A short recap: the 2020 Hugo Award ceremony went badly in multiple ways and central to the ways it went badly was George R.R. Martin. Natalie Luhrs wrote an impassioned post about everything that went wrong (which is here “George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition)” https://www.pretty-terrible.com/george-r-r-martin-2020-hugo-awards/ ). As is the way with things fannish, her post was nominated for a 2021 Hugo Award. However, some people have looked at the title and some aspects of the rhetoric and stated that it is a violation of the convention’s code of conduct and from there, an argument has ensued.
Currently, there’s a long argument going on at File 770 on the issue http://file770.com/discon-iii-declines-to-comment-on-code-of-conduct-issue-about-hugo-finalist/ but it really isn’t a GOOD argument. By that I mean, the discussion is getting so mired in questions of bad faith that it really isn’t helping whether:
- a. is there really an issue
- b. if there is an issue what is the way forward
I’ve ditched several replies to comments there because my comment really wouldn’t help. However, if I see a knotted pile of string, I can’t help trying to untie it.
Take a few steps backward. Motive is important when considering ethics and ethics is important for considering how people should conduct themselves. However, we don’t have windows into people’s souls and motive is easily disputed. It would certainly be easier if we could simply sort actions into good-faith actions, bad-faith actions, jokes etc but we can’t do it consistently. When it comes to semi-formal questions of behaviour (such as a company policy or a convention code of conduct) the question of motive and intent needs to be more limited compared with outward behaviour and observable impact.
So a few things:
- I don’t think the question of why voters voted for Luhrs’s essay is relevant. On the face of it, the essay is a cogent piece of fannish writing of obvious relevance and well within the space of things that get nominated for a Hugo. It’s a dead-end aspect of the discussion.
- Is George RR Martin harmed by either the essay or the title? Not in a material way, although credibly it may well make him feel unwelcome at Worldcon (a community he has been actively involved in for decades). However, he’s is also wealthy and well supported and this essay is unlikely to make any change to that. Neither is he living in fear of Natalie Luhrs. She is not literally going to shoot Martin or Silverberg into the sun and doesn’t have the means to do so. However, I think this is another dead-end. It really doesn’t help with the issue.
- Should Natalie Luhrs have used that title or indeed made said comment about shooting people into sun? It was fine, not my style but people can let off steam on their own blog. It was well within the limits of acceptable online behaviour (particularly in the circumstances). People are free to differ on this point but it is also another dead-end discussion.
So what does matter? Rules need to be clear and enforceable. They need to admit some degree of nuance and context but they simply can’t be as flexible as the kind of more dynamic moral judgements we make personally. They also need to fail-safe and err on the side of caution. It is an issue that I discussed earlier in the year in this post: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2021/02/19/todays-infographic-moderating-comments/
And here we need to get into fine distinctions:
- Natalie Luhrs should not (in my opinion) feel under any compulsion to edit the title or content of her post.
- Discon have a real issue with using that title in anything put out by Discon or under their banner.
There is a fine distinction here between what Luhrs is saying with that title and Discon repeating it. Why? Because
- Discon is bound by its own rules of conduct whereas Luhrs’s blog isn’t.
- Titles of Hugo finalist works absolutely can contribute to a hostile environment.
- While, sure, GRRM is a massive big-name author, there’s not a sensible way of demarcating between people with sufficient social power to not be bothered and people who aren’t. I’ll come back to that.
- If it is assumed that GRRM won’t actually be harmed by Discon repeating the title because of his various kinds of social and cultural power THEN that indicates a PROBLEM rather than it indicating that there isn’t a problem. If it is only fine because of GRRM’s privilege then it is not fine *in general*.
Put another way. There’s a whole heap of circumstances here (Martin’s own behaviour, the relative power dynamic between Martin and Luhrs etc) that mean, practically Discon really aren’t doing anything that terrible to George R.R. Martin but that is still a poor reason for Discon to do it. It’s an excellent argument for why I’ve got zero issues with Luhrs’s original essay but Discon isn’t Luhrs and Discon is speaking not just to Martin but to people in general.
In general, I would not want future Worldcons to republish titles (or include in the Hugo packet) works that contain elements that can reasonably be taken as personal attacks on people within the broader community AND by “reasonably be taken as personal attacks” should err on the side of caution (e.g. telling somebody to fuck off, is probably harmless but falls on the bad side of the line – it is the kind of false-positive we should accept as beyond the arbitrary point). The question then becomes whether there is a reasonable way to carve out an exception for really rich and famous people? I don’t see how in a way that ensures people who are less rich or famous (or are rich and famous but marginalised in other ways) aren’t impacted.
So should Discon censor the title? Sure, why not? It’s not the end of the world if they did and (again) there’s a distinction between Luhrs saying something and Discon officially repeating it (even within inverted commas). Should they put it in the Hugo packet? Probably not, for similar reasons. Neither of those steps will impact how people will evaluate it.
But this would be Discon conceding to the feelings of a powerful rich guy! Maybe, but what it definitely would be is a Worldcon saying that codes of conduct apply FOR EVERYBODY to the titles of Hugo finalists and the contents of the Hugo packet. That is a net positive. It really is and will benefit less powerful people than George R.R.Martin.
And apologies, comments are off because I’m too busy today to moderate them and I don’t want to untangle disputes 🙂
[ETA: I made some amendments. I was too flippant about GRRM not being harmed by essay. I can well imagine he does find it hurtful and I don’t want that to be a distraction from the broader point, which was that EVEN IF he’s fine, there’s still a kind of problem.]