Critics aren’t your best friends, they’re your only friends

John Scalzi made a strange defence of the Hugo awards recently on his blog, that made me a little sad:

I do think there’s a core of commenters whose problem internalizing that other people have other tastes is overlaid with a more-than-mild contempt for fandom, i.e., “Oh, fandom. You’ve shown again why you can’t be trusted to pick awards, you smelly, chunky people of common tastes, you.” Fandom does what fandom does with folks like that: it ignores them, which I think is generally the correct response to such wholly unwarranted condescension.

I tried asking John on Twitter what these condescending critiques were, but he was reluctant to give any examples. I think the sound John interprets as condescension is more like a sigh of disappointment. Which will soon be replaced with the soundless vacuum of complete disinterest, because when people stop paying attention they rarely bother to even condescend to you any more.

It took me a little thought to realise why it made me sad. It’s because I am one of those people who has already stopped paying attention. I barely noticed either the Hugos or Nebulas this year. Even the teacup storm around the mormon whale rape story largely passed me by until a friend pointed it out some weeks after the fact. It’s not a deliberate shunning, it’s just that there are a lot of fascinating things in the world and neither the Hugos or Nebulas rated highly among them this year.

There’s a great scene in the film Others People money where Danny DeVito, as a ruthless corporate raider, gives a speech to the investors in the steel mill he is seeking to buy and dismantle. The business is being held together by sentiment and nostalgia for times past, which DeVito’s character brutally dispells with the now classic line “I’m not your best friend, I’m your only friend.” As far as I can see the critics of the Hugo and Nebula awards are among its best friends, because they’re among the last people who can even be bothered to pay attention to the things.

I haven’t been one of those critics. And given that I failed to even remember the awards existed this year, I may not be best placed to assess whether the criticism is valid. But there certainly seem to have been some serious problems. This year SFs major awards seemed to be decided by a few completely partisan factions of fans. That may well have been the case in previous years. That only makes it worse. Some of the writing that won awards was laughably and offensively bad. It’s hardly surprising that people take neither the field nor its awards seriously when writing that bad is held up as exemplar. As the awards managed to generate next to no publicity outside the echo chamber of fandom, so it’s hard to see what commercial purpose they serve. And the fact that none of this is actually surprising? Again, not good.

All of those seem like quite valid criticisms to me, that should be addressed. So I would be interested to know which are the invalid criticisms that should be ignored.

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