First Fannish Enough

They say you can never be thin enough or rich enough, although I’ve never noticed these being particular concerns of anybody in science fiction fandom. We reserve our anxiety for another subject altogether — any attempt to actually define science fiction fandom. If anyone hints that our fanac might be on the wrong side of the line, our petulance knows no bounds.

You can never be “fannish enough” to suit everyone. You cannot earn enough activity merit badges (fanzine publishing, blogging, conrunning, filking, costuming) to be universally accepted, nor is there any award, office, or fan fund that people can vote to you that will insure no one ever looks down his nose at you.

And, evidently, no amount of time devoted to this field can ever be sufficient to guarantee that kind of respect either. For example, if you had assumed that the founding President of First Fandom, Robert Madle, and the current President, Joan Marie Knappenberger, each thinks the other is “fannish enough” – keep reading.

Robert Madle helped found First Fandom in 1958. “In the beginning,” explains his letter in the latest Scientifiction, using a phrase uniquely appropriate to a fannish elder, “it was decided that membership would be based on being an active fan (reading, collecting, letter writing, fan publishing, et. al.) prior to January 1938. This was quite limiting and was subsequently modified to activity prior to the first WorldCon (Nycon I, July 1939).”

However, he adds, Bob Tucker boycotted the organization for years “as he contended membership should be restricted to fan activity prior to 1936!” Yes, no sooner had First Fandom formed than there was a dispute over who deserved to belong. (Tucker did eventually join.)

Officers rigidly applied the pre-July-1939 activity requirement in First Fandom’s early years. An exception was made to admit Jay Kay Klein as an associate member, then as the years passed, many more fans were recommended as associates. “It soon reached the stage where associate membership was readily available to almost anyone who wanted to become part of First Fandom,” complains Madle. “So we have active members who can’t possibly qualify on the age requirements alone.”

He asserts that First Fandom was intended to be a “last fan” club, with the final pair of survivors destined to consume that bottle of good bourbon Forry Ackerman has been holding. And Madle suggests, “Perhaps an analysis of membership requirements by a committee of active members is a possibility.”

First Fandom may not be exclusive enough to suit Madle, but even the Associate Members have been active fans for 30 years. That apparently is the class of membership held by President Joan Marie Knappenberger, who is understandably incensed by Madle’s suggested membership purge. She answers, “I am only a member because of my admiration of the Dinosaurs, and their desire to keep the memory of their accomplishments alive in fandom. If they wish to eliminate the other classes of membership, I will leave quietly.”

After reading that exchange I am convinced that, as seriously as the participants must feel about the matter, a highly developed sense of the absurd is essential to thrive in fandom. Because if the President of First Fandom isn’t “fannish enough,” Cheryl Morgan and I presumably aren’t – and I’m none too sure about the rest of YOU!

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4 thoughts on “First Fannish Enough

  1. Pingback: Cheryl’s Mewsings » Blog Archive » A Seriously Exclusive Fandom

  2. Pingback: File 770 » Blog Archive » First Fannish Enough, Part II

  3. Madle is absolutely right, actually, and I know that he is not the only original member of the organization who thinks that way. First Fandom *was* always intended to be a last man organization. But all this bad feeling could be avoided if Knappenberger would do something that (according to Roger Sims) she said she would do back at the San Jose worldcon in 2002. Submit a proposal to the membership to rename the organization to “Friends of First Fandom”.

    (This was the result of a somewhat contentious panel, in which I participated, at that worldcon. Knappenberger was in the audience, as was Roger Sims.)

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