There’s the minority view that SF/F fandom has been taken over by a raving bunch of politically correct, group thinking, communist leaning straw-people who are looking to take the fun and misogyny out of the genre. Then there’s the more mainstream view that fandom is facing an existential crisis as it lurches from one fight to the next.
There’s no doubt that since Race Fail 2009 – an eternity ago in internet time – that the fights and the flamewars and the anger have grown in frequency and volume. The fallout has also been worse. This is not a game of cricket where everyone shakes hands at the end of the match, even if they’ve been at each other’s throats for the last six hours. In the current age of internet controversy, friendships are sundered and the divisions between groups grow wider.
Fucking depressing, isn’t it.
Personally, I this it’s wonderful.
Each of these fights, with their passion and their vitriol, is a sign of a fandom that’s not only alive but is thriving. Because why rip your clothes and starting Hulking out against anyone who might disagree with you if you didn’t give a shit. The response to this is that people, deep down, actually don’t care but the heightened environment of the internet has drawn us into these arguments because we’re bored at work and internet fights are wonderfully distracting. And I’d believe that argument if these fights ran for short periods during work hours. But they don’t. They go on and on, with each day bringing to us a new blog post or tweet that either adds to the fire or tries to explain it.
We do care. We give a shit. Because we love the genre and whether we’re libertarian or a social justice warrior or whatever, we want our view of fandom to prevail. If we didn’t have these fights, if everything was quiet and nice and we were all living in a rosy utopia where Regency fantasies and Military SF can live in harmony then we can be sure that the genre and the fandom was well and truly fucked.
For me, I love these stoushes because they give me an opportunity to check my prejudices to interrogate my own beliefs. RaceFail was a pivotal moment for me in terms of my engagement with the genre. At the age of 35 I thought I had my ducks in a row, but RaceFail scattered those ducks leaving me naked and scared and not entirely sure how I should react to the idea of cultural appropriation. Add on all the gender discussion that’s happened since and, as Jonathan McCalmont has pointed out, I’ve transformed from an innocent man-child into someone who appreciates and understands the complexities of gender and appropriation and identity within the genre (and outside it as well).
Each fight asks me to check those assumptions. And I do. Even if sometimes I fall between two positions. Even if I believe that Jonathan Ross would have been an interesting choice as a Hugo presenter while accepting that he was going to anger and piss off allot of people for good reason.
The other thing is that each of these fights and spats sparks some magnificent writing on the part of our best bloggers. Take this recent example from Abigail Nussbaum on award pimping / promotion. Well considered, well argued. Articles like this ensure that in between the shouting and the screaming smart people are continuing the dialogue and deconstructing the real issues at hand.
So my view is don’t be depressed when a new fight starts. Instead use it to check your own prejudices by considering the opposing view. And yes, send the odd hilarious tweet, because we can’t always take ourselves seriously. But most of all don’t see each fight as another nail in fandom’s coffin. Instead see it for what it is. People who give a shit and being passionate for the thing they love.