Being Toastmaster for a science fiction award ceremony appears to be something of a banana skin. Years ago we had Harlan Ellison’s GropeGate at the Hugos. Jay Lake and Ken Scholes attracted some negative comment for their performance in Reno. And last night John Meaney attracted a lot of flak for his performance at the BSFA Awards. (See here for some reaction.)
Inevitably, when these things happen, those at the center of the storm tend to get characterized as Bad People, much to the bemusement of those who know them. I should note here that I’m an openly out, female-identified trans woman, but I count Jay and John as good friends, and my one interaction with Harlan was very pleasant. I’d feel perfectly safe in their company, which is more than I can say for some of the people who attend Eastercon. But people, including me, occasionally say dumb things, especially when they think it is their job to make an audience laugh.
The thing about an award ceremony is that it’s not like being in the pub with your mates. It’s not like giving an after dinner speech at a gentleman’s club. In these days of U-Stream it isn’t even a case of giving a speech to a small group of fans who are predominantly older, male, bearded and beer-bellied, and who will get all of your fannish in-jokes. You are on TV, being watched by people all around the world, and you need to be aware of how that audience will react to what you say.
The same goes for ceremony organizers. If you are going to run one of these things, and put it out to the world, you have to be aware that anyone might watch, and react to what goes on. That means talking to your toastmaster in advance about what is going to be said, and accepting some of the responsibility if you get negative feedback.
These things are not necessarily easy. We are all learning to come to grips with the global village in which we now live. But ultimately the only way to avoid train wrecks is to think about these issues, and be careful about what is said.