Yesterday, Loncon 3 was flung unpleasantly into the spotlight when the organisers announced on Twitter that none other than Jonathan Ross would be hosting the Hugo awards, prompting an instantaneous and largely negative response from the SFF community. Big names like Charles Stross and Seanan McGuire, among others, expressed their serious concerns, as did other congoers, and while there were those who also tweeted in support of Wossy – who was, at one point, responding to individual critics – it wasn’t long before he stepped down. Meanwhile, former con organiser Farah Mendlesohn resigned over Ross being given the gig in the first place, citing days of struggle on her behalf with fellow chairs who reportedly refused to discuss Ross’s history of inappropriate behaviour, particularly towards women.

I have some thoughts about this.

Firstly: The whole fiasco reflects extraordinarily poorly on Loncon 3’s organisers. Thanks largely Farah Mendlesohn, they cannot possibly claim prior ignorance of how some fans would react to the decision; yet as Ross himself was seemingly both surprised by the response and uninformed of the wider context prompting it – as evidenced not only by his resignation, but the tone of his preceding and subsequent interactions with concerned congoers – this suggests they did a very bad job of preparing him for the possibility. And when you ask a powerful, famous public figure to host a comparatively little-known event, for free, on the basis of his love for your community’s history and output, but neglect to brief him on how and why his presence might provoke controversy within that community now – and especially when the man in question is known for creating controversies, making this an even more urgent topic than usual – then you are doing your job badly.

By his own admission, Ross agreed to host the Hugos because he loves SFF, and because Neil Gaiman apparently asked him to: most likely, he thought it would be a fun, easy, trouble-free gig promoting a genre he cares about, not an incipient Twitter shitstorm. And that he does care about SFF, I don’t doubt; I’ve seen him speak on the topic, and the man knows his stuff. But just as loving Batman isn’t dependent on having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of DC, neither is being a fan off SFF dependent on keeping up with its controversies and ever-shifting political landscapes as expressed through the blogosphere. Jonathan Ross isn’t any less a true fan, whatever the hell that means, for not having instinctively known that the path to the Hugo Awards would take him through the Nefarious Minefield of Fuckeries Past. But it was sure as hell the job of the Loncon 3 organisers to prepare him for it anyway, and if they’d done it properly – if they hadn’t been so starstruck by the idea of an Actual Mainstream Famous Person hosting their awards ceremony that they neglected to view his involvement through anything other than rose-coloured lenses – then either Wossy would have been prepared for the criticism he was always going to receive (and might therefore have been in a position to offer reassurance to fans, rather than snapping at them; assuming he’d cared enough to do so), or he would’ve quietly declined the position behind the scenes, thereby avoiding the embarrassment of quitting after just eight hours.

Secondly: After everything the community has been through in recent years – after all the fails over sexual harassment, both on stage and within cons, and the lack (or failure) of cogent policies for dealing with it; all the problems of panel parity, diversity and representation; the never-ending parade of scandal and sexism within the SFWA; and, just as importantly, all of Loncon 3’s early hard work to assure congoers that they were aware of these issues – it should have been blindingly obvious, no matter how sincere his love of SFF or how well-established his credentials as an emcee, that asking a man with a history of behaving badly towards women in professional contexts – whether by dry-humping, sexually propositioning or objectifying them through transphobic dismissals – was going to go down like a lead balloon. This isn’t about whether Jonathan Ross, despite some of his past actions, is really a great guy who would’ve done a fabulous job as Hugos host, had the fandom not collectively jumped down his throat (as some are now asserting it is): humans being the complex, contradictory creatures that we are, it is simultaneously possible to be a predominantly good person who has nonetheless done – and will doubtless continue to do – some extremely shitty and unacceptable things. No: this is about the fact that, regardless of where you stand on the question of Jonathan Ross as a person, in his capacity as a professional comic and interviewer, he has behaved in some very unprofessional and offensive ways towards particular groups of people, large numbers of whom – notably women – are likely either be nominated for Hugo awards or attending the ceremony in other capacities, and as such, the SFF community was right to ask whether his past behaviour might repeat itself, or if it should have disqualified him for the job in the first place, given the con’s harassment policy. And as the Loncon committee knew these questions were going to arise, the onus was on them to ensure that Ross was both willing and able to answer them.

Thirdly: Yes, there’s a fame-coup quotient to a big name like Ross that’s always going to draw some positive endorsement – as, indeed, it did – and this is certainly something the SFF community should be  thinking about. But just getting a big name on the cards is not enough to automatically outweigh all the negative associations such a name might also invoke, and especially not if you fail to even acknowledge their existence. I say again: announcing that someone as famous as Ross has agreed to host the Hugos is only a coup if he stays the host, does a good enough job of responding to criticism and reassuring detractors that his presence doesn’t provoke a boycott, and then gets the job done without insulting any of the nominees – and even then, there’s still going to be fallout for any number of valid reasons. But if you, the organisers, refuse to deal with these issues beforehand, then don’t be surprised when it all blows up in your face. You did a disservice to Jonathan Ross by failing to brief him on the potential for controversy, but a far worse disservice to fans and attendees by prioritising the presence of a single famous guy over and above your promises for change.

So: I’ll be interested to see who ends up being the new Hugos host. And I’m still looking forward to Loncon 3. But this entire debacle was 100% avoidable, if only the organisers had actually bothered to listen to Farah Mendlesohn, or – let’s go crazy! – think about it for two damn minutes consecutively. <sighs>

ETA, 3.3.14: On the advice of Farah Mendlesohn and for the sake of accuracy, I’ve changed ‘weeks of struggle’ in the first paragraph to  ‘days’.

  1. Tracy Benton says:

    Very good summary. I was a little thrown when I wrote about it in my journal and people explained to me that he’s not a sexist, he’s an equal-opportunity asshole… I don’t quite understand how that makes him suddenly a BETTER choice to host the Hugos. But the whole thing went by so quickly that I was fairly blown away.

    • Carlos Steinbruch says:

      Before calling someone something bad, like “an asshole”, or a slightly improved “an equal-opportunity asshole”, the opinion should at least be yours. And name a 20+ years comedian / host who is not? Kind of hard not to screw up over that amount of time making jokes.

      • Jude says:

        It comes to whether a comedian has a history of punching down or punching up. The best comedy comes from punching up and not being mean to people who have a history of people being vicious to them, as the best books of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series shows. Ross, as (I think) Tempest commented, has a long history of punching down, being an ass for the sake of being an ass and generating controversy.

        Everyone makes mistakes, but Ross makes a career of being a jerk, a la Andrew Dice Clay and his ilk.

        People less inclined to be jerks who’ve been in the business a while? I can think of a few. Kate Clinton, for instance. Wanda Sykes? Lily Tomlin?

        Oooh, here’s an idea: Ellen Klages. A member of our community, hilarious comedian, AND who’s run the Tiptree Auction for years.

  2. […] Foz Meadows echoes my own post of yesterday and points out that the Loncon organisers could have prevented this whole unpleasantness by preparing Jo… due to the ongoing debate about sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc… within […]

  3. Yup, you nailed it. Something went wrong in the committee stage — groupthink perhaps? — and they didn’t think the consequences through.

    I just hope they do better with their second choice.

  4. Chris O'Shea says:

    I think it is important to separate the Loncon3 chairs from the committee.
    Farah’s message, if I remember it correctly, was that the chairs made the decision without the consent or approval of the committee.
    As the committee are (I believe) financially responsible for the convention, anything with that level of possible impact on membership should have been approved by the committee.

    This, I believe, was one of Farah’s points … that she wasn’t prepared to be held responsible for decisions that she wasn’t allowed to take part in.

    Of course there’s a difference between “ignoring” someone, and listening and then choosing to do something different … but Farah does have a reputation for knowing what she is talking about, particularly in this sort of case, so the chairs should at least have run it past the committee (and possibly other potentially affected people) before making their decision.

    As you say, if they had done that, found the danger spots first, then they could have had an agreement with JR as part of the announcement, that he acknowledged that things he had said were inappropriate, and that he’d behave himself at the con (we all say and do inappropriate things at points in our lives, learning from them is what makes us grownups and good people to know).

    But it will still be an excellent convention, and I’m sure they will find someone who will do a fabulous job of presenting the Hugos (hint hint, I might be available! grin!)

  5. James says:

    Airing concerns was entirely justified, and from the sounds of it there was an equal amount of difficulty behind the scenes in terms of organisation and process, but something in the stridency and venom of the process left a bad taste in the mouth.

    It’s not my place to defend Ross, his previous actions are part of public record, but some of the attention he received was unacceptable in terms of content and conduct. In eight hours (during which battle lines and opinions were drawn up quickly and decisively) he was appointed and then hectored into stepping down. There was little time for reflection by any side in this matter (apart from, perhaps those with prior knowledge) and while the response showed the passion with which these issues are considered within the community, there was little meaningful discussion in the end.

    Perhaps the next step should be one of self-examination, not particularly about the Ross appointment, but about the need for positive responses to these key issues, delivered in a manner where the exchange is not incredibly personal and polarising. There were some rather foolish things written over the weekend, by all parties unfortunately.

  6. Thanks. That was so much more eloquent than what I was trying to say.

  7. […] not going to talk about the Jonathan Ross/Hugo Awards debacle, or at least not come down on a side and try to analyse it. There’s been […]

  8. […] Addendum: And a very insightful post from Foz Meadows laying a lot of the blame on the LonCon committee for the ham-fisted way they handled the initial […]

  9. […] LonCon, Jonathan Ross, and the evil twitter-based SFF community. If not, here are links to get you caught up. This first post is about a particular segment of that conversation and I wanted to get it out of […]

  10. mooneym1 says:

    Yeah, he was totally asking for it…

  11. Well said. I’m also concerned that, while many valid concerns about Ross were raised, an awful lot of people who knew little to nothing about him took him to task for things that hadn’t even happened. It seems that no-one who got involved on the day, not Loncon, not Ross, and not the most vocal members of the SFF community, is coming out of this looking good.

  12. Sylvia says:

    I clicked on the Gwyneth Paltrow link. She was publicly propositioned, and said her father-in-law would be offended. Uh, what? Isn’t she allowed to be offended on her own behalf? She has to have her man-of-the-house – uh, no. that would be her husband. She has to have the Pater-famalias be offended? Because the little woman has to grin and bare it?
    That sucks.
    Oops, wrong word again!

  13. Dave Lally says:

    Hi -two items re JR and The Hugos/Loncon 3 etc: (1) I was on a radio show with JR aeons ago (I think it was LBC) re SF. He was on re comics (and he IS an ackd expert thereon) and I was on re -well what else- TVSF . On air he was witty and erudite. Off air, he was obnoxious and arrogant- very unprofessional for a broadcaster. So that has shaded my opinion; (2) Ive suggested to loncon3 a v fine substitute-I hope to see on 2 April here in London. Id happliy hand-deliver a Loncon3 invite to him. best wishes.

  14. […] more to say about this, and it’s worth reading.) And how unfortunate that the con committee didn’t prepare Jonathan Ross for the current climate of SF&F and take more care in making and presenting their […]

  15. […]  Jonathan Ross vs The Hugos […]

  16. […] Then read Foz Meadows’ incredibly thoughtful analysis about the problem and how it happened, the fact that the Chairs were not prepared for the […]

  17. […] In Depth: The Hugos v. Jonathan Ross, Safe Spaces & Online Discussions Foz Meadows laying out the original drama in her usual inimitable style. Cheryl on the arguments for & against Jonathan Ross as host as […]

  18. […] 3. Count s-l-o-w-l-y to Ten.  Carry on.) Daily Dot: Ross Withdraws – Saving Hugo – File 770 – Foz Meadows – Pop Culture Expo Hosts CosPlay Contest Bradbury Predictions Sword & Laser Now Accepting […]

  19. […] that’s already healing. It affects my friends and I have no objectivity. Broadly, I agree with Foz Meadows take on this: if anyone’s to blame, it’s the chairs of Loncon3 who failed to realise that their choice of MC […]

  20. […] Meadows laying out the original drama in her usual inimitable […]

  21. […] Mess? – A fine timeline of the incidents and excellent framing of some troubling patterns. * Foz Meadows’ post from Sunday, when this all went down. An excellent […]

  22. kingfq says:

    I’m a new wordpresser from China,how are u?

  23. […] of the more rational responses I’ve seen include Foz Meadows’s post about how the organizers really could have avoided all this, and Kameron Hurley’s, which explains that the SFF community had legit fears about being bullied. […]

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