On the 28th of February, the last day of early-bird discounts, I finally gave up my dithering and bought a pass to LonCon 3. The convention, I had decided, would be my Big Con of the Year.
That was also the day it was announced that Jonathan Ross would be hosting the Hugo awards.
That link from Bleeding Cool exemplifies a lot of the responses I’ve seen to Ross’ resignation from the post. A lot of “he’s a SF/F fan, Neil Gaiman asked him to do it, I am ashamed that the community I’m in bullied him off like that.”
Neil Gaiman has now commented to say that he is “very disappointed” by the Twitterstorm that was sent Jonathan Ross’ way, and he has taken his Hugo pin off his lapel as a result.
First things first: I have attended an event that was hosted by Mr Ross, a closed-door press conference for The Walking Dead at Comic-Con in 2012. (I present as evidence the shittily-taken iPhone picture above as proof!) Yes, he is as big an SF/F nerd as claimed, and no, despite his reputation he said nothing that morning that set my teeth on edge, sensitised as I was already from a day full of racial microaggressions (that entire junket was not one I enjoyed). Had he remained as host for the Hugos, I still would have attended, just with a critical ear out for anything problematic he might say (as I always do).
Neil was also one of my instructors last year at Clarion West, and I respect him greatly as a writer and as a consummate navigator of the storytelling industry. In his week with my class, I found him to be an incredibly generous and warm soul who, above all, listened. Even to us tiny baby writers! I am sure he made the suggestion to Jonathan Ross in absolute good faith, and I can understand why he would be disappointed by the outcome.
I still think they’re wrong.
I take issue with the way the events have been framed: A bullying mob, reacting with unwarranted anger, sending mindless vitriol to Ross. They’re not the only ones who have put it this way – lots of people have – but they are certainly the most visible.
But putting it this way invalidates the concerns of the people who rejected Ross as a host for the Hugos. Their opinions and feelings, too, deserve respect and consideration, even if put in a harsh manner.
The fact of the matter is when one has a sizeable media presence (like Neil and Mr Ross do), one is automatically conferred certain amounts of credibility. Media presence gets you listened to. Media presence gets your side of the story told in major publications like The Guardian and The Daily Mail.
This post by livejournal user a-d-medievalist lays it out very well. It’s not a simple case of bullies versus the bullied: Neil and Mr Ross come from extremely privileged positions in the SF/F community and beyond. The phrasing of the term “disappointed”, shaped around patronising tones, is especially problematic in this regard. It’s something a parent would say to a child. It doesn’t say, “I see you as a human being with thoughts and concerns as equal to my own”; it says “why didn’t you behave in a way i find acceptable?”
I think it would have been interesting, in the fallout to this, to discuss things like the difference between public and performative personas, or how accountable one should be for things that are said in jest. Unfortunately, I suspect the tidal wave of disappointment will overwhelm and overshadow anything else in its way.