The Hugos in “Turmoil” and the Glee Crowd

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There seems to be a contingent of fandom that takes pleasure in any perceived disorder in the Hugo Awards.  They themselves love sf/f, often because they write in the genre themselves, but when it comes to one of the most important awards, it’s almost as if they are excited for its fall from grace, perceived or otherwise.  In some cases, they declare their hope that the award simply dies; in other cases, their public displays of laughter are all the indicators one needs to determine how they feel about the Hugos.  I don’t know why they take pleasure in Hugo controversies.  At first, I thought it might be due to jealousy, since many of these same folks don’t get nominated in any of the categories or rarely see their own nominees appear,[1] but that would make their opinions petty and pathetic rather than detrimental.  I think it goes much deeper than that; they are to the Hugos what the Joker is to Batman:  they just want to see the world burn.

This attitude should bother any of us who care about this genre for a number of reasons.  First, while the Hugos may not be the arbiter of quality they are traditionally thought to be — indeed, they never were, being a semi-populist award from the start — they do remain an important feature of the sf/f genre.  They are not, as some Hugo-lovers might suggest, the end-all-be-all of sf/f awards, in no small part because there are so many other awards which are equally important, though not necessarily as visible; the Hugos also fall short due to their very nature, which will by necessity critically alienate anyone who doesn’t value semi-populist views of what’s “best” in this genre.  But they are important, even in a limited, fandom-bloc-oriented sense.  The idea that these awards should die is, as such, like asking the genre to amputate its arm.

Second, these awards are important to a lot of people, not just the SMoFs, but other authors, Worldcon attendees, and readers.[2]  You may not agree with their views, as I often do not, but to take pleasure in the idea that something of importance to a bunch of individuals might go away or lose all significance is the worst sort of schadenfreude.  The Hugos have been part of sf/f fandom for decades and were a way for sf/f fans to recognize the works they loved when nobody else would.  These days, the Hugos serve a different purpose, but they remain important to a lot of people.  I may not agree with the way the awards are run or how people vote for them, but I won’t begrudge the WSFS committee members or the voters for their passion for the award (if, indeed, it is passion for the award[3]).  Those who enjoy seeing the Hugos mired in controversy seem to care little about the people who love what the Hugos represent in principle.  This kind of sniping, fragmentary nature of fandom likewise seems counterproductive, as it necessitates the disconnection between fandom groups rather than their interaction.  This, in turn, reinforces the bubble attitudes and makes change difficult.  How can one expect the Hugos to change if the communities who participate in it or don’t aren’t actually talking about with one another.  Fragmentation is not necessarily a good thing.  It creates bubbles.  Those bubbles become echo chambers.  Nobody adds anything new to an echo chamber, and if you’re not adding anything new, you can’t adapt.  I don’t particularly want to see the Hugos become an echo chamber.  It needs to adapt with the times; to do that, people need to criticize it and participate for the love (however you want to code it).[4]

If you don’t care about the awards, the reasonable response would be to simply ignore them.  But the response I keep seeing is one of passive destruction.  Some people want the Hugos to die, not because there is anything inherently wrong with the awards in and of themselves, but because they dislike the award for one reason or another.  It’s about destruction, not construction.  It’s about burning down the house for the laughs, not rebuilding the foundations.  It would be one thing if the conversation were about putting more attention on other awards in an effort to add credibility to the genre; it’s entirely another to hope for the demise of any individual award simply because one disagrees with how they function, what they represent, and so on.  The former is a constructive attitude; the latter is world burning.

I’m one of the many who criticize the awards.  While I can’t speak for all the others, I can say that my criticism comes from a position of love.  I want the Hugos to be better.  So do a lot of other people, especially those who have criticized the awards’ diversity, bloc voting practices, and so on.  These are legitimate issues, and they should be addressed.  And the best way to correct what you think are the flaws in the Hugos is to become a voting member.[5]  But burning the award or taking pleasure in its demise is the kind of thing that makes fandom intolerable.  This field deserves better.


[1]:  In my honest opinion, some of them really deserve Hugo recognition.
[2]:  Not all readers, mind you.  As has become clear in the discussions about the Hugos on Twitter, even readers who know about the Hugos don’t necessarily care if a book or author has won one.  For me, this is a bit of a sticky area.  Having involved myself in the Worldcon/Hugo universe over the last few years has reminded me that the award does not necessarily represent what I consider to be good, even though I am also a nominee on this year’s ballot — granted, I’m nominated in a very different category from literature (fancasts).
[3]:  As we have seen this year, there are some who vote with the intention of disrupting the process, often for political gain.
[4]:  This is a problem I’ve noted about the Fanzine category, too, which seems to reflect two fandoms (blog-readers and traditional fanzine readers) who never talk to one another in any critical sense; there are more blogs in the Fanzine category this year, in my opinion, because the medium has changed and because the traditional fanzine world hasn’t updated with the times or conversed with this newer form in the same ways as blogs have engaged with the community at large.
[5]:  Technically the best way to change the awards is to become a voting member and attend and participate in the WSFS meetings.  However, I think it’s unfair to expect everyone who criticizes the Hugos to have to do the latter, since the financial limitations, as has been noted before, are prohibitive.  But if you’re not voting when you have the means to do so, I don’t think there’s much cause to take your opinions on the Hugos seriously.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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