The OF Blog: The "Fail" beat still continues

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The "Fail" beat still continues

I'm feeling a bit ill tonight, so if my thoughts are a bit too brief and/or disjointed, I'll blame it on the stomach bug I have. Anyways, on with the topic du jour, that of another all-male SF Anthology being released and the shitstorm that Paul di Filippo's comments at SF Signal sparked in a few places. I'm certainly not posting to defend what was said by Filippo, but I can't help but wonder if there might be a need to twist the thinking on this around a bit.

Pardon me if I sound like a Marxist (I was trained by several when earning my two history degrees, so this is the theoretical model I know best), but I can't help but look at the argument being framed by the various Genderfail and Racefail debates as being a construct in which the power paradigm is represented by (mostly)bourgeois Caucasian males. Presuming that a prevalent view is that such a power paradigm is monolithic (ignoring any obvious cracks or fault-lines within this paradigm), then it would only be natural that those excluded from this power paradigm would want to have the paradigm changed or altered in some fashion that would benefit them.

The problem, as I see it, is that there is still too much of an emphasis in tearing down the perceived obsolete, unwanted power paradigm and not enough on creating an opposing paradigm that would represent better the writers, readers, and all others who might be influenced by any new power/cultural structure that eliminates several of the presumptions of the old WASP male paradigm in favor of creating a more diverse blend of cultural values and artifacts.

To put it in more plain English: In the links above, the focus is more on critiquing the perceived outdated model where WASP males would be the dominant authorial force. Yes, there are counters of female/PoC alternatives that would have fit the bill, but the debate continues to be structured around destroying the old model's assumptions more than it is about how to construct new paradigms for SF.

I'm a naturally curious person, one who wants to explore ideas/beliefs beyond his own. But there does not appear to be quite enough advocates pushing for alternative models. So there's another all-male anthology being created? Where's the anthologists creating a more diverse mix and marketing it so schmucks like me can be aware of it? Do the old guard control all the publication/distribution/marketing mechanisms, or is it a matter of there needing to be a more concerted effort to get the word out to the young, the curious, the persuadable that "mind-blowing SF" can come in more shapes and hues than what are being proclaimed by others? Where are those who will praise Dark Matter, So Long Been Dreaming, or Cosmos Latinos (just to name three out of several that immediately came to mind) as being just as worthy of being read as any "mammoth" anthology?

Right now, it seems the twelve step program toward SF recovery is still stuck in challenging the denial stage. I would love for there to be more proactive readers, writers, and others involved in the field that would go beyond critiquing the creaky old paradigm and would instead start crafting a new reading/writing paradigm that better reflects the current times. So what anthologies/stories/writers ought to be part of this new paradigm? I leave that up to you to help decide.


Jonathan M said...

As I said in the thread, the methods used in these kinds of situations make me deeply uneasy.

I think that throwing around emotive language and being incredibly hostile is likely to close people down rather than make them re-examine their priorities. It's likely to turn into them being jerks rather than you being a racist so to speak.

However, the fact that people are still reacting in the way di Filippo did suggests that boundaries still need to be broken down and one way of doing that is with blunt force.

There's also an issue with the means of production. A lot of the people who are a part of the non-white fan movement are marginal figures in fandom. They're not editors, they're not anthologists, they're not con organisers. So far I believe they've set up their own imprint but there is a problem in so far as editors and anthologists are still ignoring their agenda :

Where are the all non-white issues of short fiction zines, for example? Where are the convention panels on race in fandom?

In truth, I suspect by this time next year the situation will be quite different as people with power will take note of their agenda but it's difficult to enact change when you have no power.

My understanding is that the feminist movement within fandom faced a similar challenge back in the day and they went for starting up their own thing but now we're still in a world where all-male anthologies are seen as defensible. So I think forcing change upon the institutions of fandom is a valid strategy.

Martin said...

So there's another all-male anthology being created? Where's the anthologists creating a more diverse mix and marketing it so schmucks like me can be aware of it?

I'm not sure why they have to be related. It is perfectly permissible to criticise without providing an alternative (a reviewer of all people should agree with it). As it happens, lots of people are heavily involved in producing the new paradigm that you call for but that is a different issue. And really this is just the "why are you so negative? why can't you be positive?" argument that turns up again and again and only serves to try shift the emphasis away from the things that are the problem.

Anonymous said...

It is really depressing that so many folks are threatened by examining their own biases, and that it brings out the nastiness. My first reaction upon reading those comments was, et tu, Paul? I like reading his reviews in the Washington Post.

Larry said...


I agree. Since I noted the Marxist tilt in the body of my post, I'll continue by using the analogy of the Second International. Some people are very fervent in their beliefs, so sincere that this sincerity, when coupled with passion, can appear to be threatening to others. Other people are more like the social democrats, who wanted to push for a more gradual reform that would incorporate their (socialist) values within the existing structure rather than tearing things down and then building everything back up afterward.

My personal view is that the impatience is understandable, but there needs to be more than just tearing down the unequal systems without having the alternative, pluralist model being perceived as being viable first. But patience is the key. Yes, there is a lot left to do, but much has already been accomplished.


I point out the alternatives to go with the perceived opposites. As I stated above just now, I'm more of a gradualist in that I believe there should be an increased focus on increasing the infiltration and takeover of the means of powers (editorships, fandom, etc.), even if it means some of the goals (the reduction of the causes of arguments related to gender/race issues, etc.) take several decades to accomplish fully. So I don't think it's a "positive" argument that deflects energy/attention away from a worthy goal as much it presents a way that can lead to more dialogue and (hopefully) better solutions.


I was surprised as well, but then again, who knows what happens when any of us decide that we are being "forced" into a corner? I've experienced that myself, said stupid things...and then and went and learned valuable lessons from being stubborn/stupid. Perhaps di Filippo will learn from this as well? One can only hope, no?

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