Way of Life

by Walter A. Willis

(from Hyphen #17 December, 1956)

The Psychiatrist handed back the bundle of fanzines. "Remarkable," he said. "Remarkable."

You have read them all?" asked the Fan.

"Every word," affirmed the Psychiatrist.

"And do you agree with the Russell Hypothesis?" asked the fan eagerly.

"On the whole, yes," said the Psychiatrist. He got up from his desk and paced the room thoughtfully. "The Russell hypothesis," he went on, "as expressed in Hyphen 10, was that fanning is a form of sexual perversion which might be defined as 'deviation of aim'. That appears to me to be substantially correct. In more technical terms, it is a form of fetichism, or substitution. But what distinguishes it from all known forms of fetichism--" A gleam of enthusiasm lit his countenance. "--such as concentration on secondary sexual characteristics or inanimate objects such as shoes or clothes, is that here the fetichism is directed towards an abstraction. It is therefore an entirely new form of perversion. I have prepared some notes on it for my inaugural address to the Psychiatric Congress next month, and I would be most grateful if you could give me permission to use some of these 'fan biographies' as sample case histories."

"Certainly," said the Fan. "Perhaps you could let me know the gist of your address?"

"By all means," said the Psychiatrist. "In fact I owe you at least that much for bringing to my attention this interesting and completely new field of research. I begin my address by describing the nature of 'fanac' and the relationship of the average fan to fandom as a whole. I point out that this relationship is psychologically a sexual one, in that fandom supplies a complete intellectual substitution for the physical sexual relationship. Take, for example," he said, warming to his subject, "the neofan, or virgin. He learns about fandom from hints in magazines or from furtive conversations among his school-fellows. Nervously, he makes his first amorous overtures ... a letter to a prozine, a guarded request for a copy of a fanzine. His desire for closer contact is heightened by this tentative loveplay. His courtship becomes more intimate and strenuous until he can contain his passion no longer. He Goes All The Way. He publishes a fanzine."

"You regard this as the equivalent of the sex act?" asked the Fan.

"Of course," said the Psychiatrist. "By publishing a fanzine he, as it were, inserts a portion of himself into the body of fandom, procuring thereby a sense of gratification and discharge of the tension which has been building up inside him. The period of preparation of the fanzine ... soliciting contributions, preparing stencils, the rhythmic manipulation of the mimeograph ... these constitute his period of tumescence. The phase of detumescence includes the final collation of the fanzine, the reading of the first finished copy, and culminates in the dispatch of the mailing."

"Itself a symbolically suggestive act," offered the Fan.

"Quite so," agreed the Psychiatrist. "The mailing slot ... I also drew attention here to the prevalence of the conventional phallic spaceship on covers and to the significance of the various methods of mailing ... in open envelopes, in 'clasp' envelopes, in wrappers, rolled up, and ... er ... unclothed. These last types offer a particularly fascinating avenue of speculation -- the difference between the carefree or exhibitionistic faned who sends out his fanzine unfolded with just one securing staple, and the inhibited, fear and guilt-ridden multiple folder and stapler."

"Then the actual act of mailing is the climax?" said the Fan.

"Yes," said the Psychiatrist. "It is the final irrevocable step, the culmination of the fan's act of love towards fandom. Obviously it will be accompanied by a sensation of discharge of vital forces, of relief of tension. This is followed by a feeling of lassitude which, if the energy expended on the fanzine has been excessive, may amount to the trauma known as 'gafia'. The duration of this phase depends primarily on how satisfactory the relationship between the fan and fandom has been for both parties. In a well-adjusted relationship fandom readily responds to the faned's act of love by overtures of its own, in the form of the titillation of egoboo; this leads normally to the restimulation of the fan's energies and thus to another act. If however the fan has been clumsy or inept, fandom becomes frigid and unresponsive. This in turn may induce frustration in the fan, leading eventually to impotence and sterility."

"The same result may be produced by excessive effort on the part of the faned," commented the Fan.

"Quite," agreed the Psychiatrist. "He may 'burn himself out'. There are of course many such difficulties in the way of a satisfactory mutual adjustment between the fan and fandom. But on the other hand the rewards of a full fan life are correspondingly great, comprising as they do not only the pleasures of intercourse but the joys of parenthood."

"You mean," said the Fan, "The relationship between the fan and his fanzine?"

"Yes," said the Psychiatrist. "It is quite clear from the fanzines you leant me that the attitude of a normal fan towards criticism of his fanzine can be compared in Nature only to that of a lioness defending her cubs. Not only will the fan go without the necessities of life to provide for his fanzine, he will attack viciously any enemy that approaches it. In serious cases this excessive love of his fanzine can lead to a kind of auto-eroticism which one might term 'self-defence', in which the fan's natural love towards fandom is twisted and turned inwards to his own fanzine exclusively. It may involve him succumbing to actual hallucinations about his fanzine, such as the well-known 'Delusion of Legibility'. He may go to such lengths to preserve his illusions as to send his fanzines only to persons who he knows will praise it. This practice should however not be confused with what one may classify as group marriages, such as FAPA and OMPA and similar semi-incestuous relationships; though these too may lead to evil effects eventually through inbreeding."

"Your conclusion, then, is that fanac is a form of sex substitution?" asked the Fan.

"Definitely," said the Psychiatrist. "One might call it a sublimation, if the nature of it were not, as I have made clear, so quasi-sexual in character. Since, however, it is not in any way criminal or anti-social I hesitate to classify it as a perversion. Yes, on the whole I think 'substitution' is the correct term. I would venture to conclude that fans will normally have low power sex drives on the physical plane."

"I thought you might come to that conclusion," said the Fan, "and I took the liberty of bringing you a further batch of fanzines." He handed them over.

The Psychiatrist took them doubtfully. "What is the difference between this lot and the first one," he asked.

"These," said the Fan, "contain convention reports."


Next day the Fan again called on the Psychiatrist. He found him muttering at his desk, scribbling furiously on scraps of paper.

"I take it you have read the second lot of fanzines," said the Fan.

"Yes," said the Psychiatrist ruefully. "They have certainly upset my theories. I cannot understand it. Here is a sexual perversion which appears not at all to detract from the subject's normal libido. In fact," he added, looking at one of the convention reports again, "quite the reverse."

"If I may make a suggestion," said the Fan.

"By all means," said the Psychiatrist. "Please do. I must confess I am rather at a loss."

"Mankind," said the Fan, "is motivated by two main drives -- self-preservation and the preservation of the species. Both are allied and interdependant, since an animal must be alive to perpetuate his kind."

"Granted," said the Psychiatrist.

"Mankind is a social animal," went on the Fan, "and the most important part of his environment, especially now that civilization has largely conquered the forces of Nature, is his fellow men. The ability to get along with people is therefore the principle survival characteristic of civilised man."

"Adjustment of, or to, environment," muttered the Psychiatrist. "Yes."

"Fanac," continued the Fan, "offers, I suggest, a unique and efficient training and excercise in this ability, a field in which the effect of any particular aspect of one's behavior is more clearly and rapidly perceived than in the more complex and less candid world of mundane relationships. Fandom is, essentially, a correspondence course in getting along with people, with yearly viva voce examinations. It is therefore, like sex, an expression of a basic survival drive; towards communication and intercourse."

"Your hypothesis is, then," said the Psychiatrist, "that fanac is not a substitute for sex, but a complimentary and allied activity?"

"Exactly," said the Fan. "I might also add that fanac helps not only in the understanding of one's fellow men, but in that of oneself. Being a medium of frank self-expression, and mutual criticism, it offers immense potentialities for curing mental maladjustments of various kinds. For instance ......."


Next month the Psychiatrist delivered his address. His commendation of fandom as a means of treating mild personality disorders such as introversion, inferiority and superiority complexes, paranoiac personality, etc., was widely reported in the Press and caused a major sensation in medical circles. Questions were asked in the House. Two months later the Ministry of Health announced the official recognition of fanac as a theraputic measure in suitable cases, and it was included in the National Health Service. Typewriters, duplicators, stencils and paper were supplied free by stationers' shops on production of a medical prescription. The Post Office delivered fanzines free of charge. Chairs of fanac were established at some of the more progressive universities. Finally, at the beginning of the following year, the Government announced that hotels had been taken over in all the major cities as permanent convention sites.

Unfortunately, their luxury was enjoyed only by neofen. The Fan who started it all found to his chagrin that he and his friends still had to pay for their own publishing supplies and conventions. The doctors they went to refused to certify that they needed fanac on medical grounds; obviously, they were in fandom only for fun.

The Fan's noble attempt had, however, one successful aspect. It solved fandom's recruitment problem for all time .....

Data entry by Judy Bemis