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The Price of Institutional Racism
August 28, 2013 4:51 AM   Subscribe

Why has there been only one non-white Worldcon chair? Because science fiction fandom is not welcoming to non-white people, because con-running has not done enough to address its own lack of diversity, because people would rather believe that fandom is inclusive than force it to become inclusive.
Jonathan McCalmont writes on institutional racism in the science fiction fandom.
posted by NoraReed (92 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jim C. Hines: SF/F’s “Colorblindness” and “Genderblindness” in a Single Photo
It comes up a lot, the idea that real racism and sexism has to be explicit and intentional and blatant. Making blacks sit at the back of the bus is racist. Refusing to let women vote is sexist. But nobody’s saying or doing those things, so we’re not sexist or racist! Yay, us!

You’re right, I’m not personally aware of any recent examples of people explicitly refusing to let women and PoC participate in the convention-planning and conrunning process.

But there are an awful lot of ways to discriminate against people without being obvious about it. There are ways to hurt people without intending to do so, or even realizing you’ve hurt them. You can tell someone they aren’t welcome here without ever saying a harsh word.

If you’re not the one being hurt, it’s easy to miss it. If you’re not the one being made to feel unwelcome, you may not realize it’s happening at all. But if you only recognize two states of existence, Blatant Racism/Sexism vs. Everything’s Just Fine And Dandy, with nothing in between, then you’re not listening to the voices of a lot of people you’re claiming are welcome in our community. And your refusal to listen is perpetuating the problem.

That’s what colorblindness and genderblindness look like in this context. It doesn’t mean everyone is equally welcome in our community, because they’re not. It means looking at a photograph dominated by white men, and refusing to see anything problematic in our history. It means twisting one rhetorical knot after another to try to justify why this isn’t a real problem, or if it is, it’s not our problem.

It is our problem. It’s my problem and yours. And it’s a problem we’re never going to solve if we can’t get past this knee-jerk defensiveness at the mere suggestion that our community might not be perfect.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:18 AM on August 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


That blogpost is mentioned in the OP's link, BTW.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:22 AM on August 28, 2013


people would rather believe that fandom is inclusive than force it to become inclusive.

If you see no other line about any of this, let it be this. It's amazing how many people think bigotry and oppression aren't real anymore, letting that idea excuse their- our- noxious behaviors. It's bad in fandom, but this is a thought pattern which is pandemic across society.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:24 AM on August 28, 2013 [14 favorites]


and when Hines’ tweets were made known to the con-running community known as the Secret Masters of Fandom (SMOFs), they began to make their displeasure known via email

The what? Seriously?
posted by rtha at 5:53 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


And: What I don’t get is why it matters to some (outside people) what color the chair’s skin is, shape of his/her eyes, or whether the chair is a him or a her. The chairs of Worldcons are chosen by the organizing committee. I don’t think any weigh their votes by looking at the previous 3-4 and then saying we need to have a Female chair this year! They are going to pick the best person in their group.

Ah, yes. If you bring up that all the people in charge are [this race] then it's you who's racist for noticing! Also, it's a meritocracy and we picked the best person for the job and it's not our problem if only white men are the best.

Gah.
posted by rtha at 5:56 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


And you know what else stops people of colour coming to Worldcon: showing racist Disney movies in your film track, at child friendly times.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:58 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The what? Seriously?

SMOFs, Secret Masters of Fandom is a long standing injoke amongst conrunners and refers to the various people who tend to do the scut work of organising cons. E.g. the people who actually go to the business meetings at Worldcon to discuss Hugo Award rules and whatever.

They're neither secret nor very masterful.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:00 AM on August 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


They list one point as a crazy one, but I think it actually is quite a serious and valid one-

Going to cons–and Worldcon moreso–is a luxury activity. The truth is that most POC don’t have the disposable income. They’re a noticeable minority at airports, on cruises, and other luxury activities.

This is something that has actually come up as a problem to be noted in the activist community - that people who can afford to travel regularly to conventions and events are, due to a lot of factors including generational poverty, largely not POC and certainly not working class POC. Then, the nature of individuals means that those people who cannot afford to frequently travel as often are going to make fewer of the connections they need to be chosen for positions, committees, etc.
posted by corb at 6:03 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


con-running community known as the Secret Masters of Fandom (SMOFs)

I think it used to be the Secret Masters Underlying Real Fandom, but then one day they happened to spell the acronym out.

In all seriousness, though, it's feels like the worst combination of a small insular community with folks who have blunted social skills to begin with. (I say this as a lifelong sf fan, though I have not been a convention attender myself.) The fact that the sf/f community often feels beleaguered by mainstream society no doubt encourages the, er, circling of the wagons.

Ah, yes. If you bring up that all the people in charge are [this race] then it's you who's racist for noticing!

Yes, the Fox News Gambit. Though not as universally successful a stratagem as it used to be.

showing racist Disney movies in your film track, at child friendly times.

Besides the repugnance of Song of the South -- even Disney doesn't let it out of the vault any more, even in this era of resurgent "traditional values," ffs! -- I don't understand what relevance this would even have to a sf / fantasy convention in the first place. Talking animals? Will a sequel to Finding Nemo be up for a Hugo next?
posted by aught at 6:07 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Besides the repugnance of Song of the South -- even Disney doesn't let it out of the vault any more, even in this era of resurgent "traditional values," ffs! -- I don't understand what relevance this would even have to a sf / fantasy convention in the first place.

Well, cartoons with talking animals have sadly been a staple of sf/fantasy conventions for a while now - I recall there being some Pokemon stuff at the last one I went to (which may date me). This article by Slate also lists (in addition to its criticism of the film) some reasons why people might want to see Song of the South.
Trouble is, this is our cinematic loss. Sperb is dismissive of Song of the South as a film, but it is a fascinating part of the Disney canon and even historically significant. For one, the live-action parts were the first color work by Gregg Toland, the legendary cinematographer of Citizen Kane. Far from the perfunctory or boring placeholders that Sperb claims, the studio portions of Song of the South (which account for all but 25 of the film’s 95 minutes) are often visually and emotionally stunning. Toland’s long panning shots and devastating close-ups of anguished Johnny are the most affecting non-animated screen images ever created under the Disney banner. Song of the South is a major work by one of the great screen photographers of all time, and one of his final films at that.
So I'd argue the problem was not in showing the film itself, but not contextualizing the film properly.
posted by corb at 6:14 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The chair is chosen from committees working on World Con, is that correct? If so, I wonder how many non-whites are working for World Con.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:18 AM on August 28, 2013


So I'd argue the problem was not in showing the film itself, but not contextualizing the film properly.

Just in case you missed it, the link MartinWisse posted upthread actually covered this:
Let’s be clear about something that [Worldcon's description] oddly fails to note. Song of the South’s racism isn’t some elusive, hard-to-pin-down subtext that Disney executives fret might be “viewed by some.” Song of the South is a blatantly, relentlessly, spectacularly racist piece of work.

It’s true, as Mike Glyer notes, that the film had some defenders among African-American journalists on its first release. It’s also true that it’s a movie replete with scenes full of (as Slate puts it) “embarrassingly racist” live-action portrayals of “smilin’, Massah-servin’ black folk.” Noting the film’s “offensively ‘idyllic’ master-slave relationship,” Time magazine said in 2009 that “there’s no denying the fact that by today’s standards, the film is rather racist.” And with typical bluntness, Cracked observes about the film’s singin’-and-dancin’ former slaves that “it’s as if someone made a children’s musical about Jews in post-WWII Germany that had a number titled ‘Hey! Nothing Bad Has Happened to Us, Ever.’”

This being the case, it would have been wise to plainly acknowledge it, instead of saying only that the film is out of circulation because “Disney executives thought might be viewed by some as politically incorrect.” (Bonus points for deploying our tired old friend “politically incorrect.” Yes, Disney executives are notoriously anxious about being dragged by Maoists into sessions of forced self-criticism. Why, you can barely get down the street in Hollywood for all the Red Guards trying to kidnap you.)

Bottom line: Given recent events in the SF world, for any Worldcon (much less one happening in a state that’s currently actively working to disenfranchise African-Americans) to screen this famously racist film while being disingenuous about its nature…is, to say the least, unwise. Showing it? Sure. Showing it while failing to plainly acknowledge its problems? Not your dumbest decision ever, dear Worldcon, but not exactly your smartest, either.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:28 AM on August 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Question as someone who enjoys science fiction but who has had very little contact with the fanbase: is the problem the type of books being written or the type of people that enjoy them?

I know that can be a really circular question (chicken meet egg), but what I mean is, is the difficulty with science fiction that it is about imaging alternative futures and so can escape dealing with contemporary socio-political realities (racism) without being taken to task ("come on man, this is an alternative universe with alien and antennas and shit, you think the lack of black people is weird? Grow up.") or is it that currently there are a lot of white males sitting in the fandom room calling the shots?
posted by litleozy at 6:30 AM on August 28, 2013


I don't know corb, those seem like reasons why someone (who had a particular interest in Disney or the work of Gregg Toland, say) might want to see Song of the South, but, as far as I know, it's not in Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will territory, where it's Important to the History of Film (in capital letters) and that's why it's shown.
posted by hoyland at 6:30 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This article by Slate also lists (in addition to its criticism of the film) some reasons why people might want to see Song of the South.

Well, Slate has a rep for saying sensational things to get attention, so I'm not sure I find their take terribly convincing.

I still think it's a very strange choice, and given the difficulty of tracking a copy down these days they must have gone to some effort to obtain a copy and get permission to show it publicly.
posted by aught at 6:37 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


...it's a meritocracy and we picked the best person for the job and it's not our problem if only white men are the best.

I grew up in the SF con/skeptic community and as a young girl, this kind of attitude made me subconsciously ashamed of any "feminine" qualities I had. Both myself and my youngest aunt felt we had to prove we were logical beings, whereas it was just assumed that the men in our family were. Not a fun way to grow up.

I'm really glad people are starting to talk about this. It twists your brain to be raised by people who pay lip service to equality but ogle damsels in brass brassieres on pulp novel covers and sequester "women authors" in a special little ghetto. I drifted away from being interested in this subculture almost 15 years ago. Now I'm seeing that same attitude--only more rabid and obvious--from the tending-to-be-Libertarian-brogrammer-MRAs-and-PUAs all over the internet, especially Reddit.

Kudos to everyone who stayed in or entered the community who are calling it out. It's long overdue.
posted by xenophile at 6:39 AM on August 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think the article blurs the lines a bit between symptoms and disease. If SF fandom itself skews white and male, and long-term fandom skews even more white and male then naturally the ranks of Worldcon chairs will skew white and male. It's useless to point out Worldcon chairs in particular. If you care about women and PoC in SF fandom, you need to first ask how to make the conventions (and the genre itself, perhaps) more welcoming to them at the entry level.
posted by tyllwin at 6:51 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I know that can be a really circular question (chicken meet egg), but what I mean is, is the difficulty with science fiction that it is about imaging alternative futures and so can escape dealing with contemporary socio-political realities (racism) without being taken to task ("come on man, this is an alternative universe with alien and antennas and shit, you think the lack of black people is weird? Grow up.") or is it that currently there are a lot of white males sitting in the fandom room calling the shots?

I think it's a little of both.

Science fiction, for a really long time, has very rarely been actually about science fiction. Oh, sure, there's aliens slapped on, and often new technologies that are pretty cool, but where the meat of the storytelling really begins is in the human (or rarely, alien) reaction to this strange new world produced by either the passage of time or the introduction of new technology. Frequently - very, very frequently - it is used by its authors, either consciously or unconsciously, to make political points. "This is the world I want to see" or "This is the world I don't want to see." I would say the majority of science fiction that I've read is either dystopic or idealistic. Even people who are seriously thinking of how they think the future will play out are doing so based on political realities that they see.

At the same time, there is a certain extent to which that political maneuvering is expected to be behind the curtain, not out in the open. And the truth is that politics which match the political systems we live under or the expectations we have for the world will never - or very rarely - jar us out of the story and have us thinking about politics, while politics that are very different from them will.

I am reminded of a conversation I actually had with some friends a time ago. We were discussing Deep Space Nine, and the episodes that dealt with Sisko and racism. And some people were really, really upset by those episodes and the way they Kept Bringing Race Up. Or the way they kept putting Sisko in a dashiki from time to time. Because, for them, it was a visible Political Statement, which is Not What Escapist Science Fiction Is Supposed To Be About.

At the same time, there are other examples of demonstrated racism in popular science fiction. Take the Pak'mara of Babylon 5. Repeatedly throughout the entirety of the series, they are referred to as the race it's essentially okay to be racist against. "Even the Pak'mara can do it! I was fine, except for the stench of the Pak'mara!" Yet very few people had difficulties with it - because it didn't visibly mirror actual racism they experience in their lives - unless they were intently watching, in which case they called it out as racist. Or in Battlestar Galactica - there is racism against people from different planets - but not skin tone, because that would be too obvious. (Although I wonder about the symbolism of putting people who are Other, people who are not True People, inside human skin, and then making them the evil enemy, even though they've been slaves for hundreds of years prior...but that's a tangent)

And when you have a large group made of white men -specifically, older white men- they are largely writing from their own experiences - which largely do not include the kind of subtle points that many now today think of racism. For them, racism is clear cut. It's de jure, not de facto. And it's not enough of an impact on their lives to make it the burning question that rides on their journey into the stars.

(Though I also wonder how much of this is the impact of the publishing houses. I have seen it suggested that it is harder to sell books with visible POC as protagonists.)
posted by corb at 6:53 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Question as someone who enjoys science fiction but who has had very little contact with the fanbase: is the problem the type of books being written or the type of people that enjoy them?

There's a difference between "fandom" and "people who like science fiction." (or fantasy, for that matter) I know people who consider themselves members of fandom who don't read sff but use offline fandom for socialization, and plenty of more people who love sff but don't consider themselves part of fandom. Either fandom was unwelcoming when they encountered it, or far more to the point, they didn't realize fandom existed. Fandom doesn't tend to publicize its activities outside of its normal haunts. I don't think I've seen convention posters or flyers in spaces outside specialist SF bookstores--not in chains, not at the generalist indies, not in libraries.

This is something that has actually come up as a problem to be noted in the activist community - that people who can afford to travel regularly to conventions and events are, due to a lot of factors including generational poverty, largely not POC and certainly not working class POC.

Not all conventions involve travel--there are a few urban areas, like the Twin Cities and Boston, with multiple conventions per year--but what they do involve usually are 3- or 4-day-long conventions, some in areas where public transport either does not serve or underserves (especially on weekends) and it's hard for working-class people, POC or otherwise, to take so much time off of work and waste gas that could be used for something else and go to something that 95% of the time has no child care or programming for under-16s, and then the place is filled with people who are patently Not Like You. And then you see posters for free or low-cost literary events when you go to the library, like the Twin Cities Book Festival, which is a one-day event, held on a weekend, usually in the city and on a bus line, with children's programming. (and I see one of this year's guests writes about black sff fandom culture, btw.)
posted by Electric Elf at 7:20 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have seen it suggested that it is harder to sell books with visible POC as protagonists.

It might not be harder to sell them, but I can absolutely believe that they believe it is harder to sell them.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:22 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ugh... when are they going to choose someone from outside the person-of-dweebitude community for their convention leader? Feeling pretty discriminated against over here.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:24 AM on August 28, 2013


> Going to cons–and Worldcon moreso–is a luxury activity. The truth is that most POC don’t have the disposable income.

>> people who can afford to travel regularly to conventions and events are, due to a lot of factors including generational poverty, largely not POC


It's fine and good to note how racial disparities in economics can end up excluding people from communities based solely on the costs of participation, but that's a problem (as you note) to be addressed. That initial SMOF quote though, feels like their defense is to say, "We're not racist, we're classist!"

They're also ignoring that plenty of POC do attend Cons, and this really gets to the heart of the "institutional" part of this. The SMOF is a small subset of self-selected people who do the job. I have very little doubt that when they go looking for a new people to help out they don't look very far beyond their own personal circles, which include a lot of White dudes of a certain age and mindset.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:25 AM on August 28, 2013


Don’t allow panels on Chinese and Indian SF to become discussions of how Chinese and Indian people can help white authors like David Brin to sell books.

I appreciate the sentiment, but the truth is that if you invite David Brin to speak, David Brin is going to discuss the most important thing to David Brin, which is David Brin and the books of David Brin.

****

Other than that, the author makes a very excellent point is that instutitionally, the fandoms are isolated from non-whites. And that there's nothing any individuals did wrong, exactly, but just that the structure of the social system resulted in this overwhelming whiteness. And that existing structure is going to maintain itself, and that's not going to change until there is some kind of proactive ("affirmative", even) action taken to attract and welcome others into the fandom and get them involved.

Buuuut.... fandom isn't a public trust. It's not a gateway into participation in the economy. It's a hobby taken up by an overwhelmingly white group as a pastime when more mainstream pastimes were unappealing or inaccessible to them. It's a social outlet, and social outlets work via network effects-- the more of your social group is present there, the more useful it becomes to you. Like I know why these fandoms are overwhelmingly white, I can see how it perpetuates itself, but there are lots of overwhelming white hobbies out there (eg, Lucille Ball conventions). The social isolation obviously causes them to go off in bad directions (The Song of the South debacle), and there are probably other institutional structures that make it less likely that POCs get involved as ground-level volunteers, but I don't see the racial makeup of the fandom changing in any significant way in the medium term.

Though I also wonder how much of this is the impact of the publishing houses.

And here's where things get dicey-- if the publishing houses are gearing their SF to appeal not to the wider audience of sci-fi readers but specifically to "the fandom" of the sort that patronizes conventions, then that is going to bring sci-fi down and turn it into even more of a white-people-fandom-ghetto.
posted by deanc at 7:36 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have seen it suggested that it is harder to sell books with visible POC as protagonists.)

Well, green or purple seems to be OK.


As a life long SF reader but not of the "fannish" persuasion, my few dips into fan conventions have left me not noticing not so much the white-breadishness but the extreme ingrown cliquish nerdiness; with the barest sprinkling of "characters" of various color and persuasion accepted almost as court jesters.

Occasionally I thought about "breaking in" to one of SF the groups, I expect like any close knit group it would just require showing up consistently, but as Electric Elf points out, there is a lot of "fandom" that has little or nothing to do with SF or science, some kind of purely insular fan to be a fan kind of thing, I mean just HUH?

As for Song of the South, there are certainly valid reasons and venues for showing it, but I expect someone in the inner group ran on to an available copy, noticed the rareness of showings and thought, hey cool "something no other group has", without being aware of issues or going to the effort of thing broadly.

Certainly with issues of abuse and privilege bubbling up all over in these communities it would seem to be a good time for the SMOF to make a blanket requirement for several panels at each and every convention to directly address issues of color and privilege for the foreseeable future.
posted by sammyo at 7:38 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the article blurs the lines a bit between symptoms and disease.

I think the fact that real-world social systems are just a massive set of feedback loops means the symptom/disease metaphor is of limited usefulness, especially in terms of drawing lines between one and the other.

Or: The symptoms foster the disease.
posted by PMdixon at 7:40 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not all conventions involve travel--there are a few urban areas, like the Twin Cities and Boston, with multiple conventions per year--but what they do involve usually are 3- or 4-day-long conventions, some in areas where public transport either does not serve or underserves (especially on weekends) and it's hard for working-class people, POC or otherwise, to take so much time off of work and waste gas that could be used for something else and go to something that 95% of the time has no child care or programming for under-16s, and then the place is filled with people who are patently Not Like You.

Yeah. 3 or 4 day long conventions, where people are expected to pay for hotel rooms - and conventions themselves are often pretty pricey - and the thing about childcare is absolutely real. I noticed it when I had a kid - even when they have "children's programming", you are expected to be with your kid at all times there. Which doesn't let people participate in other panels they may be more interested in. And it especially doesn't let people participate in the afterparties which is where most of the connections get made. I have never seen a con that offered even a paid on-site babysitting service for evening hours.

It's fine and good to note how racial disparities in economics can end up excluding people from communities based solely on the costs of participation, but that's a problem (as you note) to be addressed. That initial SMOF quote though, feels like their defense is to say, "We're not racist, we're classist!"

Yeah. I think part of the problem is also this inherent...I almost want to say democracy fetishization? Where people look at the cost of, saying, providing childcare or transportation services from the local bus stop, and think "Well it only applies to a few people, so why bother? Let's vote and see who this would apply to. Oh, barely anyone. Forget it."
posted by corb at 7:47 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Because all of the people in the above photo came up through fandom at a time when calls for greater inclusivity were met by concern trolling over the need to provide special food preparation areas for “Kosher Jews”.

I was slightly taken aback by that - fandom is/was antisemitic?
posted by Segundus at 7:48 AM on August 28, 2013


> [...] showing racist Disney movies in your film track, at child friendly times.

That would have been awful, which is why it isn't happening:
LoneStarCon 3 had previously announced a presentation of Disney's Song of the South, to be shown in conjunction with a talk about the period when the film was made, the historical reality of the time, and the changing perspectives of the film in the light of the Civil Rights movement.

We accept that while we fully intended to show the film in context, this was not adequately explained in the text published on our website and in our Pocket Program. Moreover, to continue showing the film in the light of the public concern expressed over the last few hours would send entirely the wrong messages about our event's commitment to diversity and inclusion. We will therefore no longer be presenting this film as part of our program.

We got this wrong, and we apologize unreservedly to anyone who has been offended, concerned, or in any way been given cause to doubt the welcome that LoneStarCon 3 will extend to all of our members next week. [source]
It's good to acknowledge the problems (in fandom in general, and Worldcon in particular). But it's also good to acknowledge the efforts to confront and correct them. The response in this case, IMHO, was timely and appropriate.
posted by sourcequench at 7:50 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's good to acknowledge the problems (in fandom in general, and Worldcon in particular). But it's also good to acknowledge the efforts to confront and correct them. The response in this case, IMHO, was timely and appropriate.

Considering that information is listed in the link from the comment you're quoting, it looks to me like they were describing the problems around doing it in the first place.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:53 AM on August 28, 2013


greater inclusivity were met by concern trolling over the need to provide special food preparation areas for “Kosher Jews”.

I was slightly taken aback by that - fandom is/was antisemitic?


No, I think the author is saying that making the space more welcoming to observant Jews don't count as "diversity". One of the more tiresome things about this article was the way the author actually quotes the potential rebuttals to his point, and doesn't bother responding to any of them.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:54 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not all conventions involve travel--there are a few urban areas, like the Twin Cities and Boston, with multiple conventions per year--but what they do involve usually are 3- or 4-day-long conventions, some in areas where public transport either does not serve or underserves (especially on weekends) and it's hard for working-class people, POC or otherwise, to take so much time off of work and waste gas that could be used for something else and go to something that 95% of the time has no child care or programming for under-16s, and then the place is filled with people who are patently Not Like You.
The root of the problem is not that conventions are designed to keep out low-income people. The root of the problem is that America is designed to keep low-income people away from the types of places where convention centers are likely be.
posted by deathpanels at 7:54 AM on August 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


corb: I think part of the problem is also this inherent...I almost want to say democracy fetishization? Where people look at the cost of, saying, providing childcare or transportation services from the local bus stop, and think "Well it only applies to a few people, so why bother? Let's vote and see who this would apply to. Oh, barely anyone. Forget it."

Wow. I had never identified this is a group processy pattern before, but as you describe it like that it seems really obvious and something that the norms of certain cultural groups are going to be very likely to lead to.
posted by PMdixon at 8:01 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The root of the problem is not that conventions are designed to keep out low-income people. The root of the problem is that America is designed to keep low-income people away from the types of places where convention centers are likely be.

It's more a choice of con hotel problems (or even having it at a hotel at all.) Most of the Boston cons today are right in Boston proper at convention centers or hotels right on or very near T stops. But then there's the exception, which is apparently exceptional indeed, out in an area where public transport doesn't go. I've been to some cons here in the Twin Cities at hotels very near the airport and Mall of America, both places very reachable by light rail or bus at almost all days and times (unless you're trying to get there or to during the window of about 2 to 4 AM) and I was just at a non-SF fandom convention last year in downtown Minneapolis. Both non-hotel convention centers in the Twin Cities are right in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, near bus lines. But most of the Cities' major sff cons are at this one hotel on the Bloomington-Edina border with no transport on the weekends or at convenient times and one of the cons is so big that it's impossible to park if you're not a guest at one of the convention hotels. So I stopped going, especially when they moved to a 4-day con. I work weekends. That time off on a holiday weekend (another thing working class folks get to do: work holidays!) is not happening.
posted by Electric Elf at 8:06 AM on August 28, 2013


I have seen it suggested that it is harder to sell books with visible POC as protagonists.

And efforts to de-pale the SF/F world can be met with whitewashing.
My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn't see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn't see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had "violet eyes"). It didn't even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn't they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?

[...]

I was never questioned about this by any editor. No objection was ever raised. I think this is greatly to the credit of my first editors at Parnassus and Atheneum, who bought the books before they had a reputation to carry them.

But I had endless trouble with cover art. Not on the great cover of the first edition—a strong, red-brown profile of Ged—or with Margaret Chodos Irvine's four fine paintings on the Atheneum hardcover set, but all too often. The first British Wizard was this pallid, droopy, lily-like guy—I screamed at sight of him.
This is of course Ursula K. Le Guin talking about the travesty the Sci-Fi channel made of Earthsea.
Gradually I got a little more clout, a little more say-so about covers. And very, very, very gradually publishers may be beginning to lose their blind fear of putting a nonwhite face on the cover of a book. "Hurts sales, hurts sales" is the mantra. Yeah, so? On my books, Ged with a white face is a lie, a betrayal—a betrayal of the book, and of the potential reader.

I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don't notice, don't care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being "colorblind." Nobody else does.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:06 AM on August 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


It might not be harder to sell them, but I can absolutely believe that they believe it is harder to sell them.

Well, that's a market opportunity if you think they're wrong.

And clearly, there are those who do, and good on them.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:21 AM on August 28, 2013


It is interesting (if distressing) to watch these sorts of feedback loops in place, and I can assure you, in some cases, they are deliberate, because it is a million times easier to wash your hands of a problem than actually deal with it.

I was involved for quite a long time with a playwriting conference, which I no longer participate in. Over their history, there has been a slight bias toward male writers. Very slight, but it means that over the course of the eight years the conference has been in place, had there been parity, there would have been enough additional women to make up an entire conference worth of women. Worse still, there is a subset of playwrights that the conference regards more highly -- they are called "mainstage playwrights," and, in the past few years, the number of women whose work is considered to be good enough to be a mainstage has dwindled to nonexistence. There was one last year. This year there were none.

This was pointed out to the conference's organizers, and their response was to poll the people who came this year to see what they think should be done. This was, of course, the same group that, as a whole, was about 75 percent male. They were unaware of the details, and so could not be expected to give an informed answer. And the question was essentially a push poll -- they were asked if things should stay the same way, or if quotas should be instituted, which is a question (especially when asked of a large number of white men) is liable to get an ambivalent response, at best. The conference is supposed to be a meritocracy, and they were repeatedly told that their plays got in because there were the best. Quotas could conceivably challenge the idea of a meritocracy! Additionally, in no way had this discussion, or the facts surrounding it, been introduced to the playwrights when the poll went out.

Never mind that nobody had suggested quotas. That there had been a number of people who participated in the conference who had made a number of suggestions, directly to the conference, outside the poll. One of the biggest issues is that the final decisions are made by two middle-aged white men, and often reflect their tastes and worldview. We recommended swapping out who makes this decision. We recommended having a rotating group of curators for the mainstage plays. There were dozens of other recommendations, none of which showed up on the poll.

As a result, the question went unanswered on the poll, or, if it was answered the answer was "just do things how you've been doing it." And so the conference organizers have given themselves an out -- they asked the participants, and were told what they were doing was just fine, and so nothing will change.

It's one of the reasons why, after eight years, I am done with this conference.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:27 AM on August 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


To be honest, the problem with science fiction conventions of the kind we're talking about here is that they're neither commercially staged nor government subsidised, so they're always trading expenses versus time and have to be held on weekends or holidays to even be able to get a hotel, when they're not in competition with much better paying commercial cons. The bigger they get, the less easy it is to find hotels willing and capable of holding them as well, which certainly was a problem for Eastercon, the annual British sf convention, a decade or so ago when there were perhaps half a dozen venues available.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:36 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know corb, those seem like reasons why someone (who had a particular interest in Disney or the work of Gregg Toland, say) might want to see Song of the South, but, as far as I know, it's not in Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will territory, where it's Important to the History of Film (in capital letters) and that's why it's shown.


I actually recently had a long discussion about Song of the South with a friend of mine, an American anthropologist who has studied slavery and Reconstruction extensively, and who is a white woman with biracial children. She actually owns a copy of the film, and has watched it with her children, but not for entertainment purposes.

Her argument is that the film IS important, but not to the history of film -- rather to the history of American racism, to the history of American whitewashing of the concerns and lives of people of color. When the film was made, there was a burgeoning racial civil rights movement, and enough time had passed since slavery that people's memories could get hazy; there wasn't the same ability to tell the immediate stories of people who were living in chattel slavery. And so, amidst the double-V movement and other early civil rights movements, Disney puts out this flick that says "Y'all, it wasn't so bad! What are you so mad about? We fed you, we clothed you, you sang such pretty songs! Frankly y'all sound pretty ungrateful right now -- Uncle Remus would be ashamed."'

It was done bluntly, because the 1940s were not exactly an era full of nuance when it came to film. But it is still done today, over and over and over again, with more subtlety -- and I think that history is incredibly relevant to the modern SF community, where authors tell fictional stories about fictional worlds in order to make real points about real people. SF always, ALWAYS has to be understood in relation to the period when it was written, because that forms the core of its identity; Tolkien was worried about the loss of rural England to industrialization, Heinlein was living in a world where gender roles and family expectations were changing very quickly, Asimov had seen technology become much more personal and space become much closer, etc. Song of the South is an important object lesson about using real people's stories for propaganda, and about how "gentle, harmless" portrayals can be anything but. I think they SHOULD show it at S/F cons -- but not as "hey look another old movie on the con channel, presented without context as entertainment."
posted by KathrynT at 8:39 AM on August 28, 2013 [24 favorites]


I expect like any close knit group it would just require showing up consistently, but as Electric Elf points out, there is a lot of "fandom" that has little or nothing to do with SF or science, some kind of purely insular fan to be a fan kind of thing, I mean just HUH?

You have to remember that fandom is old, having started in the 1920ties lettercols of Gernsback's pop science magazines, the first con held in 1936 in either England or the US, depending on who you believe and the culture that has grown up with it has its seeds in science fiction, but is not about being a fan of science fiction in the way that you could be a fan of a specific television show. There's more binding fans together than just being fan of something.

This is not unique to fandom, but science fiction fandom is the oldest and most developed form of fandom, hence it has much more of its own culture than younger forms of fandom. Hence the old trope about science fiction [1] fandom tolerating everybody, even people who actually read the stuff.

[1] never sci-fi, Forry Ackerman be damned.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:43 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


and I think that history is incredibly relevant to the modern SF community, where authors tell fictional stories about fictional worlds in order to make real points about real people.

This.

To be fair, in the end it turned out that the intention had been to present Song of the South in a more academic context that made clear its problems and why despite them/because of them it was an important if repugnant movie, but it was just handled cackhandedly.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:44 AM on August 28, 2013


I think they SHOULD show it at S/F cons -- but not as "hey look another old movie on the con channel, presented without context as entertainment."

There is a difference between a "convention" and a "conference." A "conference" is going to have a good and interesting discussion and presentation on how "Song of the South" was developed, its origins, and reactions to it. A "convention" focused on a "fandom" is going to attract a lot of "fans" of Song of the South who enjoy the movie for their opportunity to sing along and specialize in Uncle Remus cosplay (even if that isn't the intent).
posted by deanc at 8:52 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, I go to a shitload of conventions, fandom ones, or did before I had kids. I think this would be suitable for a panel in an S/F con, maybe presented alongside "Triumph of the Will" or "Alexander Nevsky" or another propaganda film.
posted by KathrynT at 8:54 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was, of course, the same group that, as a whole, was about 75 percent male.

I helped organize a queer literary conference for a few years in the late 90s. One of the pitfalls is that organizing stuff like this is (or should be) enormously time-consuming, and so it's easy to take the path of least resistance: you and your co-organizers create (boring, done-to-death) panels and invite people you know to be on them. The "people you know" are highly likely to be people just like you.

The lit conference I helped with was fortunately mostly beyond that. Coming up with good, interesting ideas for panels is hard. Coming up with people to talk on good, interesting panels who are not all the usual suspects is also more work than just inviting your friends, but it makes for such a better conference.
posted by rtha at 8:58 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah. 3 or 4 day long conventions, where people are expected to pay for hotel rooms - and conventions themselves are often pretty pricey

Yeah, word. Readercon (which I both love but acknowledge has a buttload of problems historically) is easily a thousand dollar event for me and the husband, despite the fact that my own ticket gets comped. It's in this ridiculously needlessly schmancy hotel and the easy food options are likewise upscale and overpriced and just, yeah.

It might be somewhat tangential, but I've been watching the various SMOF debates about YA and their belief that there shouldn't be a YA hugo with interest. The vast majority of SF/F children's and teen writers are women, and you very much get the sense that they don't want us--or the kids who read our books--at their cons. I can't help but think there's sexism in the form of literary snobbery behind it, but maybe I'm projecting or something, I dunno.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:12 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


The lit conference I helped with was fortunately mostly beyond that. Coming up with good, interesting ideas for panels is hard. Coming up with people to talk on good, interesting panels who are not all the usual suspects is also more work than just inviting your friends, but it makes for such a better conference.

I was at Necronomicon 2013, and they had a Lovecraft in Racism panel where a bunch of old white men (and one woman) pretty much told the audience that they didn't think Lovecraft was all that racist, and, anyway, he was a product of his time. Then one of them hauled out a bunch of racist jokes (under the cover of mocking "political correctness") at the Sunday morning entertainment. It was... dispiriting, and, I think, exactly a result of this problem. Programming is really hard, since youa re relying on guests and volunteers. The con-runners were pretty much all new, and, while they did really good work in a lot of places (the convention was better infused into the surrounding city than any other convention I have attended -- a bunch of local, unaffiliated venues put on themed shows and events), the programming seemed focused on getting "names" onto large panels rather than providing the widest range of views they could manage.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:27 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hanging on to a (mainly) print fanzine category while keeping out a YA category speaks a ton about ongoing cultural relevance, doesn't it?
posted by tyllwin at 9:29 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't know if they're worried about broader cultural relevance? The vibe I've gotten is that they're not really concerned with what will happen with the next generation of fans or the genre outside themselves. They're happy with fandom as a club for an elite few--namely their friends.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:56 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know if they're worried about broader cultural relevance? The vibe I've gotten is that they're not really concerned with what will happen with the next generation of fans or the genre outside themselves. They're happy with fandom as a club for an elite few--namely their friends.

From what I've seen there is the group of people that pay lip service to "the greying of fandom" as a concern, but people who actually have reason to be concerned - the publishers I've talked to, for example - aren't all that worried about fandom because the kids are reading and buying SF just fine, they're just not coming to traditional SF cons.

I went to Worldcon last year (and I'm going this year,) and what it resembled, to me, was the game developers' conferences I've been to, not the consumer conventions. It's entirely insiders, it's just that some insiders are "fans" in that particular SFnal sense, and some of them are "pros." The con doesn't sell anything to anybody new - it's not designed to, no one particularly wants it to, and it probably never will.

That doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile endeavor - professional conventions are totally valuable. But it means that comparing it to, say, Dragoncon is totally apples-and-oranges. The diversity problems at Worldcon and similar insider cons are an industry problem rather than a consumer problem (which makes it worse imo.)

Also this thread would be pointless if no one mentioned Con or Bust, a fundraising organization that gives scholorships for people of color to attend SF conventions. It's not nearly big or well-funded enough to solve the problem on its own, but it's doing good work.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:52 AM on August 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ugh. I may be obsessed with science fiction and enjoy consuming, discussing and creating it, but I have never been a huge fan of cloaking myself in it as an identity and wallowing around in it with tons of other people in a public venue. In a weird way I feel that kind of cheapens it, highlights all the ways in which it is also a commodity for sale.

That said, it is fun to participate in something you love with a group, though good number of white nerds aren't that nice to each other, let alone people they don't know and don't understand. I wholeheartedly support encouraging some rad under-priveleged kids of color to organize their own shindig and then not invite the white kids and then get confused and shrug when the white kids whine about not having been invited. "I mean, if your mom won't let you ride the bus into the Tenderloin to get to the venue then that's your problem, dude." But seriously, science fiction as a genre should be working harder to appeal to more people. Doctor Who's got the right idea with its racial/sexual inclusiveness, but the fact that people just kind of chuckle at the obviousness of the next Doctor being a white male British guy...meh. That sucks.
posted by Mooseli at 12:57 PM on August 28, 2013


I once went to a Worldcon that shared its space with some Baptist group. At switchover times you could stand in the intersections of the vast, echoing spaces and see files of skinny almost-totally Black Christians going to their events, intersecting herds of much heavier, almost-totally White SF-fans going to their events. You could separate them by color, weight, or directfulness; the two groups passed through each other and never merged.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:19 PM on August 28, 2013


I think there's a way to run "Song of the South" at a worldcon and have it not be "RACIST ENTERTAINMENT IS CLASSIC, Y'ALL" - show it as an example of "problematic things", as part of a larger conversation about older entertainment that's flamingly racist/sexist/offensive to the modern eye.[1] But I don't think mainstream fandom is ready for that conversation, yet - too advanced.

[1] Yeah, HP, you eldritch mofo, I'm looking at you.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2013


Definitely one of my weirder experiences was at Dragon*Con 98, which is already weird because it basically creates this oasis of white nerds in the middle of one of the most black cities in the country (although, going there, it's not hard to see how The Walking Dead got to where it is racially). But yeah, this band I used to hang out with was playing, and a Danzig-less Misfits were opening for them, and somehow I found myself surrounded by three or four skinheads who were, um, somewhat unpleasant. Eventually some people around me noticed and they got tossed, but yeah, that was my very first encounter with racist skinheads, in the Hyatt Grand Ballroom, in the middle of the largest concentration of nerds I'd ever experienced to that point, during an industrial/horrorcore show. It was pretty surreal and surprising. Well, it surprised me then. It doesn't even remotely surprise me now, which I don't think is a good thing.

That was also the same year that Anthony Daniels hosted a Dawn costume contest, which was basically an excuse for C3PO to make some of the lewdest comments allowed by city law and to fat-shame more than one person who didn't quite live up to the impossible standard. So, yeah. I admit I went for the titillation, because I was 19 and a horny idiot, but it got sufficiently lecherous and gross sufficiently fast that even my stupid ass had to leave partway through, because ick.

Anyway. That's not all of fandom, and I don't think the first part is necessarily representative (although the second part sure is, yuck), but I can attest to the fact that it's not just the secret masters of fandom who need to get a clue. When they make the argument that they're just playing to their fanbase, I think they are more right than perhaps they would want to be if they understood what that really meant.
posted by Errant at 6:34 PM on August 28, 2013


It might be somewhat tangential, but I've been watching the various SMOF debates about YA and their belief that there shouldn't be a YA hugo with interest. The vast majority of SF/F children's and teen writers are women, and you very much get the sense that they don't want us--or the kids who read our books--at their cons. I can't help but think there's sexism in the form of literary snobbery behind it, but maybe I'm projecting or something, I dunno.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi

Not only are the writers women, a number of readers are too. I'm in the middle of your book right now, and I doubt I'm the only adult reading it. There's even Forever YA for those of us who admit it. I don't see why adults stop reading well-written fiction, just because it's marketed to teens.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:30 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


a Danzig-less Misfits

an industrial/horrorcore show

Horrorpunk! Never, ever to be confused with horrorcore.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:49 PM on August 28, 2013


Well, they were terrible and the other thing sucked too, so I mentally gravitated to the worse one. Sorry.
posted by Errant at 1:59 AM on August 29, 2013


I noticed it when I had a kid - even when they have "children's programming", you are expected to be with your kid at all times there. Which doesn't let people participate in other panels they may be more interested in.

Children's programming is usually distinct from childcare, and whether kids can be left at children's programming while the parents do other things depends on the convention and the local regulations. Childcare/babysitting is generally separate and run by professionals. This year's Worldcon has both children's programming, and childcare which runs till midnight on the weekend so that parents can go to the evening events.
posted by penguinliz at 2:33 AM on August 29, 2013


I'm not even going to pretend that childcare until midnight isn't awesome and a huge step. I do think that $10-$12 an hour is hard for some people, but honestly even having it at all is a radical thing that was not happening back when I was attending conventions, and I do applaud them for having it.
posted by corb at 6:28 AM on August 29, 2013


I don't see why adults stop reading well-written fiction, just because it's marketed to teens.

It's not because it's marketed to teens it's because it's about teenagers and teenagers are boring as fuck. Or rather, I find the themes, plots, tropes and characterization prevalent in YA to be boring as fuck. Anyway, why would the Hugo's have a YA category, when they don't have a Best Romance or Best Mystery or Best Litfic? Sure, there's some sexism in the mix, but I don't see why YA should be treated differently from other non-sf genres. Nominate your favorite sf YA for Best Novel and cross your fingers.
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:30 AM on August 29, 2013


YA isn't a genre though.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:20 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re childcare, I don't know how it is in the US, but I remember the topic coming up at an Eastercon (the UK's national convention) and the organisers explaining it was too expensive and difficult to set up for a given convention, due to all sorts of legal restrains the con would need to adhere to, to be able to offer it.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:23 AM on August 29, 2013


YA isn't a genre though.

I think it is and wikipedia agrees with me, so clearly I'm right and you are wrooooooong.

/hamburger
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:57 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not because it's marketed to teens it's because it's about teenagers and teenagers are boring as fuck. Or rather, I find the themes, plots, tropes and characterization prevalent in YA to be boring as fuck. Anyway, why would the Hugo's have a YA category, when they don't have a Best Romance or Best Mystery or Best Litfic? Sure, there's some sexism in the mix, but I don't see why YA should be treated differently from other non-sf genres. Nominate your favorite sf YA for Best Novel and cross your fingers.

YA isn't considered a genre, it's an age category.

The problem with "just nominate YA novels!" is that the nominees and, more, the winners with children's books in hugo categories are almost always widely well-known as adult SF/F writers (Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, Mira Grant). There's a strong bias toward big names in adult SF/F which means that there are dozens of really amazing, incredibly solid YA genre novels--Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, a Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Adaptation by Malinda Lo--that would have absolutely no chance of winning despite being really masterful works of science fiction and fantasy.

Regardless of whether you find their protagonists boring. I mean, I find dudes with guns boring, but I accede that there are many plaudit-worthy works of science fiction featuring dudes with guns.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:07 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not because it's marketed to teens it's because it's about teenagers and teenagers are boring as fuck. Or rather, I find the themes, plots, tropes and characterization prevalent in YA to be boring as fuck.

My name is corb, and I read YA.

In all seriousness, I think that there's a lot of crap out there in YA, which makes people think that's all that is. But in fact, there's really, really great stuff. And YA actually often has to stand on its own merits more in interesting ways.
posted by corb at 12:12 PM on August 29, 2013


My name is KathrynT, and I read YA. I'm actually listening to the audiobook of The Hunger Games right now, and it is delightful -- I listen to it while I'm at the gym, and it makes two hours fly by.
posted by KathrynT at 2:25 PM on August 29, 2013


Regardless of whether you find their protagonists boring. I mean, I find dudes with guns boring, but I accede that there are many plaudit-worthy works of science fiction featuring dudes with guns.

Write and read your YA hearts out. I don't think YA shouldn't have a Hugo category because I think it's boring, it's because I think it's a genre. Yeah, it used to be fiction that was marketed to "young adult's" but it's evolved into it's own genre. Wikipedia tells me that "recent studies show that 55% of young-adult fiction is purchased by readers over 18 years of age and 78%" You can bet 55% of middle grade isn't being purchased by people over 12, cause that's still an age category and not a genre.
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:11 PM on August 29, 2013


So, a book about a generation ship with an increasingly dysfuctional culture reaching its destination planet and discovering its already occupied is not-SF? Why, exactly?

I'm not sure "I don't read this category but I have strong opinions about what it consists of" is a really strong position to argue from.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:27 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


That's not the definition used within the industry. Speaking as a YA author. Who has more in common in terms of the genre tropes she uses with adult SF/F authors than contemporary YA writers (as much as I love loads of contemporary YA).

I'm not sure "I don't read this category but I have strong opinions about what it consists of" is a really strong position to argue from.


Don't worry, it's the position most people have used to argue against the YA Hugo! Used to it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:28 PM on August 29, 2013


Which reminds me, I need to mark the business meetings on my Worldcon schedule.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:34 PM on August 29, 2013


Ooh, good idea. And for anyone else at Worldcon who's thinking of going, here are the details about when and where the business meetings are and what will be discussed there.
posted by moss at 7:13 PM on August 29, 2013


There's a strong bias toward big names in adult SF/F which means that there are dozens of really amazing, incredibly solid YA genre novels that would have absolutely no chance of winning despite being really masterful works of science fiction and fantasy

Well, yeah, but exactly the same would happen if a YA category was created. All the Hugo categories have a strong bias towards the big names.

(Also, since when is Seraphina YA?)
posted by ninebelow at 3:41 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seraphina has been blurbed by other YA authors, reviewed by the School Library Journal, and won the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which is for a first-time author writing for teens.

(Why were you wondering why it *isn't* YA?)
posted by rtha at 6:10 AM on August 30, 2013


I'm close friends with Rachel Hartman. She considers herself a YA writer, and her book was sold to a YA editor at a YA imprint (Random House Books for Young Readers).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:15 AM on August 30, 2013


Why were you wondering why it *isn't* YA?

Because there is nothing inside or outside the UK edition that suggests it is YA. Which just goes to prove the point above that YA isn't a genre but a marketing category.
posted by ninebelow at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2013


It was published in the UK by Doubleday Children's. Most YA novels don't look particularly different from their adult counterparts if we're just going by cover.

Anyway, it's a book about a teenage girl.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:30 AM on August 30, 2013


Well, in that case I guess my question is since when are all books about teenage girls YA? Seraphina strike me as much less YA than, for example, Mira Grant's Feed which was marketed as adult fiction.
posted by ninebelow at 7:43 AM on August 30, 2013


This is a weird derail. It's a book concerned with the coming-of-age and realization of identity of a teenage girl, written by an author who considers herself a YA author and who edited it with an editor who only acquires and edits children's books, published by YA imprints in both the US and the UK, and marketed widely as YA (book trailer and all). It's won several awards given specifically to YA and children's book writers. I don't imagine there was any stage of its conception, editing, or marketing when it wasn't considered a YA novel. Not all books about teenage girls are YA (Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld is one), but this one is.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:34 AM on August 30, 2013


We are off on a derail here, but the proposed YA Hugo category would require voters to decide what is YA when they nominate - if there is a book which is considered a YA novel at every stage of production, and seems obviously a YA novel to someone familiar with that process but a reader can be unaware that it is YA, then that suggests a potential issue to me. Although FWIW in this particular case I haven't read Seraphina yet but I was aware of it as a YA novel.

The YA Hugo proposal has failed this year.
posted by penguinliz at 8:41 AM on August 30, 2013


Sorry, didn't mean to derail, was just genuinely surprised.
posted by ninebelow at 9:00 AM on August 30, 2013


Is it any more unclear than, say, the definition of a novella? You provide guidelines for that definition (say, published as YA or MG under a YA imprint) and it becomes pretty clear.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:01 AM on August 30, 2013


So, a book about a generation ship with an increasingly dysfuctional culture reaching its destination planet and discovering its already occupied is not-SF? Why, exactly?

No, it's both YA and SF. Like Firefly is a Western and SF. And a lot of Bujold's work is Romance and SF.

I'm not sure "I don't read this category but I have strong opinions about what it consists of" is a really strong position to argue from.

Oh, it's totally not, but I wasn't really expecting argument with my first comment. I was mostly disagreeing with why people didn't read YA. The Hugo stuff was an afterthought.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:29 AM on August 30, 2013


You provide guidelines for that definition (say, published as YA or MG under a YA imprint) and it becomes pretty clear.

Leaving aside that MG doesn't seem to be a category in the UK, you get tricky cases like Ian McDonald's Planesrunner, or Kristen Cashore's trilogy, or Cory Doctorow's Pirate Cinema which are published by YA imprints in the US but released by non-YA F&SF imprints in the UK.

I'm mostly on the fence about a YA Hugo but I'd be interested to see a proposed set of guidelines. I'm wary that a YA Hugo could just become dominated by Gaiman, Doctorow, Scalzi, Mieville, Abercrombie, and any other big adult name who writes a YA novel that year, or get into weird situations where you split the nominations between the YA and the main best novel category and books end up being nominated in neither.
posted by penguinliz at 9:36 AM on August 30, 2013


Back on topic... My observations from someone who frequently "darkens up the Con"

Flip Answer: because that was the Worldcon held in Yokohama.

I used to say that you didn't see many black hockey players because of the cost of hockey equipment and black folk couldn't afford that cash outlay. That Changed.

And yes, going to Worldcon is expensive, usually costing me about 2 grand. I was only able to go to about 12 before I lost my well-paying job. Those included Glasgow and Yoko and the crowd was (as always) overwhelmingly white. I plan to go to London next year. We shall see what's up there.

Additionally, the crowd is older, with younger fans going to Anime and Comic book conventions where you have a (slightly) more mixed attendance. Worldcon is also increasingly about "the business of SF" so you see a lot of deals being made, from artist, writers, publishers etc. Another hotbed of diversity (not).

The SF fandom is also very cliquish hence the hilarious SMOF thing. Knowing the "proper form" is important to getting any thing done as I learned when I became chair of our local con. The SMOF idea isn't that much of a joke, turns out.

Finally, there is a significant time investment. Our Worldcon, Millennium Philcon took about 3 years to put together, from Bid parties to con end. Todd (whose face is obscured in the photo ?!?) did a lot of travel and spent a lot of cash as a part of the responsibilities of the position. Wage equality issues being what they are, this is another potential barrier.

So, yeah, there are problems, systemic problems. Nothing that can't be overcome tho'. As my Dad always said, you have to be in the system to change it.

(and a big thank you for putting the nigh suicidal thought of me organizing a Bid for us again. Thank you very little.)
posted by djrock3k at 9:41 AM on August 30, 2013


Who has more in common in terms of the genre tropes she uses with adult SF/F authors than contemporary YA writers (as much as I love loads of contemporary YA).

Here is what I'm not getting. What differentiates Romance* from YA* as far genre categorization goes? There is contemporary Romance and contemporary YA. There is SF romance, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and SF YA. So, I'm not understanding how everybody can agree that Romance is a distinct genre from SF despite how broad it is and how many different subgenres of Romance there are but yet that doesn't apply to YA.

*Romance - main plot is about two people getting together and their happily ever after.
*YA - main plot is about a teenager coming of age/growing up/grappling with life or metaphor for same
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:45 AM on August 30, 2013


I'm mostly on the fence about a YA Hugo but I'd be interested to see a proposed set of guidelines. I'm wary that a YA Hugo could just become dominated by Gaiman, Doctorow, Scalzi, Mieville, Abercrombie, and any other big adult name who writes a YA novel that year

Eh, that's precisely what already happens. I can't imagine the situation would make things worse. Already the Norton award has brought improved visibility to novels which likely would have never won genre awards, like EC Myers' Fair Coin. I honestly can't imagine how it could hurt and yet a lot of the hesitations are over perceived damage that would be done to YA, mostly (though not entirely) voiced by people who don't really read or write in the genre.

Here is what I'm not getting. What differentiates Romance* from YA* as far genre categorization goes? There is contemporary Romance and contemporary YA. There is SF romance, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and SF YA. So, I'm not understanding how everybody can agree that Romance is a distinct genre from SF despite how broad it is and how many different subgenres of Romance there are but yet that doesn't apply to YA.

Romance might be a distinct genre from SF, but you're right--there's SF romance and all sorts of fantasy romance. I would have no problem with instituting a Hugo sub-category for works that are both romance and SF/F, just like I have no problem with instituting a Hugo sub-category for works that are both YA and SF/F.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:48 AM on August 30, 2013


So reporting back, for those folks who aren't super-Twitter-tied to all of the workings of the Worldcon: the YA Hugo proposal got shot down in the preliminary meeting. That is, someone moved to remove it from consideration, and the motion passed. Now, I did not survive the whole thing (got that was boring and inexplicable) but someone asked about how to propose a committee to consider it, and I suspect that will happen if it hasn't already, and it's probably the right way forward given how split people are on the subject.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:46 PM on August 30, 2013


I was just trying to read about what happened on twitter but it was pretty incomprehensible.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:00 PM on August 30, 2013


I was there and it was pretty incomprehensible - they use Robert's Rules and clearly some of the long-timers know exactly how to play the game. But it sounds like they are actually putting together a committee.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:25 PM on August 30, 2013


I would have no problem with instituting a Hugo sub-category for works that are both romance and SF/F, just like I have no problem with instituting a Hugo sub-category for works that are both YA and SF/F.

Thanks, that clears up a lot.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:02 PM on August 30, 2013


it sounds like they are actually putting together a committee.

Is this like how it is when that happens in nonprofit land, where "putting together a committee" mean "burying it for another year and hoping it goes away"?
posted by corb at 11:28 PM on August 30, 2013


...Yes.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:27 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be honest, the Hugos could do with fewer rather than more categories, as so many are meaningless anyway, either things like best media representation where only the things everybody has seen can win, or so incredibly specialised that there's only a small clique of potential winners. A YA Hugo isn't going to help.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:43 AM on September 1, 2013


I dunno, I think it depends on the ultimate goal. I started listening to a bunch of podcasts last year after seeing how excited people were about the Squeecast (which is great.) I hadn't read any of the graphic novels nominated but I read Digger after it won, and again, fucking great. Neither category is all that deep right now, but the award is bringing at least some visibility to them.

People are talking about ways to broaden the voting base - I think doing that would help all of the categories (because, let's not kid ourselves, the Best Novel category isn't particularly deep either.) Right now the Hugo is minimally meaningful to people - it doesn't sell books according to the reports I've heard, and all the other categories are primarily insider egoboo. But narrowing it further isn't going to make any of them more meaningful.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:37 AM on September 1, 2013


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