Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Guest Post: Puppies Crying Bitter Tears

Description: Screenshot of tweets with hashtag "New Hugo
Categories" from Foz &Arthur Chu: "Best UNcritical Use of
1950s Gender Roles In Story Set 2000 Years In Future", "Best
Non-White Protagonist Portrayed By White Model On Cover" &
"The Dan Simmons Award For Best Time Traveller From
Future Telling You All Your Political Opinions Are Right".
Friend of the blog Ria, of Bibliotropic, had a lot to say about the spate of what the Puppies rhetoric has meant for them  personally as well as the field of writing in general recently. The Code is proud to present the following guest post from Ria. I also stand by everything they say here. Warning: contans swears.

"I dislike the both Puppy litter ideologies. I talked a bit about why last year, long before this current Puppy debacle began, with a post about Correia's comments on diversity in SFF. For those who don't want to read a long post about it, in a nutshell, someone who is now very strongly identified with the Puppies said, a while back, that including nonbinary characters and other forms of diversity in SFF would make for bad fiction, because doing so would come across solely as message fiction and remove any entertainment value. I objected to that, since what that amounts to in a practical sense is to erase people like me from having representation in fiction. The insinuation is that people such as myself aren't of any real value to have our stories, nor does anyone want to actually read about us or have us around. It's insulting, and it's dehumanizing.

So when this round of Puppy problems started, I admit I was already pretty inclined to dislike them, given that my experience of one of their figureheads was that he thinks people like me shouldn't play a central role in his beloved genre. And the more I read about what they stood for, the more my hackles rose. Accusations that women, people of colour, QUILTBAG folk were only getting nominations for awards due to affirmative action are galling, since what they essentially say is that these people getting nominations aren't actually as good as that straight white male over there and are only getting nominated because of quotas that need filling. If it wasn't for those quotas, that nomination would rightfully go to a dude. Comments that because certain of their books or series were popular with a certain crowd and sold well, they should totally be eligible for more award nominations. (Because quantity equals quality, I guess.)

There may be no AWARD for such well-selling books, but there is a REWARD. It's called a paycheque. A paycheque you get for doing a thing you love, which is something many people don't get to experience in their lives. That isn't to say that people with well-selling books don't deserve more than a simple paycheque. It's awesome to have fans, fan experiences, interaction, the knowledge that you're doing something people enjoy. Maybe there ought to be an award for the SFF book that sells the most copies in a year, I dunno. (Then, I suspect, there'd be a cry-out about how books released toward the end of a year just didn't have a chance, and look how many they sold the next year, so they should totally have won that award after all. Nobody gets everything.)

The problem I see with most of the Puppy stuff is that their message seems very unclear. First it appeared to be, "The Hugos are a stupid award full of politics I disagree with and all given to books I don't want to write or read. ...So how come I never win one?" Then it started to be about affirmative action accusations, about women and non-white and non-straight people swooping in and stealing awards that should go to more deserving folk. Then the hypocrisies really started coming to light, where Puppies would insult authors they disagreed with, very personally, but as soon as there was any retaliation against even their politics they'd cry defamation and abuse. At the end of it all, what I can see is that the Puppies stand for only the Puppies, and to hell with anything else. And by "to hell with," I mean largely that they'll insult and threaten people who don't toe the Puppy party line. it's fine and dandy for someone to come in and defend the Puppies and say, "Look, all they're saying is that they think their works should be judged as being just as valid as anyone else's, and that people are free to do as they please so long as he can do the same."

Sounds good on paper. And utterly out of context.

Because major Puppy authors are being allowed to write and publish the books they do. They're not being blocked from selling them. They may not qualify for awards, but hell, so do the vast majority of books published in a year. Big damn deal. The idea that everyone should have an award is a very liberal thing, and given that the Puppies seem to have a beef with politically liberal things, you'd think they'd be a bit more on board with a meritocracy. Nobody is imposing their ideals on the Puppies. The world can, amazingly, have multiple things in it, some of which by default disagree with other things. But the accusations made by them are harmful. Painful. Dismissive. And are largely focused on gender issues, sexuality, race, and a whole load of other things that make people say yes, there's some godsdamn bigotry happening here.

People love to say that so-and-so can't possibly be racist because they have black friends. Okay, so, by that logic, no heterosexual man can be sexist if they're married to a woman. Oh, wait, LOGIC DOES NOT COMPUTE! Someone can have black friends and still be racist. And since what a person writes and what a person believes aren't always walking along hand-in-hand, a person can also write about a black woman being just as kick-ass as a white man, but when they throw out n-word jokes at parties, sorry, that's still being racist.

I think some of the major Puppy supporters miss what a lot of people miss about prejudice. They hear the word sexism and assume that sexism comes in only one form: overt. You're only really sexist if you state that women are inferior to men and they shouldn't be allowed to do man things and should stay at home and quietly raise the kids. If you don't believe that, then you're totes not sexist. Except that sexism can also come in the form of believing that a woman only got an award nomination because she's a woman, which has the unspoken opinion that she didn't get it because she did something worthwhile. And since gender is brought into it, what's also unspoken is that she didn't do something as well as a man. Which means the award should rightfully go to men.

Sometimes bigotry is about what you don't say. It's about what you don't even think consciously. Sometimes this shit is so ingrained in you, thanks to a hundred and one different factors, that you don't even realise you're denigrating someone. Likewise, with racism and thinking you're only a racist if you want to bring back lynchings and banning black people from being around white people. There's no other way to be racist. Except that there is, and many of the Puppy opinions about race are very damn racist.

Surely there's going to be someone who wants to jump in and say, "Oh, fine, so you think all straight white men are worthless and wrong all the time, then." And no, I don't. And it's just a little bit ridiculous to say so. It's a bizarre extrapolation from my arguments. The fact that some straight white men have done some shitty-ass things doesn't make them wrong about everything. Just in the same way that I'm transgender doesn't make me right about everything. Including things involving gender politics.

Changing the subject a little, another thing that weirds me out about Puppy stuff? The way they seem to think that the Hugos have this liberal bias toward books that only talk about what liberals want talked about, and how nobody's actually reading these books. And how the voters at Worldcon are some elite subgroup of liberals who earned their voting privileges by, I dunno, helping an elderly Asian woman across the street to get to her ACA-funded doctor's appointment or something. That stuff straight-up ignores facts that are easily corrected. 30 seconds on Google will net you dozens of reviews for these books, showing that yes, people are reading them. Got the money to go to Worldcon? Great, here are your rights to vote on the Hugos and make your voice heard. It's not like you have to pass a liberal test or something in order to get these things. You pay money. And you read books. So the idea that books are winning a prestigious award when nobody's reading them because they suck so bad is just a touch ridiculous.

People have pointed this out before. I'm not the first. But this info seems to slide off people on the Puppy side of the fence because it doesn't mesh with what they see. It's not a flawless system. No system is. But some accusations are very easily refutable, and I'm not even sure where they came from beyond, "I'm not winning this award, so it must be a conspiracy against my politics." At the end of all this, I want the whole damn thing to be over. I want people to stop insulting each other for daring to like a different subset of SFF than they do. There's room for a lot of opinions here. A lot.

And that includes both conservative "men doing manly things" fiction AND fiction involving nonbinary people in stories that look like they can right out of a liberal buzzword dictionary. Doesn't make either of them good or bad by default. That's the trick for the author to manage. You can make a terrible idea into a good story, and a great idea into a terrible story. So yeah, I dislike the Puppies on both a personal and political level, because they're largely insulting, ignorant, and seem like they'd be a lot happier if people like me shut our mouths and let them get on with doing what they do unopposed, but damn, am I ever eager for this bullshit to stop!"

Ria is an agender ex-pat Brit currently living on the east coast of Canada, along with 5 cats and a glorified budgie named Albert. When not reading and reviewing books on bibliotropic.net, Ria can often be found obsessively playing video games, being an amateur photographer, or experimenting with various fibre arts.

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