Thursday, February 13, 2014

Political Correctness: Still Killing the Science Fiction Fandom

I am not a professional science fiction writer and consequently not a member of SFWA. As an avid science fiction reader, however, I've been following the controversies of the past year with steadily increasing concern. I believe they threaten both the quality and the commercial viability of the genre. I also believe they are deeply damaging to a fandom community that, in my understanding, used to pride itself on its civility and tolerance. Below, if you don't mind, I will discuss why.

To explain: Last summer thereabouts, the internal SFWA bulletin honked off the radical feminist faction of the fandom for two separate - though related - reasons. Number one, the cover of one edition featured a very pulpy illustration of a woman in a bikini. Number two, in a regular column reminiscing on the fandom at mid-century, two older male authors made some off-hand remarks regarding the physical attractiveness of a "lady editor" of the period (while also, it should be stressed, expressing deep admiration for her accomplishments at a time when sexism was still very much a problem). Unfortunately, instead of having a rational discussion about what offended them, said feminists kicked up a shit-storm that resulted in the resignation of the bulletin's editor.

Fast-forward to today. Apparently, SFWA has now posted job guidelines for a future replacement editor that suggest that said editor will supervised by an "advisory board" that will vet the bulletin and ensure that its contents "meet the standards of the organization." I don't blame my writer-acquaintances for being creeped out by this development. Given the aforementioned context, there is a very high likelihood that the "standards" in question will be the "standards" of the hard left. Will there be room for diversity of thought? Ha.

Of course, in these sorts of discussions, you can count on at least one supercilious "social justice warrior" to point out that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution only covers the actions of the government and that, as a private organization, SFWA can police its members' speech however it wants. This is true technically, but I would submit that the rightness of a course of action shouldn't be determined solely by its legality -- and that, when heterodox writers no longer feel free to express their thoughts without being subject to mau-mauing, you lose something critical.

Echo chambers are inimical to creativity -- and no, it doesn't really matter to me which ideology the chamber in question is echoing. As conservative as I am politically, I am still deeply disappointed with the GOP. Why? Because with only a few notable exceptions, its representatives are unwilling to leave their "safe" spaces to talk to people who are currently voting the other way -- and as a result, the party's policy proposals and talking points have frozen in place. Meanwhile, as orthodox as I am religiously, intellectual honesty still forces me to admit that the books/movies/etc. produced for the Christian audience are often inferior to those produced for the secular market. What explains this? Again, uniformity of thought and an unwillingness to engage hostile audiences.

If SFWA continues on its present course, we will see the genre stagnate. As a matter of fact, we're seeing it already. Readership is dropping off; as a con volunteer, I see a "Why Aren't People Still Reading Science Fiction?" panel presented virtually every year. And no -- the answer to this decline is not more leftist-defined "diversity," for which people are plonked into convenient boxes based on their skin color and/or their naughty-bits. The answer may be more genuine diversity, for which people are treated as individuals whose unique life experiences matter more than where they fall on the race/gender/sexual orientation axes. But in order to pull this off, the fandom must come into contact with a wide variety of viewpoints and lifestyles -- something that won't happen if people continue to be bullied for having contrary opinions.

Additionally, echo chambers also threaten solidarity. I may have an excessively rosy impression of what the fandom used to be like in the days of Asimov/Heinlein/etc., but from what I've read, people used to be able to disagree without becoming disagreeable. Why have things changed? Well, as our society has become more and more stratified, our elite intellectual class - from which many of our writers and publishers now hail - has become more and more divorced from the rest of the population. They live in their own isolated, self-selected enclaves and consequently never learn how to politely react to opposing views. What's more, they never learn what those opposing views really are; instead, they are presented with cartoonish straw men. I don't know how many times I've encountered people of this class who've automatically assumed I'm racist/homophobic/sexist/classist/etc. simply because I happen to be a Republican. I also think there are many affiliated with the leftist faction of the fandom who have faced injustices of one sort or another but have been encouraged - by the above-mentioned elite - to dwell on their revenge fantasies instead of confronting those injustices in a constructive manner. Personally, I feel at least some compassion for the latter group; they have been profoundly misled by people who find their troubles convenient.

Regardless of its provenance, however, there is no question that the radical brand of "social justice" favored by the feminist "glittery hoo haas" (as Kate Paulk has tartly dubbed them) and their white knight male defenders - in which people are declared guilty of being "oppressors" based on external factors over which they have absolutely no control and authors who disagree (even mildly) are intimidated into silence - is a big part of the problem with SFWA as it operates today. And people in a position to confront this dysfunction and call it out for what it is - pure bigotry - need to do so, and they need to do so vigorously before science fiction fades into irrelevance.   


  1. I used to be a fairly active member of fandom. I have since gafiated largely because that harbor is no longer safe for all. There are a few cons I'm still willing to go to, but none local. Ironically, the whole fafara was started over a desire to become "more family friendly." What's going on in the SFWA in IMNSHO is an outgrowth of a deeper dysfunction in Fandom itself. It's an abandonment of it's founding values in favor of political correctness. Instead of being an organization founded by grass roots, certain SMOFS have decided they are the cultural gatekeepers. Has becoming mainstream ruined us?

    1. Talitha:

      I understand your decision to gafiate. I've been tempted to do so myself many times, but I keep coming back because, at the very least, I still enjoy the little corner of Dragon Con I work every year -- and I have Facebook connections with writers who don't truck with this nonsense and consequently are refreshing dissenting voices.

      I actually have my own half-developed theory about where this craziness all came from, but I think it would take me another big post to explain. To put it briefly, though, I think it's the elitist impulse AGAINST mainstreaming that's really ruining us. Stay tuned -- I will explain that further once I get off work. ;)

  2. I wish I still felt that the deep disconnect between myself and the bulk of fandom (to say nothing of the writing community) was mostly limited to my experiences: a series of events that culminated in my effective abandonment of attending the few local conventions still running here and, worse, collecting comics, which was where I really got my start. I get the feeling that there's a lot more than my own dumb-crap luck at work here, and it does concern me, however distant I find my own place is compared to the fandom now.

    The 'Fandom Imperium' I'd already had a decent taste of by the time I went to my second convention; the second shot I'd attended a year after the first..commentary, out of the blue, by someone as to what word to use (and why I shouldn't have used the one I chose) for a vampire making another vampire from a human victim. I didn't even know the guy who said it, and I never saw him again. And that was only the beginning! The fandom has only ever prospered because, apart from there being a whole mess of subgenres in sci-fi, it (or they) are extremely decentralized, or at least were many years ago. I'm certainly not taking any shots at the Internet, though! I used to frequent quite a few BBSes on a daily basis; the peak being twenty or thirty (at 14.4 dialup, I still find it difficult to contemplate my patience with that, even with Telix's autodialer) individually, regularly. Admittedly, a lot of it was crapwrite, but there was enough going on to have it mean something.

    I agree with you completely, Stephanie, that the reactive populace in science-fiction and sci-fi fandom is responding negatively to a much more 'mainstreamed' public media stage for science-fiction and fantasy: turning that decentralized 'government' of our fandom into a polarized, insular batch of jealously-guarded fiefdoms with invite-only memberships and extreme xenophobia regarding even other 'chapters' of said subgenres.

    Couple that with more than one television series I felt deeply about crashing and burning, another television series that, knowing the author it was based on as a longtime friend, picked a regular RL locale featured in the series as a location whose owners screwed me over big time many years ago now, and feeling an extreme disconnect with what I've got left...well, I think the reason I haven't totally jumped ship in the last year or two is that a lot of film and television produced now is good enough that I think I can keep my particular internal 'ship and crew' going. Not that I have any illusions about anybody giving a damn if I did sign off for any length of time.

    The fact that the fandom is eating itself alive with little or no badly-needed ratiocination regarding the real effects of what it's consuming, is itself spurring me to stick around. If there's something I can do, maybe it's still worth the end result to be a part of this person-place, distant or otherwise.