And just when I might have felt the slightest smidgeon of self-doubt or contrition about my last post on science fiction, along comes a fresh sci-fi controversy to prove my point – in exhaustive, exhausting, relentless, grotesque, ridiculous detail. Yes, I’m talking about Dave Truesdale, founder and managing editor of the sci-fi review magazine Tangent, and now vigilante crusader for First Amendment rights to ogle big-bazoomba’d buxom blizzard-bound broads on the covers of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SWFA) – an organization of which he is not a member.
And to make sure no one is left in any doubt, Truesdale has turned over the homepage of “the genre’s premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy” to a strident masthead declaring SFWA President Endorses Politically Correct Bulletin Censorship. In the ensuing post, he immediately evokes the First Amendment and Andrew Hamilton, as well as Charlton Heston declaring that “political correctness is tyranny with manners.” And he’s circulated a petition which managed to secure quite a few illustrious names, including Harlan Ellison and Gene Wolfe, to endorse his point of view.
Just as a refresher, here is what the SWFA Bulletin reforms are supposed to be about. “The cover of the 200th issue of the Bulletin was part and parcel of the furor that has led to its suspension,” states Truesdale’s petition. “Cries of ‘sexism,’ portraying women as “sex objects,” and other like phrases reached the ears of the President and will now become part of the “review process.” But there is a slightly awkward problem here. Truesdale’s petition on Tangent appears to be a tad different to the original petition, here courtesy of Natalie Luhrs, which includes such memorable passages as: “Gay men frequent gay bars for sex, don’t they? They are sexually attracted to other men and enjoy looking at the male form in person or in gay magazines or on the internet, just as straight men (and women) frequent clubs and bars and the internet for possible sexual liaisons—or merely to look. The same would hold true for the lesbian community. There are certain bars and clubs where lesbians feel comfortable among those of their specific sexual orientation, who, among other reasons, go for possible sexual liaisons.”
All that mysteriously disappeared from the version on Tangent. I wonder why? A shame Truesdale denied us that wonderful primer in LGBT awareness.
C.C. Finlay (yes, that Hugo and Nebula Award nominated C.C. Finlay) states his view of the petition here. first describing the consultation exercise with the membership that led to the SWFA contemplating its new plans. “Some other people who disagree with the results of the survey are now passing a petition to try to silence other members of SFWA and keep things the way they used to be,” he declares. “I also find it ironic that this divisive petition has been created and circulated by someone who is not a member of SFWA and hasn’t been for many years. It makes me wonder what the real goal is of this fear-mongering. If you don’t like the decisions of SFWA’s officers, vote for different officers. If you don’t like the work being done by the volunteers, then volunteer. That’s the same thing I would say to the man who created this petition… only he’s not a member.”
You can have great fun reviewing the legion of other examples of sci-fi bad behavior at the links above. It’s only the tip of the iceberg. Where do they get such appallingly anti-social attitudes, I do wonder. Too long living inside imaginary wish-fulfillment worlds, perhaps?
And in the supposedly progressive, forward-thinking world of science fiction, too. It seems devolution really is a thing, especially with writers who have pushed too deep into the cabinets of their memories and can’t seem to tell that they’re not in Narnia.
And the highlight of the laugh track is Ellison being attached to it; the man who used to make a big deal about his writing for Star Trek, a show dedicated to the very ideals he’s now pissing on. How far the crotchety have fallen.
Years ago, I worked with a woman whose husband wrote for classic automobile magazines. Once she mentioned to me that she was less that excited that a typical front cover of such magazines would feature a shapely, bikini-clad blonde draped across the hood of a ’57 Chevy.
Seeing she wasn’t that upset, I jokingly mentioned that I’d always thought that every classic car came equipped, when you purchased it, with a blonde across the hood, that I was shocked and disappointed to discover that wasn’t the case.
The reality is that our age is even nuttier than the Victorians about anything connected with sex. You can see that in the controversy that surrounds the very realistic statue of a sleep-walking guy clad in not much at Wellesley College:
“The statue of the nearly naked man on the Wellesley College campus is an entirely inappropriate and potentially harmful addition to our community that we, as members of the student body, would like removed immediately,” Walsh wrote, in a petition posted at the Web site Change.org under the name of another student, Zoe Magid. There are now 300 signatures in favor of getting rid of it.
All too many people seem to have lost their sense of humor. I’m more impressed by this response:
“Some students dressed the statue up in winter clothing, apparently worried that the man would catch cold (the students returned to take their clothes back in the morning).”
Yes, keep that poor guy from getting too cold.
–Michael W. Perry, author of Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Hospitals (Yes, an entire book about embarrassment. It must be a first.)
I love the tarring of every science fiction writer, reader, or fan in existence with the brush of the behavior of a small number of people.
These “examples of sci-fi bad behavior” involve small numbers of people making a lot of noise. They don’t represent either the view or the conduct of the majority of those in the SF/fantasy community.
Victoria, I’m a science fiction writer myself. And ardent reader. But tar is sometimes needed when lesser remedies won’t stick.
Paul, what’s that even supposed to mean? As Victoria said, most SF fans and for that matter writers don’t have anything to do with either the SFWA or its detractors. What are such people even supposed to do?
It means that science fiction itself has an inherent, constitutional bias towards these kinds of attitudes and behaviours. It’s a bad that you just have to take along with the good. And I took up this point because another fairly gifted science fiction writer said exactly this on Facebook. But taking the bad with the good doesn’t mean ignoring it or pretending it isn’t there, or not calling it out when it rears its head.
I can’t see that SF fans and writers have any greater or lesser propensity to be jerks and a-holes than people in general. I mean, just look at politics. Those people aren’t SF fans…
So all this is just about the less-than-enlightened views of a magazine editor? I agree with Victoria and Chris above; there’s people like that in all walks of life. I’m not sure what the article above is trying to say.
The whole stupid thing came about because of a couple of sexist dinosaurs who didn’t realize they were sexist dinosaurs and that their sexist dinosaurism was ticking people off every time they wrote a column. (I guess it’s like how you can’t smell your own body odor because you’re too used to it.) Then people objected, and other people objected to the objecting, and so on, and so forth, and here we are.
There are sexist (and for that matter, racist) dinosaurs everywhere, in all fandoms, in all walks of life. (The above post about auto magazines is a great example.) I can’t see anything special about SF that makes it somehow more vulnerable to them.
What’s more, the whole thing arose out of the organization getting off its butt and doing what it should have done in the first place: asking its members what they actually wanted and then proceeding to give them what they wanted. It turns out those sexist dinosaurs didn’t actually represent the feelings of the organization as a whole, and the newsletter of an organization really ought to do that.
But apparently some people are getting upset that the newsletter is going to have an editor who is actually empowered to reject things. Because, y’know, that’s what an editor does. And the one who started the petition isn’t even a member of the organization he’s protesting against. So what the heck?
When you get right down to it, it’s all a huge tempest in a tiny teapot. Only a handful of people are involved on either side, which is a small fraction of the number of SF writers and readers in general. But they make a lot of noise, because of that old saw about politics being more vicious the smaller the stakes are.
Honestly, trying to tie the whole thing to the genre in general really smacks of the same marginalization of SF by the mainstream that fans have been dealing with for decades.
So yeah, whatever.
From the tiny screen on my iPhone, the cover looked a little like old school Boris Vallejo style. Yes, I was there when dinosaurs roamed. I suppose the next to go will be the fantasy covers featuring women in tight spandex sporting tattoos and carrying guns or crossbows. I won’t even go into the beefcakes on Romance covers.
For whatever it’s worth, that appears to be Red Sonja, a character created at Marvel comics based on a Robert E. Howard character, Red Sonya. Red Sonja has usually been depicted has a scale-mail bikini clad warrior.
Context is everything I suppose.
People were live to the Red Sonja comparison from the off – and yea, great comic strip. It was the combination of that and the “couple of sexist dinosaurs,” as Chris puts it, repeatedly within those covers that finally screwed the pooch, to coin an impeccably PC phrase. And just to get some outside perspective on this, here’s AdWeek, asking “Will the Fantasy Genre Ever Grow Up and Ditch the Chainmail Bikini?”: “It’s taken the fantasy genre decades to grow out of its image as a juvenile boys’ club obsessed with cleavage and crossbows. And just as Game of Thrones seemed to be lifting fantasy into the modern mainstream, it’s now taken a step backward.”