Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wiscon # 2

I was on four panels and part of a group reading. When I do this much, I find I don't attend as many panels as a spectator.

The panel on science fiction and the working class never got on topic. This always happens to this panel, which I have done over and over. I am going to keep doing it till I get it right. I think most of the problem is the huge inability of Americans to think about class. Working people are not always factory workers. They are not always poorly educated. One of the big lies that we are told now is that people do badly because they are don't have enough education. Tell that to an adjunct professor with a PhD, who is holding three different jobs with no benefits and no security.

I think the cleanest definition is the 19th century one: members of the working class do not own the means of production. Lacking these, they must sell their labor to the people who do own the factories, offices and colleges. Of course, this definition means that many people who think they are middle class and professional are mere working stiffs.

This structural definition does not address cultural differences among the classes. An adjunct professor may experience the same kind of power relationships as a factory worker, but she may have many cultural differences. How important are these differences? Are they more important than the difference between a Somalian hotel worker and a Hispanic roofer? Maybe yes and maybe no.

Anyway, the topic is always a can of worms.

The panels I found really useful were on aging in science fiction -- both aging as it's treated in art and aging as it happens to people, such as me. I ended with a lot to think about.


Blogger Tallgeese said...

It helps me to see someone that I respect talk about issues and themes that are important to me.

Class is tough on both a theoretical level and a cultural/experiential level and thought you did a good job with a difficult subject. The sad truth is that even Marxists can't fully agree with what class is (the structuralist camp, the Thompsonite camp, the Eric Olin Wright folks, etc., etc.) so imagine discussing class with a group of panelists with an even greater pluralism of thought and experience than the wide range of Marxist theory on the subject.

Then we have the overlay of "class and SF". It is just a tough subject, just like "imperialism and SF" is.

I think you are right that we just need to keep fighting the good fights, do our best to raise and articulate the issues, and engage as clearly and persistently as possible.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Zvan said...

I wonder whether you might not be able to have a discussion more like the one you're looking for if you did a panel on "Work and Wealth in SF" instead of using the word "class." Some words, even good words, carry more weight than can be fruitfully discussed in 75 minutes.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Re: Stephanie Zvan's comments.
While Work and Wealth in SF would make an interesting panel--one I would likely attend at WisCon, the working class panel was titled "Writing Working Class Characters." As a writer (and reader) of SF, especially SF with political themes, I am very interested in the challenges of creating good characters of particular backgrounds. Creating working class characters who are not stereotypes is a major challenge to me. So I have hopes such a panel could be held again with more emphasis on writing/creating and SF and less on definition.
Paul Bietila

7:43 AM  

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