I don’t pay a lot of attention to British TV and the celebrities that work on it. I’ve been out of the country a lot in past years. Much TV “light entertainment” is deeply transphobic so I prefer to avoid it. And I’m suspicious of anything the media says about celebrities on the grounds that most of it, good and bad, is probably manufactured in some way.
My knowledge of Jonathan Ross, therefore, is somewhat limited. But here are some things I do know.
He’s a lifelong comics fan who used to co-own a comic shop in London. He has written a science fiction comic. His wife, Jane Goldman, won a Hugo for the script of the film, Stardust, and he’s a bit jealous of that.
There’s controversy, of course. That’s pretty much par for the course for TV celebrities. He’s even been yelled at for telling transphobic jokes. But an interesting thing happened in that case. Hearing of the incident, Neil Gaiman had a word with Ross, who agreed to meet with Roz Kaveney and educate himself on trans issues. He ended up apologizing and doing an interview with META, a now-defunct trans magazine edited by Paris Lees.
In my view, that puts Ross well ahead of most high profile UK comedians (honorable exception for Eddie Izzard as always). It puts him ahead of Jared Leto. And it puts him ahead of most of the celebrity white feminists that I regularly see being praised in my tweet stream.
I should note also that I take a fairly relaxed view of who is an acceptable person to have around. The reason for that is that if I objected to everyone who had ever been transphobic I wouldn’t have many people left I could speak to. Besides, most people don’t give a fuck if trans people are offended. I have to survive in the world, and that means dealing with a lot of people I would rather not give the time of day to.
Case in point: everyone was expecting Leto to win the Oscar, so there was a lot of speculation amongst the trans community as to whether he would acknowledge the role that he played and the struggles of real life trans women. As it turned out, he very carefully avoided any mention of it. Apparently even uttering the word “transgender” was deemed too offensive for the Oscars audience. My tweet stream has been full of fury from other trans people. And yet his speech is being lauded, not just as the best of the night, but “beyond perfect”.
So to my mind Ross is a pretty good candidate for a Hugo ceremony host. He’s a genuine fan with a lot of respect for the awards. He’s also got a huge media profile and would have got us lots of press coverage. He has, on the one occasion I know of, engaged respectfully with a minority group that was upset with one of his shows. And hosting award ceremonies is something he has done professionally.
I understand that he had agreed to do the job without pay, which I think says a lot about how he felt about the Hugos.
However, one of the things about intersectionality is that you need to take note of what other people think. Just because you have no problem with someone, it doesn’t mean that everyone else does. You have to listen to what others say, and respect their points of view. So while I would have been happy with Ross as the host, I have to take into account that many other people object very strongly to him because of things he has said or done in the past.
The thing is that this is a conversation that should have been had within the Loncon 3 convention committee — initially in the Executive Committee, and if that proved highly contentious then perhaps with the wider staff group. This conversation should have taken place before the invitation was issued. (Kevin reminds me that for ConJosé we discussed Guests of Honor and Toastmaster amongst the entire bid committee and allowed members a veto on any suggestion.) If you are going to involve someone potentially controversial, you need to be sure that you have the support of the bulk of your team.
I’m not going to comment further on what went wrong in the committee because I have not been privy to any of the discussions, nor have I talked directly to any of those involved. However, I cannot understand how anyone involved thought that it was appropriate to resolve the issue via a flame war in social media.
As I said, I’m perfectly happy with the argument that Ross is an inappropriate person for the job if a large number of people would be uncomfortable with his presence. We don’t want nominees unwilling to attend the ceremony because they are afraid of what the host might say to them. But the conversation around Ross did not restrict itself to that issue. I’d like to address some of the other things that were said.
Firstly, some people appeared to not want Ross involved because of the press coverage it would have given us. The idea seemed to be that we shouldn’t want the media to notice us because of the embarrassing things they might write about us. This, I think, is a fundamental error. You cannot hide from the media, especially these days when newspapers are happy to take “comment” pieces from anyone (because they don’t pay them). What’s more, I think that only by accepting that everything we do is going to be subject to constant media scrutiny can we learn to behave sensibly and not, for example, take things that Dave Truesdale says seriously. Whenever we get angry about something, we should always think, “How is the press going to spin this?”
Secondly a lot of people appeared to be saying that Ross was unsuitable as a Hugo ceremony host because he was not a proper fan, by which they meant that he had not attended conventions regularly down the years. The view was that only someone who had been a beloved member of the fannish community for some time should be given the honor of hosting the ceremony.
As someone who has been a regular target of accusations of being a “fake fan” and “not part of our community” in the past, I take this sort of thing seriously. It felt like I was back in 1997 again and being accused of “destroying fandom” though my evil habit of writing book reviews online.
I note that Loncon 3 is set to be the largest Worldcon in decades, perhaps the largest ever. There will be a lot of people for whom it will be their first ever convention. It worries me a lot to see the whole “not part of our community” thing raising its ugly head again. Science fiction is mainstream now. It does not belong to us anymore, and trying to pretend that it does will only make us look ridiculous.
I didn’t attend the last UK Worldcon in part because I expected I would get a very unpleasant reception from many of the attendees. I am not on the committee of this one because of the way I was treated while working on the last one. I have, however, been trying to help when I can behind the scenes, and I have been promoting the event. I am beginning to think that was a mistake, and that I should walk away from fandom and not look back. It is not like I don’t have other things to do with my life.