On the Sidelines of an Uproar
E-mail the other day which said:
You’ve been quiet on the whole World Fantasy Award uproar. I’m surprised because it seems like your kind of thing.
(For those who need context on the World Fantasy Award uproar, here’s a good basic summation.)
Not sure what to make of this comment. I haven’t been quiet about it, actually; I’ve noted some thoughts on the matter on Twitter of the last several days. Also, I’m not entirely sure what’s meant by this being “my kind of thing.” Is it my kind of thing because I’m occasionally up for genre awards? Or my kind of thing because it’s about social issues? Or both?
I suppose it is true that I’ve been less noisy about it than other folks have, which comes down to a number of reasons, one of them being that I’ve been busy with my own things recently (see this to see what’s been occupying my time the last several days), and another being, well, again, I don’t have to elbow my way to the front of every single controversy on science fiction and fantasy, now, do I? I understand and support the idea that it’s not a great idea to have an unrepentant racist be the literal face of one of the most prestigious awards in the genre, but other people, like Daniel Jose Older, Nnedi Okorafor and Sofia Samatar among others, are rather more invested and have been more cogent in their discussions of it than I am or would have been. I don’t see what utility there would have been in my shoehorning myself into that discussion.
Also, there’s this: I don’t generally write fantasy (my entire fantasy output consists at this point of two novellas and a parody short story). I’ve been to exactly one World Fantasy Convention, and that because it was a convenient place for SFWA to hold a business meeting when the Worldcon was that year on another continent. I’ve never been nominated for a World Fantasy Award, nor do I find such a thing likely.
As for the award itself, I actually like the bust visually, but that’s almost solely because I’m a fan of the artist Gahan Wilson, and of his style. The bust is a grotesque, as a noun, and grotesque, as an adjective. My admiration for the artist’s work does not distract from my opinion that HP Lovecraft was always a curious selection for the award. While his work is obviously fantastical, it’s so much more typically horror in my mind that having him as an icon of fantasy as a whole never made much sense to me (by this same argument, I’m not 100% convinced having Lovecraft replaced by Octavia Butler, as has been suggested, makes sense, either, as she is in my mind strongly associated with science fiction rather than fantasy). With that said, I’ve never had any particular strong feeling for or against the statue, probably because it never especially applied to me as someone who doesn’t actively participate in the fantasy side of the genre. I was neutral on it until others pointed out problems with Lovecraft, unrepentant racist, as an icon for the field.
So, again: While I don’t think I’ve been silent about my support for the folks making the argument about changing the award statue, I’m not sure why I should have needed to try to insert myself into the front ranks of this particular argument, either. I’m happy to have been in the crowd for this one, lending support rather than leading the charge.
The aftermath noise from certain quarters to the change has been, well, predictable, hasn’t it, with the telltale furious ejaculations of “political correctness!” and “social justice warriors!” marking the words of people who can’t or won’t employ actual thought to the matter. I’m always embarrassed for the people who use these phrases thinking they’re cutting, when in fact what they signal to the rest of the world is that the utterer is dog-whistling to a low-wattage, bigoted rabble in lieu of making an actual argument.
It’s nonsense in any event. There is no real danger of Lovecraft being removed from the fantasy/horror canon, although maybe now there will be more discussion of how his personal bigotry shaped his tales. Along this line, nor are the arguments of Lovecraft being “of his time” particularly persuasive when it’s obvious and evident that even in his time, he was noxiously bigoted, and in any event, it’s not his time anymore. One of the privileges of being of our time (whichever time that is) is to decide who and what should represent a genre, and in this case a genre that is increasingly diverse and full of people that it seems likely Lovecraft himself would have been horrified to see clutching his likeness as a prize.
Which is to say that I expect of all the people who would vote to have Lovecraft’s likeness removed from the World Fantasy Award, he himself would be among the first. For his own bigoted reasons, mind you. But the end result would be the same.