Ross, Hugos, tribalism and bringing the outside in

For those of you who missed it this week, the Hugo awards kind of imploded when it was announced that Jonathan Ross would be host. What followed was one of those increasingly common Twitterstorms where people seem to read 50 words of brief, pick a side then start throwing insults around as if their immortal souls depended on it.

This isn’t a post about whether Ross should have been allowed to host the awards or not because that’s beside the point of what happened here. Ultimately, it seems that it's as simple a thing as Loncon sidestepping their decision-making process. Hardly the crime of the century, especially given senior alumni Neil Gaiman had vouched for the recommendation. 

The problem is what happened afterwards. A potted summary, shows a community worried that Ross will step in and make fun of them, perhaps most vociferously reflected by Seanan McGuire’s outburst, a dark side of wider insecurity emerged. She was worried Ross would ‘see [her] and make fat jokes’. She also doesn’t come across as entirely impartial. It seems a lot of this fear can be traced to an old article from the Daily Mirror listing Ross’s most controversial moments (which itself lacks a dash of irony - No 2 lampoons society, not ethnic minorities; 4 and 5 depend on accepting the British royal family and Margaret Thatcher are somehow above reproach; 6 is satire as much as it is crassness; 8 is more a display of tabloid hypocrisy concerning money; and 10, well 10 is just an opinion, not even a very offensive one!). 

Whatever the cause, the effect was a massive outpouring of antipathy at Ross and - critically - his family. Ross is an uber-nerd for those who haven’t realised. He’s very vocal about it, in fact. His family includes his overweight daughter who felt compelled to step in and defend her father, and screenwriter Jane Goldman - she who wrote the screenplays for Kick-Ass and Stardust incidentally. Remember those films which brought our treasured genres to massive, and new, audiences? Goldman has left Twitter as a result.

So what has happened here? An organisation fluffs an internal decision-making process so some people attack their chosen host. Add in a handy old tabloid article, wake up the trolls and suddenly you have a massive media storm feeding opinions and disgust the world over. All of which ends up driving the host’s innocent wife out of the community and off the network. Wow…

What does this remind me of? Honestly, the things that come to mind are dystopian. There are hints of 1984 in there, where real opinions have to be buried. Fahrenheit 451, where the airwaves are all about The Family and the real ideas are illegal. These are hints only, bear in mind - I’m not trying to be sensationalist. But we build the world we want one action at a time, something that science-fiction fans come to understand very early on.

It’s not all about lasers and cool alien civilisations, it’s about our aspirations and fears as a society. When we have a situation like this, born of individual insecurity and quickly distorted into an ugly trench war we are looking at the same thing. I respect McGuire's fears but when you lash out you only get lashings back. If she took the time to engage with Ross first of all and saved the rage for after he'd said anything mean about her it could have been a wonderful thing.

Loncon have apologised to Ross and his family, as well as the committee, the community and anyone caught up in the aftermath. Good on them. Peace starts with one person stopping, it's not a communal and simultaneous conceit. Maybe they blipped their admin processes but in terms of what I’ve seen of their responses they’ve been fair, open-minded and respectful of all sides. Had all the people more vitriolic shared their attitude it would have all been a lot nicer. 

I’ll leave you to read Neil Gaiman’s words, because as a man who so rarely passes judgment when he does I think it’s important we take note. Lead from the front people, focus on the utopias. We have an immense canon of inspiration to guide us. We should try and do it proud.