There are two things I don’t want this post to be: One of them is a rant; the other is a sermon. Yet I find myself a little frustrated by some recent events, so I’ll humbly beg the internet’s indulgence if I deviate from my usual fare.
I started attending genre conventions a few years ago. During this time I’ve been to professional cons, and I’ve been to fan run cons. I’ve attended as a guest and more recently as a panellist. And if there is one thing that really bothers me about con culture, it is creepers who don’t know how to handle themselves around members of the opposite gender. However, better people than I have already discussed this subject at length, so let’s talk about the number two thing that puts me ill at ease within a con: people who don’t know the virtue of silence.
Silence is an underrated behaviour/state of mind. I was first exposed to foundational lessons in silence as a student of the martial arts. There I discovered I was more receptive to new ideas when my voice was quiet. Outside of the dojo, silence allowed me to take new concepts and compare them with my own world view. Throughout university and work life silence was especially helpful in building new skills and thus achieving a measure of personal and professional growth.
As I’m the sort of person who finds new ideas very exciting, I’m often tempted to break the silence if only to share some of the thoughts coalescing in my head. In my less confident moments I also fear people will think me slow or dim witted for not responding to something straight away. Thus, silence can be a very challenging thing, especially when I’m seated in a room brimming with people who share a number of my interests and passions. I expect many other people feel the same way.
Consider then, a panel at a convention. Though geek culture tries to be egalitarian and inclusive, a panel is one of the few places where a pure democracy is out of place. The people on the panel are there to speak on a given subject because they have some unique experience or expertise with the matter at hand. Therein, when I attend a panel as an audience member, I try to practice silence as best I can. I may not agree with everything that is said, but I do not feel disagreeing with somebody, or even emphatically agreeing with them, warrants taking time away from the official programme. If the panel moderator sees fit to have a Q&A session, I’ll make an inquiry then. Otherwise, I’ll talk to my friends and colleagues about it after the fact.
Having attended many academic conferences before participating in my first convention, I take this behaviour as something rather self-evident. No scholar would dare to interrupt another mid-presentation; even between experts who wildly disagree on a subject, there is an expectation of professionalism. Obviously a con is not so formal an affair; yet, I suspect this particular practice is something the world of conventions can and should learn from academia.
Because the only thing I find more frustrating than a member of the audience bogarting my speaking points as a panelist, is listening to that same person prattle on when I am part of the audience. It’s not only disrespectful to the panelists, who have invested time in preparing their thoughts on the topic under discussion, but it’s equally an affront to everybody else in the audience. Brilliant as the rogue audience member’s remarks may be, they should be saved for a time of the moderator’s choice so as not to infringe on both the audience’s and panel’s con experience.
People who attend genre cons often talk about a sense of community, a notion I hold to be quite true. However, we’re an odd sort of self-policing community. This can lead to problems when customs, such as practicing appropriate silence, are understood by most but land as utterly alien to others. The community’s self-policing nature doesn’t lend itself to easily correcting various faux pas or introducing certain folk to ideas held true by the majority. Moreover, calling somebody out for poor social skills can be awkward and may reflect poorly on the person attempting to correct the unwanted behaviour.
Therefore I think we must do better as a community in recognizing and proactively celebrating the virtues of appropriate silence. Ultimately, this issue speaks to a greater level of mutual respect within our community. By corralling our thoughts and saving them for the appropriate time – whether this is at the selection of the moderator or for post-panel discussion in the hallway or con suite – we all take it upon ourselves to ensure other members of our community are having the best possible time. Shouldn’t that be the first goal of a community?
We now return you to your originally scheduled Page of Reviews programming.
…and keeping those details in mind, I believe it is now quite evident that each of Paul Verhoeven’s movies are actually clever social critiques, which only masquerade as easily digestible action movies.