2014 is over, 2015 has begun, and Smugglivus is nearly complete! Which means that we must also undergo another very important ritual…
THE AIRING OF GRIEVANCES!
(In which we air out any dirty laundry from 2014. Warning: plenty of swearing, engaged CAPS LOCK OF FURY, and spoilers ahoy, baby!)
These are the things that really pissed us off this year:
1. SOMEONE IS (ALWAYS) WRONG ON THE INTERNET – PART I: THE SFF EDITION
Oh man, where do we even start this year? The Internet wouldn’t be the Internet without a SFF Fandom shitshow….but this year we saw quite a few of them.
Remember back in March when Jonathan Ross was announced as the Hugo Awards presenter? Remember the fallout of said announcement? Well, we do. Ana was THERE on Twitter the moment it was announced and followed the meltdown from minute one. We saw the first people voicing their discontentment at this controversial choice (Ana being one of them) and how that discontentment came from a very clear need for a safe place and environment for everyone. This is important because CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING – the specific context in the case of those clamoring against Jonathan Ross as presenter was that of recent conversations about safe convention places for all fans.
But, like always, context gets lost and what happened next was history being rewritten before our very eyes. Big media outlets and several fans started to spin the Ross conversation by calling those who voiced their anger and discontentment “bullies” and “over-sensitive zealots.” Those outlets and fans framed the entire conversation as “social justice gone awry” – as though people didn’t have a reason to be angry. Guess what: Rage Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum.
WELL, FUCK THAT. DO NOT FUCKING REWRITE THE NARRATIVE.
1b. BEING A REAL FAN
It’s interesting then that in the aftermath of Rossgate, an essay written by a publisher talked about the recent state of fandom and referred to recent conversations as “fooforaws.” The essay and ensuing conversations were all about “core sci-fi” “true fans” with many calling for “civility” and for a return to an “idyllic” time when people just loved Science Fiction and didn’t care about politics.
NEWSFLASH: everything is political. EVERY SINGLE CHOICE one makes is political: if you choose not to engage with criticism, if you choose not to pay attention to the voices of those telling you that they feel excluded and not welcome in your field, if you call people FUGGHEADS, then you ARE MAKING A POLITICAL CHOICE.
That essay made us ponder on History, Fandom and Masters of Science Fiction then prompted us to read one such Grand Master of old school SFF: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. And OH MY FUCKING GOD. We wrote an epic review of our less-than-enthused experience with the book, which solicited 50+ comments, including many from people saying we were READING TOO MUCH INTO IT (or being too political). The entire experience made us want to bleach the memory of reading that book from our minds.
IN CONCLUSION: we are real fans.
1c. FANTASY AUTHOR CELEBRATES SUCCESS BY STOMPING ON “FEMALES”
There are certain things that we will never understand (for example, the ending of Lost… but let’s not digress). One of those things we will never EVER understand is that post written by an incredibly successful Fantasy author toward the end of 2014. In it, the author celebrates his success by gleefully highlighting the lack of female characters in his first book, calling attention to this fact to readers and critics, in the vein of “Haha look, who needs pesky FEMALES amiright?!?” Because writing female characters is akin to writing a story with “particular components” like RED SHOES or BEARDS. As though writing female characters is like writing tropes: “ragtag gang of misfits”, “heroic quest to find the magic object” and now NEW TROPE: “women as people”. BECAUSE WRITING FEMALE CHARACTERS IS NOW PART OF AN AGENDA and also women are “technically a minority” < -- WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS ARGUMENT.
Before anyone screams FREEDOM or something like “but you can’t force people to write what you want”… Obviously we can’t… BUT we can and should criticise the lack of female characters anywhere at any time because nothing exists in a vacuum, there is historical context to this criticism, and yes it is fair to criticise one book when it fits a pattern to underwrite women. To say “but female characters don’t fit this story” as though that explains all, as though the story came READY-MADE FROM HEAVEN ABOVE and was not WRITTEN BY THE AUTHOR is also stupid. A lack of female characters is always a choice.
1d. THE REQUIRES HATE THING
Quite possibly, the biggest WTF moment of 2014 was the revelation that up-and-coming lovely SFF author and John W. Campbell nominee Benjanun Sriduangkaew was the blogger known as Requires Hate AS WELL AS a toxic individual known as Winterfox who engaged in destructive trolling and online abuse through several online forums over the course of ten years.
The public outing was originally done by one of Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s own editors (to wit: holy fuck) back in September; this was followed by a comprehensive report by Laura Mixon collecting all the available evidence.
This was a particularly difficult moment for our community with many friends falling on different sides of the discussion. There was a lot of personal hurt too for many people and we wholly sympathise with those who fell silent or felt they couldn’t speak up. We won’t delve into the specific matter – we feel that everything that needed to be said has been said already. We will only say that we believe the victims and those who came forward (anonymously or in name-space) to talk about the abuse they suffered. We’d also like to link here to Safe, a safe space for PoC to talk about the matter on their own terms.
With that said, there is one thing that happened in parallel to this situation that we’d like to talk about which is the unfortunate conflation of critical reviews with bullying. Requires Hate was known for writing extremely harsh, unforgiving reviews. In the aftermath of the revelation, those reviews were often cited as “proof” of how much of a bully and abuser Requires Hate was. As reviewers and critics, this turn in the conversation troubled us.
We will repeat and continue repeating ad nauseam: critical reviews – as harsh and horrible as they may be – are not the same as bullying. RIPPING A BOOK TO SHREDS IS NOT THE SAME AS BULLYING. Being an advocate for social justice IS NOT A BAD THING. IT IS ALSO NOT BULLYING. IT WILL NEVER BE A BAD THING regardless of how loud, obnoxious and angry the person clamoring for it might be.
Requires Hate’s extremely critical reviews were never the problem. As far as we are concerned ripping books apart critically is a good and necessary thing especially in a culture where the cult of nice abounds – calling a book out on its racism, sexism, homophobia IS ESSENTIAL if we want to have an inclusive and healthy culture of books and reading.
No, the problem here was the vicious, personal attacks that often accompanied those reviews and the relentless violent persecution through different social media spaces of those who disagreed with her. That Requires Hate and Winterfox’s abuse was more often leveled at women of color (but encompassing everybody who dared have a different opinion) was what created a toxic environment that made people scared to speak up and which contributed to enable a behavior that went on for ten years.
It was not her criticism.
2. SOMEONE IS (ALWAYS) WRONG ON THE INTERNET – PART II: THE YA EDITION
2a. NO, YOU WERE NOT CATFISHED
So speaking of the dangerous conflation of critical reviews with bullying….remember that time when a YA author called Kathleen Hale wrote an essay at the freaking Guardian to proudly tell of how she became obsessed with a reviewer who criticised her book, then proceeded to search and stalk said her reviewer online and offline? Yeah. That happened. Do you know what else happened? Other authors on Twitter PRAISING this behaviour as “courageous” for going after “bully reviewers”.
Hale’s essay is full of outright lies and inaccurately portrays the reviewer but it doesn’t matter, even if what she wrote had been 100% true in terms of the reviewer’s behaviour, REVIEWS ARE NOT FOR THE AUTHOR AND STALKING IS NOT AN APPROPRIATE RESPONSE TO REVIEWS. EVER. What is this, bizarro world? That we even have to write these words is beyond ridiculous.
2b. THOSE STUPID ARTICLES ABOUT YA
There was an article at Slate entitled Against YA – Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children which excoriated adult readers of YA because YA is too simplistic or some such shit. What the fuck do we even say to that?
What do we say to the article that declared the end of patriarchy (did you know of this turn of events? We didn’t!) and therefore the death of adulthood because women are now in charge (because of course, patriarchy is dead and now everything is WORSE AND IMMATURE) and this is why everybody is reading simplistic YA (or something).
Complete unfamiliarity with YA as a category seems to be at the core of these articles, like the one over at The New Yorker that basically says that YA authors oversimplify things as a matter of course.
It’s interesting how all of these articles have one thing in common apart from harping against YA: they are all written by and from extremely privileged perspectives that celebrate one type of reading of one type of story (mostly the one featuring the Great White Universal Male).
And on that note, our 2014 grievances are aired, and our 2015 slates are clean. Are there any gripes you’ve had for the past year that you want to get off your chest?