Internet kerfuffles almost inevitably become incestuous loops of recursion and fail–and, if not, they’re hardly any fun at all. But John Scalzi’s response to Adam Roberts’ complaint about this year’s Hugo slate at least led me to do one thing: I ordered Roberts’ Gradisil, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time.
The rest of my reaction is sort of a-plague-on-both-your-houses-ish. I cannot take seriously complaints about a shortlist from people who could have participated in shaping it but did not. This is not an original observation: it was made by a number of people on Roberts’ blog, on Scalzi’s blog and elsewhere. And when it arises, someone always replies, “Oh, I’ve heard that before.” As if that were some kind of answer. You have heard it before because it is true. No one listens to people who sing the blues without paying their dues.
[Meta-kvetchery abounds beyond the jump.]
Almost as ridiculous is the response, “I did participate, but it made no difference.” It’s like any political process: participation does not guarantee the desired result. People will persist in having their own ideas in spite of the overridingly important fact that you have yours, and sometimes you’ll be outvoted. However, taking action is more likely to have an impact on events than sitting around while others act and then whining about what they’ve done.
And participation certainly earns you a right to complain with righteous fervor. As a voter for many losing candidates over the years and decades, I can attest to the value of complaining as a coping mechanism–though not as a foundation for future success. A voter-drive among like-minded people is more likely to be productive. The Hugo-voting group is not large and it should be easy to affect it.
Scalzi’s reaction is almost equally gloomifying, partly because it’s so… reactionary. Scalzi shows signs of becoming an Institution, and in his response to Roberts the natural ill-temper of a writer scorned seemed to be salted with the crankiness of a Great One whose pedestal had been jostled by a Lesser One. He let rip with the fecal analogies, gave Roberts ironically kind advice about how not to increase his sales and scorned him as an academic a couple times.
It’s pretty gross. Painting someone in the spectrum of the brown rainbow will normally stain the would-be artist more than the subject, and the question of whether Roberts is really alienating potential readers is more open than Scalzi seems to suppose; there’s some discussion of that here. But, because it’s all about me, what I want to address here is the use of academia as a slur. It’s a childishly ad hominem insult, and only dickheads use them.
Almost everyone who writes has a supportive spouse, a day-job, or both. The fact that Roberts has a day-job as an academic doesn’t give his pronouncements any special weight, but it doesn’t invalidate them either. If Roberts had shrieked, “I, in my authority as an English professor of English literature, being in England, pronounce these works unclean and unworthy. They shall be… cast OUT. So let it be written; so let it be done,” then I would say no scorn heaped upon him could be too scornful. But that’s not what he does; he says that the works suck and says why he thinks so.
The form and timing of his saying so make the act somewhat futile, and his conclusions are subject to direct challenge (as John Picacio generously does here on behalf of his fellow-nominees for the “pro artist” award), but sneering at his day-job is an irrelevant appeal to anti-intellectualism. Any writer who does that is sawing off the branch he’s standing on.