Jonathan Ross, The Hugos and the Twitterstorm

Jonathan Ross - Photo from Wikimedia CommonsSo Jonathan Ross was invited to host the Hugo Awards at WorldCon in London, but was forced to withdraw following a storm of outrage on Twitter. Since a tweet of mine got quoted by Bleeding Cool and makes it look as though I was part of the Twitter mob with torches and pitchforks, I thought I needed to make it clear where I stand.

The way so many people had a problem with a household name TV presenter from hosting a major science fiction awards ceremony must be seen in the context of the SF world’s ongoing civil war. On one side there are those believe the genre needs to be made more inclusive towards people who are not white and male, and it’s time to end the racism and sexism that has bedevilled the genre for years. One the other side are those who are concerned about threats to freedom of expression, and witch-hunts against individuals. It doesn’t help that there are a few unpleasant and poisonous individuals on both sides, whose behaviour reinforces the other sides’ conviction that they’re right.

I am not a fan of Jonathan Ross. Given some of his past behaviour, including his reputation for cruelty-based humour and his apparent attitude towards women, inviting such a divisive figure to host a flagship event was always going to be problematic. When one of the organising committee resigned in protest to his invitation, that ought to have been a warning sign that he might not have been quite the right person.

But the way events panned out, nobody comes out of this with any credit. The decision to invite him as host was spectacularly tone-deaf given the ongoing divisions in the SF world. But that doesn’t excuse the people who went on Twitter and attacked him personally with quite unnecessary levels of vitriol. And Ross himself didn’t respond to those attacks with good grace. The whole affair from beginning to end is a spectacular fail by the SFF community as a whole.

The public face of the SFF community is diminished by this. Anyone gleefully celebrating “victory” rather than seeing the whole affair as a tragedy needs to take a long hard look at themselves.

Addendum: There’s a lot of (mostly) level-headed discussion on the subject on Charlie Stross‘s blog.

Further Addendum: And a very insightful post from Foz Meadows laying a lot of the blame on the LonCon committee for the ham-fisted way they handled the initial announcement,

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10 Responses to Jonathan Ross, The Hugos and the Twitterstorm

  1. Jake says:

    I read through Bleeding Cool’s summary of what happened, and I am appalled at the behaviour to be honest. I am not a huge Ross fan either, but he has the credentials, is a seasoned host, and was doing the bloody thing for free.

    This is what happens when we try to bully a culture change into being, and you nailed it when you said that the face of the SFF community has been diminished by this.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Indeed. The whole thing has got too polarised, and positions too entrenched. I get the feeling that Outrage Warriors won’t be satisfied with anyone they don’t consider “One of us”.

    My guess is the replacement host will be someone bland and “safe”, who will be guaranteed not to say anything controversial, but won’t be remotely exciting either.

  3. Rich Johnston says:

    Here’s what gets me. “reputation for” and “apparent attitude towards” – none of these are actually true. And if “On one side there are those believe the genre needs to be made more inclusive towards people who are not white and male” I would argue that it is likely that more non-white and non-male people in the UK know and like the work of Jonathan Ross than any other available and willing candidate…

  4. Tim Hall says:

    Which is why I chose my words carefully.

    I don’t doubt that Ross’ negative reputation as a “bad person” is based on exaggerations and out-of-context quotes. But he’s made enough errors of judgement, most notably that prank call thing with Russell Brand, that I can understand why so many people find him problematic.

  5. Amadan says:

    Yeah, I don’t know this Ross dude, and maybe inviting a guy known for making fat and slut jokes was not the best choice for the Hugos. But the reaction of a certain subset of fans who seem determined to impose ideological purity tests on anyone who might come into contact with them quite disturbs me.

  6. Tim Hall says:

    It wasn’t just fans, a lot of them were published authors.

  7. Tim Hall says:

    Oh dear.

    After a week the backlash and the backlash against the backlash have left SFF fandom deeply polarised, which is just what I thought would happen. The “Social Justice Warriors” and the “Dudebros” (to use the words each “side” uses to describe the other) both seem to think events validate their chosen narrative, and neither is willing to countenance the idea that their might have been anything wrong with their own behaviour. The dreaded phrase “Tone Policing” is coming up rather a lot.

  8. Colum Paget says:

    # On one side there are those believe the genre needs to be made more
    # inclusive towards people who are not white and male, and its time to end
    # the racism and sexism that has bedevilled the genre for years. One the
    # other side are those who are concerned about threats to freedom of expression,
    # and witch-hunts against individuals.

    I think you paint too clear a divide. I’m fine with some limits on freedom of expression, but I think if you have witch-hunts (and we absolutely do) then you can’t make the genre more inclusive or safe for anyone. Once witch-hunts become the norm there will always be a reason found to attack people, regardless of who they are. We have created a culture in which bullying and name-calling are the way to get ahead and get noticed. ‘Inclusion’ of anyone will soon be forgotten when ‘radical bloggers’ are needing fresh victims to keep their profile up in the community.

    Colum

  9. Colum Paget says:

    # I would argue that it is likely that more non-white and non-male people in
    # the UK know and like the work of Jonathan Ross than any other available
    # and willing candidate

    that’s a very good point, although the point about Ross’s errors, notably ‘Sachsgate’ also rings true. But the thing is that we have someone where who I think most people in the UK, regardless of their age, race and gender, would be okay with, but the SF community isn’t okay with it. We say we’re trying to attract more people this way: who are these people? I think Ross might have attracted more people of allsorts than anyone else we could have gotten.

    And I think the radical political culture of SF scares more people, of all types, away from it than almost anything else. Well, no, that’s unfair, it’s not the radical politics itself, it’s the death-threats, witch-hunts and constant fighting. That doesn’t look good to the outside world, as we see with this event.

    Colum

  10. Colum Paget says:

    # Since a tweet of mine got quoted by Bleeding Cool and makes it look as though
    # I was part of the Twitter mob with torches and pitchforks,

    To be fair to all concerned, a lot of people probably thought that their one comment was just a comment to their followers. There are people in SF who are genuniely vicious, but a lot of what happens is the product of group effects, where everyone does a small thing and no-one realizes how they join up. But that’s how bullying often works, it can be almost unintentional where each person in the ‘attack’ thinks they’ve only done a mild thing, but to the person on the receiving end, they get the flood from many sources. It’s a kind of emotional DDOS attack.

    But this is common ground between the sides in this growing rift, because this is exactly how systemic prejudice works (or so I think). It’s not so much that there are many people who are outright bigotted, or that there’s an overarching conspiracy (as so many seem to think) it’s more that little things done by society or by many people add up to one continuous ‘big thing’ for the recipent.

    However, I don’t think anyone in the community can achieve common ground. The best thing that can happen now is schism, a total rift into two new communities. The gulf is far to large to be bridged, and things are getting unsafe.

    Colum

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