This past weekend, I took 13 of my “Folklore and Star Trek” students to Denver, CO, to attend StarFest, a mid-sized science-fiction convention. Throughout the semester, we’ve been examining the relationship between popular culture and folk culture, and fan conventions are the perfect place to see this process in action. Fans take the characters and worlds of television shows and use them as a base for their own creative adaptations. We saw numerous such examples: a booth filled with homemade books of fan and slash; the many costumes worn by attendees, some that were truly artistic masterpieces; performances of Klingon folk songs and steampunk martial arts. My favorite was the art room, where fans could sell their own artwork inspired by science fiction and fantasy. Although most of the works were paintings and sketches, there were some sculptures, homemade books bound with leather, and some stunning pottery.
Students seemed to have a great time. 10 out of the 13 were there to conduct fieldwork on some aspect of fan culture, such as science-fiction tattoos, convention stories, and cosplay. Some students had managed to make contact with people before the convention and arrange to meet. Others had to find people to work with during the convention itself. I warned them all beforehand that their fieldwork could be haphazard because of the limited time period (the convention was only 3 days long) and that they should think of backup plans should things go wrong. And of course, for some students, things did indeed go wrong–a contact never called them back during the convention, they had trouble meeting people during the convention, their tape recorder malfunctioned. I was on-call throughout the convention and held office hours in my hotel room, and there were several times I had to make an ad hob research plan with a student. Still, despite these setbacks, I was impressed with how the students took charge of their own research, bravely approached strangers to ask about their fan folklore, and adapted their topic as necessary. I anticipate great final papers!