In following the Superversive SF blog, today, I came across two related articles: Declan Finn’s WorldCon Melts Down and Richard Paolinelli’s My Thoughts on WorldCon 76…. Paolinelli’s wasn’t particularly illuminating, but he promised a more detailed account later today. Finn described a situation where the Con violated its own rules by “misgendering” one of the guests causing some sort of meltdown.
Pending Richard’s subsequent blog post, I decided to look for more information. Interestingly enough, the only article I found was at The Daily Dot, which I can’t say is a completely neutral publication. The missive in question is Worldcon faces backlash for sidelining marginalized authors (updated), originally published yesterday (July 23rd) and updated today.
WorldCon is one of the oldest, if not the oldest science fiction convention in the world, and apparently, that’s the problem. Traditionally, according to the article, it’s been dominated by white, conservative people, it’s fan base, and has struggled to accept more marginalized and #OwnVoice participants in recent years. I get the feeling the Con wants to be more progressive, but, at least from The Daily Dot’s perspective, its own history and biases have gotten in the way.
Worldcon also skews older than most fan conventions. There’s a core audience of predominantly white baby-boomers who have shaped the convention for decades, some of whom are not clued into contemporary social justice politics. This overlaps with a small but vocal reactionary movement. Known as the Sad Puppies (yes, seriously), they think science fiction and fantasy publishing have become too progressive, and they object to the number of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people earning recognition in the community.
As an aside, to find out more about “Sad Puppies,” click here (and if anyone can suggest a better link, I’m open to suggestion).
I guess white boomers, such as myself, and the so-called “vocal reactionary movement” who believe “science fiction and fantasy publishing have become too progressive,” are bad influences on the Con. However, I don’t think that had anything to do with what really caused WorldCon 76 to basically implode.
One issue was that non-binary writer and editor Bogi Takács was “misgendered” on the program, and definitely took exception to it. The errors on the program were corrected, but it seems the damage had already been done.
I don’t know if an error on a program would have made it unsafe for Bogi Takács to attend, or what the actual danger would have been, but let’s move on.
Then, Hugo Award finalist JY Yang was snubbed and not included on any of the Con’s panels.
Of course, these two incidents could have merely been accidents. It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s bio has been messed up once it’s handed from the author to a third-party, and it’s also possible, as the following screenshot illustrates, that some of the Hugo finalists were unable to be reached (maybe the emails ended up in the recipient’s spam bucket). Then again, maybe being an unfamiliar name, regardless of gender identity or race, was part of the problem here.
But The Daily Dot chose not to see it that way:
There’s a general sense that guests who aren’t straight and white are being sidelined by the convention organizers, even if they’re literally nominated for a Hugo. That explains why Worldcon sent out a tweet on Monday asking for Hugo finalists to get in touch if they haven’t been invited to join a panel.
The solution, again according to the “Dot,” is for the Con to completely deconstruct itself and reform from scratch, I suspect in a form that skews far, far to the left.
So far, I have no skin in the game, but if I ever have some body of my work published and become even marginally established, the Cons will start to become more significant in my life. My concern, and I’ve expressed it before, is by the time I get there, I will be considered an artifact from the “bad old days,” unworthy to have my #OwnVoice.
I don’t think it ever occurs to very many people that you don’t have to exclude “traditional” voices to include “underrepresented” ones. However, in this era of reflexive and wholly visceral panic attacks demonstrated on the far left side of the aisle, it seem virtuous to exclude, marginalize, or even actively express hostility toward “white baby-boomers,” if for no other reason than we’re old and white. And as those who tout the values of social justice and progressiveness continue to dominate the entertainment industry (including publication of SF/F genre material), the shoe, very much, is being put on the other foot.
The answer? I’ve said this before, too and it’s so, so simple. Definitely include Bogi Takács, JY Yang, and others who are from “marginalized” groups, and treat them in a humane manner and with respect, but do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Don’t torpedo those writers and editors who aren’t considered “marginalized,” even if you feel that somehow they (we/me) have “done you wrong,” because, in all likelihood, the vast majority of us haven’t. At the end of the day, all we want to do is tell a good story.
I know it won’t work out that way. I know the collective hysteria our nation is currently experiencing because of “DonaldTrumpPhobia” seems to have automatically painted anyone white who can’t be seen as an “ally” with the same brush. More’s the pity, because that not only is not equality, it’s reactionary fear based on whatever threat you believe the current President represents, and to say that all white people must be evil because you believe Trump is evil (I know I’m oversimplifying these issues, but I’m trying to make a point), isn’t going to achieve equality. It just shifts the needle on the scale from one area to another.
However, I can dream of a better world, a world where we:
…will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We haven’t gotten there yet, and in some circles, the skin color being judged is the same as the President’s. I am not him, and I do have my own voice, very separate from the object of so many people’s fears.
The door swings both ways, and any group, conservative or liberal, can become guilty of unjust bias when they are in control of an environment or an event. We are seeing a lot of this happening right now at the Cons, and generally in our nation, and it’s getting worse.
Edit: See the sequel Is There Value Left in WorldCon and the Hugo Awards?.