Monday, March 03, 2014

For Jonathan Ross and Family

This note is for you, Mr. Ross, your wife, daughters, and family members that have been hurt by recent events involving the Hugo Awards Emcee reaction.

I suspect you folks have never heard of me, and that's quite alright. My name's John Picacio and I watched from the sidelines this weekend as the Hugo Awards Emcee situation became a debacle on social media. I've already expressed publicly that I was very sorry to see the way it played out, even though I had nothing to do with it.

I'm writing this though because that's essentially not true.

Because I am a working professional within the sf/f publishing field and an artist who has been fortunate enough to win two Hugos, I am a part of the sf/f community by default, whether I chose to speak out or not, and I regret that I didn't on Saturday. Thus, just by professional association, I DO have something to do with this community when some of its very vocal professionals make emotionally-loaded and potentially hurtful statements that end up reflecting on our entire community.

Watching fellow professionals attack Mr. Ross on Twitter was disappointing, to say the least. They said that Mr. Ross' performance behaviors were justification for saying that he wasn't welcome because those behaviors made some of them feel uncomfortable.

Their comfort levels are their prerogative, as are mine. I have the right to not needlessly demonize or vilify a complete stranger, and assume the worst of that individual. I have the right to not be afraid to speak out and instead ask, "Is it really necessary to allow fear to rule the day and indict someone for behavior toward this event that hasn't even happened yet?"

I didn't say anything. I don't suspect it would have changed what happened. The people that were attacking you have bigger microphones than I do. More Twitter followers. More political leverage. Larger armies.

Whether it would have changed things or not -- I was wrong to not have said something at the time. Lesson learned.

That said -- there has been a lot of good work done by good people in this community to make 'safer' environments for fans and pros alike. I endorse and support this work, and will continue to do so.

However, I saw lines crossed this weekend, when personal insecurities seemed to spawn fear-driven and very personal attacks for actions and situations that had not even occurred, but were merely speculated. Those responses were far less than what you deserved, and far, far less than what I expect of my peers, and this field to which I belong.

There is a human cost, and Mrs. Goldman's tweets illustrate that quite painfully. I post these here not to remind your family of your hurt, but for others who might see this to know that we currently have a large compassion gap in our community -- and it has TWO sides, no matter which side you claim as your own.

There are humans on either side of that gap, and when we ignore the humanity of strangers, we are the lesser, and thus, far less than we must be.

This is a series of messages from Mrs. Goldman to Seanan Mcguire, dated about 12 hours ago:

"Reading all your yay!women! tweets this morning, while you rudely ignore a real, live 17 yr old girl....whom you hurt deeply with your words, is jaw-dropping. You falsely accuse her father of sizeism, she gathers the courage to speak to a bullying adult with 12.5k followers....and you IGNORED HER and casually blathered on about the Oscars. Wow. Just.. wow. But don't worry. Go on. Let's discuss Disney princesses. Don't worry about the three real women whose weekend you ruined. (Me and my daughters.) Women like you. Who worry about what to wear, and get called fat. And feel loved and protected by the man you slandered, and who were brought to tears not by imaginary words, but by YOUR self-involved, ill-considered poison. You owe my daughter a reply. Learn some manners and take responsibility for the effect of your words have on real humans."

I offer this to all -- to the Ross and Goldman family, and to you that are reading this -- we cannot let fear rule sf/f. It did this weekend, and people were hurt in the process. If we as sf/f professionals (artists, authors, editors, publishers, what-have-you) can't understand that there's a human cost to our tweets and public posts when we lash out against people, then we're not as good as we may think we are. I offer this to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Charles Stross, Ellen Datlow, Seanan, Farah, and anyone else who was a part of this series of exchanges this weekend.

I'm sorry to all of you that I didn't speak up, and say what I should have. I think we're a lesser community for what occurred this weekend.

I feel badly for Farah for being put in a position to voice her concerns publicly, as she alleges she was refused the conduit to express her opinions within reasonable private processes, with due course. That said, the damage is done for Loncon3, for Mr. Ross, his family, for the individuals directly involved in the wordslinging, and for all of us as a part of this community.

My words will not change people's minds about what they want, or what they fear.

What I do hope is that this note will let Mr. Ross, Mrs. Goldman, and their family know that this sf/f community crossed lines that should never be crossed, and acted less than professionally in the reaction. Should you later choose to attend Loncon3 in a civilian capacity, I'll be happy to take some time for us to tour the Art Show together, and share a meal on my dime, at your convenience. Please don't feel obligated, but the offer is there for you, unconditionally. Let me know and I'll be there.

Beyond that, it's time to get back to work. If you ever need anything, I'm here for you. Come as you are -- any time, any place.

Very best,

UPDATE: Thank you to Sunil Patel for sharing Seanan's reply on the matter. (Sunil's comment is the 2nd one from the top.)


Anonymous Christopher Gronlund said...

While I'm quite removed from the sf/f community (were it not for friends within the community, I wouldn't have known about what happened over the weekend), I've watched this with interest. Having seen people quick to anger and retaliation online and worse -- refusing to accept apologies when they are called for and genuine -- is sad no matter what subculture gets caught in the crossfire. The NYT article you link to is perfect. It's strange how people can act in what they convince themselves they are sure of. I have a health issue and there have been times I've been laid off jobs and unable to get care. The angry people like Nicholas Kristof mentions in his op-ed have tried riling me up in those times, asking me if it infuriates me that I've gone without while "freeloaders" get care. It's never that black and white, and in my specific case, the people are disappointed to hear that I believe in compassion for others, even if I've gone without care.

I'd seen Ross, here and there, but after reading about this weekend's debacle, I read more about him. I think it's cool that he's been married to the same woman since the late 80s and has a couple daughters and a son. Obviously, I don't know everything he's said or done, but he seems to care about the people in his life, and the majority of those closest to him are women. (That, and he's close to Neil Gaiman, who has always been very kind and outspoken about those crossing lines and being cruel; I can't see Neil being friends with a misogynist.)

What I like most about your entry is the reminder of why I'm glad I know you. This is so perfectly stated, as well as kind to all involved. Not that it's my reason that I moved on from independent comic books, but the short time doing that, I had someone on a comic books IRC channel threaten to kill me, just because...I live in Texas and don't own a gun. It's weird, the urge of some to become so angered over certain things, and now worse: when they wield some perceived power in their rage. I hope the Ross/Goldman family takes you up on your gracious offer and that cooler heads prevail.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Sunil Patel said...

This is a very thoughtful post, John, and I thank you for adding your voice. I was unaware of Mrs. Goldman's message to Seanan, but in the interest of closing what appears to be an open issue, I wanted to include Seanan's response (she had not seen Mrs. Goldman's daughter's messages and was not ignoring them, and Mrs. Goldman apologized for assuming rudeness):

"I am very sorry to have upset you. My concerns came from what I know of his humor, and not what I know of him as a person. It can be very easy, with comedians, to forget that stage persona and reality are not the same. I can make excuses--it was early in the morning, I was startled, I spoke in haste--but truth is, I spoke. No rescinding that. I am genuinely sorry to have caused you pain. I will consider my platform for speaking better the next time I have concerns. I have been educated on your father's place in fandom; I just think that didn't spread as far as my dismay did."

It is important to consider both sides. Definitely something to think about.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Misha said...

Excellent post.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

This post seems to be the only thing I can find that presents even partial evidence for the suggestion that Ross's family was attacked during the weekend's unpleasantness.

For balance, though, you should include Ms Goldman's final tweet of that conversation:

7:07 PM  
Blogger Carl V. Anderson said...

Interesting to read your thoughts, John. I hadn't been aware of what had happened until I saw you mention it on FB yesterday.

It is sad how this all played out. Can't say I disagree with people's concerns as I'm not sure it is a wise idea to bring in someone to emcee who has been known to create controversy in the past, but attacking him directly or indirectly on social media is certainly not the adult way to voice concerns.

Sadly it has become our default way of dealing with things. The SFF community is a hot mess, in my opinion, and has been for some time. I too often choose not to speak up about it because it makes me equally sad and angry and I find myself at a loss of how to express myself without adding to the problem. I try to be part of the solution by focusing on the positive things but that doesn't seem to counteract all the negativity very effectively.

Now that it is all said and done I think it would have been interesting to see if Ross could have been a fun, entertaining and respectful emcee, given his reported love of the genre and the respect I assume he has for his wife, who herself is a big part of the community. Due to the quick judge, jury and executioner system of social media we'll never know.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Osborn said...

John, well said. And I'm truly glad you said it.

We actually had warm days over the weekend, and I jumped at the chance to get out and about with my husband, so I completely missed seeing any of this until well after the fact. I started seeing hints of something last night, but have only fully come to understand it this afternoon after a good bit of reading.

I guess the thing that I would like the Ross family (and others in the world at large, whose introduction to SFdom is this situation, though I suppose with two SF/F authors in the family, the Rosses may already) to understand is simply this:

The bombastic behavior exhibited this past weekend does not, nor should not, represent the SF/F professional community as a whole.

Your comment, John, that we should not be ruled by fear resonates with me, as I have anxiety disorder. Fear and anxiety are, and have always been, a large facet of my life -- but it has been my personal maxim to never let it rule me. So much so that I can, and have, deliberately done certain things in defiance of that fear that rises up within me. That said, it doesn't mean I'm never afraid. I'm afraid a lot. When the disorder is flaring, I'm afraid probably most of the time.


I'm no hero. I'm nobody especially famous, even though I'm a writer. I'm just a cussedly, stubbornly determined, middle-aged woman. And I'm not going to let fear rule -- and ruin -- my life. Sure, I get scared. I blow up. I shoot off my mouth. And I go back and apologize. But I'm learning how to rein in that fear enough to THINK BEFORE I shoot off my mouth. So as time goes on, I am shooting it off (and myself in the foot) less and less.

May this be true for us all.

God bless.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Sabrina Vourvoulias said...



As the tweets of SFF people I follow flooded my timeline decrying Mr. Ross' choice as a presenter (in all caps and all certainty of the worst) I was reminded of the similarly genuine fear and horrified reaction to Latin@s purchasing homes in a section of Reading (PA) that had until then been all Anglo. In that case, as well, the perceived threat drove the existing homeowners to express themselves in public forums as if their prospective neighbors were dangerous, and that proximity to them would spell disaster.

Fear makes people give vent to their worst impulses. It is certainly nothing to be encouraged in SFF nor everyday life.

11:16 PM  
Blogger John Picacio said...

Thanks for the thoughts and insights, everyone. 'Appreciated.

9:29 PM  
Anonymous Ginjer Buchanan said...

I've always had enormous respect and affection for you, John. This post has only increased it.

12:54 PM  
Blogger John Picacio said...

Very kind of you, Ginjer. I didn't know you were retiring until I returned home, after seeing you at Boskone. What an amazing legacy you created across your career. Huge 'thank you' for all you've done for the sf/f field. :)

6:53 AM  
Anonymous VilcMania said...

Very well said. Thank you for this post, John.

5:18 PM  

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