yagathai: (Default)
What's this? More More RaceFail ranting? Ah, yes, it certainly is.

For the record, I agree with [livejournal.com profile] shweta_narayan more than I agree with Ottinger's original (and now redacted) post. That being said, in discussing the issue with [livejournal.com profile] tithenai, I became aware of a couple of things that really bothered me.

First of all, the relentlessly sarcastic tone of Shweta's post really didn't help things at all. In a debate in which the lines are clear and pre-drawn, hostile and vitriolic exchanges never serve to change the minds of the undecided and only retrench the position of the opposition. Essentially it's really only preaching to the choir.

Further, while Ottinger did back down in this case, in general when the proponents of one side of an argument are stigmatized and stereotyped by the other side as shrill and perpetually outraged professional victims who harness a self-righteous martyrdom as a means of garnering support through sympathy in an effort to stifle reasoned dissent*, it really doesn't help any to play into the stereotype by being, well, self-righteous and hostile. Even if that attitude is justified, it's only going to energize the opposition's base.

I'm not saying Shweta shouldn't have reacted however she liked, of course. I'm just saying that her reaction, phrased as it was, really isn't helpful to the debate at large, and I wish it was more so, seeing as I largely agree with her and wish more people would do the same.**

But there was another thing that came up in the course of my conversation with Amal that bothered me. If you were to hire me to assemble an anthology called "The Ten Best SF Stories Of All Time", it would be pretty even odds that every single one of those stories would be by a white guy (most of whom are old, many of whom are dead). I can think of maybe one or two stories that might, maybe, possibly elbow their way in to the bottom of that list by a non-white and/or non-dude if I was feeling particularly contrary after breakfast, but if I'm going to populate that antho honestly, well, there you have it. Monochromatic and single-sex.

It's not that I'm not widely read, and I certainly don't harbor any prejudices against fiction based on the author's genetic status. Nevertheless, my top ten list, an honest selection of what I think are the best stories the genre has to offer, judged by as close to an objective standard as you can get when classifying art, is by old white dudes.

Each story is a critical favorite, and taken on their own none of the stories would be an especially controversial choice (with one possible exception, Leiber's Space-Time for Springers, which I hold in much higher esteem than most genre fans). I mean, you can personally dislike A Rose for Ecclesiastes, but it's a credible choice for any top ten list. Ditto A Study in Emerald, Flatland and so on.

If I did this, selected the ten best stories in science fiction and published them in an anthology called that, I would be torn apart on the internet if they were all white dudes. Seriously. I'd get harangued and vilified like Colonel Sanders at a PETA rally, my name and reputation dragged through the mud. I would be strongly, strongly pressured into throwing in at least a token woman and/or ethnic minority, a Singing My Sister Down or The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas or Time Considered As A Helix of Semi-Precious Stones (all of which merit an entry in my top twenty-five, but not my top ten) if only to spare myself the social approbation.

That's... that's terrible, isn't it? That I'm feeling intimidated by the inevitable attacks on my character and the professional and personal repercussions, of what would be an honest expression of my judgement? That I would feel the urge to pander to a particularly angry, vocal segment of the fandom?

I think that maybe that's a sign of how this debate has crossed waaaaaay over the line of civility into the realm of shouting and insults. Problem is, I don't know what to do about it.


* In the interests of fairness, I should point out that each side of this argument is as guilty of vicious stereotyping as the other.
** Yes, I am a terrible hypocrite. So sue me.
yagathai: (Default)
So some of you -- several thousand, if my hit counter is to be believed -- took a look at last Tuesday's post (http://yagathai.livejournal.com/958867.html) on the future of fandom. If so, you probably saw Eric Van, in the comments of that posts and two of the ones I linked to, make a complete ass of himself. Over the course of a few days he berated, belittled, and insulted his critics and the critics of his ill-conceived, now-cancelled plan to de-evolve Readercon like (SPOILER ALERT) Dennis Hopper at the end of the Super Mario Brothers movie. When relentless insults and GRE dick-waving (and seriously, who does that?) didn't convince people to stop saying true things, Eric decided on obfuscatory tactics, dropping names and invoking straw men like a frantic squid thrashes tentacles and sprays ink when it spots a predator.

Now normally this sort of behaviour wouldn't warrant a post like this. Certainly being a dick on the internet is nothing unusual (see "John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory"), and if I'm going to be honest I ought to be the last person to throw stones for that particular sin, living as I do in a house of extra-shattery glass. Besides, Van does a perfectly adequate job of embarrassing himself -- hubris is by definition its own punishment.

It's what Eric Van did that you didn't see that moved me to this action.

Shortly after Cat Valente published the post that ignited last week's kerfluffle, by making the unconscionably impolitic suggestion that a few of her friends skip Readercon next year and come hang out at her place instead, Eric Van sent her an email. In that email, he threatened to release details of Cat's previous Readercon programming-related correspondence with him unless she did as he demanded. In his own words, excerpted from the email in question: "I don't want to be a dick, but if you don't call the whole thing off and admit you were talking out of your hat, I won't hesitate to embarrass you".

Does that sound like blackmail to you? It sounds like blackmail to me.

The correspondence that Eric Van threatened to release is fairly innocuous. In it, Cat simply volunteers to be on more panels at this year's Readercon than the two to which she was originally assigned. At worst this might paint Cat as self-promoting and ambitious, and attempting to malign an author by accusing her of trying to raise her public profile of that is a bit like attempting to impugn a pornstar by calling her promiscuous. Speaking critically, on its face it sounds like a fairly incompetent, poorly constructed bit of extortion -- but only on its face.

The real threat in Eric Van's letter isn't the explicit one, but rather the implicit one. When a mobster walks into a local ice cream parlor, says something like "Sure is a dry summer we're having. Why, I bet the timbers in this old place are as dry as a bone. Sure would be a shame if all this ice cream melted. Say, do you have fire insurance?" and lights a match, it's obvious that he isn't really talking about the weather. He's threatening to burn the place down if you don't pay protection.

Similarly, it doesn't take Jedi mind powers to see that when the head of programming at Readercon sends you a threatening letter demanding that you comply with his orders and reminding you that he decides who does and does not get access to panels and readings... Well, you do the science. It sure as hell sounds like coercion to me. I don't know if it meets the legal definition of blackmail, but as far as I'm concerned it meets the dictionary definition closely enough.

I have been in touch with the Readercon committee and they have informed me that Eric Van is no longer in charge of programming, and his participation in next year's con has been reduced to an "advisory" role. There is no reason to believe that anyone but Eric Van is responsible for the email. This post is in no way meant to impugn Readercon as a whole or the hardworking volunteers that operate it (with the one obvious exception), and who have, let's be fair, had a pretty rough couple of weeks. You can visit www.readercon.org for updated information on the format of next year's event, which bears little resemblance to the description on the now-disavowed flyer which started this whole mess.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as the saying goes, and I'm writing this post in the hope that by exposing the petty, vicious and unethical actions of a member of our fan community, we can prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

ETA: Cat did not ask me to write this post, and I am not her satrap (though I am her friend). In fact, so outraged was I when I learned about the email that I asked her if she would mind if I wrote about it.
yagathai: (Rocketeer II)
Did you ever wonder why Worldcon is shrinking, why fandom is greying, why new people aren't joining at the same rate that the old-guard is dying out?

This is the problem, friends. This is the problem. In fact, honestly, every single comment by Eric Van in these two posts is the problem.

Now, it would be easy to say that [livejournal.com profile] calimac and [livejournal.com profile] ericmvan's tin-eared comments weren't carefully considered, the result of post-con burnout and irritation and ultimately just the cranky brayings of a couple of disgruntled old-timers. That may or may not be, but ultimately their attitude is representational -- and symptomatic of the greater issue.

In brief, the problem is that like any other dynamic entity, fandom is constantly faced with the choice to adapt or die, and time and time and time again, they have chosen not to adapt. The old guard, having found their promised land, promptly built a wall around it and decided that anyone who didn't conform to their standard would be rebuffed, rejected and cast out from their private playground. I see this attitude reflected a hundred times a day at every convention I go to, in every programming track, every panel discussion, every dealer's table, every closed circle of grey ponytails at almost every room party I've ever been to. It's a combination of institutional myopia and the fear of becoming irrelevant -- it's difficult, after all, for the chronically insecure to relenquish their stranglehold on being the big fishes in the tiny, tiny pond.

As a result -- well, see for yourself. Worldcon, once the gathering of the nerd tribes, has a good year when it hits 8,000 people, the average example of which is probably pretty close to collecting Social Security. By contrast, Otakon is a non-profit, volunteer-operated anime convention that started in 1994 with less than 400 attendees. Today, average draw is about 26,000 with an average attendee not old enough to legally drink yet. And it's by no means unique -- DragonCon has 30,000, the bigger anime cons pull 40,000, and San Diego Comicon regularly breaks 100,000.

The simple, logical and Darwinian solution is to let the old-model conventions die out by simple attrition -- sooner or later, peanut-butter-and-cheeto sandwiches and scooter accidents will take their toll, and all that will be left are the for-profit, new-model conventions, the slick commercial operations run by multibillion-dollar corporations.

On the other hand, where does that leave us, the (dwindling) generation of younger fans? I'm looking at you, [livejournal.com profile] stegoking, [livejournal.com profile] yuki_onna, [livejournal.com profile] tithenai, [livejournal.com profile] redstapler, [livejournal.com profile] rosefox, [livejournal.com profile] misunderstruck, [livejournal.com profile] farwing, [livejournal.com profile] xraytheenforcer, [livejournal.com profile] aghrivaine, [livejournal.com profile] zarhooie, [livejournal.com profile] kdsorceress and all the rest of you that I'm too tired to name. What's the solution, assuming we don't all decide to pull a Paul T. Riddell* and retire from fandom to pursue a (admittedly very entertaining) career of flinging poo at the grognards from the sidelines?

Frankly, I don't really know, but something's going to have to be done. I tend to be conservative by inclination, but every con that I attend makes me want to declare a revolution, storming the barricades and flinging greybeards** from the ramparts, just a little bit more. It seems as if the first step might be organization, though what form that organization would take, I have no idea.

And yes, [livejournal.com profile] txtriffidranch, I know what you're thinking, but first of all I don't have chains that heavy, and besides where would we find anthills big enough?

* Whose books, incidentally, I highly recommend.
** a gender-neutral term, often literally so.

ETA: Cross-linking of this post would be welcome. I'm looking for dialogue, to help create ideas.

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