The backlash against DisCon’s decision to have the Hugo Award Ceremony sponsored by Raytheon has, at last, been addressed by the con. It doesn’t say very much:
“We accept feedback & criticism regarding DisCon III’s acceptance of sponsor funds. Send suggestions, complaints, & other views to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will share those with the next Worldcon committee as part of our debriefing as we discuss funding strategies.”https://twitter.com/worldcon2021/status/1473328225204019202
And is followed by:
“Harassment is not acceptable. Responses should be directed to DisCon III and not at the finalists or winners who were uninvolved in our decisions.”https://twitter.com/worldcon2021/status/1473328226588057612
Neither of these are adequate responses.
I’m not going to rehash what I believe are the obvious and deep problems with Raytheon as a sponsor. You don’t have to accept my perspective on Raytheon to see that not only would many fans object but that Raytheon would have a deep negative impact on the Hugo Awards as a brand. To some extent, most sponsors carry with them at least a small degree of drag on the reputation of the thing being sponsored. Just from a purely amoral, cynical perspective, the net cost to the Hugo Awards of being sponsored by a company whose name is a metonym for high-tech civilian casualties in America’s forever war, is huge.
Yet, somehow this decision was worse.
Not only did they sponsor the Worldcon but the name was attached to the most high profile event — announced to the viewers of the live stream of the Hugo Award ceremony. Worse yet, the sponsorship also included “red carpet photos” of people attending the ceremony (even though volunteers were already doing photos).
The net effect has been that DisCon didn’t just sell use of its brand to Raytheon but effectively partly sold the reputations of the awards AND THE FINALISTS. Then said…nothing, for more than a day.
Now if you follow my social media, you’ll know that my initial negative reaction to Raytheon led to a minor (and civil) argument between myself and a finalist with familial connections to the company. As a consequence, that finalist ended up bearing a firestorm of attention and harassment as a consequence of what they had shared. A lot of that was poorly thought out and a significant amount of it was straight harassment. I’ll acknowledge that my overall pissed-offness about all of this is exacerbated by feeling guilty that I inadvertently contributed to that harassment.
Now, yes DisCon can’t control social media and they aren’t the world’s anti-harassment police but the essential social media blackout for over 24 hours on the issue by the con’s official channels and spokespeople meant that those channels avoided the brunt of the backlash and let FINALISTS receive the worst of it.
Questions about this decision remain, including how much money Raytheon paid.
- when was Raytheon taken on as a sponsor? The souvenir book does not list Raytheon as a sponsor. The “sponsors” page on the website does list Raytheon but when they were added (maybe December 11) is unclear. No annoucement was made. A “stealth” sponsorship is a contradiction in terms.
- why were authors photographed as part of the sponsorship? This appears to be particularly insidious but I wasn’t there so I don’t know if sponsor’s logos were invovled.
- why weren’t members informed until the ceremony? I’m told Raytheon had a stall at the con (a dodgy choice IMHO).
- why was DisCon silent on this until this tweet? OK, I get why — because it was a gigantic fuck up and key people were travelling, so everybody dithered for a day hoping things would quiet down.
Science fiction has had a long association with the US military-industrial complex. Heck the SIGMA group were having panels at Worldcon to at least 2015. I get how the space connection leads to extraordinarily bad decisions on the scale of “Newt Gingrich at the Nebula Awards” (in 1991 and factoring in everything, that bad idea seems less bad than this one).