Jonathan Ross and the Hugo awards: why was he forced out by science fiction's self-appointed gatekeepers?

The New Statesman has a great article regarding the Jonathan Ross debacle and its aftermath. Really worth a read, I think.

If I've learned anything these last few days (or, more exactly, received confirmation that it was indeed the case), it's that the supposedly open-minded and progressive and liberal people that make up the inner circles of the online SFF community are capable of an amount of fucktardness that could put some hardcore, Bible-waving, right-wing nut jobs to shame. . . :/ That and the fact that bestselling author Seanan McGuire is fat, or believes she is.

Hayley Campbell's article does a great job summarizing what took place over the weekend and the consequences of such a fiasco. Here are a few extracts:

On Saturday morning it was announced that Jonathan Ross would host this year’s ceremony at Loncon 3. By Saturday afternoon you might have heard of the Hugos, but not for the reasons that would have led you to finding new books, new authors, and new ideas. Bleeding Cool have a round up of what happened on Twitter: hurtful names were flung, people were “crying”, and the (vocal contingent of) the SFF community became a childish clubhouse hurling abuse from a crack in the door because they thought he would be mean to them if they let him in. They thought he would make fat jokes, be rude to women, disrespect the community and – as punishment not only for previous gaffes but for gaffes not yet made – he didn’t deserve the honour. Jonathan Ross resigned from his post after being called various words your office internet is likely to block and wished everybody a lovely convention. It was horrific to watch.


There’s also a cultural shift at work here: books like Game of Thrones mean that even people who would ordinarily avoid the SFF section of the bookshop (always the most well-organised part of any bookshop, and I’ll eat my face if you prove me wrong) are now interested in the same stuff that SFF convention-goers are. “Parts of SFF fandom are still very defensive about their relationship with the outside world and would rather their community stay small and overlooked,” said Morgan. “Some people appear to have been concerned at the level of publicity that Ross's presence would generate. Others were insistent that high profile jobs at the convention should only be given to people with a long track record in the community.”

But Jonathan Ross does have a long track record in the community.

Everybody in Britain who has ever picked up a paper has seen Ross labelled as controversial in the past – the curious can read the entire chapter devoted to it on his Wikipedia page, or trawl through hundreds of Daily Mail articles hounding the guy – but these are by no means things that would make him a bad host, a bad person, or a bad fit for the SFF community: he is part of it. Ross has been part of SFF since he began. He reads comics, he now writes comics, and his wife, Jane Goldman, has won a Hugo herself. As fantasy author Sarah Pinborough put it: “If the genre is a community, then he has earned his place within it.”


At Loncon’s request, Gaiman asked Ross to take the stage at this year’s Hugos. “I think Jonathan would have been an excellent host,” he told me. “One of the things Jonathan is great at is making a room full of people feel comfortable. To be a Hugo host you need to be genuine, funny, respectful – and he is respectful, while still being cheeky. Jonathan would do it better than I did. And he agreed to do it for free because he is SFF family.”

Despite this, a vocal contingent resorted to petty name-calling on the Internet. Does calling someone a “grating fatuous bellend” not count as bullying if your subject is famous? I call bullshit. Does saying horrible things about someone because you think they might possibly say horrible things about you make you the better person? In this tirade about insults and slights, nasty bullies with little self-awareness recast themselves as the victim.

“What was peculiar about the attacks was they had constructed an ad hominem straw man to attack, who was sexist, sizeist, hates women and likes making everyone feel bad,” said Gaiman. “It doesn’t bear any resemblance to Jonathan. While he has occasionally said things that make you go ‘Oh god, your mouth opened and that thing came out’, he is a consummate professional.”

(Regarding the “sizeist” accusation, here’s what Ross’ teenage daughter Honey Kinny tweeted to Seanan McGuire, the most vocal of the Twitter pitchfork mob: “I was horrified by your outrageous and unfounded assumption that my father would ever comment negatively on a woman’s body. I’m Jonathan’s overweight daughter and assure you that there are few men more kind & sensitive towards women’s body issues.” When I emailed asking McGuire to pinpoint a moment in which Ross had ever made a fat joke, I got no reply.)


Publisher and long-time SFF editor Jo Fletcher was appalled by the behaviour on Twitter. “Of course everyone has a right to his or her opinion, but when did that right give us carte blanche to fill the Twittersphere – and indeed, the Internet as a whole – with such vilification?," she wrote. "I do understand that some people feel very deeply that Ross was not a good choice to host the Hugos. I can see people are deeply offended by things he has done – but even more scarily, they are offended by things he is alleged to have done, which is not at all the same thing."

Damning him for things he has allegedly done and might possibly be about to do but had not yet done? It’s all a bit Minority Report.

“They’re my people,” said Gaiman. “And it does make me feel slightly ashamed of my tribe.”

Business-wise, what the genre has lost in losing Ross is pretty much incalculable. If he had hosted, and had tweeted about hosting, he would probably have also tweeted a congratulations or two which would have brought publicity to the winning book itself and the awards in general. Because while the Hugo is a big deal within the community, they are still for the most part in-house kudos that don’t tend to translate into book sales. Says Fletcher: “I've had several Hugo-winning authors (at different publishing houses), so maybe I've just been unlucky that sales were not affected one jot, but I doubt it. Everyone knows the Oscars, and the Brits, and the Costa. No one outside the genre community knows what the Hugos are. When someone like Neil Gaiman wins, then other people say, 'what's a Hugo then'? But that doesn't happen very often. Whether Jonathan Ross was the right presenter or not is open to debate; we'll now never know. But he would have brought a great deal of mainstream attention to the award, and I can't believe that would have been a bad thing.”


Follow this link to read the full article.

This is a veritable black eye for speculative fiction. Fortunately, the online SFF community and its inner circles make up for a relatively small percentage of science fiction and fantasy fandom as a whole. . .

14 commentaires:

Aidan Moher said...

"If I've learned anything these last few days (or, more exactly, received confirmation that it was indeed the case), it's that [...] bestselling author Seanan McGuire is fat, or believes she is."

What the fuck is wrong with you?

Patrick said...


I'm aware that you occasionally suffer from voluntary blindness when it comes to controversial issues. . .

Check the author's Twitter feed. She's the one who brought it up and who made such a big deal out of this. Before this fiasco, I would never have known anything about her size.

Her failure to offer a response to Ross' overweight daughter is also telling. . .

I couldn't care less about authors' waistlines, so nothing is wrong with me. McGuire is the one who made such a fuss about this. . .

Skip said...

"it's that the supposedly open-minded and progressive and liberal people that make up the inner circles of the online SFF community are capable of an amount of fucktardness that could put some hardcore, Bible-waving, right-wing nut jobs to shame. "

Nice bigotry there, Pat. But hey, at least you show your biases up front, so there is that. If you weren't aware that 'progressive and liberal' folks on the internet, in general are obnoxious fucktards to anyone who doesn't toe their ideological line, you simply haven't been paying attention. See, for example, the kerfuffle over the SFWA bulletin, the ritual shunning of Vox Day for exactly the same behavior that many of the folks who disagreed with him did, for SF-specific examples, and all you have to do is read any lefty blog that allows comments with your eyes open and you'll see an amount of bile-spewing vitriol that should make you want to shower.

What's interesting about this one is it's an example of progressives eating their own, as all such movements eventually start to do, when the boundaries of what's considered ideologically pure narrows.

Anonymous said...

You're right when you say that the SFF fandom at large probably will never even hear about this. I visit your blog about once a week and it's the only reason I know about this latest tempest in a teacup within the online community.

It's inane, if you ask me.:(

Paid a lot of money to go to the worldcon a few years ago and it was a total waste of my hard-earned cash. Ludicrous pissing contests like that won't encourage me to give this convention another shot...

By the way, is that woman fat or not? The link you included in that a other post of a few days ago made it look as though she had likely been the most vocal about all that crap, what with her being scared of being mocked because of her weight.


Unknown said...

First off, you have misread this article. McGuire did respond to Ross's daughter, even apologized to her. According to this article, McGuire didn't respond to the author of the article when she emailed her. Being that McGuire is notoriously slow to answer emails, and she probably was hit with tons, this really means nothing.

Secondly, McGuire never said she was fat. She said she feared she would be called fat. This is a subtle distinction but one that should be made. You can be comfortable with your own body size, yet fear someone will ridicule you in public for it.

I'm not sure why people have specifically targeted McGuire on this. He reaction came hours after people like Charlie Stross publicly denounced the decision. And unlike Stross, she never directed her comments to Ross. All she did was write about her initial fears, whether they were founded or not, this isn't bullying. People are judging so many people for their reaction to Ross based solely on one source, yet so many are attacking McGuire for a series of tweets that came well after many members of the community were already up in arms about it.

This story is much more complex than the Statesman article implies. The chair of the con made a controversial decision, without consulting the anyone else, and not considering the climate of the community. There were knee jerk reactions on both sides of this issue. Ross was hounded, yet, but not by McGuire, and what "bullying" that may have happened doesn't negate the fact that their were legitimate concerns to the choice of Ross.

I'm aware that many of your readers may have been unaware of the situation, so perhaps the thing to do is to give them all the information and not one completely bare bones slanted article.

MarkS said...

Well said, Pat. The online SFF community is often waved by the tail, pushed by the cart..etc. As you say there is a very vocal minority (as there is in many online communities) that feeds on outrage, whether righteous or not, and is thrilled at the next opportunity to fly off the handle.

The Ross incident is a black-eye on our community.

cabert said...

I think it's important to tease this apart into its different parts. The SFF community is currently undergoing a cultural shift to become more inclusive, but that's getting rolled into a lot of other details as though it doesn't matter.

First off, if the prospective host was indeed a racist, sexist bigot who is likely to make racist, sexist jokes at the expensive of the less privileged components of SFF fandom, then it does make sense that those minorities (and their allies) would speak up and demand a change. This is the cultural shift that I am talking about - that people are finally speaking up when women and POC are being discriminated against and marginalized.

Secondly, if those people who complained about the choice of host did not do so politely enough for your taste, then what you are really making is called a tone argument. Feel free to google that term on your own. A tone argument would not be valid, so you really don't have a case here. Granted that adult human beings should always be kind and considerate to adult human beings, they are not required to do so when they are anticipating being harmed.

Now you can argue about several things that may or may not be making a good point in relation to this discussion:
1) Jonathan Ross may not be the racist, sexist bigot that he was made out to be. In this case, the people raising a ruckus would be in the wrong. I don't know anything about the man so I can't make an informed opinion. I'm sure you've already made your own. With that said, given Gaiman's best defense of Ross is that he might utter something that would make one react ‘Oh god, your mouth opened and that thing came out', then my guess is Ross might not be the angel he is made out to be by some people quoted in the Statesman article.
2) The article claims that critics of Ross were guilty of ad hominem attacks by name-calling. This is another judgment call - if you call someone sexist because they said something sexist, is that name calling? If you call someone a three-toed newt with inferior testicles, then that's clearly name calling. In any case, an actual ad hominem attack would put the Ross detractors in the wrong.
3) None of the Ross detractors should ever have attacked Ross' family. That was clearly wrong.
4) I think intimations that criticisms of Ross had to do with fandom gatekeeping are a red herring. Its like saying what matters is that the host used to be a popular guy and all us SFF fans are geeks, so we don't want to hang out around formerly popular guys. But what they're really saying is this popular guy likes to make fun of women and make fat jokes, and that's not acceptable. It's the content that matters.

I like Kameron Hurley's explanation best, for those who agree with the Statesman article. It's called "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: On Empathy and the Power of Privilege."

James said...

cabert, it isn't okay to attack people because you think they might attack you. this was a black eye on the sff community. hopefully next time the progressives will be a little more inclusive.

Adam Whitehead said...

Both the Bleeding Cool and New Statesmen articles were biased travesties (the Bleeding Cool one ludicrously so), refusing to offer context, painting the tiny minority of people who did get nasty with Ross as representative of the majority (and, for the most part, not mentioning Ross's own insulting and unpleasant Tweets that fuelled the debacle) and, generally, not doing anything more than skimming the surface issues involved. I particularly liked how they indicated that Paul Cornell was supportive of Ross, when earlier in the day Cornell had been tweeting that he didn't think it was a good idea and urged LonCon to find someone else (though always very politely). That's outright dishonesty on the part of both articles.

As I've said with regard to this situation, the problem wasn't so much with Ross himself (although he is, as the years go by, increasingly unfunny individual whose comic persona is based around insults) but with the timing.

For the past few years, SFF has been cleaning house, booting out the misogyny and racism that has plagued the genre in recent decades and has faced an uphill battle to do so, with a number of dinosaurs doing their best to claim their right to be as vile and callous to people as they want and retreating behind the fake shield of 'PC' anyone calls them on it. That has nothing to do with Ross per se, but for the LonCon organisers to, in the middle of all of that, host someone who American audiences will largely be familiar with from their Wikipedia page (where the 'Controversy' section is quite long and involved) was breathtakingly short-sighted. Ten years ago Ross would have been fine. Five years down the road, he'll probably be fine. Right now, it was chucking a loaded hand grenade into the back of a fuel tanker.

And as mentioned above, McGuire apologised to Ross's daughter fairly soon after the comments were made and they had a good, honest and reasonable conversation about it all. I think it would be a good idea to amend the blog post to reflect that.

Adam Whitehead said...

"I don't know anything about the man so I can't make an informed opinion."

Ross made a racist joke to Madonna about her adopted kids, told Gwyneth Paltrow he'd like to have sex with her (but not as politely) on his TV show, harrassed an elderly actor by leaving sexist voicemails about his granddaughter (and his apology was, to put it mildly, hollow at best, based on how he's joked about it since), took the mickey out of Heather Mills based on her disability and has made jokes about people being fat, although, to be fair, generally to fat comedians who've come right back at him with comments about his speech impediment (Ross has a slight lisp and struggles with pronouncing the letter 'R', hence his nickname 'Wossy'). Ross also has a reputation for being a variable live performer: he hosted the Channel 4 Comedy Awards last year and it was a shambolic disaster.

On the plus side of things, he did once stand up to BBC Radio for not hiring black presenters, he has played a huge role in getting things like comics, anime and SFF in general covered in the UK, is a huge proponent and fan of GAME OF THRONES (GoT airs on a small satellite channel in the UK and it's Ross's coverage and those of a few other celebs which has given it a higher profile than it would otherwise have). His wife, Jane Goldman, is the writer or co-writer of the movies X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, STARDUST and KICK-ASS, which have all been well-received. Also, he has presented the Eisner Awards (for comics) and done very well at it. He also used to present the BBC's very serious FILM programme and surprised everyone by being very good at it for almost a decade.

Like most people, he has done and said good and bad things. The difference is related to his comic persona, where he relies much more heavily on controversial material. It's that persona which he mostly uses for live events and on his TV chat show, and what people had issues with.

cabert said...

James said:

"cabert, it isn't okay to attack people because you think they might attack you"

I think I pointed out that I didn't find certain kinds of attacks ethical. Such as attacking Ross' family, for example. Or actual name calling.

But defending oneself in advance of anticipated harm actually is ethical, in my opinion. I hate to make this a toy example, but let's consider the most extreme and least extreme example.

Most extreme: Someone breaks into your home and points a gun at your face. You hear the noise and also have a gun in your hand by the time he breaks through the door. Is it ethical to shoot the person before they shoot you? Most people would say yes, perhaps you disagree.

Let's take the least extreme example. Suppose you go to high school and a kid there is a bully who torments you by calling you names, making jokes at the expense of your size, race, or gender, and generally being a jerk whenever you're around. The next day you go to school, is it ethical to verbally (not physically) attack that person first before he has the chance to speak? I also think this depends on the person and the exact situation. I allow that your ethics may differ from mine, but in the case where a clear record of bullying is at hand, I think it would be ethical to defend oneself verbally but not physically and without creating any lasting harm. I feel like the Ross detractors match most closely this least extreme example, but I used a more extreme example in order to illustrate the moral axis I'm working along.

Human intuition about when it is possible to exercise self defense and how far that self defense may go actually does vary depending upon the situation and the culture. You might want to examine The Trolley Problem in philosophy for some more thinking experiments along these lines.

James said...

cabert nothing like anything you described happened to anyone involved by Wossy. what you are are espousing is Cobrakai philosophy: strike hard! strike first! no mercy sir!

Colum said...

# For the past few years, SFF has been cleaning
# house, booting out the misogyny and racism
# that has plagued the genre in recent decades
# and has faced an uphill battle to do so, with a
# number of dinosaurs doing their best to claim
# their right to be as vile and callous to people
# as they want and retreating behind the fake
# shield of 'PC' anyone calls them on it.

Don't believe the hype.

That doesn't gel so much with my experience. I've been accused of 'cultural appropriation' because a character in a story of mine was sitting on a batik cushion. I've had someone call for me to be beheaded. I've been accused of racism and mysogyny and alsorts, and am actually now intending to consult a lawyer on my position as regard libel going forwards, just so I know what my rights are (or aren't).

The problem with a lot of this 'we're kicking out racist/sexist dinosaurs', is that something is only racist or sexist when someone decides so. So, for instance, in the case of one story I wrote (the one the won the james white award) someone critiqued it saying that one of the characters was a racist stereotype speaking in 'ebonics'. Actually the character was of no fixed race, and was speaking in the argot of machine intelligences who speak by 'cutting words out of the buzz of the nets' and stringing them into sentences (there was even a rough form of grammar that I worked out, but I had to 'fuzz' it a bit because... well, they all came out sounding like Yoda).

Fortunately I was able to defend myself and my work from these accusations, so it didn't snowball into the usual 'pile on', (though other things would) but my defence rested on two lines in the story that I might have cut, as they didn't carry so much weight. What would have happened if I had have cut those lines? I guess I'd have been one of your dinosaurs to be 'cleaned out'.

Cardinal Richelu once said: "Give me five lines in the hand of an honest man, and I will find therin some reason to hang him."

In the four years that I've been involved in SF, I've seen my fellow writers attacked, experienced it myself, seen all kinds of hate and bigotry coming from the so-called 'progressives' (normally under cover of humor), I've discovered that things I believed and repeated about people were lies (or seem to be, you neven can know these days) I've had people tell me to my fact that my skin color and gender mean I've no right to an opinion (I should point out that the speaker had the same skin color and gender as I). All in all I've seen precious little of the 'tolerant, safe community' that SF paints itself as. Seeking to create utopia we seem to have created an Orwellian dystopia.

This harms everyone. We are training people to think they can be as extreme and aggressive as they like, so long as they claim that they're doing so from a 'progressive' platform. Outside of the community, these tactics are a recipie for disaster.

I have even seen open racial/gender hate in the form of the 'all men are rapists' slander and '(white) immigrants should just go home'. The latter statement is particularly interesting, because presuably the same person who would defend a (say) Ukrainian migrant from such attacks if they were in the UK, would make the attacks if the same person moved to China.

SF has created a culture that allows some people to say whatever they like, and silences others. This warps people, because they are allowed to go to ever more extreme positions of belief, because there is no counterveilling argument allowed.

Rossgate is a glimpse of what we are turning ourselves into, people who are angry by default, and shoot first and ask questions later.

Colum said...

#But defending oneself in advance of
# anticipated harm actually is ethical,
#in my opinion. I hate to make this a
# toy example, but let's consider the
# most extreme and least extreme example.

# Most extreme: Someone breaks into your
# home and points a gun at your face.

No, the most extreme example is that you start killing random people in the street because they might do you harm, either there or then, or in the future. That's defending yourself from 'anticipated harm'.

In the example you give, the person has already broken the law by entering your home, and is pointing a lethal weapon in your face. Both these could be claimed to be harm, and a threatening act is in process.

There is a name for 'defending yourself from anticipated harm', it's called 'aggression'.

I do not think Ross has broken into SF's home, even metaphorically.

I agree with you that Ross has had his share of mistakes in the past, but then so have most people. I also agree that he may not have been a good choice for the role. I do also think that twitter, as a platform, has a lot to answer for what happened.

But SF has trained it's members to think ill of people by default, and go for the juggler from the outset, and rage about in angry packs. Perhaps it has done this in response to a previous incarnation, but it seems to have become the mirror image of what it opposes.

# Five years down the road, he'll probably
# be fine.

Why do you think this? I think that five years down the line the culture will be more extreme, and the fallout from the regular train-wrecks will be worse. Currently about the best way to get attention in the community is by attacking others.

I'm not casting aspertions on any individuals here, everyone is a victim of an emergent culture that encourages aggressive behavior and name-calling, but we need to admit that things are going awry, and rethink how we make a community that isn't safe just for this or that group, but for everyone, because a community that isn't safe for all, ultimately winds up being safe for none.