SF’s Cult Success and OCD

Is the growth of fandom limited by neurodiversity?

This is a very preliminary presentation of some recent musings on both the successes within our genre and the vast changes it is currently undergoing.

It has long been known that many on the Asperger’s spectrum gravitate to the world of science fiction and its associated fandom.  In his book Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Steven Silberman devotes quite a few words to SF’s founding father, Hugo Gernsback, who he posits exhibited behavior in line with being “on the spectrum”, as well as devoting an entire chapter to the concept that science fiction fandom has evolved the kind of society and culture that would be created by those on the spectrum…a proto neuro-diverse culture.

I personally test out as being right on the boundary; many, many fans, prominent ones among them, admit to falling somewhere on the spectrum and anyone who has attended a traditional convention and spent any time observing the interactions of fans with each other will have to admit that there is something going on that is different from mundane society, whether they buy into Silberman’s contentions or not.

I do buy into them.  They feel right.  Without going into details at this juncture, they resonate with observed behaviors and interactions I’ve witnessed within fandom for decades.

It is also well-known that those diagnosed with autism, asperger’s, being somewhere along that spectrum also often experience other psychological quirks, including adult attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (along with an alphabet soup of related “disorders”), as do I.  And I, along with many others who experience such things will also tell you that there are benefits to be had, or at least trade-offs:  I would not have such an extensive knowledge of this field (or at least certain of its eras), were it not for my ability to focus on certain subjects to the exclusion of all else.  Detriments?  Sure.  I can get obsessive to the point of damage with certain things.  I do not, for example, own a video game console and I have (mostly) learned not to add another subject to get mired in.

Over the past several decades, the science fiction field has experienced an expansion, to use one word to describe it.  This has led to media embracing the subject to an extent we have never previously experienced and yet, at the same time, traditional fandom has been retrenching to some degree, has been under assault from “outside” forces that it does not seem to be able to get a handle on.

In exploring this growing divide. it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons science fiction has grown while fandom has not kept pace is that most of the new audience for this fare are “normal” individuals who are not even brushing shoulders with “the spectrum”.  Obsessive compulsive behavior is not in the bailiwick so to speak.

If you sit back and look at it for a second, I think you will have to agree that those of us who became fans did so because we felt compelled to immerse ourselves in a subject (or a series of related subjects) to the exclusion of much else in our lives.  And if we really look at ourselves in relation to fandom and science fiction, we have to admit that in many cases this immersion transcends any desire we may have to be authors, or editors or artists.  Those goals may be career goals, but they are also extensions of our immersion.

How many times have we read about someone finding fandom, finding science fiction and exclaiming that they’ve discovered their reason for being?  How many of us have a Mount TBR, or a collection that needs filling in, or a “world” we’re creating with languages and maps and social constructs, how many of us have related hobbies that involve cataloging or note taking…?

How many of us fixate on a show, or a set of characters?  What is the Star Trek universe but an extended obsession forced into the “real” world?

Face it.  These are not “normal” hobbies.  The word “hobby” does not even fit.

Over in the mundane world there exist people who can enjoy an SF flick, or a TV show, an author or two perhaps, but they do not immerse themselves in these things to the point where their co-workers, family and friends give them theme presents at birthdays and holidays.  Its enough to see the latest, talk about it for a few days and then move on.  They go out for lunch with co-workers and the primary subject of discussion is not genre-related.

So I wonder.  Perhaps this lack of growth in traditional fandom during a time of great mundane engagement with the field, may be due in large part to the fact that the majority of the population are incapable of engaging with the field in the same manner that us fans do,  Perhaps there’s a neurological fannish “switch” waiting to be turned on by the proper stimulus, and most people just don’t have it.  And that’s a shame, because those folks will never experience what we experience.

I’ve discussed this concept with very broad strokes, admittedly.  I’ve also conflated OCD/AADD and Aspergers to a degree that may not be justified, but I think there’s something here that deserves looking into.  Take this as a starting point.

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