Another QuarterNote Heard From

Bill Sutton

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Dandelion Whine

Warning: This column contains opinions. These opinions may be controversial at times. Do not read these opinions if you suffer from high blood pressure, heart problems, or will be operating heavy macinery. These opinions do not reflect the views of Debbie Ridpath Ohi, The Dandelion Report, or any other columnist or contributor.

I have problems with the dandelion.

It may seem odd to reveal this in a column for a webzine called The Dandelion Report, but we're all subject to life's little ironies now and then.

Leave it to Kathy Mar, whom I consider one of the prime unifying forces of filkdom, to come up with such a strong symbol. Kathy's Dandelion Conspiracy struck a chord with many filkers and made the dandelion the universal emblem of filk. Today, when we see a dandelion in a fannish context, we think of filk. We're usually right.

I just wish I felt more comfortable with it.

I guess my first disagreement is with the concept of filk as an unwanted weed. Yes, there are concoms and areas of the country where filk is actively discouraged - but it is the same with all subfandoms. Filk is more often misunderstood than maligned.

One definition of a weed is any plant that comes up where you don't want it to. Many filkers seem to take great pride in relating stories of browbeating concoms into finding space by plopping down in an area where they are disturbing the concom, the hotel, or whomever.

Having had some experience with allocating space for conventions, I can state that filk is not as easy to provide for as one might suppose. At one time, filkers were happy with any place to call their own that would become available sometime around 11:00 at night. Now, these needs have expanded greatly and often include:

  • Must be away from any and all external noise, including the hotel bar and any major convention function (like a dance) that creates loud noise.
  • Must be in a room large enough so that everyone who wants to sit in a circle can do so. Sometimes, one isn't enough.
  • Must be away from any sleeping rooms that might be disturbed by all night music.
  • Must be available for filk programming during the day.
  • Must be easily accessible to people moving large instruments.

In a hotel that is affordable to even a 1000-person convention, these needs are extremely difficult to meet. They are more difficult to meet when the convention has been going for a number of years without filkers and space is traditionally assigned to other activities. They are almost impossible to meet once the convention has started and space has already been set aside.

The other aspect of the dandelion that bothers me is the way that it proliferates. A dandelion does not simply crop up in a particular spot and share the space with plants already there. It agressively drives out other plants until the space becomes nothing but dandelions.

I simply don't want to see filk in this context.

Many, if not most, filkers started out as fans before finding filk and adding it to the list of things they enjoy doing at conventions. Filk has grown to the point where it supports its own conventions. These are the places to immerse yourself in filk, and I enjoy them as much as the next filker. It's just that a general SF convention that isolates filk into its own corner, undisturbed by the rest of the con, doesn't happen to be my cup of tea (which brings up the general fannish problem of huge conventions like Worldcons, but I digress.) In the same way, a general convention that focusses too much on filk and isolates other aspects of the convention into a corner would be sweet revenge risking its dynamic as a general convention.

It seems very clear that one of the major reasons for the creation of the Dandelion Conspiracy is being fulfilled. Fans do see the dandelion and identify it with filkers, and the number of dandelions at a convention does indicate the number of people interested in filk who are attending the convention.

Unfortunately, it also seems clear that the number of dandelions appearing on general convention committees and staff isn't increasing in the same proportions.

This could be because most filk fen who are convention-savvy enough to want to run general conventions already have their hands full volunteering for their regional filk convention.

What I am afraid of, though, is that the concept of the dandelion has led too many filkers into a "give me ..." rather than a "let me help you get ..." philosophy. After all, if we have the power to crop up in con ops and demand a room at 10:00 on Friday night, why should we spend the previous 12 months participating in the give and take and compromise necessary to allocate rooms for the convention?

This is not a suggestion that we come up with a different symbol. The dandelion, and the reasons for its selection, are beautiful even if I personally feel them to be incomplete. As a filker, I wear and display the dandelion (albeit upside down) in order to promote filk and its place as a part of fandom.

Instead, let me suggest that we become "responsible dandelions". Let's participate in the making of our space rather than just the taking of it. Let's work out ways to share that space in an imperfect (and expensive) hotel world. Let's react as partners to the convention rather than as dissatisfied customers. Let's remind ourselves that the dandelion proliferates as it does because it can grow anywhere, even when conditions aren't perfect. Let's start growing more roots in the places where we can cause change, rather than simply demanding it.

Then we can be the wild blossom adding our harmony to the fannish flowerbed, instead of the weed being yanked and tossed away.

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Bill Sutton has been active in performing his own and others' music in public for fun and profit ... well, fun anyway ... for over 25 years. His column appears regularly as part of The Dandelion Report.

Copyright ©2001 Bill Sutton. All rights reserved.