June 10th, 2009

WisCon 2009 Con Report

As I reported before, we went to Chicago to see Empires on Friday night, which meant we (a) didn't go to Madison on Friday and (b) were up late and slept in on Saturday. Consequently, we didn't get to WisCon until Saturday afternoon. We also skipped the slash panel, and didn't go to anything on Sunday morning. This made for a really different congoing experience for me. I didn't go to near as many panels as I have in years past, although the panels I escaped from as a percentage of those I attended was probably about the same. There were also panels where I was interested in the topic, but I severely dislike one of the panelists and refused to go to them, which means I didn't make it to any YA panels.

True Names: Would A Fan By Any Other Handle Smell As Sweet?
We didn't get to Madison until shortly before 1:00 panels were starting, and I needed real food, so I ended up coming into this panel late. I'm kind of sorry I didn't come in earlier, because what there was was interesting. Someone in the audience pointed out that fandom is not the only community where chosen names are the norm - I think her example was specifically the trans community. Someone else in the audience asked if there are always problems when you start mixing your legal name identity with your chosen/fannish/whatever name identity. karnythia said, "Maybe not if you're talking about something like knitting," which caused a great uproar from the knitters in the audience, and she had to change her answer to it's always a problem.

Ask A Pro
I went to this panel for a while, but it was (a) boring and (b) depressing, so I left.

Bisexual and Pansexual Characters in SF/F
I went to this panel for two reasons. First of all, I usually try to go to the sex panels. (Are you really surprised?) Secondly, Charlie Anders and Annalee Newitz were on it, and I very much like them. I got some good book recs out of this. One person from the audience, in talking about the surprise factor bisexuals can provide in a story said, "They could date anyone at any time!" Another interesting audience participant said that most bi reveals in books/media/stories are of the type where the straight person has a same-sex encounter/love story, whereas for many people, it goes the other way: they consider themselves gay/lesbian and then fall for someone of the opposite sex. I think it was the same person who also said that for many people, that experience isn't discovering something they never knew about themselves but rather that they have actually changed as people.

Part of the discussion was also about the relative acceptance of male and female bisexuality, which led Annalee to describe fanfic/slash fandom as a "giant female gaze that lives only on the internet."

Fathers and Daughters in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Does Anyone Get It Right?
I wasn't sure if this was going to be a good panel or not, and I was iffy about it because it was on the sixth floor, and sixth floor panel rooms are harder to sneak out of unnoticed. Luckily, it turned out to be really good. One audience member proposed the idea that the male trope is that the protagonist earns the father's respect/right to take his place where the female story might be dealing with loss in that your father doesn't love you the same way, which was interesting, but a lot of women in the room said that wasn't their experience with their fathers. I wonder if that's a product of the kind of people who come to WisCon and the families they come from or if that's really more of a norm.

Someone brought up Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games as an example of a book where the father is absent but his influence makes him very present in the female protagonist's life.

The most fascinating book I heard about, possibly at the whole con, is an upcoming one in which Camille Alexa, who was one of the panelists, has a story. Her story is "Gretel," a "Hansel and Gretel" retelling, and the collection is an anthology about living under the threat of being eaten, which sounds awesome.

Wish Fulfillment in Fiction
As a fan fic writer, this seemed like a great idea, and Caroline Stevermer, who I loved in panels last year, was on it. I had some reservations because I knew I wasn't particularly fond of one of the other panelists. It turns out I don't like two of the panelists, and I left pretty early on. The one interesting thing Caroline said before I left was that she wants "the wish beneath the wish" where the story takes you somewhere better than what you would have though to wish for.

Media vs. Book Fandom
This was my favorite panel all weekend. It was fascinating to watch people come in and see that they were media people. (The whole front row on one side of the room was bandom people.) I was wrong about one of the panelists who I would have picked as book fandom but is big in Doctor Who. I think he's the one who made the good point that fandom specific shorthand starts out as a way to not type so much and ends up being a barrier to entry for new people/exclusionary to outsiders.

Part of the discussion was about RaceFail 09. The first time norwich36 told me about it, I asked, "How much of this is about people not knowing how to use the internet?" The panel seemed to think that, aside from other faily aspects, that is a large part of what was going on. They said that fandom_wank, for whatever its other issues, has really taught media fandom how to (a) archive and (b) read online discussions, and that sci fi book fandom hasn't quite caught on to either of those aspects of online discussions.

Someone in the audience said she doesn't care about books versus other media, "I just want it all," books, movies, TV, comics, video games. One of the panelists ended by agreeing with the "I want it all" perspective. I've been thinking about this because I don't want it all, and I don't want the things I want in the same ways. I'm not a gamer. I used to read comics but don't anymore. I want to be fannish about TV shows, real people, and sometimes movies, but not about books. I might want to discuss books with people, but not to the extent that I do with TV.

The other thing I've been thinking about a lot in connection to this panel is the idea of access and cons. Someone in the audience said she didn't have the time/money to come to WisCon when she was a college student living five blocks away, but now that she lives two time zones away, she can make it. I made my usual book vs. media point about how Escapade ceased to be interesting to me in terms of panels but were still my people where WisCon has awesome panels but are not my people, and ladyjax (who is one of those people I could just listen to for days on end; I knew this panel was going to be good because she was on it) said bring your friends to WisCon. I don't know if media fandom is really young or if I just think of it that way because I was most active when I was in college, but I think those two things are connected. I don't know if we can ever have a con realistically representative of media fandom specifically because of the college student time/money factor. (Not to mention the way that most cons I know about take place during the school year.)

Someone else on the panel talked about having a conversation with someone who asked, "Is WisCon getting older?" and she said, "You're just going to the wrong panels." M and I were talking about this later, and she said she thinks there's a real separation at WisCon between consumers, who are there to talk about books/media/whatever, and producers, who are there for the how to write aspects.

Not Enough Tricksters
This panel sounded interesting, and Charlie Anders was supposed to be on it. I stuck it out for a short while, but only the moderator and one of the other panelists who I didn't find interesting had shown up, so I left. The panelist did have an interesting point to make that we usually think of Odysseus as the trickster, but Penelope is also a trickster character.

The Food Report
As usual, we had excellent food all weekend. We ended up eating at the Nepali place and the Himalayan place on the same day, which made for an interesting contrast in two different bowls of dal (verdict: both yummy). I also tried green jackfruit, which the menu said is a common meat substitute. It tasted a lot like something you would use to replace meat and soak up the flavor of everything else. That's not to say it was bad, just not anything spectacular. We also went to Mother Fool's Coffehouse for soup on our way out of town. They post their soups to Twitter every day. They also had vegan hot chocolate, which was okay, but not quite as creamy as I like my hot chocolate.

Next Year
I told my Escapade/WisCon comparison to schuyler and eleanor_lavish on Friday night, and they told me I should come to CON.TXT next year because it would be both good panels and my people (plus them!), so that's what M and I are tentatively planning on doing for Memorial Day weekend 2010.