Should the Clarke Award Change its name?

Jason Sanford has written an extensive discussion on his Patreon account about the long-running allegations that Arthur C Clarke sexually abused children – the post is freely available https://www.patreon.com/posts/30298650

The range of allegations aren’t new but until 2017 they were mired in within the ugly world of British tabloid journalism. The tabloids of the UK have rarely been a great source of truth but worse than that, their selective reporting and selective suppression of stories create a fog of uncertainty. That very fog was by design rather than a side-effect, as it is intended to create an atmosphere of rumour and weakly substantiated stories that can drive stories over decades.

As Sanford points out 2017 marks a change with Peter Troyer’s account here: https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/bjxp5m/we-asked-people-what-childhood-moment-shaped-them-the-most Clarke isn’t named but the description of the notable person living in Sri Lanka is clearly Clarke.

Clarke’s influence on science fiction is indisputable and it is hardly surprising that a notable science fiction award is named after him, specifically: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_C._Clarke_Award The question is whether it is time for a name change?

I think the simple answer is yes. Troyer’s account alone should be sufficient to make people reconsider whether an award should be named after Clarke. People have been sceptical of the allegations towards Clarke because those allegations were seen as coming from UK tabloids and/or arising from hostility to Clarke being gay but we can dismiss tabloid journalism as a source and still look at the core claims.

Changing the name of the award is wise. Indeed, not creating these kinds of institutional memorials is itself wise. Naming a writing award after a famous writer (even one of unimpeachable reputation) is a poor memorial to the writer. There is also something I find unsettling about other people attaching one writer’s name to a different book that the writer could never have read. It is liking getting a writer’s endorsement from the grave without the writer’s permission — one of the reasons I was not keen on their being an award named after Ursula Le Guin.

If people are going to remember the influence of a writer it won’t be because they have an award named after them. If a writer is going to become obscure, an award named after them won’t stop it. I think it would be wise for other awards to consider moving away from the Big Famous Writer Award style of title in general.

34 thoughts on “Should the Clarke Award Change its name?

  1. You were probably writing when Sanford followed up with this. Provided that’s a reliable source then it seems pretty clear.

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    1. Honestly, I have no idea how to evaluate the reliability of that piece. It reads like it was written by a drunk fifteen year-old.

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      1. PhilRM, that was exactly my thought. The guy who wrote that “book” isn’t one I would be able to trust to give me directions to the restroom, much less to make credible claims about anything Clarke said.

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      2. @Phil

        Yep, it’s a bizarre piece but I’m not sure a breathless style of writing goes to reliability.
        I did some reading up on the guy – long and senior career in journalism, albeit on the tabloid side, most newsworthy thing he did was voluntarily confessing to phone hacking. He claimed he hadn’t realised it was illegal. I’m not sure which side of the ledger voluntarily confessing to unethical behaviour goes on?
        Anyway, I think the unanswered question from that piece is what exactly Clarke said – did he directly confess, or did he simply say something ambiguous enough for a tabloid-style innuendo headline?

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      3. The impression I get from the book description and user reviews on Amazon is that the book is full of confessions of dodgy journalistic practices, done in the service of scoring a front page story. Quoting the top review: “Hack specifically details his time at the News of the World and, later, at the Sunday Mirror, and some of his admissions are genuinely astonishing – revealing the subterfuge, chicanery and, on occasions, sheer fabrication carried out by newspapers in the bad old days of Fleet Street.” (emphasis mine) Other reviews have similar descriptions.

        To me, that indicates that this story about investigating Clarke is true: Graham Johnson went to Sri Lanka, he talked to boys who described that Clarke had fondled them, and he whittled a sort-of-confession from Clarke. If this wasn’t true – if Johnson cooked up a front page story on Clarke based on less evidence – he probably would have admitted to it in this book.

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      4. The Troyer story was much more convincing (at least to me).

        And is there some simple way of getting Twitter to embiggen the damn images to the point where they’re readable? I had to go into the page source and go directly to the image links.

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  2. Sigh, depressing. It makes me appreciate Sara Karloff’s comment (I got to hear her talk about her father once) that the thing she’s proudest of is that nobody has horror stories to share about him. Hopefully that remains true.
    “If a writer is going to become obscure, an award named after them won’t stop it.” But when has that ever stopped people naming things? My wife and joke about the local “Ozymandias High School” and “Ozymandias Highway” because we’ve no idea who they were named after.
    That said yeah, seems like time for a change on this one.

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  3. Given your position here, I guess my plan to propose a name change for the Hugo for fan writing to the “Camestros Felapton Memorial Award” is a no-go, huh? Not to mention that I’d have to wait until you’re dead, but based on how much the MGC types hate you, I figured it was only a matter of time before Freer or Hoyt attempted to crowd-source an assassination, stochastic terrorism style.

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  4. I general I don’t feel strongly about this. I will say….pretty much everyone has some horrific skeletons in the closet.

    Therefore, if we stop naming things after significant artists because we can’t separate their sins from their art…we are going to find it hard to name awards after people. Which might actually be….fine I think.

    Sidebar, I generally feel ok about enjoying art from an artist I may not warm to as a person. In general I don’t really care what an artist is like as a person. If they are coming to dinner then I’d worry if they are rude/creepy/racist or whatever but if they are going to keep producing awesome art without meeting me, then no skin off my back if they are bad company.

    I understand other’s don’t think like this because of a reason which logically makes sense to me (buy supporting that art I’m supporting the person so therefore I won’t) but when the person is dead that argument doesn’t hold water. Its like people asking if Michael Jackson is cancelled now? (He’s not going to profit from your Spotify plays anymore)

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    1. I agree. The art isn’t the artist but the art is also your emotional engagement with the art and that’s shaped by how you see the artist.

      I should write about The Dark Knight Returns sometime

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  5. Clarke himself asked the Crown to investigate him for pedophilia prior to accepting his knighthood because of those accusations. They didn’t find anything. I have no idea whether Troyer’s story is true or not, but what is true is that gay men have been and continue to be the victims of baseless accusations of pedophilia.

    It should take a lot more evidence than this before changing the name of the award. Not unless they want to insult every gay man in fandom.

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    1. That’s part of the fog around this. The tabloid hostility to Clarke was undoubtedly fuelled by homophobia. I’m dubious about ‘investigations’ – we’ve seen plenty of examples of flawed investigations of institutional abuse that found nothing, only for better structured inquiries later to reveal widespread abuse. Typically victim testimony is the only substantial evidence that can be found & abusers pick victims knowing that.
      I believe though that there is more substance here than just homophobia-fuelled rumours.

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  6. Was the award named after Clarke because it was originally funded by him or did he decide to donate the funds because they were naming it after him?

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  7. Yes, I think the “Hack” story is at best some corroboration of what the events in the Troyer story imply.

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  8. What’s interesting to me is that other genres don’t seem to have these discussions. For example, the crime fiction genre has some awards named after highly problematic people such as Australia’s Ned Kelly Awards and the Canadian Arthur Ellis Awards, named after Canada’s last hangman, and yet no one seems to mind, even though both Kelly and Ellis killed a lot of people.

    Furthermore, at least in Germany it is also exceedingly difficult to get city councils to rename streets, bridges, squares, etc… named after some truly horrible people. In Bremen, we have two bridges and a major road named named after a grossly antisemitic former mayor and a former Nazi military judge turned totally democratic politician respectively (and these are just the worst ones – we have a couple of others that are not longer suitable) and any petitions to get those names changed are usually brushed off with, “But businesses will have to change their stationery and business cards” and also with “But for all their flaws, X was a important person who contributed to our city/country”. The worst thing is that naming a bridge after the Nazi judge turned democratic politician might have been avoided, because there were already protests against naming the bridge after him in the first place when he died in the 1990s and besides, no local ever calls the bridge by its official name anyway, but instead calls it Strawberry Bridge.

    Oddly enough, when an important politician or other figure dies, there is inevitably a mad scramble to find something suitably impressive to name after them (while a Jewish department store owner and philantrope driven from the city by the Nazis gets a cul-de-sac in an induistrial park named after him) and oddly enough no one cares about businesses having to change their stationery and business cards, because they are now located on Willy Brandt Platz (former German chancellor) or Loriot Platz (popular German comedian), though at least both of them were good people. And when flying to Dublin for WorldCon, I noticed that the local airport has recently been named after former mayor Hans Koschnick, because apparently they ran out of suitably impressive streets to rename. I suspect renaming the road and bridge now named after an antisemitic mayor from the early 19th century for Koschnick would have been too much to expect.

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    1. With something like the Ned Kelly Award (or the Oscars or Hugo Award come to think of it) there’s not really any attempt to memorialize or honour the titular person. Ned Kelly is just branding that manages to state very simply “Australian” and “crime”. There’s no sense of any kind of mutual endorsement there (i.e. it’s not suggesting the winner writes like Ned Kelly or would be read by Ned Kelly or epitomizes the aesthetic values of Ned Kelly)

      The broader question of Ned Kelly as Australian folk hero is another question though.

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      1. A lot of national heroes are problematic – Genghis Khan, Vlad Dracul, and Richard Lionheart for three. Closer to home Rob Roy MacGregor and Johnnie Armstrong.

        To paraphrase Stalin, kill one and you’re a murderer, kill a million and you’re a national hero.

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      2. Interesting point re historical figures/national leaders. I think it was Robin Lane Fox in his biography of Alexander The Great who noted that it’s not a great idea to judge historical figures by our current moral standards. Alexander for example looks like an egotist and a tyrant from our view, but back in the day was seen as doing what was expected of a leader and if anything somewhat overly merciful to his enemies/too quick to welcome other cultural influences in.

        But he’s just an example. When we judge say – a criminal from a couple of hundred years ago – do we really know what their context was like? How scarce food was? How oppressive the state was? Not all historical bad behaviour should be minimised but it’s worth checking our modern bias before we condemn.

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        1. In Clarke’s case, though, I’m fairly confident that the standards of his time were pretty negative about pedophilia. 🙂

          What bothers me (and is likely to bother any gay man) is that it appears that straight people are still defaulting to the assumption that any gay man must be a pedophile (or at least be highly likely to be one) and accepting extremely flimsy/suspect evidence that they would reject out of hand had he been a straight man.

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          1. I understand that concern and if Clarke had been straight I’m certain he wouldn’t have had the level of tabloid snooping that he did…but retrospectively also if he’d been straight and what we do know now was about girls rather than boys I’d be seeing things in much the same way.

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    2. It’s an issue here too. A lot of mapping disputes in the U.S. involve the government wanting to rename places like “N-word Mountain” on official maps and locals insisting it’s not racist, it’s tradition!

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      1. Not to mention all those confederate statues which were erected during the Jim Crow years which are all of a sudden sacred history and Must Not Be Touched.

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  9. “if Clarke had been straight I’m certain he wouldn’t have had the level of tabloid snooping that he did”
    Jeffrey Epstein demonstrates how you can get away with underage het sex being an open secret.
    “also if he’d been straight and what we do know now was about girls rather than boys I’d be seeing things in much the same way.”
    Yep.

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