Okay, so the title was clickbait. Guilty. Here’s the deal. As I see it, the Jonathan Ross Hugo fiasco was a massive tactical blunder on the part of our community. After reading over a dozen different After Action Reports on the fallout, I can’t help but feel like there’s a lot of ass-covering, sour-grapes, and wishful-thinking being passed around in the aftermath. In general, I don’t think that many of us really grasp the scale of what happened. So to try and make it clear to a largely American audience, I’ve come up with the following metaphor:
Let’s say that next year in Spokane, WA (which really did have the strongest bid, btw) the Hugo committee gets word through the grapevine that Stephen Colbert is willing and eager to donate his time to hosting the awards ceremony. Members of the committee, excited for the prospect of such a high-visibility host, rush the confirmation through so as not to waste any time or risk losing out on the opportunity, just in case they wait too long and a scheduling conflict should arise, which given Mr. Colbert’s celebrity caliber is a real possibility. One particular committee member is upset that procedure wasn’t followed and resigns.
Still, the Hugos have booked their most famous host in years or decades, raising the profile and prestige of the awards and exposing them to a whole new audience of potential fans. In short, despite some internal friction among committee members, they have achieved a public-outreach coup. In their excitement, the committee rushes to announce the decision on social media, which considering this is a group of sci-fi fans who are supposed to love tech and be web savvy, probably doesn’t seem like a bad idea, especially now that Mr. Colbert’s millions of followers will get the same update and start talking about the Hugos, raising their internet reach even further into their target demographic.
But then, we hit a snag. Some fans of the Hugos, mostly from abroad who do not actually know anything about Mr. Colbert or have seen him perform, rush to question his selection as host. Questions very quickly turn to ugly accusations and personal attacks, based on little more than supposed controversies they read about on tabloid websites not five minutes before. People start insisting that he’s likely to make jokes about women or fat-shame nominees right there at the podium, despite the fact Mr. Colbert has hosted awards ceremonies and given keynote speeches many times without any such ugliness. They question if he’s a “real” geek, despite airing his credentials as a Tolkien uber-dork over the course of an entire week on his nationally televised talk show.
Stephen, being a professional comedian, replies to these attacks exactly as anyone could have predicted, with snark.
Then, things get really ugly when his millions of fans on twitter, facebook, and elsewhere get wind of a handful of people who openly admit to not knowing much about him, yet feel qualified and indeed righteous in attacking his character. This goes about as well as any sane, reasonable person who has spent any time on the internet would expect it to. It quickly devolves into a feeding frenzy of flame wars, insults, and ad homs being thrown around like tomatoes in the streets of Bunol.
Eventually, Mr. Colbert’s patience wears out and he withdraws from hosting, making a tiny handful of people who objected to him very happy, an even larger number of people in the community very confused, and an exponentially larger number of Stephen’s fans incensed.
Now, the Hugo’s public relations coup has turned into an utter rout. People who are only now hearing about them for the first time are associating them with petty, baseless attacks on a very popular comedian and talk show host. Op-eds run on entertainment and news sites throughout the net drawing more attention to the controversy and reinforcing negative stereotypes about sci-fi fandom being insular, socially-inept, and naive of the “real world”. And instead of our previous controversies which were basically limited in reach to our membership and fans, this controversy manages to pierce the mainstream, where it is read by, and influences the perceptions of many millions of people.
Meanwhile, back at camp, many from inside the community appear to have learned nothing whatsoever from the fallout. Some are so disconnected that they seem to regard the whole episode as a victory. They say things like “Well, we didn’t want someone as famous as Stephen Colbert to overshadow our awards.” Or, “We stood up to intolerance and will be better off in the end.” Or, “He wasn’t a good fit, he wasn’t really one of us anyway.”
Does that sound crazy to you? Because it should.