SFWA Drama: The 2014 Edition

You may remember the uproar surrounding sexist and otherwise problematic content in the SFWA Bulletin from last summer (exhaustively chronicled here).

The SFWA promised to mend their ways and suspended the Bulletin until a new editor could be found (the old editor resigned over the uproar). They also came up with some guidelines to avoid problems like the ones that had led to the suspension of the magazine in the future. So far, so good, right?

Well, not so fast, because David Truesdale, who has been at the centre of genre controversies before, objects to what he believes will infringe on the free speech rights of the future editor of the SFWA Bulletin and has started a petition against what he considers politically correct censorship, though he apparently isn’t even a member of the SFWA. He also got a lot of well known SFF writers, including several whose books are found on my shelves, to sign it.

Natalie of Radish Reviews has a lengthy dissection of the petition as well as links to two drafts, the current draft and a previous draft full of racist and sexist crap. The comments are also illuminating, since one of the signatories shows up to defend signing the petition.

Bennett North also offers a dissection of the petition, while Rachel Acks points out that whatever one thinks of scantily clad women on magazine covers (and personally I don’t have much of an issue with the objectionable cover, though I find it rather retro and a tad silly), they really have no place on the cover of the official magazine of a professional organisation. Angela Highland and Sunny Moraine weigh in as well.

C.C. Finlay points out that editorial decisions are not in fact censorship and that the SFWA as a private organisation does not have to respect the free rights guaranteed by the US constitution in its own space. Indeed, I always find it very interesting that the very same people who have absolutely no issue with private companies censoring content that these people personally find objectionable such as erotic or GLBT content (see this post over at Pegasus Pulp), cry foul whenever a private entity decides not to honour their god-given right to spew racist, sexist and homophobic crap. Now I can understand the position of free speech absolutists who believe absolutely everybody should be free to say everything everywhere and who are opposed to censorship in any form. But those who believe that erotica is not free speech but sexist crap in the SFWA Bulletin is continue to boggle me.

Finally, at Crime and the Forces of Evil, Solarbird points out that the author of the petition not just misunderstands the nature of free speech, but that the petition itself is an unholy mess. Indeed, this was very much my impression as well. I mean, do you really need eleven pages full of back and forth e-mail correspondence with SFWA president Steven Gould, digressions to Andrew Hamilton and some stuff about black lesbian friends of Dave Truesdale, who may or may not exist, just to explain why you disagree with the editorial policy of the SFWA Bulletin? Indeed, a shorter petition would have almost been guaranteed to cause less offence and uproar.

But then the offence was the point, wasn’t it?

ETA: S.L. Huang is just tired of the whole thing. I can certainly sympathize.

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12 Responses to SFWA Drama: The 2014 Edition

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  2. Daniela says:

    I spend part of last night reading some of the blogs-entries and just shaking my head at the petition. It’s really mind-boggling. Robert Silberberg’s attempts at justification left me completely bewildered. I was really gutted when I saw some of the names that ‘supposedly’ signed that petition. Did they bother to read it and think about the implications? What they are now standing for?

    I think what a lot of people, probably due to the way how the SFF-community is structured and the fact that there’s no clear distinction between fan and professional and it’s all rather fluid, are forgetting is, that the SFWA Bulletin is supposed to be the magazine of a “professional writers’ association”. Emphasis on “professional”. It’s not a fanzine.

    It’s even more mindboggling that the one who started the petition isn’t even a member.

    As for the whole free speech thing. I still think it’s an interesting philosophical concept but it just doesn’t work in the real world. Not to mention that it doesn’t apply here. No one is stopping David Truesdale from starting his own magazine where he is free to offer a platform to all those narrow-minded, sexist, and racist writers. He probably would have to deal with some very vocal and scathing criticism (free speech anyone?) but no-one would imprison him or torture him for publishing the magazine. And I once knew someone who was imprisoned and tortured in the GDR for making Orwell available to interested readers, which puts things into perspective. THAT was state-ordered censor-ship, having an editorial board and submission guidelines like any other professional magazine and newspaper, definitely isn’t.

    • Cora says:

      Sometimes I think that we should ship everybody who complains about Orwellian censorship, whenever someone disagrees with them on the internet, to North Korea for a month or two, so they can see what a real dictatorship is like. But then, we here in Germany have more experience with the reality of censorship than Americans because of our history. Besides, the GDR only ceased to exist 25 years ago, which is still within the living memory of many people. So most of us know people who were persecuted either by the Nazis or the GDR or both (and West Germany was not always friendly to political dissenters either). Most Americans don’t really have that experience, so they freak out at people disagreeing with them or one of their heroes on the internet.

      As for the SFWA Bulletin, I doubt that the cover art and the Resnick/Malzberg column would have raised all that many eyebrows, if it had been a fanzine or one of the more regressive semi-pro mags. But professional magazines are different and I honestly cannot imagine any professional magazine I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a few) ever using such cover art or running such a column.

      • Daniela says:

        Maybe a visit to the MfS with a few days spend in the cells would suffice. Doesn’t have to North Korea ;-).

        As I said, I had a teacher who was tortured in the GDR. he took us to the MfS once the wall came down and it was a chilling experienec, same like some of the things he mentioned or at lleast alluded to. The fact that his “crime” was sharing Orwell’s Animal Farm makes this even more chilling. As a coincidence we’d just read Animal Farm in English and wtached the movie, even though, looking back now, much of it escaped us because we lacked a grasp of the political complexity.

        And agreed about the issues in West Germany. I had a friend who was a Socialist and came from a Communist family. He mentioned a few times the presecution they had to deal with.

        I do think the Americans have experienece with censorship they just don’t really talk about or are willing to face it. The McCarthy-times comes to mind or the way how the government influenced and put pressure on the media after 9/11. Anyone disagree with the governments stand was automatically anti-patriotic and a suspect. Not really an attitude one would expect from a country that uphold ideals such as freedom and free speech.

        • Cora says:

          Yes, an MfS cell would probably suffice. The old Bautzen prison is a museum now and should do, particularly if they could dig up a Communist era jailer.

          I actually knew a guy who was a jail warden in Communist East Germany (and very Communist and very creepy), but he’s been dead for years now, which is probably for the better, because he was über-creepy. He forbid his wife from watching western TV, but he always watched the Bundestag debates. Me, at the age of approx. 14: “Well, it’s no wonder he hates out TV, if he only watches that stuff. He should try watching X, Y and Z, cause that’s so much better.”

          I agree that Americans have censorship. Just look at the fact that they still have obscenity laws and people can be threatened with jail time for selling tentacle sex manga. And don’t even get me started on the McCarthy era. But for some reason, Americans never view blatant examples of censorship in their country as censorship. Most popular response to McCarthy era blacklists: “Well, those people really were communists.”

          And even if they were. Who cares? Never mind that I completely fail to see the danger emanating from Dr. Zira of Planet of the Apes, Mr Hooper from Sesame Street and Dale Arden from the old Flash Gordon serials, all of whom found themselves on the blacklist as supposed Communists at one time.

  3. Estara says:

    Two of those support signatures are very disheartening to me. I am on the one hand hoping that the ladies in question didn’t read that huge diatribe to closely and signed out of personal support of the guy initiating the petition – on the other hand, how can you sign your name to a petition you didn’t read closely in a field where you are seen as a professional…

    Thank you for linking and pre-reading for me. Scalzi did a very short tweet about the situation, but I believe that he had already announced he wasn’t going to comment on SFWA business for a full year after stepping down from the presidency.

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