I came across a great panel discussion on YouTube from the 2009 Fan Expo in Toronto, Canada, concerning whether SF can now be considered mainstream or not. (Yes, that is Michelle Sagara (msagara ) on the far left, and I hope that she isn't embarrassed that I found this. If it were my wife, I'd be sleeping on the couch for a week.)
This is Part 1 of 6
While most people on the panel agreed that SF is mainstream these days, I beg to differ. If you judge "mainstream" by the amount of money spent on something, then yes, SF is mainstream. If you judge "mainstream" by wide social acceptance, I disagree.
Perhaps it's because of where I live, in the conservative Midwest, but I tend to doubt it. I know of at least one game store where the employees are all very conservative in their political leanings, and they are far geekier than I am. Hell, go over to the Steve Jackson Games' website and peruse the forums, and you'll see that there's a strong Libertarian subgroup in the RPG community.
No, I believe that SFF --and geekdom-- isn't mainstream because it still runs counter to a lot of mainstream culture.
That doesn't mean some elements of geekdom don't have mainstream acceptance, such as the proliferation of some tech devices, but general acceptance of SFF is still a long way away. The majority of people who went to watch Avatar weren't there because of the genre, but due to the 3D, the special effects, and that John "Titanic" Cameron directed the movie. People watched Lost because of the story, not that it was SF. While MMOs have millions of subscribers, the common perception is that the average MMO player is a 'basement virgin', taking up residence in his parents' basement, treading the same path that the RPG player, the Star Trek nerd, the SCAdian, and the Sci-Fi geek all followed in the past.
These interests run counter to some of the traditional values still encouraged in society today: sports, cars, popular music, and fame itself. For every SFF film that cleans up at the box office, there's even more truckloads of cash spent on pro sports. And just think of all the parents who push their kids into select sports, aiming for college and the pros. The sports cliques still do rule the roost at schools; the neighborhood and local papers are filled almost daily with high school sports exploits.
While the internet makes it easier for people who share interests to connect, penetrating into local consciousness is needed for true acceptance. And SFF doesn't have that yet. Net Presence is skewed more heavily toward Geekdom, since Geeks were early adopters of the internet, so in online space, it seems that things are better than they really are.
Now, things are honestly better than they were when I was growing up. With three geek kids in school, I hear a lot about how things go for them, and thankfully they don't have to deal with any of the crap I did. However, just because they aren't ostracized doesn't mean that what they like is socially accepted by most of their peers. It may be tolerated, grudgingly, but that still means we've got a long way to go.
Every movie or book or game or comic that penetrates the popular consciousness will help to tear down those barriers to being in the mainstream, but this is going to take some time. After all, it's fine to go around wearing a sports jersey to a sporting event*, but dressing up to go to a SFF movie or release party somehow makes you the target of chuckles and derision by comics or the media. When that ceases to happen, then I will say that SFF is truly in the mainstream.
*Unless you're a Bengals fan, where you end up wearing a bag over your head as part of the costume.