The more I consider that situation (Jonathan Ross hosts Hugos, then doesn’t host Hugos), the more I think it’s starting to make sense how it moved so quickly. The narrative after has been one citing the “outrage police” and referring to the “lynch mob” and how they “cyber-bullied him” (which is a bit melodramatic to my mind, but so it goes) — but I think this narrative is far too simplistic and altogether a bit dismissive.
It was actually a perfect recipe for disaster. Here, check it:
a) Loncon would seem to go over its own committee’s heads to secure Jonathan Ross as a host.
b) Committee member Farah Mendlesohn resigns somewhat publicly over this. (Her resignation seems to now be private, though I think you can catch a bit of it here.)
c) Loncon decides to announce this over Twitter, which is like telling your mother you’re getting engaged over a text message HEY MOM WE R GETTIN ENGAGED L8R. This is chum splashing chum in the water, man: a good way to get a bad reaction. A public blog announcement at least gets you the room to say, “Here’s this guy, he’s great, here’s a video clip, here are his quotes.” Twitter is a river: fast-moving, gnashing rocks, angry fish.
d) Americans in general do not know who the fuck Jonathan Ross is. Seriously. No farking flarging fjording idea. This is a critical point and speaks to a divide between British fans (who know him and like him) and Americans (who only know him via a quick Google search).
e) That Google search yields controversy, because, HEY, THIS IS THE INTERNET, and we feed off controversy the way termites feed off of wood. Some of those links noting his controversies (which seems to be sexist and other -ists) are apparently born of various UK tabloids, but we aren’t particularly up to speed on which of your rags are tabloids and which are not — and even in this country, we still tend to spread around bullshit stories if we like the way they sound (“OH MY GOD GMO PIGS ARE LOOSE IN FUKUSHIMA AND THEY’RE RADIOACTIVE AND THESE RADIOACTIVE MUTANT MONSANTO HOGS ARE EATING PEOPLE, I read it on natural-GMO-diet-news-dot-com, which is also where I learned that if I shellac my body with okra snot, I will lose 50 lbs in one month guaranteed”). The Internet is the best at demonstrating our worst, and what it put on display for Ross was not his best — again, this is something a more measured and reasonable press release from Loncon might have undercut.
f) Women and minorities have a history of mistreatment within the SFF community. From “fake geek girls” to “SFWA bulletins” and on and on.
g) Women and minorities have a history of mistreatment and worse within SFF conventions. From the threat of creepiness to actual full-on creepiness to straight-up harassment.
h) The SFF community (or “community,” given that we aren’t all given membership cards and keys to the guesthouse) has weathered a series of controversies recently, which one might think makes them feel fatigued but what it does is create a kind of social PTSD as a result of everything. It puts everybody on kind of a hair trigger, looking for controversy not because we necessarily like those controversies but because they seem so goddamn common anymore.
i) When confronted on Twitter — somewhat aggressively, but again to call this insulting or cyberbullying is a bit of a stretch, YMMV, IMHO — Jonathan Ross’ response was to call women “stupid” and “small-minded.” This was not a guy who was like, “Hey, I understand, let me alleviate your concerns,” but rather a guy who reacted and bristled. Maybe he had the right — though one would hope a celebrity of his caliber would be less sensitive to it. But he did himself and the outraged no favors here — no effort to defuse the tension and, instead, made efforts to escalate them. Like winging a cup of gas on the campfire to try to put it out. (Few months ago, a SFF author who I won’t name tweeted something that I didn’t see as an issue but some other folks there found problematic — and he handled the situation really quite marvelously, with humility and apology and communication rather than bluster and backtracking and anger. Even if he didn’t agree with the reaction, he defused tensions elegantly. Ross made no such efforts and seemed keen to take his ball and just go home.)
The point here isn’t that Ross wouldn’t have been a good fit — he was a fan, he seems like he might actually be a feminist, and a lot of UK folks seem quite keen on him — but instead the hope here is to try to suss out exactly why the shitstorm happened in the first place and also to try to conjure a little bit of empathy for everybody in this conversation. Because in the days that have followed I have seen real cyberbullying happen against the authors who spoke up about this on both sides of this debate. I think it’s better to have the discussion, however, then to resort to the shut-it-down door-closing phrases like “outrage police” and “lynch mobs.” That’s a good way to make somebody feel diminished and dismissed, and will only give oxygen to the fire.
It’s very easy to suggest that only the loudest, noisiest shit-stirrers were angry about this. But I saw a lot of authors and editors raise alarm over this — often in a very measured, non-alarmy way. This wasn’t just some torches-and-pitchforks mob — though certainly some acted that way, and that ugliness multiplied quickly.
This was something of a perfectly stupid storm in terms of how it escalated, is all I’m saying.
So, once more: cleave to empathy rather than insult.
Have the discussion instead of shutting the discussion down.
Otherwise, the genre and its authors and its fans are going to be that snake eating the crocodile: monsters just eating one another in the muck and the slurry.
Comments are open. Play nice, or I’ll shut the doors and lock you inside.
THEN I WILL RELEASE THE FERRETS.