If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll remember contributing writer Matthew Lyons from his yearly film analysis, “That Said…”. Today, he’s delivering his take on the current fiasco surrounding this year’s Hugo Awards and the legitimacy of industry accolades.
Slaughtering The Sacred Cow:
The Hugo Awards, Sad Puppies, and Our Current SFF Atmosphere of Total Shitbirdery
By Matthew Lyons
In 1996, Nick Cave wrote a letter to MTV, thanking them for their support and politely asking them to withdraw his name from competition for “Best Male Artist” in their annual Video Awards, citing the fickle nature of his muse and his own desire to avoid visiting “the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring” upon his art.
“I am in competition with no-one,” he said. His art was his own, independent of some tawdry award that lacked prestige and debased his artistic vision. It was a brave thing, and the right thing to do, given the situation.
Remember this. We’ll come back to it.
The current, drama-filled saga of how the Sad Puppies so successfully gamed the Hugo Awards has been well-documented by men and women who are far better writers and reporters than I, so I’ll spare you yet another three or four pages telling you what you already know. Still, some context is woefully necessary; so let’s do a quick sum up:
- Socially and politically conservative voting blocs operating under the collective groupname Sad Puppies successfully gamed the Hugo Awards this year, securing three of the five Best Novel nominations, all five Best Novella nominations.
- This isn’t exactly a stop-inclusivity-in-its-tracks thing, but it’s not exactly not: two of the SP’s most loudly championed authors have gone on record as supporting a certain non-inclusive online hate group, and as this whole fervor seems to be centered around resistance to inclusiveness, no matter what certain people may say to the contrary.
- They’ve been trying to game the system for three years, and only now have they really succeeded in making a real, visible impact.
- Everyone’s shitting their pants about it.
The question I want to ask is, why? Why do we go out of our way to act surprised and outraged when people do this shit? They’ve been trying to get this over on the Hugos for three fucking years. So they finally succeeded. Big shock.
Look at it critically, friends: you’ve had these people banging at the walls of your so-called sacred institution for three years and you act all aghast and shocked when they finally break through?
You do realize that all we’re doing by acting this way is legitimizing it, right?
Honestly, I’m really asking – do you understand that?
Why put up just a big stupid stink about it? Is it because the Hugos are an institution?
They’re only an institution because we treat them like they are. Fifty years of tradition is one thing, but those fifty years only carry the weight we assign them. The voting only happens at Worldcon because we all sort of, kind of agree that it should. Prestige is a concept of perception, and if you don’t like people bloc voting, fine. Fuck them. You don’t have to sit there and take it. Have another ceremony and give out another award. Have the nominations at DragonCon or something, develop special categories for whatever art form you like. Get weird with it, fuck, make it a party. No one says the Hugos are the only game in town. Stop treating them like they are.
But still we’re outraged. A noted, publicly avowed homophobe got three nominations in the Best Novella category? So what? No one says that nomination has to mean a fucking thing. It only means as much as we all think it should mean. Everybody just needs to fuck off the end of everybody else’s dick.
The stupid, ugly truth is that they’re well within their rights to vote bloc. That needs to be said. They can do that. The system as it exists in its current form is perfectly accommodating of that sort of thing. It’s not wrong, it’s just kind of a dick move. Nobody’s disputing that, not even the folks behind Sad Puppies.
And yeah, it’s an easy thing to say If you don’t like it, don’t pay attention. Don’t let it affect you. You know what, though? The people that these Sad Puppy assholes are rallying against get that shit time and time again. “Ignore the haters?” Fuck you. These assholes have made themselves impossible to ignore. Pay attention to what they do and how they do it. Beat them at their own game or go play your own. They’re going to keep making the same moves over and over and over, expecting shit to change. Last time I checked, that’s the definition of something.
Don’t ignore them, but maybe be reasonable with your expectations of people. Because motherfuckers are always going to do dumb motherfucker shit. The poorly behaved kid in class is pretty much always going to shout “LOOK AT ME!!” before pulling his pants down so everyone looks at his dick. The best thing you can do in that situation is not fall for that fucking trick. Stop coddling needy people who insist on throwing public tantrums. Stop legitimizing them by acting like they’re a bigger deal than they are. We all know you have a dick, Trevor. Nobody’s impressed. Just sit down and listen to Miss Wallace talk about long division, the rest of us are trying to learn here.
You might not be able to ignore them, but you sure as hell can delegitimize the thing they keep trying to stick in your face.
That brings me back to Mr. Cave’s refusal:
Perhaps, if this were a better world, the authors who aren’t part of the Sad Puppies’ slate would politely but firmly withdraw their names and works from consideration in protest. Wouldn’t that be a fucking revelation? If this is how they’re going to run the Hugos, maybe you don’t want that sort of recognition.
I mean, it’s nice to be honored for your art, but do you really want to be honored by an award system run by these people? Again: seriously, I’m asking.
If the answer’s Yes, great, carry on, have fun. Seriously. I don’t begrudge anybody the pursuit of recognition for their art. Really, I don’t. People are allowed to art and live and believe however the fuck they want. I just reserve the right to not pay attention if your methods make you a shitbird.
But if the answer’s No, then just why in the fuck do you insist on playing by their rules? As far as I can tell, the Sad Puppies have been nothing but clear and vocal about what their aims were, and they kept their promises. You think they won’t do it again next year? Or the year after that? It finally worked, after all. Why would we count out a repeat performance?
All I’m driving at here is maybe we all need to take a step back and consider what’s important. Is it the recognition of your peers, and the public? Or is it that fancy laurel seal your publisher gets to stamp on your reprints, that cute little tag you get to stick in your Twitter bio: Hugo Award Winning Author/Novel/Tweeter/Whatever. Consider why this matters to you, because you need to know that the Sad Puppies sure as fuck have.
And if you decide you don’t want to compete with their behavior and tactics? Then maybe consider taking your name out of the running. Consider taking some of the widespread prestige away from the awards. Delegitimize them. Just like engaging with these sorts of dicks on any other platform, the only way to win is not to play. We can all agree that the Hugos got hijacked, and we as a community would rather our awards be about recognition and community than tradition and prestige. The Bill Schuckley’s Backyard Barbecue Awards would carry just as much weight as the Hugos if we all decided they did. Probably even more, because there would be barbecue involved.
Let ‘em have the Hugos if they want them so bad. But if the ship’s been taken by mutiny, nobody’s making you sail with them. There’s enough ocean for everyone here, and plenty of able and like-minded sailors to help you build yourself a new ship. An awesome one. With flames painted on the side and a bejeweled Santa Muerte for the figurehead. And a sweet sound system playing nothing but The Clash. Everybody loves The Clash.
Abandon ship. Let the barbarians have the temple. Take the sacred cow out back and put a fuckin’ bolt through its holy fuckin’ head for steak dinner. If it’s not working, nobody says you have to keep it.
These awards only ever meant what we wanted them to mean, after all.
Matthew Lyons can be found listening to Tool records and old Bill Hicks routines while scorning basically everything and everyone on Twitter at @goddamnlyons. He occasionally writes fiction that is somewhat less pissed off than this guest post.
Other guest blogs by Matthew: