2016 World Con Panel on "The State of Short Fiction"
I'd also like to note, for the sake of full disclosure, that I've been acquainted with Dave for a while now thanks to social media, I was personally delighted to meet with him in "meat space" for the first time once I got to Kansas City, and I found him to be of great help on Thursday when I had only a transport chair and no functional electronic scooter. Are my remarks going to be colored by these experiences? Certainly!
That being said, I believe World Con goofed big time.
The fact I will grant: Dave's opening statement was provocative. If I were in his place, I would not have broached the subject in the same way. I've moderated panels at sci-fi conventions before, and my preferred course is to be as neutral as possible and disappear.
The other charges certain elements in the fandom have levied against Dave, however, are patently false.
Number one, Dave did not "hijack" the panel or "disrupt normal convention operations." After the first several minutes, he essentially shut up and let the other panelists share their own opinions with zero interference. And that subsequent discussion, by the way, was entirely germane. Is there a culture of intimidation in the literary science fiction fandom -- and is said culture having an impact on the short fiction market? People are obviously going to disagree - and disagree violently - when it comes to this elephant in the living room, but that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve to be debated. I mean, honestly: What the hell else is there to talk about when it comes to anthologies and zines? I suppose the panelists could've chatted about numbers, market share, demographics, and possibly future publications, but that would've made for a very bland presentation -- and one that wouldn't have touched on anything of true import.
Number two, Dave did not "target marginalized fans." I love how fandom's SJW cohort takes mocking comments about "special snowflakes" suffering from "microaggressed disorder" who "need pearls to clutch" and distorts them into a "direct attack against diversity in the fandom." No -- what Dave was ridiculing was a particular toxic ideology whose commitment to diversity and to "marginalized communities" is superficial at best and actively harmful at worst. As a chronically-ill woman, I don't subscribe to this ideology; indeed, I would appreciate it greatly if the radical left would stop claiming I'm, alternately, a fragile little china doll who needs to be protected from words/awkward passes/risque t-shirts/take your pick or a giant walking vagina. And if you ask the folks I follow - many of whom are women, people of color, and/or LGBT - they will tell you much the same thing. Quit speaking for people you don't know.
And as for that bit about "causing excessive discomfort," I must ask: By what standard? Because if you talk to anyone on my side of the fence, you'll find that we all have felt "discomfort" at conventions almost as a matter of course. Two years ago, for example, I was moved by events to write the following:
Charles C. W. Cooke notes that many media personalities in our supposed elite class have glommed onto "Science!" as a way to differentiate themselves from the proles. Well, I have seen that very same trend seep into fannish spaces, where folks who have no formal scientific training whatsoever nevertheless latch onto pop science as an excuse to mock people they don't like. What follows, of course, are smug obeisances to the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" and "his noodle-y appendages" -- or a string of memes that endlessly flog the depravities of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Granted, the WBC is an easy and deserving target; those protesters are so far off the Christian plantation that they wouldn't be able to see orthodoxy even if they used a high-powered telescope. And that's why using the WBC as the exemplar of Christendom is so insulting. Quick thought experiment: What do you think would happen in the fandom if someone started holding up Boko Haram as an exemplar of Islam? Are you kidding? We all know exactly what would transpire: The offending individual would be run out of town on a metaphorical rail, and the fannish blogosphere would subsequently spend weeks discussing the rich history of Islam and how equating Islam with the radicalism of Boko Haram made Muslims in the fandom feel "unsafe."
Well, guess what? When the fandom starts talking about Christianity as if all it is is prudery and gay hatred, I, as a practicing Catholic Christian, feel "unsafe." Why don't my feelings matter? Why is fandom so scrupulously careful to differentiate between moderate Islam and its radical off-shoots -- and yet so eager to lump us Christians together under the same "fundamentalist" banner? Why is it beyond the pale to "hit" a Muslim fan -- and yet a-okay to "hit" me?Left-wing writers and fans apparently see no problem using their power in the fandom to "target" conservatives and Christians. We've been called idiots, troglodytes, racists, sexists, and God knows what else for years and have been smeared with abandon in several high-profile media outlets. And yet, as an active fan and convention volunteer, I have only seen one leftist booted out of a con for being insulting, and that was an unusual case (i.e., a volunteer staff member insulting an invited guest). Meanwhile, a notable communist author once called a conservative on his panel a "dues cheat" and completely got away with it.
Now, I'm not bringing this up in order to whine and play the victim. I'm just fine, thank you, and can deal with people who disagree with me -- even if they do so in an ugly and frankly macroaggressive manner. I am bringing this up to highlight the danger of using such a nebulous code of conduct to police speech in our fannish spaces. Look at it this way: What would happen if less conciliatory conservative fans took control of World Con? Would you like the current code of conduct to be wielded against you? Perhaps it's trite to encourage folks to "do unto others...", but that little adage endures for a reason. Don't abandon its wisdom, or you may come to regret it.