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.
Of course, as tweets from Greg van Eekhout and Fictograph illustrate, there were other problems as well.
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?.
14 thoughts on “An Outsider’s Point of View: Why Did WorldCon 76 Implode?”
I’ve never been one to attend such fan conferences, and the uproar that you’re discussing here is about as foreign to me as it can be, but I wonder: Is there any expectation that this event would be cancelled? Your choice of the word “implode” suggests an ultimate degree of destruction. Since when does such an event suffer so drastically from the absence of a few disgruntled writers? Sure, they can be vociferous and publish their negative rants, but aren’t they representing a minority? What gives them the power to bring down the house? I believe you’ve commented previously about the nature of so-called “Social Justice Warriors” who have little or no respect for actual “Justice”, but whose behavior is much more akin to that of spoiled little children throwing tantrums. So what if the conference organizers aren’t perfect, or their planning doesn’t accomplish every detail perfectly, whatever might be meant by the ideal of perfection? Is that any reason to jump down their throats? Error corrections are par for the course in the implementation of any large event. Jumping to conclusions about presumed hidden nefarious motivations on the part of the organizers is utterly unjustifiable and unjust. What’s more, minorities arrogantly demanding that they be treated like royalty who can command unearned respect and decision-making authority are deluding themselves. Those who foment rebellion are just begging to be shot, hung, or otherwise executed by legitimate authorities, even if only on a metaphorical level. If the worst that ever happens to them is that they remain marginalized for one more year or conference cycle or whatever period, they have little to complain about — especially if they have a forum in which they can continue to complain. Outrage is a cheap commodity. It can be employed by either side of any argument, or by both.
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I agree that this doesn’t seem to reflect real life on the streets, but within certain “bubbled” communities, such as the entertainment and publishing industries, the politics skew toward the extreme left, and in order not to be accused of being racist, sexist, or diagnosed with a “phobia,” the organizers and participants will bend over backwards, and expect everyone else to do that same.
I admit, this seems a bit silly when looked at from afar, but as I said in When Social Media Becomes a Lynch Mob, anger, hostility, and violence are based in pain and fear. I have no doubt, emboldened by progressive rhetoric, and especially in the age of “hate Trump,” that the marginalized individuals who objected to the incidents I chronicled above, first did feel threatened, perhaps based on their personal experience, or perhaps because they’ve been conditioned to (over)react to certain events as if they were threatening, and naturally responded with anger and hostility (fight, as opposed to flight), which twitter makes incredibly easy.
I don’t like this extreme polarization, and I can easily see both leftists and rightests circling the wagons, so to speak, getting ready for some sort of “war” when it doesn’t have to be that way.
As you said, most of the things folks got all riled up about could be explained by simple accidents or misunderstandings. The misgendering had to do with the author’s personal pronounce “e” being rendered as “he” which is a pretty understandable typo.
If things keep going like this, it’s just the SF/F Cons I despair of, but the country.
Actually, it was in this blog post where I described how people experiencing pain, fear, or threat react by running or fighting, and in nosing around some of the twitter accounts and blogs of those involved in the WorldCon fiasco, human nature is hard at work.
Hmmm…. “people experiencing pain, fear, or threat react …” — I find myself wondering just what actual pain, fear or threat these writers have experienced or are experiencing at the hands of the conference organizers? It seems to me that the most they could suffer is to be marginalized or ignored in place of their own, possibly inflated, self-image. Isn’t that an entirely self-inflicted pain? When I think of such threats or assaults as you invoke, I tend to place them into a context such as Jews actually experienced throughout most of the past two millennia, or that modern Israelis face at the hands of militant Palestinian Arabs, or that numerous non-Jews face from militant Islamists. In this context, we have examples such as people being publically humiliated by such behaviors as their community leader being forced in an annual ceremony to kiss the anus of an idolatrous statue that invalidates a primary principle defining this community, sometimes actually smeared with excrement, in order to avoid even worse treatment whereby the entire community would be evicted from their homes and the country in which they are living, with concomitant loss of property and livelihood. We have people burned at the stake; we have families torn asunder; we have families murdered in their beds; we have people blown to smithereens in pizza parlors and other public venues, we have farms and fields torched; we have, in short, a great deal of actual death and destruction as well as continuing threats thereof, and real pain far beyond that of mere humiliation.
Am I missing something here, to fail to see what the fuss and twittering is all about? While all these folks seem to be “up in arms”, metaphorically speaking, is anyone actually threatening to open fire with actual firearms because of the disagreements in perspective? It does seem to me as if a disgruntled or aggrieved subset of potential conference participants wishes to destroy the entire conference if they cannot have their way. These writers ought to be able to understand the art of metaphor — and it appears that their goal is metaphorically akin to strapping on a suicide vest and blowing up the conference and themselves along with it. That, folks, is terrorism, plain and simple. Is that what is being threatened or pursued, here?
In the case of many people, being marginalized and ignored *is* the source of their pain and fear. I suppose they could live in Israel for a few weeks while Hamas tries to burn everything down. Then they might understand what terror is actually like.
Here’s the follow-up to yesterday’s post. FInally stopped laughing at WorldCon long enough to put some more coherent thoughts together. As to your point about true inclusivity at the Cons. 1000x YES!!! And that was the point of the Sad Puppies all along. Exclusion in the name on inclusion is unacceptable. Setting a political litmus test to determine who are the wrongthinkers is what is tearing sf/f fandom apart. As a Sad Puppy, I want to see everyone within the sf/f fandom tent, not just certain groups. Its a big tent and we can all find a place within it. But one side needs to stop trying to throw people out.
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https://scifiscribe.com/2018/07/24/follow-up-on-worldcon-76/ Forgot the link. Sorry
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Thanks. I commented on your blog.
Apparently, I’ve made the “big time,” albeit in a rather infamous way: http://file770.com/kowal-to-assist-changing-worldcon-76-program/
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I’m still curious about the fallout from the whole WorldCon gaffe, and so decided to check out Bogi Takács’s twitter account, and it’s still quite the buzz. There was a link to author Foz Meadows’s (rather lengthy) commentary on the WorldCon woes. TLDR, but I skimmed enough of it to see that what “The Daily Dot” reported was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. One additional detail is that those who now wish to boycott WorldCon are going to be “economically disadvantaged,” according to one person commenting on this blog, since many are traveling from outside the U.S. and already have purchased air tickets and hotel reservations.
I’m going to keep poking around parts of the internet I don’t normally visit to see what else I can learn. This is turning out to be quite an education for a guy who, at the end of the day, just wants to tell a good story.
Oh, again I have to say, be careful what you tweet. Bogi Takács is asking twitter followers to report trolls mentioning…personal pronouns on Takács’s twitter account are “E/em/eir/emself or they,” and I have no idea which to use (believe it or not, as confusing as it gets and regardless of my personal opinions, I still want to call people what they want to be called). Anyway, anyone tweeting pejoratively regarding this author will be considered a troll, reported, and blocked.
I’m unfamiliar with “TLDR”. Translate please?
Too Long Didn’t Read.