Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #57

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We NEED To Talk About Worldcon (and the Hugo Awards, too)…

By Chris M. Barkley: This coming June, I will be celebrating my forty-fifth anniversary in science fiction fandom.

I have attended over two hundred conventions since 1976, including twenty-nine World Science Fiction conventions. I not only went to those Worldcons, I also had the pleasure of serving at a majority of them in some capacity, as a volunteer, staff member, office head or, in one instance at Chicon 2000, as a hotel liaison and a member of the Chair’s Staff.

Needless to say, I have witnessed or participated in a number of remarkable, bizarre and historic incidents during my tenure working at Worldcons. I not only know how the sausage was made, I helped make it as well.

Having been privy to what goes into producing a Worldcon, I have looked on in despair at the recent developments regarding this year’s Worldcon convention, DisCon III. The squabbling and outrage over the costs of the Hugo Award Pre-Ceremony Reception and the listing of nominees on the award might have gone as just business as usual if it hadn’t directly lead to the resignation of Co-Chair Colette Fozard and the designated Division Head, Jared Dashoff, who was to administer the 2021 Hugo Awards and site selection for the 2023 Worldcon. Ms. Fozard left over the vehement backlash and vicious personal attacks made against her and Mr. Dashoff (and the Hugo Administrator he was working with) resigned over the Convention Committee’s handling of the nomination controversy.   . 

And when you add the ongoing pandemic, the uncertainty over the prospects of holding an in-person convention by August AND recently announced bankruptcy of one of DisCon III main hotels, the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, it seems like a recipe for an epic disaster.

Yet, despite these setbacks and obstacles, my intuition tells me that these difficulties will be overcome and there will be a Worldcon in Washington D.C. Because any fannish historian will tell you that committees and veteran fan volunteers are determined and are not easily deterred.

But there is a deeper concern over the future of non-profit, fan run conventions.

The internet, the various new ways and forms of nearly instantaneous communications and the advent of social media have been a double edged sword for fandom and pose a vital question for fandom: Do the benefits of technology outweigh the darker, toxic effects of human interaction? And how long will it be before these complex volunteer endeavors become financially unviable.  

After decades of observation, it seems to me that the problems the World Science Fiction Society face are dogmatically systemic. 

To wit, all of those who either hold positions of authority in fandom for an inordinate amount of time have become so enamored with the way things have been done, over and over again, that they are unable, or unwilling, to evolve with the times.

We have built an elaborate web of fail-safes over time; the Fannish Inquisition, The annual WSFS Business Meeting, SMOFCon and its companion the email listserv, Connrunner.org and other various websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

And yet, Worldcons keep on making the same planning faux pas and blunders, and have subsequently been the victim of trolls, disruptors, outliers and racists. 

Clearly and obviously, some swift and decisive action needs to be taken.

And make no mistake about it; when fandom WANTS to be swift and decisive, they can. We only have to go back and see what happened during the Puppygate Crisis of the previous decade, in which divisive slate nominations and voting was effectively squashed.

THAT sort of dynamic action is needed, right now.

I offer the following recommendations:

  1. The next several Worldcons and bidding committees need to either hire or seek pro-bono help from professional convention consultants about our con-running standards, organizational planning and practices. I say this as an insider who has been volunteering at cons and Worldcons over since 1983. We NEED someone from the outside looking in because despite all of our efforts to run better conventions, we need someone to take a hard, objective look at what we do. Trying to reinvent the same wheel all over again with each new Worldcon committee isn’t very productive.
  2. There is  an overall and ongoing concern is the perpetuation of gatekeeping in  fandom. I know this, I’ve seen it in action and have had numerous, personal experiences myself. The fact is, those of us who have been in the vanguard of conrunning this past generation are all getting old. If we want our conventions and traditions to continue much past the current decade, we need to get more people involved in fandom who will be imbued with the enthusiasm to continue on. While self examination is certainly called for here, the need to be less dismissive of new ideas and people (and the perceived gatekeeping that goes along with it) is more important.
  3. We should amend the WSFS Constitution to allow the Business Meeting to occur outside of the realm of the main convention several times a year, either at SMOFCons, regional conventions, neutral sites not involved in a bid for a Worldcon or via Skype, Zoom or other meeting apps. These meetings should be widely publicized and open to the general public to attend in person or remotely. If anyone wanted to present business, raise objections or vote on motions, they would either have to be a current member of a Worldcon or be given the opportunity to buy a current supporting or attending membership. Of course, the main objections to this proposal would be that either it might be too complicated to accomplish OR bad actors may want to disrupt the process. I think that it is worth that risk to present what the Business meeting does transparently to the public and drum up support from those who may be unaware or curious about the Worldcon and the Hugo Awards. And who knows, perhaps some of those people will end up attending or helping current or future conventions. 
  4. I have either sponsored or instigated many changes in the Hugo Awards over the past twenty years. My goal was to help raise its profile to the world, to honor those who were not being given enough attention by fandom and to keep them viable in an increasingly crowded media landscape. It seemed obvious to me that as recently as five years ago, several categories, including the Best Dramatic Presentation, Editor, Artist and Related Work categories were badly in need of an overhaul due to the changing scope and presentations of the categories involved. Whether this would involve an expansion or retraction of the number of awards we give out is a serious issue that has been repeatedly postponed or regulated by committees by the Business Meeting for quite a while now. The needless quibbling over what should happen must come to an end and some definitive decisions need to be made. For the record, I agree that as many essential nominees should be listed on the nominating and final ballot. 
  5. As for the Hugo Award itself and the expenses they incur, I offer several options to consider: We can consider amending the WSFS Constitution to hold Worldcon on a biannual basis and consider a blanket two year period for nominations. If that idea is too radical, how about splitting all the categories up and awarding a set every other year? Or, if we choose, we can keep the current system but establish a copyrighted, affordable and standard base (using the Academy Awards Oscar base as an example) for future use. 

Now, I can imagine that some of the fannish pundits reading this have rejected nearly every suggestion I have outlined above out of hand. I will refer them back to the comment I made earlier about being more self critical and listening more.

My objective here is twofold; first, to get your attention and secondly, to tell as many people as possible that fandom has some big problems looming on the horizon. 

I have tried, at the WSFS Business Meetings, at conventions and throughout the columns I have written over the past few years in these columns, have either tried to present my experiences, offer solutions or, in this case, sound the alarm to a set of growing concerns.

After twenty years of either attending or offering legislation at the WSFS Business Meeting, I declared in 2019 that I would no longer attend, for reasons that I have outlined here in previous columns. I have taken up a new role.  

If fandom is a proverbial glass house, I’m the fellow chucking the rocks at the windows.

To get your attention. For our own good.

54 thoughts on “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #57

  1. @z!: Generally the persons cited as the nominees/winners in the Best Dramatic Presentation categories are the director(s) and writer(s) only; producers are generally not cited as such.

  2. @JoshuaK- I sit corrected :). The point is that those categories only list a very small subset of the overall contributors to the work, some of whom contribute quite a bit.

    The question becomes where and when to draw a line, and whether that needs to be a solid or fuzzy line. We’ve already effectively drawn a solid line for BDPs (writers/director); and arguably for non-English-language works where the work was translated to English (award to the original author, not to the translator). There may be other examples.

    What makes ‘zines different? Is it having the money to engage all of the people (DPs), or even commercial/professional vs labor-of-love? No idea, just trying ideas to see what fits.

  3. With a BDP-LF like Game of Thrones Season 1 in 2012, limiting it to writers and directors still ended up with a list of 9 names.

    Translators have received the Hugo too.

  4. Yes, Ken Liu won two Hugos for translated Liu Cixin and Hao Jinfang respectively and Lia Belt won a Hugo for translating Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s story. And honouring the translator along with the author is only fair, because a good translation aids and enhances a story, while a bad one can kill it.

    @Randy Smith
    That actually makes a lot of sense, because people tend to be late, get lost, miss instructions, etc… and locating a specific person at a Worldcon can be a challenge. The one time I attended a Hugo ceremony and reception, the representative for one finalist had forgotten the photo schedule. Luckily, I had stuffed mine into my evening bag and could help them out.

    And the name pronounciation issues at CoNZealand might have been avoided or at least minimised, if presenters and finalists had been able to talk beforehand. Though CoNZealand did have the info, it just never reached the presenters for some reason.

    Dublin was the only Hugo reception I attended (since CoNZealand didn’t have one) and there were definitely quite a few people there who were neither finalists nor accepters nor presenters nor plus ones. Most of them were industry people, editors, big name writers, etc… Some were also con staff, but since they may well have been there for work purposes. And everybody who was at the reception was definitely invited, because they not only had a checklist of names, but also didn’t let anybody attend the reception without the respective badge ribbon. I changed my plus one shortly before the ceremony, because my original plus one was in hospital and unable to attend, and they had to amend their list.

    I don’t necessarily want to kick out the industry folks either, because these people are big Worldcon supporters and usually were fans long before they were pros. But given the choice between a big name editor or writer who’s neither a finalist nor an accepter nor a presenter and who has attended umpteen Hugo ceremonies and receptions and the assistant editor of a semiprozine or fanzine on their first nomination, I’d let the latter attend over the former.

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