Commentary and controversy about Worldcon continues to flood in. I discovered today that Paul Cornell’s Hugo Toastmastering was horribly transphobic (amongst many, many other sins of which it was guilty). I guess it is as well that I wasn’t smart enough to notice that.
Of course there are trans people who might be offended by it. When you are that deep in a hole, any mention of your existence can feel like an attack, especially when it is part of a joke and you have no context. But equally I’m starting to get very tired of angry white men riding to the rescue of various oppressed groups without asking them first if they want or even need rescuing.
Talking of white men, Mary Robinette Kowal has been running a survey to find out more about the demographics of SF&F readers. You can find it here, and the current results are here. Last I looked respondents were 89% white, and 58% female. The most common age range was 30-39, with only 2% of under-20s.
Obviously this isn’t very rigorously scientific. There could be all sorts of selection bias going on. But I suspect that the demographic that Mary is able to reach with her survey is very similar to the demographic that conventions reach when they try to market themselves.
Of course if you want to increase diversity you need to reach beyond the usual channels, but that isn’t always easy. If you go to a convention and find that the attendees are predominantly older and white, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are deliberately keeping other people away. The oldness and whiteness is a feature of the broader community, and something you have to work to try to change.
On the subject of change, some of the suggestions that I have seen for improving Worldcon boil down to it staying the same US city every year (or in London every year). That would certainly help fix some of the problems, but it would also mean abandoning the word “world”. And if you are one of the people who favors this sort of solution, and you also complain that Worldcon isn’t international enough, I laugh at you.
Incidentally, if your solution to the lack of non-US Worldcons is to form a (largely US-based) corporation with a mission to send the convention around the world, then you are doing it wrong. Worldcon can only be genuinely international if fan groups around the world want to run it, and want to use it to showcase their own, local SF&F communities to the world. The Japan and Finland bids both have ample help from the US and UK, but they are also rooted in local fandoms.
Other people’s ideas for fixing Worldcon seem to revolve around concentrating largely on film, TV, comics, video games and so on, because these are allegedly what young people want. However, there are already big conventions that do that very successfully (SDCC, D*C). Worldcon does actually have a marketing strategy, and part of that strategy is that it focuses primarily on books. It does take an interest in other areas as well, because many of its members are also interested in those other things, and because it wants to attract new members. But if it stopped being primarily a bookish convention it would just become a pale and unnecessary imitation of other events.
If your argument is that young people (or brown people, or queer people) don’t read books, and that book reading is elitist, well we need to have a conversation. But the main reason that Worldcon needs a YA Hugo is to show an interest in the books that young people are reading.
A few people, it seems, do not want to go to a convention where they risk meeting others whose political views and behavior they find reprehensible. That’s fine. Everyone is entitled to a safe space in which to indulge in their hobby. But to a certain extent Worldcon can’t be that space. It is supposed to be a big tent event as far as fandom goes. That means it has to accept that people who are Libertarians, fans of military SF, and so on, may want to attend. They do have a duty to behave in a civilized manner, but I don’t see how Worldcon can keep them out.
I note also my comments from last week about fans in Europe being concerned that American authors will boycott their conventions because those conventions fail to live up to some standard of moral purity that doesn’t work well with the local culture.
I’m pleased to hear that there are plenty of other fabulous conventions that people can go to instead of Worldcon. People have a choice, and if they don’t like Worldcon they can go elsewhere. Of course almost all of the examples I was given were in the USA, which is rather sucky if you happen to be me. Or indeed a lot of other people.
It is true that us non-Americans can do our own thing, but we still live in a culture defined to a large extent by the marketing juggernaut that is the USA. On the once-a-decade occasions that Worldcon visits our shores, a whole heap of US authors come with it, mostly at their own expense. That has some value to some people.
Mostly, however, people seem content with the idea that Worldcon is a horrible thing that deserves to die. There are other conventions that they can go to, and that’s good. What I don’t quite understand is that a lot of these people seem to think that Worldcon needs to die. It isn’t enough for them to go elsewhere. Worldcon has to disappear as an option. I’m not quite sure why this is.
Also I have noticed one or two people complaining that bad things happened at Dragon*Con last weekend. I don’t see anyone saying that these are the fault of Dragon*Con. They are the fault of some of the fans who attend Dragon*Con. But when bad things happen at Worldcon these are the fault of the fans who run Worldcon. Right now this is just an interesting cultural observation, which may be a result of a lack of data, but I do find it strange.