Warning: What you are about to read are my opinions about the hot-button topic of politics in geek entertainment. Please bear in mind that these are my opinions alone and are not those of GonnaGeek in its entirety. If you wish to voice your opinions, please contact me at ArthouseLegends@gmail.com. Thank you.
It has been nearly four days since I heard about the stunning debacle at the Hugo Award ceremony at WorldCon. I’ve actually been paying attention to it since April when the award nominees came out to the shock and some disparity of many who enjoy science fiction literature. For those who aren’t familiar with this, the Hugo nominees are voted on by those who have a membership to WorldCon. Think a cross between the People’s Choice Award and American Idol. Bear in mind that the Hugo Award is a big deal and like any big deal, there’s a lot of pressure coming from many influential parties. Over the last decade or so, the science fiction writers being nominated for the Hugos have tended to be more progressive socially and politically, trying to include more writers of diverse backgrounds and stories that tend to be thinly veiled social commentaries that had little to do with the more bombastic elements of the genre. This had eventually gotten under the skin of a few writers who saw this progressive leaning of the awards as an affront to the spirit of science fiction as a genre, where social commentary was welcomed but also dosed with a good heap of fantastical inventiveness and adventure. So these writers decided to fight back against this tide by rallying fellow voters into nominating writers who were the epitome of progressivism. They called themselves “Sad Puppies” and at first considered themselves a protesting faction.
What the Sad Puppies didn’t expect was to be as successful in their campaign as a handful of their selections had made it to the Hugo ballot, causing a stir within the mainstream of Science Fiction writers. So when the next year’s Hugo nominees were to be voted on, the Puppies when at it again and once more caused more sensation. On the third go-around, they were joined by another group ran by the notorious writer and agitator Vox Day calling themselves the Rabid Puppies. This created a fervor of allegations of sexism, racism and bigotry of the highest order. The media got hold of the story and branded both groups as hate movements trying to silence diversity in the genre. What didn’t help this claim is that more than a considerable amount of their selections tended to skew white and male, one of the founders of the movement, Larry Correia, has a history of right-wing politics and a possible grudge as he had lost in a bid for a Hugo against a progressive writer.
But nothing could have prepared anyone for the shock of fourth year of Puppy revolution as this time, not only did Puppy selections get places in 19 of the 20 categories, but in a considerable amount of categories, they completely swept. The outcry was swift and made international mainstream news. Many claimed the sweeps a “hijacking” that the Puppies had overran those categories and ensured victory through ill-gotten means. Many news agencies tied the Puppy movement with the video game movement GamerGate (and not in a good way). Two of the most vocal voices against the Puppy revolt this time around were internationally famous writers John Scalzi and George R.R. Martin, both who considered the movement a destructive force against the genre. Many of the progressive writers and fans of science fiction decided to act against the Puppies when it came to the actual voting for the Hugos. What ensued could not be called anything short of a fiasco.
On August 22nd, with the bulk of science fiction enthusiasts awaiting the winners, awards were given to “No Hugo” in categories where Puppy nominees stacked the deck. Of the 19 categories, only one win came for the Puppies as the film they selected, Guardians of the Galaxy, won a Hugo. And each time that “No Hugo” was announced, the audience cheered.
Following the rout, Scalzi took to his blog to discuss the victory. “In my estimation (and leaving out issues of literary quality of the nominations, which is super-subjective), the reason for their massive and historic failure is simple: They acted like jerks, and performed a series of jerk maneuvers.” Scalzi is also a vehemently staunch opponent to the GamerGate cause as well.
Yet it cannot be helped to think that individuals like Scalzi brought this rift on themselves and haven’t realized just how damaging this rift can be for their industry. Instead of looking at this growing revolt of science fiction writers and fans as a means of self-reflecting that perhaps they aren’t as inclusive as they think they are, they are doing the best they can to dehumanize them and make them feel unwelcome. And they are doing so by thinking to themselves that they don’t need those types of people in their ranks.
Bear in mind that I personally have been in a situation like this before. I was affiliated with a movement that I had believed in for nearly my entire life, that I had supported even when I should have known better and when it became clear that this movement had turned into a monster and I tried to voice my concerns, I was thrown out for my insolence. They threw out others like me as they too realized the dangers of the organization and to this day that movement has become an extremist group that is a mere shadow of itself.
Now diversity is not any kind of monstrous idea. But self-importance is. A great deal of science fiction readers are white males, though that trend is changing to an extent. We should celebrate that diversity, but not at the expense of the group that is already there. While I disagree with the Puppies that the bulk of the Hugos are snobby literary pieces or that such literature doesn’t have a place winning this award, I also believe that they have a point that those who are politicizing the Hugos (and they are if you notice the nominees in any given year) aren’t really allowing the voice of the fans to really come through.
The Hugo organizers needed to listen to the dissent and try to answer the claims they are voicing. They need to create avenues of trust with those readers who feel marginalized because their taste in sci-fi isn’t trendy. Because whether they believe it or not, they can’t afford to lose these fans or the one these fans will generate. Larry Correia’s work (which I actually think is pretty good) matters. Orson Scott Card’s work matters. And if you don’t think that their voices aren’t trying to be silenced by the progressive side, ask yourself if Starship Troopers were written today, would it have even been nominated not to even mention win?
That said, the Puppies need to stop acting like victims of the establishment. Bear in mind while Sad and Rabid Puppies are two separate groups, the old adage still goes that if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. You associate with unsavory individuals, align yourself with news outlets of disrepute, not only do you have to fight the battle you picked, but you have to fight the appearance of malice. You can’t proclaim to be taking the high ground and get into the mud with your opponents. If you truly are interested in being the voice of the marginalized, start acting like a reputable activist and you’ll find allies. Otherwise you’re letting your opponents paint you as a petulant child throwing a tantrum, and they could be right.
But neither side has an excuse for the “No Hugo” reaction. This is beyond embarrassing to EVERYONE. Whether you agree with the nominees or not, they are still nominees and DESERVE to compete for an award and not to be denied simply because the voters didn’t like the choices. Many of the Puppy nominees weren’t part of the movement. They were just selected because the Puppies saw their work as having merit. By denying them a chance to win, all of you showed just how demeaning and ugly your respective organizations can be. By cheering the fact that those you oppose lost makes you no better than those you swore to oppose. Scalzi tweeted on the night: “Puppy partisans clearly not getting that tonight their tears are delicious to me.” I only hope one day each side can feel the shame they brought on themselves by their behavior and stop blaming the other for being the ruination of their passion.
As a fan of Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury, I understand that social commentary has a vital part to play in science fiction, but there is also a place for the fun and gun, silly and obtuse. And it also has a place to be honored and respected within the genre, if anything to create a true egalitarian diversity that places merit over privilege. Where we don’t measure how many women get nominated for an award but instead how many win because their work is vastly superior to their competition. Science fiction should be a genre of not only the warnings of the decline of civilization but the shining example of what civilization can be if we only work a little harder and respect one another even when we completely disagree with them.
Tags: George RR Martin, Hugo Awards, John Scalzi, Larry Correia, Vox Day