Sunday, April 6, 2008

no more science fiction conventions

I discovered science fiction my senior year of high school, when Battlestar Galactica was on. It immediately became my all-time favorite TV series, and it still is. It inspired and influenced me in so many ways.

It had an epic story line, was one of the first sci-fi series to incorporate long story arcs over numerous episodes, was the first sci-fi series ever to include religion and mythology as part of its regular plots (and it wasn’t on a negative level either), contained glorious theme music, had stunning clothing and lovely sets, and had a marvelous, physically beautiful cast of various generations. No wonder I was blown away. Its grandeur affects me to this day and the show changed parts of my life.

I mourned--physically grieved--when the show was canceled after just a year. I know that sounds absolutely ridiculous, but believe me, I’m not the only one who felt that way! In fact, I missed it through much of the 80s and there were numerous TV shows and movies I didn’t desire to watch because they were just pale imitations of BG.

I finally had a chance to meet a Galactica actor, and ask the question that had haunted me since the show’s ending in 1979, when I went to my first science fiction convention during the summer of 1983. There was a con for Space: 1999 across town, but actress Anne Lockhart of BG was the scheduled guest. So I drove over there that Sunday afternoon.

It was one of the best afternoons of my life! I met other people in their 20s from around the country, and the guys weren’t bad-looking. The place wasn’t that crowded. I saw stuff for sale that I didn’t know existed, dating back to the 1950s. Everyone was friendly and, except for their science fiction obsession, completely normal and had outside lives.

As for Anne, I asked her the question that had already been bugging me for four years: What was supposed to happen in the second season? Well, I learned that she herself didn’t know, and over the years I learned that no one else did either. I also began to realize that the question haunted not only the fans, but the actors themselves as well.

Over the next 10 or so years, I attended several science fiction conventions locally. From the 1980s till the early ’90s, there were always two sf cons each year in the Cincinnati area, one exclusively for Star Trek and the other a generic one. I didn’t stay long when I attended the Trek conventions, because it wasn’t a series I was interested in and they were always more expensive to attend anyway. All I ever did at the Trek cons was listen to the guest speaker actors--I seldom even stood in line to get anyone’s autograph. The generic ones, where I got to listen to actors from other series (but never Galactica--no other Galactica actor other than Anne has ever visited Cincinnati), were much more to my taste.

I finally got to meet my beloved Richard Hatch in 1989. It was also my first out-of-town convention, when I flew to attend Galactic Trekfest in St. Louis that April. I will talk more about meeting Richard in a future post.

At Trekfest, I met a few people with whom I had been corresponding through what now is referred to as snail mail. It was the first time I’d ever talked to fans who were truly obsessed with the show, such as Clara who thought she came from another planet, and the guy who dressed and acted as Commander Cain. And THEY and their ilk were the ones who started making me feel weird because I wasn’t as knowledgeable and obsessed as they were about the show!

By the mid-90s the situation started to change, for the worse. The generic conventions in Cincinnati were discontinued, until there were only Trek conventions. By that time you not only had Star Trek fans, you had the Next Generation fans and the movie fans, and the conventions started getting more and more crowded.

The wall-to-wall people were a problem in and of themselves, because I tend to get a little claustrophobic in large crowds, but what was worse were the types of fans who seemed to be growing exponentially. I know that what I am about to say is VERY politically incorrect, but it’s true.

I’d always thought of myself as a nerd, compared to the rest of the normal population. You know, the stereotypical plain Jane with thick glasses, clumsiness, bookwormish, unathletic, unpopular, etc. But I’ve always had many interests beyond science fiction, and more importantly, I BATHE ON A REGULAR BASIS!

As more and more people came to these conventions, the really odd ones who had previously been sequestered at home started showing up. Some of them were disabled and in motorized wheelchairs. Some of them were severely obese and used electric scooters to get around. Some of them had poor-paying jobs and didn’t rent hotel rooms so that they could use all of their money to buy stuff to add to their collections.

But the weirdest two aspects of all? Many of them either had no peripheral vision or they had no sense of personal space and so they didn’t see me when I was standing there! It happened at any location of a con, but most often occurred at the sales tables when I was browsing. I bruise fairly easily and I started coming home with black-and-blue marks on my body because these folks who didn’t see me were plowing into me or accidentally me with their huge carrying bags! And some of them, either because they were disabled or they weren’t staying in a room, obviously hadn’t taken a shower or bath for several days!

My definition of what a nerd drastically changed. What the general population thinks of as one (such as yours truly) and what I think of as one are different. To me, a nerd has so little sense of personal space that he is unable to notice anyone else. Someone who is so obsessed with a certain subject that she can’t think of anything else, including personal hygiene.

So I gave up on local conventions. I attended my first Galactica-based convention in 1998 at Universal Studios Hollywood. It was thrilling to meet other members of the cast. And it was AMAZING that Richard remembered me, even though I’d only met him once nine years earlier! I met fans from all over the world, but that part got to be a little disturbing.

First there were the fans from England who had run a fan club in the 80s that I had belonged to. I wasn’t as impressed with them in person as I had been with their newsletter--they were kind of rude and ignored me if one of the actors came over, even if I were midway through a sentence! Then there was a guy who latched onto me and wouldn’t go away, even asking me if he could correspond with me after the convention. At first it was flattering, but then it got creepy. I never did tell him my last name or room number, fortunately, because that Sunday I went to the pool at the other end of the hotel complex, which was for guests only, and he managed to track me down there!

After that convention, which was in September 1998, Richard started making a lot of appearances at nearby conventions in Lexington, Columbus and Indianapolis, so I drove to those. The one in Lexington was wonderful, because hardly anybody attended and I finally got to know Richard and Sophie a little. The ones in Indianapolis were good, but by the third time I attended Gen Con it had gotten so crowded and so little of it was about TV shows (it was mainly comic books and games), and the other attendees were so arrogant toward both the actors and their fans that I stopped attending.

Columbus was the worst. The first one was in May 1999. I stayed at the hotel where the convention was. That Hyatt was attached to the convention center and the place was humongous! Management had also overbooked the place. Not only was the science fiction convention there, there was also a volleyball tournament for high school and college girls. Oh, man, the rude and disgusting things that the scifi fans said to those girls--some of the comments made me sick to my stomach! I had never seen Goths before, and they scared me, especially with them running around with their realistic toy guns just a few weeks after the Columbine shooting. Even more bizarre were the guys who had wrapped bedsheets around them to wear as togas (and obviously wearing nothing else underneath or even on their feet).

Some of the problems were the hotel’s fault. The overbooking led to long waits at the elevators. My room was on the eighth floor. There were escalators that went up to the fourth, and then I ended up walking up the remaining four flights a number of times. (By the time I got home I think I had lost several pounds.) Early Sunday morning I wanted to take my stuff down to my car from my room. Even though it was just 9 a.m., only one elevator was even working by that time and it took me a while to get downstairs to check out. Don’t ever stay at the Hyatt Convention Center in Columbus.

I attended several more Columbus conventions, but stayed at another downtown hotel and had a much more peaceful experience.

But in the meantime came the worst two parts of all. The fans had started to change, and so had Richard. In regard to the fans, not only were there more of them and not only were they more obnoxious, their reasons for being at the conventions changed. It was most noticeable in the dealers’ hall. The older merchandise was no longer sold. Now I saw table after table of bootleg anime’ videos. There was always at least one table filled with new hardback science fiction and fantasy books that were more than their cover prices. (If I found one that looked interesting, I wrote down the name and later ordered it the local Waldenbooks for $5 to $10 less.) Hundreds of new pewter Dungeons & Dragons knickknacks and thousands of new anime’ trading cards. Weird things made of feathers, leather or fur. Some erotica.

What had happened to the toys from the 50s, 60s and 70s? The novelizations of movies from the past? The old Pocketbook paperbacks? Well, the sellers obviously weren’t getting my money anymore, but apparently they were getting everybody else’s. Many of the convention attendees were no longer there because they loved one show or another; they were there because of both the money to be made and because their extreme personalities had an outlet which they couldn’t utilize in the outside world.

The last straw came with GINO. I still refuse to mention this show’s real name, because it still makes me nauseated to think about. I and so many others, including the cast members, had wanted a continuation of our beloved Galactica for SOOOO long, and we came SOOOO close SOOOO many times, and then everything fell through when the SciFi channel decided to remake the series so that it was more modern and more politically correct. Much to my disappointment, the series was a hit, and it became a hit precisely because it disdained everything I loved about the original series. With one exception, the details in the original series that I didn’t care for (nor did anybody else I know) were the only things that made it into the new show.

I wrote the following comments on another website recently regarding my feelings toward GINO, and I am repeating them here:

Until about 10 years ago, the continuation COULD have been done, and I DON’T mean for the following usual reasons: the fans still wanted it; most of the cast members were still young enough to have an interest in doing it; and some of the more mature cast members were still alive.

But the world changed and moved on. I don’t mean in the growth of computers in all aspects of life. I mean by what's considered good and bad in popular entertainment by both the critics and by many viewers at least 15 years younger than me.

What I see in contemporary television is an emphasis on rudeness and selfishness and worse. It’s evident in both the reality shows and in scripted series. The more unlikeable the characters are, the more highly praised the show is.

The reason I hate GINO isn’t just because it isn't MY Galactica; it's because something I loved was twisted into something I consider ugly, with characters who have no positive traits, a depressing story line with no sense of hope, not to mention that horrid pea-green lighting which makes the cast members all look nauseated! This is just the opposite of the original Galactica, with its epic story line, likeable characters, positive view of religion and unique view of history. What I’ve read since GINO’s debut is that what I liked about the original BG is roundly derided today. And what I've read about the new BG that is so critically acclaimed and why so many contemporary critics consider it one of the best shows in history are precisely because the show is so utterly miserable.

I understand that there are viewers my age and older who think differently than I do. And I’m hopeful that there are viewers out there who share my idealism. And I’m hoping that someday the pendulum will swing back the other way (it always does eventually) and popular entertainment will return to something more to my liking.

But the problems extended beyond the TV show itself. I had joined a Battlestar Galactica Yahoo discussion group about eight or nine years ago. At that time the new series wasn’t even in anyone’s imagination yet. The participants in the Yahoo group were fans of the original series.

Then the talk began about the new version, and the show eventually debuted. For some reason, the group’s membership slowly but steadily changed. (I do not know why the new participants just didn’t start their own group.) The new members were all fans of the new show, and the original series fans quit. I was the last diehard holdout.

I mentioned my concerns about the new series and its negativity, and the responses I got left a bad taste in my mouth. I was told that I was being arrogant for thinking it’s bad that the new fans all seemed to love misery. Their attitude--and it’s everywhere, not just in Galactica discussion groups--is that today is the worst it’s ever been in history. One poster went so far as to say that their feelings are of greater importance than of folks in the past because it was “their” time and “their attitude.” My follow-up to that was that it’s always been the worst that it’s ever been, and to believe that our contemporary unhappiness is more important than the misery of those in the past was an incredible arrogance on their part. I mentioned people who had lived through World War II and the Holocaust, not to mention all those legions in the past who survived thousands of wars, natural disasters and plagues. There were always people even then who were convinced that Earth was doomed. I suspect that even the folks living in the last Ice Age thought the world was ending.

Well, after that I quit that Yahoo group, of course.

As GINO aired over the past three years, the interviews on the Internet and in various publications by the new show’s fans indicated just how snotty they were towards the original series’ admirers, but what was really irking to us was reading the same comments coming out of the mouths of the producers and actors. And then Richard decided to join the cast and did a complete turnaround on his attitude toward the show.

Were the creators of shows and their fans the future of science fiction? If so, I didn’t want any part of it. I barely watch the SciFi channel any more, and actually, my overall viewing is down about 90 percent of the time I spent in front of the TV growing up. My taste in fiction has changed somewhat and I don’t read nearly as much SF or fantasy as I used to.

Did it mean I grew up and moved on to something more realistic? No. Did it mean I lost interest in the subject? Yes, but not because I decided I was too old for the genre. Am I spending less money on it? Definitely! Does it mean I don’t want to associate with science fiction fans anymore? Yes, and it’s their loss, not mine.

So, to sum it all up, I don’t go to any more science fiction conventions. First there’s the fear of getting physically injured! Secondly there’s the gross-out factor because of the increase in the genre’s weirder constituents. But thirdly, and most importantly, I have no desire to ever hear Richard speak in public again. I don’t want to hear what he has to say about GINO. I also certainly don’t want to listen to the series fans and their gloating attitudes towards people like me. I’m not a masochist, and I don’t need to be around folks who are proud of the fact that what they consider good entertainment is so completely and utterly devastating. And I most certainly don't want contemporary scifi fans looking down their noses at me.

1 comment:

skippercollector said...

It's taken me two months, but I finally finished the second half of this column.

Why did I stop liking actor Richard Hatch? Two reasons.

One is that he changed as a person. I first met him in 1989. I’d already had a crush on him for 11 years by that time. I discovered him my junior year of high school, in early 1978, when he played Jan Berry in Deadman’s Curve, a film that changed my life, and a lot of other people’s. I won’t go into that because I’ve discussed it elsewhere at length, and so have all the other people whom the movie affected. All I know is that by the end of the film I was hopelessly infatuated with Richard.

I’d probably have watched Galactica anyway that fall, because it was, and still is, the sort of dramatic fantasy that I love to watch. But because Richard was the star I got hooked, a fascination that continues to this day.
In April 1989 I attended my first out-of-town science fiction convention, one called Galactic TrekFest in St. Louis. I flew out there for the weekend. To my amazement, I wasn’t as tongue-tied as I had expected to be. In fact, I discovered a side to myself that I didn’t know existed, one that was outgoing and outspoken. Not to mention the fact that, as someone who’s always been very plain, it was astonishing to me to be the prettiest girl there. That Saturday night I told Richard how much I had loved Deadman’s Curve, and because of it I’d seen Jan & Dean in concert four times. Richard leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I was fine until I got back to the table, at which point I totally collapsed.

It wasn’t until 1998, during the 20 yahren convention at the Universal Hilton, that I saw Richard again. I was delighted, nay, dumfounded, when he saw me standing in line, reached over to shake my hand, and said, “I know I’ve met you before.” Yes, it was NINE years earlier! My God, this guy must have a hell of a memory! That moment was probably the highlight of my entire year!

But that weekend was also the first time I began to encounter a little problem....

All of a sudden Richard started appearing at conventions in nearby cities (fewer than 100 miles away). Richard’s fans aren’t like the other Galactica actors’ fans, and neither he nor his people do anything to stop this. Between 1998 and 2003 (the last convention I attended), I stood in line to talk to Richard at different conventions at least 20 times. The line would continue to move forward without interruption until there was only one person in front of me. EVERY TIME (AND NO, IT WASN’T MY IMAGINATION, IT WAS EVERY TIME) I started to walk forward because it was my turn, someone would butt in front of me. Richard always started talking to that person instead, some times for five or 10 minutes, and completely ignore me.

When the other person finally left, Richard was very nice and it was a pleasure to talk to him. But I could never figure out why this situation ALWAYS occurred. Was I THAT invisible? Did the person who thought it was sooooo urgent to talk to Richard think that, because I looked like a “nice” girl, that I would be willing to be patient and wait a little longer? Were the buttinskies so arrogant that they thought they were more important than I was? Your guess is as good as mine.

And two even bigger questions: How is it that Richard, who for so many years was so lighthearted and childlike, attract so many rude fans compared to the other BG cast members? And why did someone who admits he was bullied as a child allow his fans to act that way on a regular basis?

The last straw came at Comic Con in Indianapolis in 2003. Again, it was one of those conventions that was way overbooked, and as I mentioned in my previous post on this subject, each year the attendants got more obnoxious. I was waiting in line to talk to Richard--again--and--you guessed it--as soon as it was my turn a man butted in front of me without any acknowledgment that I was there and preceded to talk to Richard about some convention matter.

When the guy finally shut up and walked away--it was probably 10 minutes--I got up and said, somewhat dryly--and I really did mean it as a joke--that at the next convention I attended I was going to come dressed as the Invisible Woman, because no one ever saw me standing in line. Richard (whom I don’t know if he was too tired to get the joke, or if my sarcasm sounded serious) kind of yelled at me, saying he needed to talk to that guy.

Well, that may have been the case, but why was it the case all those other umpteen times? If it had just been that one time, I wouldn’t have said anything. But it was ALL the time, and I was sick of it.

I didn’t see my idol much for the rest of the convention, and I haven’t seen him since. I do miss him--at least the way he was 20 years ago. And I miss the other Galactica cast members, and Sophie, and some of the fans I corresponded with via snail mail in the 80s and 90s. But I had to move on, even though something in me felt like it had died.

In the meanwhile....

The SciFi Channel came up with a TV series that has the distinction of being the most depressing, hopeless, physically hideous TV series in the 60-plus history of television, and that show (which many of us call GINO), has been praised by contemporary critics as one of the best TV series ever made, simply because there is no hope and none of the characters have any likable traits whatsoever. This TV show took something that was physically and emotionally stunning, inspired me and many others deeply, and was unlike anything television had ever seen before, and twisted it into something uglier than the worse segments on the nightly news. And Richard, who had worked so hard for so long to bring that inspiring story back to life, finally relented and joined GINO, because he was financially broke and because GINO broke him down spiritually.

The other reason I will never attend a convention again is because of GINO. I have no desire to listen to Richard’s comments about it. And I certainly don’t have any desire to listen to GINO’s arrogant fans talk about it.

Am I bitter? You bet! Is this just a matter of me finally “growing up” and “getting on with my life”? I don’t think so. It’s more a matter of “moving away” rather than “moving on.” I’ve learned to avoid something I used to love, because what is offered now is very cold-hearted. I don’t want to be part of that world. I hope that someday the pendulum swings away from this so-called realism (AKA unhappiness) back to something more pleasant, but by that time I will be too old to enjoy it.