Where Shall I Point This Pitchfork?
3rd March 2014On the morning of Saturday the 1st of March Loncon 3 announced Jonathan Ross as its Master of Ceremonies for the Hugo Awards. By the evening, Loncon announced his withdrawal via Twitter. In between, there had been a twitstorm on the subject of whether the TV presenter and author (let's not forget that bit) was a suitable choice, given some of his previous ill-judged jokes at the expense of women, ethnic minorities, and a few others.
Did Jonathan Ross commit the sin of geeking out whilst being white and male? Well, there's more to it than that, but sort of. His appointment came days after the SWFA petitions controversy, which is just the latest in a long line of gender-related fuck-ups to have rocked genre publishing. People are touchy about this subject. If Jo Brand or Eddie Izzard had written some comics and wanted to MC, I don't think there would have been any problem.
Who the heck is Wossy?I was quite surprised to come across people on Twitter mentioning that they'd never heard of Jonathan Ross. But then I live in a bubble of Britishness, where wellies are worn, and afternoon tea is taken, and children are weaned on Marmite.
For the benefit of my (probably hypothetical) American reader, Ross is a popular talk-show presenter who used to do film reviews on the BBC. He's very high-profile, and pretty funny. His humour isn't notably sexist or anything else-ist, but he's had a long career and he's clearly upset a few people in the course of it.
One of the things I've noticed about Ross's style is that he doesn't filter much out in between his brain and his mouth. During his late-night show I distinctly remember him discussing the intimate details of his sex life at least once, and whilst he may well have been making everything up, it occurred to me that it was the kind of subject normal people simply wouldn't discuss. At all. Ross is unafraid to take a taboo subject and say exactly what's on his mind, so long as he thinks it might be amusing.
This lack of a filter isn't a mere personality quirk, on the level of hating parsnips or collecting pens. It's not a flaw that he needs to iron out, it's more like the reason he's so successful.
For another example of someone who doesn't seem to think before he opens his mouth, see Russell Brand.
Comedians who need to be funny live have to be brave, and that's more than a matter of standing up and saying random things. They're funny because they're not afraid to say things that make them look like complete and utter fools, and they don't hesitate to broach topics that leave the rest of us wincing. That self-conscious voice that tells the rest of us when to button it up simply gets in their way, so they ignore it.
None of this is an apology for anything Jonathan Ross has said, it's merely an observation.
Tabloid muckCharlie Stross had slightly different reasons for seeing Ross as a poor choice. He expressed concerns about the presenter's tendency to attract tabloid journalists, saying: "while fandom is in the process of cleaning house, inviting him - or anyone with a controversial media profile - to be Hugo toastmaster is like rolling out a welcome mat at the Worldcon front door that says "muck-rakers welcome"."
I don't agree with this thinking. Charlie is right to distrust the tabloids. If you were looking for a poisonous bunch of hateful froth-mouthed ranters to help you wage a propaganda war on the UK's poor, that's who you'd ask.
But I don't see why they should have any power over us. Is there any overlap between genre fans and the audience of the Daily Mail? I have no respect for the tabloids, I don't read them, and all of my bookish friends seem to despise them.
So the SFF community should get on and do whatever it wants or needs to, without worrying about what slant the tabloids want to put on it.
GeekrageI was an early supporter of Loncon, but I never got around to booking tickets, so I don't really have a horse in this race. But I do have a passing acquaintance with the British SFF convention scene, and I have noticed that the mood has changed in recent years. There's far less tolerance of any kind of sexism, and people are starting to examine such behaviour much more closely. It's an important conversation to have.
I don't think Jonathan Ross should have been bullied out of taking part in Loncon, even if he wasn't the best choice. Anyone who is amusing enough to be a good Master of Ceremonies is likely to have similar issues with filtering what they say, and I don't think there's anyone who can say they've never uttered something that was offensive to someone. What worries me is that this episode will put off other people who might have potentially been very good speakers and awards presenters, because they may get the impression that the SFF world isn't very welcoming.
If this has left a bad taste in your mouth, check out the Twitter hashtag #WhyILoveSFF, started by Gareth L Powell, which celebrates all that is good and positive in our genre.
© Ros Jackson