It’s certainly hard to be an SFF fan these days, since the genre can’t seem to go two weeks without a major uproar.
This latest go-around started around noon on Saturday. I’d just had lunch and went onto the Internet for some midday mail checking. Then I logged into Twitter and spotted an announcement on the official Loncon3 Twitter feed that British comedian, radio and TV presenter Jonathan Ross would be hosting this year’s Hugo Awards ceremony.
“Uh oh”, I thought, “That’s going to be a problem.”
Now for those who are not familiar with him, in the UK Jonathan Ross is not just famous for hosting a TV chat show, but also infamous for making rude jokes and causing controversies. Wikipedia has a list of controversies that he has been embroiled in over the years, as does the Daily Mirror (blanket trigger warning for general offensiveness). In fact, whenever I was in the UK and Friday Night with Jonathan Ross came on, I’d say to a friend, “Oh look, it’s Jonathan Ross. Let’s watch and see if he says something inexcusably rude.”
So given Mr. Ross’ reputation and the fact that the SFF community has been embroiled in an ongoing controversy surrounding racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism in the genre at least since 2009, it’s kind of obvious why having Jonathan Ross present the Hugo Awards would be a problem. Hell, it would likely turn out to be the Hugo version of Seth MacFarlane hosting the Oscars (Please, don’t get any ideas, Loncon organisers).
And indeed I didn’t have to wait long. I had barely finished checking my e-mail, when comments appeared in my Twitter stream that were considerably less than thrilled about Jonathan Ross’ involvement in the Hugo Awards. Farah Mendlesohn left the Loncon organisation committee over the decision, plenty of people were upset and plenty of people (including potential nominees) threatened to boycott both the con and the awards ceremony. It was a general Twitter explosion.
At about this point, I shut down the computer, because my Mom showed up. “Oh, are you working?”, she asked me. “Nope, just hanging out on Twitter”, I said and explained what was going on. “But you’re not going to boycott the ceremony, are you?”, my Mom asked, very concerned, “You must simply come up with a good comeback to that jerk beforehand.” “First of all, I’m not sure if I’m going to attend the convention at all”, I said, “Secondly, the point is kind of moot, since I’m not going to be nominated. Besides, have you ever seen a Hugo Award? It’s a big heavy phallic rocketship and not the sort of thing you want someone holding, while you insult them.”
I didn’t get back on the Internet until later in the evening, since I had coffee with my parents, tried to turn some really dreadful marketing copy written by someone with a very tenuous grasp of English (and of what is appropriate for marketing copy) into something halfway decent and finally watched Burn Notice and Muppets Show reruns (Kermit for Hugo host, anyone?).
I logged onto Twitter and noticed that Jonathan Ross had already withdrawn due to overwhelming opposition. “Wow, that was quick”, I thought.
At The Radish, Natalie has a summary of the events, including some screenshots of Tweets that demonstrate exactly why Jonathan Ross would be a problematic choice to host the Hugo Awards.
The Daily Dot also has a summary, including a quote from Farah Mendlesohn’s letter of resignation (since made private) and screenshots of several Tweets by Ross critics.
Charles Stross also believes that Jonathan Ross would have been a bad choice, though he is more worried about the reaction of the (extremely nasty) British tabloid media who would be attracted by Ross’ presence than by what Ross might actually say or do.
At livejournal, Yendi proves him- or herself to be psychic by predicting that Jonathan Ross will withdraw and be replaced with some other white man, while the usual suspects complain about political correctness run rampant.
Also at livejournal, a-d-medievalist points out the main issue here is not that Jonathan Ross is known for his politically incorrect jokes, but that by inviting him to host the Hugos the organisers ignored their own charter.
I agree with a-d-medievalist that the main blame for this situation lies more with the Loncon organisers than with Jonathan Ross, because the organisers should have realised that the appointment of Jonathan Ross would be a problem, given his track record, never mind that Farah Mendlesohn pointed it out to them. For while Jonathan Ross is apparently a fan (and I for one don’t doubt that he really is one), I doubt that he is that familiar with the ongoing debates within fandom to realise that his public persona might reopen wounds that have barely scabbed over and cause many fans and Hugo nominees to feel unsafe. He simply was asked to host an event and agreed to do it (for free, apparently) and probably had no idea that his appointment would cause such a firestorm. So the Loncon organisers also put their celebrity host into a really stupid situation that could have been prevented, if they had listened to objections before going public.
Besides, if they really wanted a celebrity host for the Hugos, there are geeky British celebrities who would be less controversial than Jonathan Ross. John Barrowman is the first name that came to mind for me, though he might cause some controversy of his own by kissing people regardless of gender (I now imagine John Barrowman kissing Orson Scott Card and causing the latter to explode). David Tennant or Tom Hiddleston are two other possibilities that come to mind. Lots of people would also love to see a presenter who is not a white man (so would I, for that matter) and I’ve seen Felicia Day, Seanan McGuire or screenwriter Jane Goldman (who also happens to be the wife of Jonathan Ross – maybe they could even have team-hosted with her taking the sting of him) suggested. Or how about Whoopie Goldberg – hey, we can dream, can we?
In short, this was a controversy that could have been prevented with a bit of foresight. But then, this applies to most of the recent genre controversies.