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World Fantasy Con Programming Mess

World Fantasy Con 2016 Programming has been announced.

On the bright side, after some internet backlash, it looks like they’ve renamed the “Spicy Oriental Zeppelin Stories” panel. So, um, yay for that? But that particular panel name was a symptom of a bigger problem.

I first found out about this from Sarah Pinsker’s series of Tweets. Some of the problems she points out include:

  • A panel about “perversely alluring” freaks. (Panel description has since been slightly tweaked.)
  • “More mentions of Lovecraft in the program than all women or works by women COMBINED.”
  • Heavy programming emphasis on white men, particularly old/dead white men, to the exclusion of others.

Foz Meadows writes more about this mess. File770 also has a roundup of reactions.

I don’t know what was going on in the mind of Darrell Schweitzer and anyone else involved in putting this program together. But I can’t help thinking about the announcement late last year that the World Fantasy Award trophy would no longer feature the bust of H. P. Lovecraft.

And now we have five different panels that focus either directly or indirectly on Lovecraft.

It’s possible this is a coincidence. I believe Schweitzer is a strong Lovecraft fan, so his focus might just be indicative of his own narrow interests. But whether it was deliberate or not, it feels like backlash. A slap in the face of those who talked about how hurtful the Lovecraft trophy was, and all the reasons they wanted to see the award become more inclusive and welcoming to a broader range of fantasy and creators.

Wouldn’t it be great to see the World Fantasy Convention become equally welcoming instead of what feels like petulant doubling down?

It’s not something that just happens all by itself. If WFC wants to become more relevant, there needs to be conscious and deliberate effort to change direction. To look not just at fantasy from decades ago, but the brilliant, creative, exciting work being produced today.

I love the idea of a World Fantasy Convention. I’m utterly bored by another Whitedude Fantasy Convention.

Schweitzer allegedly said “there was no quota system or affirmative action in place” when asked about his programming choices. I get what he’s trying to say, but he’s wrong. Schweitzer’s own quota system is pretty obvious. It might not have been a conscious or deliberate quota, but the programming certainly meets its 90% works by men quota, and its 96% works by white people quota, and so on.

Gods, I’m so tired of the defensive “quota” bullshit. Nobody’s asking for quotas. But it would be nice if people would at least try to recognize their own biases. Sometimes that means yes, you need to actually step back and count. Count the number of women you’ve included in your programming, the number of people of color, and so on. Not because you’re supposed to include an arbitrary number of people from any given category, but to recognize whether your own unconscious choices are narrower than you realized.

While you’re at it, maybe reach out to ask others to look over your proposed program, and maybe help you catch whether what you think is a “harmless in-joke” is going to piss off and hurt a lot of people, making it very clear you don’t really want them as part of your convention.

It just seems better and easier to do that kind of work beforehand, you know?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

( 43 comments — Leave a comment )
swan_tower
Aug. 2nd, 2016 08:44 pm (UTC)
I don't remember the last time I looked at a "let's focus on the work of X/examples of Y-type story" panel description at a World Fantasy and felt anything other than bored. Not just because that type of thing doesn't interest me very much to begin with -- though I'll admit that's part of it -- but because there's this pervasive feeling that the field of vision stops at about 1970. Which could happen for a bunch of reasons, ranging from the exclusion of women and minorities to more innocuous things like the field being smaller in the past, ergo it's easier to find works and authors the majority of attendees are familiar with. But ultimately, the reasons only matter insofar as they help us figure out what exactly we need to fix. I want more panels about things that are happening in my genre NOW, instead of fifty or eighty years ago.
paragraphs
Aug. 2nd, 2016 09:05 pm (UTC)
Yes it would be lovely if it could be. I've been to one, many years ago (2003, I looked it up, and compared to the Bouchercon I also went to that year, well, night and day they were, night and day. Even 'back then,' women authors at Bouchercon were treated as equals to all. It wasn't even a question.

Sure would be nice to go to a fantasy con someday where I didn't feel the negatives bouncing around, where there were interesting, diverse and relevant panels. Sad truth that though I love to read fantasy, as a would-be writer of fantasy, I feel no love.
wild_irises
Aug. 2nd, 2016 11:12 pm (UTC)
Take a look at Sirens sometime. (I've never been, but I want to.)
gonzo21
Aug. 2nd, 2016 09:09 pm (UTC)
Darrell Schweitzer is a big Lovecraft guy, yes. Presumably if he was asked to do the con, then the people asking him were surely expecting it to have a strong Lovecraft theme this year, no?
replyhazy
Aug. 2nd, 2016 10:09 pm (UTC)
But... asked to do the con by whom? How does WFC determine who runs their cons?
gonzo21
Aug. 2nd, 2016 10:11 pm (UTC)
A terrific question. I have no idea. :)

I wonder if it's just 'whoever is dumb enough to put their hand up to volunteer this year'?
replyhazy
Aug. 2nd, 2016 10:21 pm (UTC)
*takes step backwards*
jimhines
Aug. 3rd, 2016 12:13 am (UTC)
Honestly, I love that these conventions are mostly or all volunteer-run. I love what it says about fandom and how much we care about this stuff. But there are drawbacks, too...
gonzo21
Aug. 3rd, 2016 11:19 am (UTC)
For sure, yes. People with passion is what keeps our weird little corners of reality going.

Definitely drawbacks. On all sides actually.

It's unfortunate that the con had such a limited range of inclusivity, and it's also unfortunate that Schweitzer is probably now feeling very attacked and wishing he'd never volunteered in the first place. In these days of extreme polarisation, I sometimes think we all need to work a lot harder at remembering that at heart, we've all got a lot more in common than we think.
elusis
Aug. 3rd, 2016 04:52 pm (UTC)
don't feel too bad for him. He was apparently offered feedback and chose to ignore it. He also considers questions about gender parity to be calls for "quotas."

Edited at 2016-08-03 04:52 pm (UTC)
gonzo21
Aug. 3rd, 2016 04:54 pm (UTC)
Oh dear.

Always more education required, eh.
jeffreyab
Aug. 3rd, 2016 04:11 am (UTC)
Well it is who wants to volunteer to run one.

Given that Darrell Schweitzer has done this before at least once in 2010 it would be nice to give someone new a try.

Also given the current breadth of the fantasy field focusing that much on any author who is not a guest of honour that year is not great programming. World Fantasy only runs 2 panels an hour to begin with.

gonzo21
Aug. 3rd, 2016 11:27 am (UTC)
Right, so it's probably falling under the catagory of one of those things were 'in a democracy the decisions get made by the people who turn up'.
wild_irises
Aug. 2nd, 2016 11:10 pm (UTC)
WFC has a board and cities apply to it to host the convention. But that doesn't determine who does programming, or programming themes.
replyhazy
Aug. 3rd, 2016 02:17 pm (UTC)
Well, that does make it a lot harder to build on the lessons of the past. The board might need to be more hands-on of their con, not that I envy them that position.
rosefox
Aug. 3rd, 2016 01:20 am (UTC)
World Fantasy is a "floating" convention that moves to a different place every year. As with Worldcon, local fannish organizations bid to host it. The WFC board chooses the winning bid. Usually a bid would include the names of significant people who will participate in running the convention, such as the program chair. So this year's host organization specifically chose Schweitzer--who's NYC-based, so they had to go out of their way to pick him--as the program chair, and the board presumably had no issues with this when they approved the bid.
oldcharliebrown
Aug. 4th, 2016 09:59 pm (UTC)
Schweitzer lives in Philadelphia, but, yeah, it is out of their way to have picked him to begin with.
rosefox
Aug. 4th, 2016 10:15 pm (UTC)
Oops, sorry--I've seen him at NYC events so often I think of him as local. :)
l_o_lostshadows
Aug. 3rd, 2016 09:47 pm (UTC)
Lovecraft guy or not, a heavy Lovecraft theme would make more sense next year than it does this year. (80th anniversary of his death*)

It makes me wonder why he volunteered to run this con rather than the next one. It certainly lends credence to the push back over the award theory.


*I'm apparently enough of a Lovecraft gal that I didn't need to look that up.
gonzo21
Aug. 4th, 2016 04:24 pm (UTC)
Cthulhu is hot at the moment I suppose, what with Chaosium being resurrected and getting the 7th Edition ruleset out. Maybe they felt it was good timing just because of that?
autopope
Aug. 2nd, 2016 09:52 pm (UTC)
I know two things about Darrell Schweitzer:

1) My one serious interaction with him was when he interviewed me at a worldcon a few years ago. During which interview it became apparent that not only had he not read any of my work, he hadn't even looked me up on wikipedia: he didn't have a clue what I did or what questions to ask me.

2) Per wikipedia (see, I can look him up) he's a 63-yo white American male. I am not aware of him being a member of any non-mainstream religious, gender, or political grouping. (I'm willing to be corrected on this point.)

So I believe he's basically an unthinking beneficiary of white male privilege, and there's nothing to see here but the same old same old. Which is sad. You can teach old dogs new tricks, but the dog has to want to learn.
jimhines
Aug. 3rd, 2016 12:14 am (UTC)
On #1 - oof. Why was he even interviewing you if he had no idea who you were?
autopope
Aug. 3rd, 2016 11:05 am (UTC)
My best guess is that with Darrell it's all about Darrell, all of the time: man loves the sound of his own voice and volunteered to interview this generic Brit Lovecraftian author he'd heard something about.

I was not amused. I don't think the audience was, either.

Edited at 2016-08-03 11:06 am (UTC)
cypherindigo
Aug. 3rd, 2016 01:03 pm (UTC)
I have moderated panels with Darrell on them. I have comments that I prefer not to put into writing in public.

The last time I moderated such a panel, Philcon 2015; I was gifted with an alcoholic beverage after the panel was over.
andi1235
Aug. 2nd, 2016 11:05 pm (UTC)
Who is actually going to be ON these panels? From the descriptions of the panels I read, they have the POTENTIAL to be both interesting and diverse with the right panelists, but WFC would have to get good panelists.

I didn't get the impression that the examples in the panel descriptions were all-inclusive, so maybe the panelists will have a more modern and diverse slate of works to talk about? I don't know a ton about how this all works, so I may be totally wrong.
wild_irises
Aug. 2nd, 2016 11:09 pm (UTC)
Agreeing with everything you said, and politely suggesting that you might want to spell Sarah Pinsker's name correctly ...
jimhines
Aug. 3rd, 2016 12:15 am (UTC)
Crap. Thank you, fixing now...
deborahblakehps
Aug. 2nd, 2016 11:49 pm (UTC)
My first WFC was in Saratoga last year and it was...disappointing (although I got to meet and hang out with Esther Friesner and Carol Berg, which made it all worth it). There were very few panels which intrigued me, and most of the ones I went to were dominated by one author (various).

I had wanted to go to this year's and couldn't and now I'm glad. Sigh.
jimhines
Aug. 3rd, 2016 12:17 am (UTC)
WFC conflicted with ICON this year. Otherwise, I probably would have tried to go. It's relatively local, and it would have been a chance to catch up with a lot of friends.

But at this point, I'm not all that disappointed.
djonn
Aug. 3rd, 2016 12:18 am (UTC)
Hmm.

First of all, this does not appear to be anything resembling a final program schedule. Rather, it appears to be a publicly posted version of the survey questionnaire conventions send out to guests asking what programs said guests would like to be on. As such, there's a lot of room for change before it gets finalized into an actual schedule.

Also, at 46 items, it feels light for a large convention; that's at most a three-track schedule for a con weekend. (I define a "track" here as everything scheduled for one program space, with an estimate of 5 hours' use on Friday, 8 on Saturday, and 5 on Sunday, thus totalling 18 hours.) I may be assuming WFC to be larger than it is -- I've never been to one -- but I'd have thought a five or six track schedule more likely.

At least half the mentions of Lovecraft (the word appears 9 times on the page linked) are connected to panels explicitly exploring alternatives/successors to the Lovecraftian legacy, not to the works of Lovecraft himself. What will matter there is how the program item is executed, more than how it's phrased in proposal form. Note too that one of those nine mentions is in the title of the novel Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, and I trust Ruff (also author of Set This House In Order) to be about as forward-looking and subversive an author as you'll find these days.

I'd further observe that with Mercedes Lackey as the top-listed Guest of Honor, it's a little hard to accuse the organizers as a whole of being terribly elitist; Lackey is about as commercial and pop-cultural as you can get in the genre (and is a natural to appear on the "Occult Investigators" panel given her authorship of the Diana Tregarde novels). And I see mentions of women authors -- Livia Llewellyn, Kij Johnson, Shirley Jackson, and at least by implication Katherine Dunn (author of Geek Love) in enough places to suggest at least some effort at striking a balance.

Now yes, overall this is a program survey built by someone whose interest and expertise is in a body of older work not noted for its inclusiveness. But it is not a final schedule, and there's a lot of room for the actual panelists to steer these discussions in more inclusive directions. I'd say it's early to pre-judge.
rosefox
Aug. 3rd, 2016 01:22 am (UTC)
Last's year's WFC had two tracks: one of panels, one of readings. I don't know why they think this is anything like sufficient value for the astronomical cost.

It is absolutely not too early to judge them for releasing a preliminary program list that looks like this. No one's claiming that it's final. But it's an appalling draft.
djonn
Aug. 3rd, 2016 02:47 am (UTC)
I'd stop short of "appalling"...but that's at least in part because I'm in exactly the wrong demographic to be sensitized to the biases in play, whether conscious or unconscious. Having now read further in the background material, I see why you and others are appalled, and I agree that you have grounds to be.

What strikes me on second glance is that this is a really odd way to do a program survey, at least in my conrunning experience. Most such that I've been involved with are produced by committee or team effort, not (as evidently here) by a single guiding hand, and I've *never* seen a solicitation for panelists (as this explicitly is) described as a "program" and posted openly in a form of this kind. (In effect, this is the concom putting its sausage-making process on public display, knowing full well that nobody really wants to see the sausage being made....)
elusis
Aug. 3rd, 2016 01:54 am (UTC)
And if the WFC had no other history from which to draw, your "what? It's just an outline? You're inferring things that aren't implied!" critique might have some weight.

Fortunately or unfortunately, it does indeed have a history... of trying to force the Con to be about horror at the expense of fantasy, of fighting tooth and nail to keep their Lovecraft statue as the award despite intense public calls for change, of crappy and mealy-mouthed policies on harassment and accessibility, and of the current programming organizer's characterization of concerns for gender parity as "quotas."

So, your attempt to "Well, actually..." here is pretty moot.
djonn
Aug. 3rd, 2016 03:03 am (UTC)
My initial response above was framed in the context of my own generalized experience with concoms and conrunning (entirely on the West Coast, mostly here in Oregon), and on a reading of the program page Jim linked. I've now, as noted above, had a chance to read further in the background material, and I see why people are legitimately unhappy.

That said, invoking WFC's "history" is not entirely germane. As rosefox points out above, WFC is a floating convention, and is programmed by differently constituted concoms depending on where and by what local fan group a given WFC is run. I don't doubt that there is some continuity from one to the next (see also "permanent floating WorldCon committee"), but there have been and will be regional differences as well. To the extent that this year's programming process is dysfunctional, that's on this year's concom, and (mostly) not on the World Fantasy organization behind it.

To forestall one rejoinder: note that the foregoing observation is limited to con programming, not to administration of the central World Fantasy organization or its Awards. (The relationship between WFCs and WFAs is different from that between Worldcon and the Hugos....)
elusis
Aug. 3rd, 2016 05:09 am (UTC)
It's OK. You didn't use the term hysterical over-reaction jumping to conclusions, but the implication was sufficient.
jeffreyab
Aug. 3rd, 2016 04:16 am (UTC)
World Fantasy generally runs two panels and two readings an hour from about 9 to 6 with a lunch break. There is Thursday night programming with special events on Friday and Saturday.

When you apply to be on a program item you can guarantee either a reading or being on one panel. If you are a bigger draw or relevant to a topic or three you get more panels.

In 2010 I assertively asked and got the assignment to interview David Hartwell which I researched alot before hand and still appreciated the help of Kathryn Cramer.
katgoodwin.wordpress.com
Aug. 3rd, 2016 06:33 am (UTC)
Schweitzer seems to be a regular member of the WFC board and has been deeply involved in the con before -- he's not some newbie messing up on his first go round. And I sincerely doubt he was asked to organize programming. I suspect he just took over. The fact that he got plenty of feedback and has ignored and shoved it off tells you exactly what you're getting here.

Just because somebody is a white male does not mean that white guys can't count. A programming "first draft" that is 90% male and 95% white people when it's supposed to be a world focused professional con is simply bigoted and discriminatory. A con programmer who insults Asian SFF authors and disabled writers and fans right off the bat and tells women writers they can barely participate because otherwise that would be a quota? And you know who is going to be on those panels -- not a whole bunch of the current hot authors who might have gone to WFC but just discovered that they are not welcomed and the people running the WFC want them out of the field. How exactly is that going to be a con that can help them and/or to which they can contribute when it's focused on a bunch of old variations of Lovecraft that mostly nobody even in horror is writing now? And as has been pointed out by others, the incredibly influential Shirley Jackson gets one panel for her anniversary, whereas the former white guy honorees got five-ten panels at WFC for theirs.

This is stupid. I've been to WFC before a number of years ago (and I'm sure problems were on-going then,) but they weren't like this. This is a temper tantrum, not a draft of possible programming. Added to this the current year's con runners' views about harassment, and even if I could get to this year's WFC, no way would I bother going. Even white guys writing today like Jim don't seem especially welcome, which is weird.
dickgloucester
Aug. 3rd, 2016 08:12 am (UTC)
I watched this recently, and he has some good points to make regarding diversity:

dacuteturtle
Aug. 3rd, 2016 12:57 pm (UTC)
Am I right in thinking that panels are put together by volunteers? If so (and correct me if I'm wrong), then any con will be constrained by the initiative of its volunteers to put together panels. If we don't want to see a repeat of white male focused panels, then those who want diversity need to bring diversity.
elusis
Aug. 3rd, 2016 04:55 pm (UTC)
"Those who want diversity need to bring diversity" - Oh if only someone had tried to help do just that and been blown off! OH WAIT THAT WAS THE SECOND LINK IN JIM'S POST.
lietya
Aug. 3rd, 2016 05:06 pm (UTC)
*like* :)
lietya
Aug. 3rd, 2016 05:06 pm (UTC)
Hell, I'll step up and say there *should* be a quota. After all, if one looks at this convention's history rather than this single instance, straight cis abled white dudes appear to predominate, or so I've consistently been told. An entire iteration of this convention in which they were absolutely banned from mention still wouldn't come close to balancing the scales overall. Yes, it would suck for those who were eligible that year, and I'm not seriously suggesting it. But "we can't have a quota, because God forbid people like me aren't guaranteed 90% of the slots" is ridiculous, and I for one have a hard time believing that there aren't many, many equally talented and eligible people from marginalized perspectives. Raising the bar for anyone who isn't marginalized would merely, briefly, replicate for the privileged the experience of those who have to be twice as good just to get a look. And it would be fascinating to see what kind of programming happened in a con where the rule was that you had to strongly justify the inclusion of a privileged person rather than the reverse.

(I'll add that my only involvement with WFC is that, once a year, my Twitter feed explodes with "this is a trash fire"... which is not giving me a good impression of them, I admit.)
finnyb
Aug. 3rd, 2016 11:08 pm (UTC)

I've been to two WFCs, in 2008 when it was held here in Calgary, and in 2012 when it was in Toronto. (Due to pesky exchange rates and other financials, non-Canadian-based cons are out of the question for the foreseeable future, sadly.)


At both the cons I attended, I noticed more accessability-related issues than anything, though that is more likely due to my being disabled, myself, rather than anything else.  However, I've had discussions with other attendees who have had far more issues in other ways than I have, and I must say that, as a female science fiction and fantasy fan, the 2012 con felt far, far, far more welcoming than the 2008 con did.


I think, as much as I'd love to meet Misty and Larry again, I'm glad I'm not going to WFC in 2016.

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