Unexpected Discovery: A 1955 Convention Code of Conduct

Co-chair Noreen Falasca speaks at Clevention, the 1955 Worldcon.

Convention codes of conduct really are a contemporary development, so while researching early Hugo history I was surprised to discover this one in the final paragraph of the “Convention Rules” of the 1955 Worldcon (see Clevention – PR 4 page 16):

CONDUCT 12. The Convention Committee reserves the right to revoke the membership and its attendant privileges of any person or persons who conduct themselves in such a way as to reflect unfavorably or to bring discredit to the Convention. If the Committee finds it necessary to revoke such a membership, it may, at its discretion, make it mandatory for the person or persons, from whom said membership is revoked, to leave the Convention site. It should also be emphasized that the membership will refrain from the use of armbands, placards, badges, ribbons, buttons, cards, etc. wherein a reference is made or which can be connected with a source or agency, political or otherwise, real or fictitious, that seeks the overthrow of the present government….”even in the spirit of fun”. [Ellipsis and quotes in the original]

There might even be earlier ones waiting to be discovered, because a note at the end of the 1955 rules thanks the 1953 committee and L. Sprague de Camp “for the loan of their convention rules and notes thereon” and says “We have taken the liberty of ‘lifting’ a large portion of their rules, word for word, largely, because it was felt that it would be both foolish and a large waste of time altering a set of rules that should be standard for all conventions.” However, in the 1953 Worldcon publications available at Fanac.org I didn’t find any containing a previous Code of Conduct. But who knows what fanhistorians may eventually uncover?

18 thoughts on “Unexpected Discovery: A 1955 Convention Code of Conduct

  1. That “overthrow the present government” bit can’t be ignored. This was during high HUAC. I find it not the least bit surprising that among the 50s sf crowd, de Camp was the source for useful rules of conduct, and enforcement of same.

  2. I can see not dressing up as a Nazi but there have been fictional groups that were depicted as overthrowing the government. Sometimes the government they were overthrowing was an oppressive government that had taken over the US such as in the novel Man in the High Castle.

  3. And — like most of them — the code of conduct boils down to ‘Don’t be a jerk.’ It tells you a bit about folks that are against codes of conduct, doesn’t it?

  4. Brown Robin on June 7, 2021 at 5:48 am said:
    “overthrow the present government”

    This could be a reference to Chandler Davis and Jack Speer’s conduct at Philcon 1.

  5. At first glance, this CoC seems quite progressive for 1955, especially given fandom’s traditional reluctance to pass judgment or make sanctions on even the most egregious bad behavers.

    But if you read it with the context of the HUAC and the thought that this was intended to quash any sort of political proselytizing, especially with regard to Communism, it all fits, and that context makes it sadly depressing. 😐

  6. 1955, to point out the obvious, was only sixteen years from the Exclusion Act at Nycon I, with all the preliminary and subsequent feuding about politics/economics, pro-and-anti-communist, attendant. Such strife never miraculously totally vanished, even if the names involved changed.

  7. At first glance, there would seem to be a huge difference between a 1955 code that, essentially, said “Active support of communism is banned” to a more current code that says, essentially, “Active support of racism and/or misogyny is banned.” But there are major connecting links: We have a long history of saying “There are certain types of behavior that this convention views as unacceptable. Forbidding those behaviors is not ‘censorship’, it is about specifying the values that this convention finds crucial and fundamental.”

  8. ” However, in the 1953 Worldcon publications available at Fanac.org I didn’t find any containing a previous Code of Conduct. But who knows what fanhistorians may eventually uncover?”

    History – there’s so much of it. https://xkcd.com/1979/

  9. Linda Robinett: I can see not dressing up as a Nazi…

    They needed that Code of Conduct at the 1987 Worldcon — a British fan showed up to help run a session of the business meeting in a feldgrau uniform. It was unbelievably tasteless.

  10. @Andrew (not Werdna): The xkcd cartoon reminds me of a a similar essay by Mark Twain concerning an event that changed the world forever and will still be talked about a thousand years later. We all remember the assassination of the Empress of Austria, yes?

  11. @Jim Janney: Thanks. I’d never read that (and the assassination of the Empress of Austria has been a bit overshadowed, hasn’t it?)

  12. and the assassination of the Empress of Austria has been a bit overshadowed, hasn’t it?

    Yes, it certainly has. Morbid thought for the day: we never know when we have it good.

  13. @Jim Janney
    In Austria and Germany, we actually do remember the assassination of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, since she was a beloved figure and noted beauty and became the subject of a trilogy of historical melodramas starring a young Romy Schneider in the 1950s. The Sissi films don’t cover the assassination itself (probably because Elisabeth of Austria was in her 60s, when she was killed, whereas Romy Schneider was in her 40s, when she died), but they’re a staple of Christmas TV in the German speaking world, so almost everybody has seen the movies and vaguely knows her story.

    I even recalls details such as that the assassin stabbed her with a nail file and that she died at the same hotel in Geneva, where German politician Uwe Barschel was found dead in the bath tub in 1987 as the culmination of one of the biggest political scandals in postwar Germany.

    So yes, the assassination of Elisabeth of Austria is still remembered, though probably not for the reason that Twain thought.

  14. @Jim Janney: I know of the basically pointless assassination of the inoffensive, famously kind, and politically inert 60-year-old Empress Sisi, mostly because of having visited her home in self-imposed exile, the Achilleon in Corfu.

    Anyway, I’ve always cherished Twain’s unpublished report about the event (who had been visiting Austria when it happened), for its very Twainish characterisation of the assassin: “He is at the bottom of the human ladder, as the accepted estimates of degree and value go: a soiled and patched young loafer, without gifts, without talents, without education, without morals, without character, without any born charm or any acquired one that wins or beguiles or attracts; without a single grace of mind or heart or hand that any tramp or prostitute could envy him; an unfaithful private in the ranks, an incompetent stone- cutter, an inefficient lackey; in a word, a mangy, offensive, empty, unwashed, vulgar, gross, mephitic, timid, sneaking, human polecat.”

    There. That’s dissing done right.

    The assassin was very put out that Switzerland, where he did the deed and stood trial, had abolished executions, and also that he stood trial for common murder rather than a grander political crime, because as Twain observed, for him it was all about being noticed. In prison, he eventually hanged himself after guards took away his unfinished memoirs, his Warholian 15 minutes long past. (Pedantry note: Warhol probably never said that.)

    Here in the 21st, we mostly instead have people who behave badly on the Internet and then go around posing as victims. Less sanguinary, and arguably a sign of progress, but IMO in much the same “look at me; I’m significant” spirit as the nitwit who stabbed Empress Elisabeth with a sharpened file.

  15. In the original document outlining the reforms which the Puritans put forth as worthwhile, we find something to the effect of ‘a single pearl drop worn in the left ear is enough decoration for any man, and any more would be excessive.’ From such small demands do great revolutions grow.

    That the 50s were a time that eulogized Conformity as the ultimate social good (very much promoted by the Psychology Cult of the era) and that there were many words one dare not use and books one dare not read for fear of losing employment or worse, is often forgotten as the Hollywood gloss makes that period seem so cheerful and carefree. It was not. It was a time to watch your words and where you looked lest you be singled out by the mob. The terror of McCarthyism and HUAC seeped right down to kids in school.

    We have not left the age of teachers sending kids home because of ‘inappropriate clothing or haircuts,’ though I have not heard of late of any teachers measuring the length of skirts with a ruler. That Fashion remains a more potent tool of oppression than politics, however, should be taken very seriously. You can be rejected for a job just as readily for wearing the wrong clothes as you can for wearing the wrong skin.

    It is curious to see those who identify as ‘left’ embracing wholeheartedly the same nostalgia for the totalitarian social values of the 50s as those who identify as ‘right.’ The big difference in the sides is the moral outrage over in which ear you wear that single pearl drop.

  16. Jon DeCles: It is curious to see those who identify as ‘left’ embracing wholeheartedly the same nostalgia for the totalitarian social values of the 50s as those who identify as ‘right.’ The big difference in the sides is the moral outrage over in which ear you wear that single pearl drop.

    I don’t know what community you live in, but this description bears little resemblance to the world I see today. And the earring debate/controversy was a thing 30 years ago, but it hasn’t been for a very long time.

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