In case you missed it Saturday night, Hugo Award voters soundly rejected at least the tactics of the Sad and Rabid Puppies. No Award won in all the categories only containing puppy picks, and Guardians of the Galaxy was the only nominee appearing on either slate to win an award. Voters in the WorldCon business meeting also endorsed changing Hugo nomination rules to make it much harder for a slate to dominate in the future, though the change will need to be ratified next year.
There has been, of course, much coverage and analysis of the puppies situation in the days following the awards ceremony. It ranges from affirmation of the diversity of the field to vote geekery to distress over the awards being marked by conflict to cheaply theatrical hand-rubbing to “Look at you so-called social justicey people who are willing to deny a woman an award.” File 770 will enable you to read up on this to your heart’s content–and far, far beyond. (If you want to read just one or two posts on this, I recommend starting with Alexandra Erin’s.)
The post I want to draw your attention to today, however, is from Foz Meadows, who writes about peeling an “onion argument”.
So: inasmuch as any of the Puppies can be said to have a reasonable concern at the bottom of all their rhetoric, which often comes off as little more than “we think books about people who aren’t straight white dudes are boring”, it’s the worry that certain stories are being rewarded because they contain X character or are written by Y author rather than because they’re actually good. And given the way such books are often discussed and lauded by those who love them, where these aspects are openly stated as pros, you can see where the concern comes from. After all, the difference between saying “this book is great because it had a queer protagonist” and “this book is great because it had a well-written protagonist” seems, on the surface, pretty obvious: one is concerned with a single aspect of characterisation regardless of its execution, and the other is concerned with execution alone. So clearly, if you’re vaunting queerness (for instance) as though it’s a synonym for quality, you’re at risk of recommending mediocre stories on a tokenistic, uninformed basis.
But in order to explain why this is so, there’s six onion layers we need to unravel: context, experience, awareness, representation, language and taste.
The post does a great job breaking down what people are talking about when they’re excited about books with non-default characters and is worth reading for that alone. However, as I read it, I was most struck by how many other onion arguments I’ve seen in recent years. A few of the most fought-over:
- Schroedinger’s rapist
- Intent is not magic
- People are experts in their own experience
- Trans women are women
There are volumes of meaning and implication behind each of those short statements. More critically, we’ve spent ages breaking down the volumes of meaning and implications behind each of those short statements, only to see them generally ignored or elided in favor of engaging with the short form of each. We’ve watched people talk about how self-evidently ridiculous each statement is without ever trying to understand more than those few words.
Is it a coincidence that each of these arguments is presenting a marginalized perspective? I’m not sure. Those are the arguments I engage with most often, so it could merely be a matter of sampling. On the other hand, the fact that the long forms of these statements aren’t part of the general discourse almost certainly makes them easier to ignore. There are also many ways we go about denying that marginalized people have complicated, nuanced narratives.
Whatever the reason we often accept the simplified, easily dismissed version of these arguments, the tendency itself is something we need to be wary of. It’s important for our own sakes as well as other people’s that we argue with what people are really saying, even if that means we have to do the work to peel away the layers.
Let’s start putting some steel to those onions, folks.