con, so you might want to try that in February.

But yeah, I am still in search of my geeky tribe. And I'm all the way out in the 818, so I can't tell you much about Westside fandom. But let me know if you find any!
17. Kevin Bachelder
If you can't find any local fandom gatherings you can always listen to the ScapeCast podcast to connect with other Farscape fans.

You can also probably find other local SciFi fans either via the well known Farscape fan forum, Terra Firma or the large SoCal Browncoat (i.e. Firefly fans) email list.

Good luck.
Jason Henninger
18. jasonhenninger
a respose in general: to those who gave specific suggestions, thank you very much. I will investigate.

To Schizohedron in particular, your suggestions were well reasoned and intelligently presented.

hobbyns@11 I'm flattered that you'd confuse me with someone so cool.

Easterner@15 As I mentioned in earlier comments, the wild alcoholic aspect of my post was really just meant for humor. Most of what I said, including the insulting stuff, was meant in humor.

Mileage varies; you're absolutely right. I suppose if I had been in a more gracious mood when I wrote the post, I'd have said that it's great that there are so many types of fans out there, some mild, some wild. The diversity is a good thing, and I truly believe that.

Though my sarcasm targeted one group and one convention, what I really have a problem with--all attempts at humor aside--is not so much a particular group or con, but rather what I see as the basically passionless environment of fandom in LA. To say I want to wake up in an aquarium is a joke, but to say that I want to see some genuine enthousiasm and excitement is not a joke.

Also, it may seem a strange thing to say, but I am actually encouraged by the fact that some people have responded critically to what I wrote. I'm glad people care. I was beginning to wonder. It doesn't justify the more rude statements I made, but never the less, I'm actually pleased that it matters to people enough to say "yeah, I agree" or "dude, you sound like a jerk."
19. KatG
Aren't there like dozens of L.A. Hollywood scifi shows and conventions celebrating everything from Smallville to Saw V? I'd say do some websearches. Maybe they're all held in San Diego, which isn't that far away, and there is the San Diego ComicCon in the summer.
20. Schizohedron
Jason@18: Thanks most kindly; glad to help. Please do share, in a future entry here, your efforts to find — or start — a local group!
Liz Gorinsky
21. TooMuchExposition
Jason, have you heard anything about these guys? I don't know if you're remotely into into gaming, but they seem like they might be a nice bunch.

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