Here's the background for those unaware. Concerned about a political bias in the awards and dissatisfied with the quality of recent nominees, a group of right-wing authors started a campaign, #SadPuppies, to get work they and their fans liked on the ballot (there was also a related, more radical campaign – #RabidPuppies). Their campaign was a little too successful and their nominees flooded the ballots, locking up all five slots in some categories. This riled up the rest of Fandom, resulting in a lot of ugliness and bad feeling, and culminated in an award ceremony on Saturday that saw five categories No Awarded as a protest against the slate-voting tactics of the Puppies/because none of the nominees were of sufficient quality/because of the politics of the nominees (*insert own truth).
This is just the barebones. There's plenty more elsewhere on the internet if you want to read up more. As with all political controversies, most of what's written is heavily slanted to one side or the other, so I'd recommend reading from sources on both sides of the fracture to get the full picture. I'd also recommend avoiding reading anything from mainstream media sources such as The Guardian. Over the past couple of years mainstream media has either been utterly inept or wilfully duplicitous in their reporting on flare-ups in online nerd/geek spaces and this is sadly more of the same. The argument that this is a conspiracy by old racist, misogynist white dudes to keep minorities and women out of Sci-Fi doesn't really hold up under closer inspection (the number of women on their ballots and the fact that one of the "racist" Sad Puppies organisers, Brad Torgersen, has been happily married to a black woman for over two decades are fairly big giveaways).
For me personally I don't have a dog in this fight. I write succubus porn for a tiny niche audience and have the networking skills of an octoplegic arachnid. The probability of my work being noticed and put forward for an award like the Hugo is somewhere about the same as the Earth spontaneously imploding.
It doesn't affect me much as a reader either. My reading preferences lean more towards horror than either science fiction or fantasy, and awards have been functionally useless in suggesting books I'd want to read for some time now.
While the stated aims of the Sad Puppies are laudable, replacing one clique with another—and unfortunately that's how it looks to an outside eye once you unpick the spiderwebs of who's connected to who—doesn't feel like significant improvement to either writer-me or reader-me. All this latest dust-up has achieved is to reinforce my impression that the whole of SFF (capital-F) Fandom is nuts, probably hazardous-to-career/productivity and best viewed from afar with a strong telescope.
What I find interesting is how the whole Hugo Awards controversy is playing out as an extension of the wider Libertarian vs. Authoritarian culture war currently waging in online nerd communities. #GamerGate has been raging for a year now, an unprecedented amount of time in the age of social media. #GamerGate should have been a trivial bit of kerfuffle about a minor figure in the indie dev scene that blew over in a week, but then virtually all of the online gaming press decided to declare war on their own audience and, twelve months later, a good chunk of that audience is still raging. At this point I don't think #GamerGate is ever going away. It's gone beyond a protest movement/hate group (*insert own truth) and coalesced into a community... a very angry community furious about how they've been demonised by the media.
How does this relate to the Hugos? One of the accusations levelled at the Puppies is that they dragged those evil GamerGaters into the nomination process. As with most of the racist/misogynist/homophobic claims, it doesn't hold up under closer inspection. One of the regular tweeters for #GamerGate, @Daddy_Warpig, is a fan of some of the Puppy writers and #RabidPuppies ringleader Vox Day identifies as a #GamerGate supporter, but that's about it. Or at least, was about it. Plenty of #GamerGaters kept a close eye on the awards and they did not like what they saw.
Still, who gives a fuck about #GamerGate? They're just the same old bunch of whiny white dudes crying because someone let some women and minorities into their clubhouse to play with their toys... right? And there's only like a handful of them anyway... right?
That seems to be the usual narrative about #GamerGate and every other online controversy where geeks and nerds get angry on the internet. They're old white male dinosaurs—reactionary relics lashing out a world moving away from them. That world is moving to a bright, shiny future filled with inclusivity and diversity, and nerd culture—be it games, comics, films, books—would be there already if these inconvenient old straight white male neckbeards would just shift their inconvenient fat carcasses out of the way and jump in the nearest canal. That seems to be the message from a cultural media elite with their blogs and opinion columns—"We are the future, you are the past. Your extinction is at hand, now kindly accept it and fuck off."
One thing that struck me about the aftermath of the Hugo Awards on social media was that the people most mad about the No Awarding didn't strike me as these old dinosaurs raging at their usurpation. They sounded young.
Young. Disenfranchised. Angry.
And this is #GamerGate in a nutshell. It's not about excluding women, it's not even about ethics in games journalism. It's anger. And most of this anger is directed at an elite media class that doesn't understand them and has repeatedly lied about and demonised them. If they're white and male, they're angry at being lectured to about privilege by writers with far greater reach and social capital. If they're female or a minority, they're angry at being dismissed as sock puppets, or of having "internalized misogyny". They're angry at being called misogynists, racists and homophobes for questioning logic in media narratives that don't add up to them. They're angry at being smeared as terrorists and rapists for having the temerity of speaking back.
One of the things I found most telling was a twitter exchange between one of these angry young nerds and a multi-award-winning author. The author described it as Fandom successfully keeping out interlopers trying to gate-crash the clubhouse. And then it clicked for me. The roles are all wrong. The angry young nerd isn't angry because they think they're being kicked out of the clubhouse to let in a more diverse female/PoC/LGBT crowd. They've never even been inside the clubhouse.
I don't think the people that write the blogs and newspaper articles understand this. They've made careers and names out of "punching up" and "speaking truth to power". I don't think they recognise that to the young people coming up, they've become the establishment putting bars on the doors and windows of the clubhouse.
Now we come back to #SadPuppies and the Hugo Awards. My personal opinion is that while I'm sympathetic to the #SadPuppies cause, ending up with a situation where the rest of the voters were left with a choice of voting for one of the Puppy picks or none at all was a mistake (and not entirely the #SadPuppies fault—it was the additions of Vox Day's overlapping #RabidPuppies slate that ended up locking out some of the categories). People being the contrary buggers they are, voters going "fuck you" and plumping for none at all was always a likely outcome in that scenario.
The thing is, all those angry young nerds currently raging on the internet aren't going to see that. These people have zero trust in the media after fighting a bruising campaign against it over the past year. They've even been blamed for contributing to this controversy and casually smeared, again.
Then they see the Hugo Awards play out. They see a bunch of people cheering the announcement of No Award and then gloating afterwards about denying people based on their politics rather than the quality of their writing. They hear about a distinguished female editor with a long history in the field walking out because she'd had enough of the mockery. They read the account of another female writer having what should be a dream occasion turned to utter shit. They hear about the multi-millionaire author throwing an after-show party for his buddies in a big mansion and giving out awards to the people the in-group thought "should" have won. Is it any wonder they came to the conclusion the whole thing is as rotten as hell? The raging you're seeing on social media is their "speaking truth to power".
This has been reported as a victory for progressive attitudes over a reactionary backlash of old white dudes stuck in the past, further evidence that the old guard are being elbowed aside and the future of SFF is a bright one with social justice at its heart. I think there's a problem here. It relies on the assumption that the current backlash is coming from old dinosaurs clinging grimly on to power. They're thinning out. Less and less people are sharing their attitudes. Soon they'll be gone and the cultural shift will be complete.
Except there's a good chance that all the folks raging in twitter and reddit posts are younger than the more connected folk writing all the nice blogposts about SFF's bright and rainbow-coloured future. Which would mean what we're seeing now is not a reactionary backlash from a generation on the way out, but a backlash against perceived authoritarianism from a generation on the way in. They're really angry at the current media class. Their numbers are growing and they're getting angrier. They will also bring a cultural shift, but it might not be the one you're expecting and it might not be pleasant.
That's the thing about being the future, you always end up being someone else's past.
The young replace the old.
Currently the young are very angry. Then someone like Vox Day comes along. Vox is an asshole. He doesn't pretend to be anything else. Most of these angry young nerds are not assholes. They don't even like Vox. A cursory glance at #GamerGate HQ, the KotakuInAction subreddit, shows this. Every time his name comes up it's usually followed by, "Ugh, that guy," or words to the same effect. But the thing is, if you're caught between two sides and one side is throwing rocks at your head, it's human nature to gravitate to the side not currently throwing rocks at your head.
I find it ironic that in the same year Mixon received a Hugo for her exposé of Requires Hate, Fandom seems wilfully unaware that people are still using the same hacks to spread toxicity from behind a shield of supposed social justice. This is great for Vox Day. Whenever one of Team "Social Justice" posts another of their venomous screeds about young white men being the most useless and deficient individuals in society, the Dark Lord of Evil rubs his hands and welcomes more Vile Faceless Minions to the fold.
It's why Vox's "SJWs Always Lie" sticks. They keep proving him right ALL THE GODDAMN TIME. This resonates with the young angry nerds—they've seen mainstream media lie about them constantly for the past year. They look at #SadPuppies and recognise the same smears and hit pieces.
It's no surprise right-wing outlets such as Breitbart.com are taking an interest in these young angry nerds. For the first time in half a century the Right sees an opportunity to not be the stop-having-fun side of politics amongst the young. Because this is the young—the next generation coming through. They're going to be the people writing about SFF and Fandom in the future. Do you really want to leave them to be shaped by people like Vox Day?