November 14, 2014

Local Business, Fan Communities, & Doctor Who

RIP J & R Variety
Last night, while attending a networking event sponsored by Greater Southwest Development Corp (with whom I had worked in the past), I came to a realization that....well, I'm surprised that I hadn't realized until then.

This past March, I had celebrated seven years since I moved back to Chicago - as long as I had spent living in St. Louis

Much of it was the fact that, amongst neighborhood businesses, I encountered several people I had worked with as part of GSDC. It was also a powerful reminder of the importance of local businesses - J & R Variety, a store near me, closed earlier this summer; Izzy Rizzy's, a novelty shop, has now moved exclusively online. But my love of things local - having worked as a community organizer/development specialist in St. Louis - seems to have translated well in Chicago. Perhaps because I'm used to living in areas with strong retail/business corridors (like Bridgeport, Brighton Park, and Rogers Park), and wanting to be part of reviving that notion is a strong desire.

It's also interesting that I'm starting to feel like part of the local "fabric" - enjoying morning walks with a neighbor's dog (and now, I'm the dog's official adoptive "father", even to the point where people think of Jake as my dog), being asked to serve as an election judge in an upcoming election (I've said yes), and - surprisingly - being referred to by name by a local librarian. You may be wondering why I'm putting such a huge stock in all this, and it's because....well, it's good to feel part of a community.

This week as has also seen a bit of disappointment - I worked with Geek Bar for a social; one in which members of the Chicago Doctor Who Meetup Group have been pestering and bugging me about forever, and who shows up?
Nobody. Nada. Not a sausage.

But all this has me thinking about the notion of community, and fandom, and being part of something, and I'm of mixed feelings...but mixed feelings that lead to a positive solution.

The first is a paraphrase of Charles Schultz - I love Doctor Who, but it's fandom I can't stand.

But the next is a way (for me, at least) to come to grips with not just my adjustment to Chicago life, but in fandom and community building in general...

Often, fans see participation in the fan community as capitalistic - there is this creative work; an organizer provides the opportunity, and the fan participates with the assumption that any and all activities must cater to their particular whims. I am not talking about access, or even diversity, but attitudes ranging from "You must hold events in far-off suburbs so I can attend" to "You will never show Matt Smith Who episodes in my comic shop."

Yes, both things have been said. Out loud and in e-mail.

With any kind of community building, both participant and organizer can - and should - adopt an attitude of risk. As an organizer, I spent time and effort putting together events that may or may not fly....and participants take an equal risk that an event will not suck. However, increasingly I am finding an attitude of entitlement - that somehow it is my "job" to cater to fan interests at a higher level of risk. Fans want what they want, and they deserve "representation"....yet they are not willing to share in the risk, and ultimately, fan communities are a shared experience by their very nature.

To turn it back to the beginning - when I moved back to Chicago, into my current abode, my mother was ill. (She's had her transplant, and has outlived Steve Jobs, Mickey Mantle, and Lou Reed combined, thank you very much. She also says hi). My objective was to stay for a year or two, get a job, save, and move...but something happened. Much of it was that my mom got sicker before she got a transplant....but a lot of it was learning to step outside of my comfort zone - going to local stores because I didn't have transportation. Working with local businesses after losing my job (and I thank Greater Southwest for that opportunity). In short, I learned to move past my own feelings of entitlement, and begin to embrace the idea that we all had a stake in success. I'm very familiar with several of my neighbors, and as a result, I feel as if I belong - and much less isolated - because I realized that we share a commonality.

It's also revealing that fan cultures - even at their best - reveal a form of privilege. I'll let my fellow nerd/geek colleagues privately chastise me on that belief, but feeling as if people who organize events and gatherings are somehow "obligated" to serve your needs is relatively class-based. (Concrete example - the elder supervisor in Flatline who continually refers to "community service" people in disparaging tones). It's an attitude that I haven't seen in working with my fellow staff members at Chicago TARDIS, which feels much safer and more welcoming. even when I'm not meeting my obligations. When fans act as if I am their servant - rather than in service to them - it makes me wonder if they truly take joy out of their fan activities, or whether it is more of a blessing than a burden.

Two notes to end this post on a very upbeat note - at Geek Bar, a young woman who I met at the screening of Death In Heaven came over, and we commisserated about our mutual "feels" for the episode. Last night, a former client through Greater Southwest asked if I would be willing to help him get back "up to speed". In both instances, there was a risk - and a reward. In both instances, I felt a bit more like I was in comfortable surroundings.

And that, in brief, is why I love building communities - because despite those who adopt a means-as-an-ends attitude towards people, the times when that common bond is acknowledged - and strengthened - are the ones that keep me going.

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