Saturday, 1 March 2014

Offence is good

He’s a great big kid without an ounce of tact, he’s overpaid, and he’s married to the second-coolest woman in the universe. He’s also had the outrage of the Internet poured over his head.
Why Jonathan Ross should give zero shit about the SF community’s self-harm.
Wow, it’s been a busy day in British SF fandom.
Of course, to most of the world that’s means as much as a discussion on what font to use when writing about, say, milk, but please. Other things have been happening in the world besides Syria and Ukraine.
Anyway, the story is short: the Hugos (SF fan-voted awards nobody outside SF has heard of) were going to be presented by Jonathan Ross (British chat-show host and general geek celeb).  One of the committee resigned in protest citing Ross’s prior hosting controversies. The resignation was entirely heartfelt. Supportive Twitter outrage followed. Ross stood aside. Twitter counter-outrage followed.
It was slightly creepy to watch, at first, as Ross was depicted by some as a broadly unacceptable misogynist and hater of minorities, then abused by people who had never even heard of him. Whatever your feelings of Ross’s talents, he’s a genre champion with wide (British) recognition. The (let’s face it) entirely obscure Hugos - and indeed the fairly obscure SF genre - could have done with the press.
Part of the problem was the perceived chance of Ross causing offence.
Now in any community of reasonable folk, there’s a group that is morbidly averse to causing offence. With SF fandom currently embroiled in regular batches of soul-searching disarray, that group seems to have become the loudest. Those in the middle seem to feel the pressure to keep schtum, lest they be accused of a heinous whateverism and lumped in with the loud-as-always whateverists.
Yet offence can be good. Offence can be healthy. Say something funny, and get the audience to agree: wasn’t that a little close to the bone? Wasn’t that too much?
It’s not easy. It’ll likely go a bit wrong. Even if it’s done well there’ll be a degree of apoplexy out there, amplified beyond measure in the destructive way the Internet does so well.
But if you remove all chance of offence, become so timid that any potential for it is murdered at birth? That, I would suggest, is actively bad, actively unhealthy.
It’s also - to the rest of the world - self-righteous, po-faced, and hilarious. This may not be the best face for any community to present.
Irony looms large in this story. A genre champion with huge media recognition and a massive Twitter following has been hounded out by a minority mob preaching liberal values while lobbing invention and misrepresentation. (The initial post that started the ball rolling based its damnation of Ross on him being excessively sweary in a previous hosting role, and on a Daily Mail (!) collection of prior controversies that included his observation that not enough black people were presenters on the BBC. Damning stuff!)
It’s broadly a failure of sense. No sense of proportion, and no sense of humour.
And with Ross kicked off in such a dramatic fashion, there may well be media interest. It’s a great story, after all! Maybe in a roundabout and negative way, the Hugos will get some of that much-needed press.
So, whoever gets the gig in the end, please. Please.
Offend. Wittily, affectionately, mercilessly, offend. The genre community is in dire need of it.

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