02 August 2020

That Hugo presentation fiasco

I think people are missing the crux of the conflict a little.

The point about Lovecraft and Campbell is not that they're especially well-loved or eminent; the point is they have become where the "wait, wait, you can't include that in the critical response" pushback happens to have stuck.

Three things are currently true:
  1. there is far more art than anybody can apprehend
  2. the hegemon's legitimacy has collapsed
  3. tastes and canon are shifting, being reexamined, and expanding
One very plausible response to the combination is to say, right, possibly formative work, but if so, we're ashamed; this stuff is bad, it arose from a bad place, we should call it bad, and dispatch it to the ash-heap of history.[1]

So far as I can tell, that response is becoming the dominant response in written SF; the expected writing standard has increased sharply, the predominant response to "yup, racist and sexist" is "never read their work again", the predominant response to "the author's personal conduct is repellant" is "never read their work again", and this has no effect on anyone's enjoyment because there is still so much really excellent stuff to read after you do this.  (It gives me strange ideas about literary endeavours in the Culture.)

That's a direct threat to the sales numbers of lots of currently active authors.  (I wish it skewed old.  I doubt it does.)  That's where the insistence that you must separate the artist from the art, that you can't use your opinion of the artist to judge the art, and so on, come from.  Same with arguments of significance; if someone had an artistic response, it must have value and be accorded its due accolades.

Which is nonsense; you can almost sort of make that case if you're doing formal academic study, but when reading for enjoyment?  Absolutely you are under no such obligation whatsoever.  It is entirely fine to be heaving the classics of yesteryear on the ash-heap of your present.

[1] fixit fic; a huge chunk of fanfic is "yeah, that's bad, let's rescue the not-bad bits" response art.  Note that this is precisely the opposite of "we will forgive the bad for the good in the original".


D. C. said...

And then there's the aspect that applies to those of us who have a lot of years behind us: "I recall it and sometimes re-read it because it's associated with an earlier time in my life, for personal reasons."

Like other personal choices, the issue isn't "art" and shouldn't be treated by those standards.

marc sobel said...

I am unaware of the fiasco. Could you link to some articles or describe it?

Graydon said...

@marc sobel --


It's widespread. Twitter, File770, you would not have needed ten seconds to search it.

Graydon said...

@D.C. What you remember fondly is a thing.

I would not care to advance _A Fish Dinner in Memison_ as presently exemplary, all the same, and the fiasco derives not from a passing reminisce or a chance remark of lingering fondness (personally inescapable; terrible, terrible taste for a presenter) but from a deliberately structured valorization of persons and careers the Hugo voters as a whole have rejected unambiguously.

Slybrarian said...

I don't think anyone reasonable would argue that it's bad to have nostalgia for works that were important to you in your past, regardless of any issues with the work or author. People also recognize that a person or work can have value in a literary history sense even if it's not something current readers must read and appreciate. The problem is that Martin and others are trying to declare that their nostalgia is inherently more worthwhile than modern evaluations and force that on everyone else. Likewise the bad puppers and affiliated authors use that nostalgia and the classics as a way to demand that people who don't fit the old standards be excluded from the genre - in the case of the authors, often to their financial benefit because they would much rather have a marketplace where any women who are allowed to participate have to pretend to be men, largely cutting their competition in half.

Even for works that aren't inherently sexist, racist, etc, the genre has moved past in many ways that the old-school gatekeepers refuse to recognize when they insist that fans 'must' read certain parts of the canon to really be SF fans. "Rendezvous with Rama" may have invented the Big Dumb Object subgenre but has no meaningful characters, for example, and that's not what modern readers want. Similarly I see people complaining about the use of current slang in "Gideon the Ninth" without recognizing how much older works use it just because that's what they grew up with. No doubt it'll seem just as dated in fifty years but that's kind of the point, tastes and values change and the genre has to change with it.

Kai Jones said...

And here's the thing that startled me: this has been going on for at least 20 years that I am personally witness to. The part about declaring the long-dead authors problematic and deciding not to read them, anyway. And the part about how fannish cons are stuck in an old form, that the people running them over-emphasize their long-term habits and long friendships and are resistant to new people coming into fandom. This is not new. And this is what I expect from the usual suspects. This is why I stopped going to cons-I'm not welcome, and I'm not willing to fight my way in.

Graydon said...

@Kai Jones --

There have been several remarks to the effect of "and you all saw it"; the Hugo ceremony is customarily this trash fire, but not that many people go. Now it's recorded, it's had a world-wide audience, and there's suddenly this great social weight.

I think the only reasonable thing to do with conrunning fandom is let it die. It would be a pity if that took the Hugos with it; it'd be highly preferable to see, in this much-plagued world in which in-person cons are entirely unwise, a single ongoing organization running annual Hugos and doing a global virtual presentation.

I've been made welcome at cons; I still don't get it. Still very clearly Not One Of Us.

Moz said...

the Hugo ceremony is customarily this trash fire

Surely then those who organised it got what they paid for, and those who watched did so because that was what they wanted? Seems like this is just adding a ritual denunciation to the process.

My experience with ConZealand was sufficiently bad in the runup that I was dissuaded from paying. There was also no risk that I was ever going to make it past the first minute of any of the videos. That stuff is always dancing about architecture at its finest.

I have to admit that I'm in the "would not attend a Nobel Ceremony even if I was a recipient" category of non-winners of prizes*, and I don't really understand why anyone would want to be bored witless in that manner (except in the "I understand intellectually that some people are really into watching people burst pustules" sense).

I was struct by this instruction at www.resetera.com: "Cannot load tweet. Disable adblocker and tracking protection"

That's offensively badly worded. But characteristic of my experience with the latest con.

* yes, I know how they work. All prizes people threaten me with work the same way, whether the offenders know it or not.

Moz said...

You may not even have known that Aotearoa also has awards for SFF, and they were announced at the same time...


Graydon said...

@Moz --
Surely then those who organised it got what they paid for, and those who watched did so because that was what they wanted? Seems like this is just adding a ritual denunciation to the process.

Looks like some combination of demographics and the response to the recent kerfuffle changed the audience and voting population so the expected audience and the actual audience have acquired a profound mismatch, on the one hand, and the ceremony got televised and actively revolted a whole bunch of people, on the other. (Including precisely the people Worldcon fandom needs to participate if they want to continue to claim the Hugos have genre-spanning meaning.)

I did know about the Sir Julius Vogel awards (one of those names it is hard to believe is historical); that the broadcast of awarding those was preempted for the Retro-Hugos led to considerable displeasure; the discovery that the voter packet for them was simply not sent to the Worldcon registrants has been taken for malice more than incompetence.

It looks like there's more of the sharp demographic disjunction moving through; it does not seem to have occurred to the "racism does not diminish art" faction that they might not be statistically correct, or could become unwelcome.

Moz said...

In a New Zealand context it's not even slightly credible to claim that "we've always been racist" is anything but a deliberate choice. Either the organisers got steamrollered by someone, or they said "let's make a statement", and if they got rolled who by and why aren't they saying anything?

My impression is that this is more like the retro puppies saying "we'd rather die than lose our tradition of being offensive" and I'm now on the side of "let them die. No, encourage them die die". So long Hugo, it was occasionally nice to know know you. A bit like a Nobel Peace prize... sure, some nice people have won one but {gulp} there are some truly outstanding winners as well. "I'd like a gold statue with a side of egregious awfulness please".

Graydon said...

@Moz --
So far as the Sir Julius Vogel awards go, the thing expressed is that these were scheduled in the same broadcast slot as the Retro Hugos, which proceeded to go very, very long and leave no schedule space for the Vogels. The presentation ceremony happened, but it didn't get broadcast time.

(In terms of the packet, there doesn't seem to be any explanation offered, though I have not been digging. It is not often possible to find out these things in organizations with more effective habits of record-keeping.)

I'm fine with the Worldcon dying. Having the Hugos themselves die just people the racists object to start winning them is not a good look, nor a desirable result; that'd be agreeing that the prestige attached to the whiteness.