I suppose I should link to some of the news feeds about this, but I think it’s been sufficiently covered among those who give a damn that I don’t need to.
My people—what I used to think of as my people—have once more led with their chins and embarrassed the lot of us. Recently a mini-catastrophe, relevant to the exalted standards and reputation in which certain folks would like to believe the SF community maintains, explode-a-pated all over everyone in the carnival reaction to Jonathan Ross, a person of some note on the BBC and in England, being selected to host the Hugo Awards at the next worldcon in London. Seems Mr. Ross has a less than tarnishless reputation in popular circles as a comedic curmudgeon who likes to belittle people of various types, most notably women, and makes fun of everyone whom he considers targettable. I’m taking this on faith here as until this happened I had no clue who the man is.
He has withdrawn himself as host to the awards in the wake of what by all accounts has been a savage twitter attack on him and his family from, ahem, Certain Elements within the SFnal community. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell with these things, since everyone can hide so neatly behind hashtags and handles and alternate personae. For all anyone knows, the whole assault may have been two or three exceptionally small-concerned misanthropes in a basement somewhere with too much time, a live feed, and no clue what it means to live in a community.
Neil Gaiman has written rather well on the subject. (So, yeah, I guess I’m linking to some of it.)
A couple of things occur to me about this, one from some personal experience. I’ve done time serving with an organization that had as part of its mandate the selection of Notables for certain public events. I’ve been in the proverbial “back room” while such things have been deliberated. My first reaction to this was “Didn’t the people who chose him have a clue what might happen?” And I thought, “it’s possible for enthusiasm to overwhelm common sense in these things, the whole idea of Getting Someone Important to appear can seem so rarefied as to pump nitrous oxide into any discussion and lobotomize a committee.” On that score, it seems to me, SF fans, even those in positions of authority, are often still just 12 years old. Even so, when some one among them says “This is not a good idea” it is incumbent on the others to listen and at least have a damn good reason for going ahead anyway. From what it looks like on the outside, this didn’t happen. Someone threw what weight they had around and stamped their feet and got what they wanted…and reaped a minor whirlwind.
This is why such things take time, or should, and why we need to get over the whole Big Name Personality Syndrome that affects too many of us. SF wants to be taken seriously, SF should grow up and take the world seriously. None of this should ever have gotten out of that Back Room. If Mr. Ross came with that kind of baggage, the issue should have died a quiet death long before invitations had been made and resignations proffered. That is called professionalism.
Still, no one is psychic. Mistakes get made.
But the second thing that occurred to me was what Neil said. Whoever, whichever segment of My People, decided to take it upon themselves to tell Mr. Ross what they thought of him and his family—you have acted the Ass.
Before the internet, before FB and Twitter, people got exercised about this stuff, talked trash among themselves, and maybe a few would write letters. Nasty fan mail has always been with us. But our technology has enabled us to show our true selves faster and more publicly than ever before possible and it is, in instances like these, ugliness incarnate.
Just what difference do you think letting someone know you think he’s on your “never invite for cocktails” list makes to either him/her or to the world at large? No, don’t overthink it, I’ll tell you. None. All it does is add a bit more vile to an already questionable brew. This is the snickering prankishness of chickenshit adolescents who think it’s cool to let everyone who already doesn’t know they exist know that they care very much about being ignored by making themselves even less pleasant than anyone realized before.
The ability to add your two-cents at a keystroke has enabled some of us to ramp up the ugly faster than their minds could possibly intervene with a cautionary “Maybe you should think this through before you Send.” In this instance, they have let Mr. Ross know how much they dislike him by demonstrating how much worse they can be than he.
Or, even sadder, these are people who do this habitually, without any stake in the debate, simply because they’ve become intoxicated by the sound of their own ignorance flashed across the world. “Oh, look! An Issue! Let me let let me, I can come up with a really cool insult, too!”
People who lead with their mouths and have nothing to say, who walk into any room, any party, often uninvited, with no clue how to behave or, apparently, even how to think. There is an arcane term for them—boors. They indulge boorishness.
It’s not just science fiction where this has been on display, its even worse in political fora. We scratch our heads and wonder why such third-rate politicians are the only ones who run for office anymore. It’s bad enough to be challenged by the marginally thoughtful, but to have to deal daily with sport pissers would drive anyone with any self-respect to question the value of running for office.
Finally, though, it is the anonymity afforded by the technology that exacerbates. The ignorant, the boorish, the cowardly can lob this shit from the presumed comfort of no one knowing who they are.
It accomplishes nothing.
I think it’s sad what has happened to Mr. Ross. There are ways of dealing with these sorts of things that spare feelings and have the benefit of not making everyone involved look like a fool.
I suppose we should be grateful that this is how it’s done, though. Tarring and feathering used to be the preferred manner and it could actually kill.