If I am recollecting correctly, this is at least the fifth year in a row where the just completed Worldcon has prompted a “Why can’t Worldcon be more like Fill-In-The-Blank Con?” discussion. The blank is usually filled with SDCC or Dragon*Con or Pax or another very large convention featuring media / anime / gaming.
Some focus on attendance numbers. Others, like this, or this focus on the aging of fandom. Still others, like Gavia Baker-Whitelaw’s (linked above) focus on cultural / sub-cultural conflicts and issues.
If I may be so bold, I think an answer is condensing out of the stormy aether. I think that some fan run conventions are discovering a way forward. Earlier in this thread, Arisia was mentioned. I’m guessing that before too long, the Arisia model will be applied to a Boston / New England Worldcon and we’ll see how scalable it is. Arisia, Inc. does a remarkable job of balancing an increasingly large array of sub-cultural interests. It would perhaps be wise for the convention committees for Worldcons 2015 and 2016 to contact the officers of Arisia Inc. for their input. I’m serious.
Are there changes that should be avoided, or at least hotly debated?
I believe that Worldcon would be wise to avoid becoming like those other conventions because they already exist. They have their own cultures, their own attendance goals, their own traditions, their own purposes, their own audiences. Worldcon has, or tries to maintain, a specific place in worldwide science fiction fandom. What place is that? In my opinion, over the past 70+ years, Worldcon has created a place for itself as the annual SF convention with the deepest roots into SF’s deep time. Once again in my opinion, more than anything else, the Worldcon-ness of Worldcon arises from its history, its legacy, its memory. Ah, and not just its own, but the history, legacy and memory of science fiction as a particular type of cultural expression. For example, Does any other convention with a worldwide draw have worldcon’s historical perspective? Perhaps even more importantly, does any other convention want that perspective?
So yes, Worldcons have to adapt to the shifting SF landscape. Arguably, they do. Arguably, not fast enough for some. Arguably, not in the manner desired by others. Still, they do change. It is clear though, at least to me, that the changes desired by Worldcon’s most passionate critics will not take place as quickly as desired until those same people apply their fiery passion to bidding for, winning and running a Worldcon themselves. Once again, I think taking a good hard look at adopting the Arisia model for fan run conventions in part or whole would go a long way towards accelerating the evolution of Worldcon without it losing its essential Worldcon-ness. Part of that model is openness. An insular Worldcon cannot survive. See the content about Arisia above.
In my opinion, probably because I’m old (in the eyes of some in this thread) and foolish (in the eyes of others, or the same) I believe that making Worldcon into a genre sales exhibition like SDCC, or into a commercial mega convention like Dragon*Con, would leave us, at least those convention going fans who still think of convention fandom as “us”, unmoored and without a keel. Adrift and directionless.
I would definitely suggest getting to know Worldcon as an institution like the Olympics or the Oscars or Cannes or the Boston Marathon. Why? To understand what is and what isn’t essential for a Worldcon to be a Worldcon. No, what’s essential for a Worldcon to feel like a Worldcon.
I continue to find Convention fandom fascinating. From my p.o.v. US convention fandom is becoming increasingly contentious. Is it perhaps becoming balkanized? I don’t know if the same thing is happening in fandom in other countries. I do suspect that the sub-cultural power struggles in US convention fandom are not easily mapped onto fandoms in other countries. The fact that I don’t know this points to what I feel is one of the major failings of Worldcon. Namely that Worldcon is not nearly as global as its name implies. It’s not a blatant fiction like US baseball’s “World Series”, but it is far too English speaking and North American / Western European centric for its own good and my personal tastes.
BTW – I’m specifying convention fandom because I also suspect that the overwhelming majority of people who consume those cultural products identified as science fiction have never and will never attend a convention. As convention fandom’s internal struggles become increasingly more public, will they be even less apt to attend? I don’t know.
Does any of this make sense? Is it too scatterbrained? Please let me know. Thanks!