Cornell Apologizes for Smof Routine

Paul Cornell, LoneStarCon 3’s Toastmaster, has posted an apology for his Hugo Awards routine about “Smofs” and “Smurfs”.

“Smurfs” I need hardly explain. “Smofs” is an acronym for “Secret Masters of Fandom” that was coined as a pejorative but in the 1970s evolved into a humorous self-reference freely used by many sf conrunners.

However, as we have been going through an especially unhappy season with lots of blogging about the evil, nasty conrunners, some of which has been reported here, there’s been a trend back toward the word having a pejorative meaning in some circles. Cornell took inspiration from that for a string of jokes during the Hugo Ceremonies.

My immediate reaction as I listened to him tell the jokes was thud-thud-thud. I didn’t think it was a gracious way to treat the people putting on LoneStarCon 3 whose hospitality Cornell symbolized as Toastmaster. Yet what I’ve been reading online is so much worse I just stuffed it — I sent a mild joke to CoverItLive saying the material suited the blue background we were seeing on the broadcast.

On the other hand, some fans were apoplectic. One told Cornell to his face what he thought. Others explained their reaction in e-mails.

And now Cornell has done something you never see happen in the blogosphere. He apologized. He said, in part —

I think I broke two rules which I hold other people to, and it’s taken me days of searching my conscience to realise that.

Firstly, I always say that when someone tells you they’re offended, they’re not lying. One has to deal with the offence one has caused as real, and not regard such complaints as ill-conceived or somehow ‘wrong’. Many ‘smofs’ have written to me in support, saying they felt gently teased, that it was all in good fun, but the ones for whom it felt like a personal insult don’t deserve to have their feelings ignored.  One reaction is as ‘true’ as the other.

Secondly, while I’m sure there are those among the ranks of ‘Smofs’ who deserve a little satire, I’m also sure there are those who absolutely do not.  My error was to tar them all with the same brush, to not be precise, but instead to hurt a range of people through the term they identify with.  ‘Things are complicated’ as our heroes said in Knight and Squire.  I don’t like it when other groups are made into folk devils, but there I was doing it.  It’s terrifyingly easy and tempting to follow the crowd and go for that sort of laugh.  It’s also a very bad thing to do.

I’ve only quoted a little to give you an indication of what he felt. It’s worth your time to go over and read it in full.

3 thoughts on “Cornell Apologizes for Smof Routine

  1. “My immediate reaction as I listened to him tell the jokes was thud-thud-thud.”

    I didn’t see the ceremony myself, but I’m reminded of my review of the last Hugo ceremony I did attend: “Hugo ceremony hosts should be one of two things: either 1) funny or 2) aware that they aren’t funny. Being neither is not on.”

  2. Well, he got laughs from the part of the audience he was playing to. When a bunch of people are laughing, the joke teller is not going to wonder if his material is going over.

    The problem is they were laughing at the expense of fans who were working to put on the event.

    When I think about that I find myself on the verge of delivering one of Col. Nathan Jessup’s lines from A Few Good Men. Then I pause. And decide maybe I won’t jump the shark today….

  3. Given that his opening remarks were one of the few bits of the ceremony that streamed unimpeded by Internet gremlins, I can actually comment on them. The smof/smurf puns were a bit “meh” but I didn’t find them offensive. What I DID find annoying was the way he waded into fannish politics with a shout-out to a certain faction in a recent high-profile fannish battle.

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