I think there’re two lessons we’ve failed to pick up on, entirely, from the Jonathan Ross debacle that fired up and died down yesterday.
(TL;DR – UK chat show host is announced as Hugo MC. Twitter explodes. He withdraws.)
The first lesson is that people continue to believe that Science Fiction is a ‘Genre Ghetto’. That somehow Jonathan Ross could uplift us/market us/whatever, if he were hosting the Hugos. … Um, no. Firstly, the man could happily tweet/chat on television/etc about his science fictional fannish pursuits with or without the Hugos if he wanted to. Secondly, Genre Ghetto? Really? The top five highest grossing film franchises are: Harry Potter, James Bond, Marvel Comics, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, and Star Wars. ‘Real’ literary fiction doesn’t get a look in, and the only one of those series not directly pulled from a book (or comic book) was Star Wars. Doctor Who has taken the world by storm. These may not be books, but they’re cultural markers.
That science fiction is a ghetto is part of the same fannish fear that people will laugh at us that turns the furry fandom into a ghetto, albeit writ large and with about forty years more history behind it, but it’s just as absurd. People will look at you a little funny if you want to tell them about the deep facets of any genre/fandom. Science fiction isn’t a ghetto unless you, the fans, treat it like one. Don’t expect the average person on the street to ‘get’ the Jedi religion any more than you expect them to ‘get’ your very personal fondness for Mr. Darcy. (Neither of which are bad things, just seemingly absurd to the uninitiated!)
The second lesson is that we, the people who make up the science fiction fandom, are afraid. We’re afraid of marginalizing one another, we’re afraid of being marginalized (which is really where the ghetto fear comes from), we’re afraid that someone will humiliate us and make us feel bad about who we are. We’re afraid of being called out for the sin of ‘not being pro-diversity’, we’re afraid of not being as pro-diversity as we thought we were. Feminism, inclusion, alternative lifestyles, people in different places on the gender spectrum, these are major themes right now.
Now, Jonathan Ross clearly has a track record of saying things that upset people, which is unfortunate. But having an abrasive personality isn’t a crime. Equally, however, the Hugo awards are not an event for off-colour jokes (though he may well not have planned to make any at the ceremony). The Hugos, as has been said a couple of times, are a lifetime achievement kind of moment. We want the master of ceremonies to be someone who we respect, and who respects us. Unfortunately, the various twists and turns of Jonathan Ross’s career mean that he’s not a man we can unequivocally respect, especially given the issues that the tabloids like to smack around about him.
You’ve spent your life writing science fiction. This is your life’s passion. Do you want to be handed our highest accolade by a popular chat show host with an off-colour reputation which may or may not be entirely undeserved but it’s hard to say because nobody outside of the UK really knows much about him, or by someone who we can all respect? People intimately connected to us and who we are?
Chris Hadfield, if we could get him, would be perfect. Science fiction is the literature of dreamers, after all, and there’s a man who’s inspired the dreams of the world. There are a lot of other science and engineering types who might be perfect. We have many, many authors in-fandom with enough stature to make the moment meaningful. There are actors — and I don’t mean ones who are currently popular (Sorry Matt Smith), but ones who’ve made a deep impact on genre that’s resonated for decades. The Star Trek and Star Wars actors may be a little over-exploited, mind you — might seem a little kitsch.
You know why we want someone we can respect? It’s because we can respect those who’ve made us feel included. Those who leave us feeling like we’re all deserving of respect. And that’s something we value right now very, very highly.
Jonathan Ross has, in the past, left many people feeling like they are not included. Like they are to be ridiculed and shamed, not respected. And there is a place for that in society — the world is not all roses, and we humans laugh at some nasty things, and occasionally respect must be attacked and reconsidered because otherwise it’s blind and undeserved. Maybe he’s been tarred with a bad brush, but if that’s the case, and if he really does care about how the SF fandom’s many members feel about themselves, maybe he should try and engage with the current issues to build us all up rather than tear us down, but the Hugo awards are not the place to do that.
It’s not great that the fandom lashed out on twitter, and if he feels less included among us, frankly, that is unfair towards him. For my own part — I retweeted a bunch of stuff, mainly because I wanted to clarify to myself and anyone who follows me just what the hell was going on — I do apologise. But whether or not he had his heart set on handing out the Hugos, I don’t think he’s an appropriate luminary to set the example we want set for us right now. He just isn’t.
We are afraid. Jonathan Ross does not make us feel less afraid.
So. That’s my thinking on Jonathan Ross.
I finished the first draft of Dog Country. It racks up at 150 796 words. I will be letting it rest for awhile then try my hand at a second draft. Am playing around with ideas/planning/etc for side projects in the meanwhile. That’s about it.