Friday, April 29, 2016

Slates, Handicaps and Equitable Results

As though you haven't heard, the Hugo nominations have been announced, and just as last year, they're largely dominated by a certain neo-fascist clique that's engaged in a ballot-stuffing campaign. Things are slightly better than last go around, and several legitimate works have made it on the ballot in major categories, whereas the Puppy domination is confined to categories that only the nominees and their friends care about.

However, there's an added wrinkle this year in that Vox Day decided to poison the well by putting several works that would've been nominated anyway on his slate. Whereas last year there were only two options on the ballot -- crap that got nominated through underhanded scheming, and good stuff nominated on its own merit -- this year we have a third category -- good stuff that received a boost from underhanded scheming. For those who advance the idea that every work should be voted on its merits, this isn't a problem -- the good stuff is good stuff regardless of how it reached the ballot -- but for those who oppose the undermining of democratic processes for their own sake, it creates a bind.

In general, this year's categories can be divided three ways. In the first group, we have things like Best Related Work that contain nothing but crap, where the best solution is to vote No Award above everything. Simple enough. Then we have Best Dramatic Presentation Longform, where the final ballot looks like it would even if the Puppies hadn't gamed the nominations, so that can safely be treated as it would in any other year.

The problem comes in categories where there's a mixture. Remember, while the Puppies aren't a powerful enough bloc to win on the final ballot, that doesn't mean they aren't large enough to swing a close race. Imagine, for instance, that Seveneves wins this year, but when the balloting data comes out we see that it was in a narrow race against The Fifth Season, and the margin of victory was smaller than the number of slate voters. If you find slate voting anathema in and of itself, this is a bad outcome. Some will dismiss this by saying that Vox Day will declare victory no matter what, but in this case he'd be correct -- he was able to exert enough pressure on the process to affect the outcome.

But at the same time, if Seveneves wins, the majority of its support will come from legitimate voters who genuinely like the book. If you're one of those people -- maybe even one of the people who nominated it without orders from Day -- should you vote it under No Award on principle? That's a tough question, but then standing up for a principle is never an easy choice.

Probably the best option at this point is to handicap your votes to counter any boost a work is likely to get from the Pups. For instance, let's say your preference for best novel is:

  1. Seveneves
  2. Uprooted
  3. The Fifth Season
  4. Ancillary Mercy
  5. No Award
  6. The Aeronaut's Windlass
You could promote anything that's not slated by one spot, then demote anything that's on the Rabid list by the same amount (since the Sads seem to have very little affect this year, we can simply leave them with no handicap). This would give a revised ballot of:

  1. The Fifth Season
  2. Seveneves
  3. Uproooted
  4. Ancillary Mercy
  5. No Award
  6. The Aeronaut's Windlass
There are several other ways you could handle the handicap. Reversing the order in which you apply the rules would give you:

  1. Uprooted
  2. The Fifth Season
  3. Seveneves
  4. Ancillary Mercy
  5. No Award
  6. The Aeronaut's Windlass
Or, if you want to handicap the Sads as well, you could demote them by one spot and the Rabids by two:

  1. The Fifth Season
  2. Uprooted
  3. Seveneves
  4. No Award
  5. Ancillary Mercy
  6. The Aeronaut's Windlass 
 Personally I think that ones a bit overkill, but I don't see it as illegitimate. The point is to come up with a system where you feel comfortable with the results, both in terms of your personal ballot and with the impact the Pups will have on the end results.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

It's a Day that Ends in "Y" - You All Know What that Means? Misogyny for Everyone!

The Internet is rather like a Ross department store -- at first it looks brightly lit and full of amazing bargains, but then you go around the corner to look at shoes and you find a three day old puddle of vomit in the middle of the aisle. You turn to leave and vow never to return, but then you spot a pair of Nikes for twenty bucks. Anywhere you go online, you're likely to find a puddle of vomit -- misogyny, racism, homophobia. It's been like that as far back as I remember, and I was around in the Wild West days of Usenet. But perversely, the tamer and more corporate the Internet has become, the more prominent the puddles of vomit have become. As people have tried to clean up the puddles and keep a look out for potential pukers, the pukers have adopted a martyr's pose.

"What's wrong with vomiting?" they say. "Who are you to tell me when and where I can throw up? It's a free country. I can puke as I like, and you can't stop me." And now, instead of confining their activities to the back aisles and waiting until no one's looking, they've decided to do it in the main aisles in front of god and everyone, and then loudly proclaim what they've done, fight off anyone who tries to clean it up, and yell at anyone who's offended by the whole display.

A case in point is the ridiculous reaction to action movies with female leads. It's not like this is a new phenomenon -- even before Sigorney Weaver played Lt. Ripley, we had Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar, and before them Calamity Jane and other dime novel heroines, and even before them with Kriemhild and Medea. But suddenly kickass women have become a threat to the masculinity of certain film-goers, leading to utterly hilarious reactions like this.

I know the whole world is ladling on the adoration for your brave contributions to modern womanhood. However, you are behaving, all of you, in ways that do not befit your sex or glorify God. Frankly, and I’m sorry to have to say this, I really am, many of you look ridiculous. Your friends and family and fans may not laugh at you. But the angels do and history will. What you’re doing might be good politics (of a sort), but it’s bad biology, bad theology, and bad storytelling. It lies about who you are as a woman and how God made you. And it makes for lousy movies and TV.

The overt Christian Dominionism is a bit unusual here -- many of the advocates of this sort of bullshit are atheists who loudly proclaim their rationality -- but otherwise this is a bog standard example. I particularly like this bit.

I feel a bit like it’s my job to tell you your slip is showing. Or like I’m one of those knights in those paintings where the knight is rescuing the, uh, rather unclothed lady who is tied to a tree.
The funny bit is, the story that comes to mind from that description is "La Belle Dame Sans Merci".

Some people have dismissed this sort of nonsense as inconsequential, pointing out that the people offended by such views outnumber the people actually saying this shit by a sizeable margin. But while these idiots are certainly a minority, they aren't entirely insignificant. I've encountered several on a certain film forum I frequent, and they are numerous enough that the mods actually shut down the thread for the upcoming Ghostbusters due to the amount of misogyny being thrown about. This only pushed the issue into the subforum for off-topic political discussions, where we've been treated to gems like,

Sorry but its true. Star Wars in its current form is dead to me, seeing every movie going forward be all about the women in the lead, sorry I won't be watching. But I wouldn't expect anything less from Disney since they pander man hating grabage to kids in movies like Frozen. Nothing will make me happier than when Ghostbusters bombs this year. Your all really showing your white knight mindset since your attacking me for speaking the truth.

Ghostbusters has a predominately male fanbase, you can't deny that its a fucking fact. Sony Executive Amy Pascal schemed to get Ivan Reitman out of the creative process, who wanted to make an actual sequel and a good movie. She pushed her feminazi agenda with the movie, not giving a fuck about the real fans, and got a director in Paul Feig who pretty much hates having a penis. Part of the plan to destroy any part of our culture that is important to men.
This really is the center of the argument -- the girls are butting in and wanting to play with the boy toys. Wah-wah-wah.

This is, of course, bullshit.

Star Wars and Ghostbusters were never exclusively for boys. They were four-square hits that drew upon every part of the viewing audience, male, female and intersex.

The argument for Ghostbusters being a guy film is based entirely upon the main cast being four guys. There are several problems with this. First, because men dominate the production process in Hollywood, they also dominate the casts of movies. It's trivial for a guy to go his entire life without watching a movie where the overwhelming majority of dialogue is spoken by women -- in the 1980s, that basically means missing 9 to 5, Beaches and Heathers. For a woman to do the same would require missing hundreds of films, including the biggest blockbusters (Top Gun, Karate Kid, The Empire Strikes Back) and most critically acclaimed movies (Amadeus, Stand by Me) of the decade. So being a majority male cast doesn't mean anything.

But there's also the little issue that the main cast of Ghostbusters, as marketed at the time, didn't include four guys. It was Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Sigorney Weaver.

Everyone jokes about how Ernie Hudson got the shaft on the home video release, not getting his name on the cover and being cropped out of shots in the pan-n-scan version, but it's true. He's not even listed on the cover, and even Harold Ramis is billed below the title, right next to Rick Moranis. So in 1984, nobody went into the theater thinking this was a movie about four guys fighting specters. That's a product of the cartoon and the sequel. In 1984 this was a comedy starring two of the biggest names from Saturday Night Live and a very well respected actress, with that other guy from Stripes and Rick Moranis in supporting roles, and oh yeah, some black guy shows up in the final third.

Star Wars is no different. It didn't take in $300 million in 1977 money by appealing exclusively to dudes. Everyone went to see it. Plenty of little girls were in those theaters, and plenty more watched it on VHS in the '80s, and they were every bit as much fans as the little boys, though they may've had more trouble getting their parents to buy them an X-Wing toy.

So, surprise surprise, these douche-bros are writing revisionist history here. Star Wars and Ghostbusters was never there's. It belonged to everyone. They just didn't notice because they didn't want to play with girls (or, perhaps more likely, girls didn't want to play with them, because really, nobody grows up to be a douche who wasn't a douche to begin with).

And the thing is, their attitude wasn't universal. I remember in third grade we had assigned seats at lunch, and I got put at a table with these two other boys, Shawn and Cornelius, and a girl named Mandy. The first day the conversation turned to the favorite subjects of children everywhere, toys and cartoons. In particular G.I. Joe and Transformers. And you know what? Mandy was far and away the most knowledgeable on both subjects. She'd watched the TV shows, collected they toys, and even read the comic books, which none of the rest of us did. Did that intimidate us? Did we tell her she should be playing with Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Bright? No. She was someone who shared our interests. That was cool. She wasn't taking away our safe space, or whatever bullshit these idiots are on about.

Nor was Mandy unique. When I got into high school, which was near the nadir of Star Wars as pop culture phenomenon, very few people still gave a damn about Luke and Han. For most people, that was in the dust bin of history with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Garbage Pail Kids. The novels were coming out by then, but those were for geeks -- the general public didn't take an interest in Star Wars again until the prequels. The handful of people I knew who were actually reading the Timothy Zahn novels, they were as likely to be girls as guys. When the Special Editions came out and my friends and I made the trek to the next town over so we could watch them in the good theater, we had as many girls piled into the van as guys.

So what's the deal with these guys and their fear of the girl cooties?

What it comes down to is, they're hungry for traditional wish fulfillment fantasies. All that BS Lucas spun about the Hero's Journey, they bought into it. There is only one narrative, and it is the narrative of a boy going on an adventure, getting the girl and becoming the savior of the universe. These are the guys who adore Extruded Fantasy Product and don't see anything wrong with the utter lack of women in The Sword of Sha-na-na.

But here's the dirty little secret about Star Wars, which hardly ever gets mentioned in all the Campbellian wankery -- Luke Skywalker doesn't get the girl. And it's not just that she turns out to be his sister, which is just a cheap ploy to defuse the love triangle without Leia having to say, "Sorry Luke, I just don't think of you in that way." No, Han and Leia hook up because that's clearly where the chemistry lies. And, let's face it, Mark Hamill was never voted Sexiest Man Alive by anyone. For women in the audience, there was no question that Leia should go with the hunka-hunka manly meat over Whiny McSkywalker.

But for certain guys in the audience, this is a bizarre notion. Luke is the hero. Han's cool too, but he's a secondary character. If Lucas hadn't come up with the "There is another Skywalker," thing, these guys would be butt-hurt that Leia didn't reward Luke by becoming his eternal fuck toy. I know the first time I encountered this idea, when my girlfriend in college told me that Luke was an annoying brat and Han Solo was far cooler and sexier, it blew my mind. I'd grown up assuming Luke was the coolest character in the films, and here my girlfriend is saying she'd rather have a hot threesome with Han and Lando. But for the vast majority of women in the SF audience, that's how it works. That's why Farscape and Firefly have huge female fanbases while The Last Starfighter and Dragonslayer are primarily remembered by guys -- the first took Han Solo as their model of hero, while the latter used Luke Skywalker clones.

And now that SF films have become mainstream, there's very little market in appealing to the guys who want a wish fulfillment hero to identify with. It only worked in the original Star Wars because Luke was surrounded by more interesting characters. Same with Ghostbusters -- lots of geeks may've identified with Ray and Egon, but most people went for Bill Murray. But those were thirty-plus years ago. The world has moved on. If you put a character like Luke in a modern movie, he'd come off like ... well, did you see the prequels? Nobody wants that.

Instead we get Rey. Sure, she's a wish fulfillment character, but (A) she's not a whiny brat, and (B) she's a female wish fulfillment character, which is different. There haven't been a lot of those. Women are an underserved demographic when it comes to pandering. Ten years from now, sure, characters like this will probably be tired and cliched. But we aren't there yet.

Unfortunately we still have a bunch of guys playing with their worn-out old Luke Skywalker toys and saying, "Look at how cool he is. He has a lightsaber. Woosh! Bzzt!" and they can't understand why everyone else is ignoring them in favor of the girls who have a brand new Rey action figure. So, in the tradition of little boys everywhere, they're pitching a fit and trying to tear the arms off the girls' toys.

Same as it ever was.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Unconscionable Discrimination Against Christians at the Citadel

The Citadel, that great bastion of traditional American values, is at the center of controversy once again as it considers its first ever religious exemption to its dress code, to permit a Muslim student to wear a hijab. What makes this particularly notable is that it comes just months after the school suspended students for wearing the traditional garb associated with South Carolinian Christianity -- garb which represents classic American values that were supported by the Founding Fathers. Truly America has turned its back upon its past.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What the World Needs Now Is Another Sci-Fi Award Like I Need a Hole in My Head

So, a certain regional science fiction convention has announced a new genre award. This has been met by cheering in certain quarters by people who think a convention held in America's fifth most backward state will quickly gain the cachet to eclipse the floating craps game that is the Hugo Awards and their international voting base.

The idea of artistic awards has always been idiotic -- all they do is reflect the faddish tastes of whatever group picks them out. In the worst cases they fall prey to works specially tailored to the voting base (i.e., the safely liberal -- but not too liberal -- Oscarbait films that dominate the Academy Awards), but even under the best circumstances, artistic awards are shortsighted reflections of the current zeitgeist. True greatness can only be determined if people fifty, a hundred, or five hundred years from now can still look at a work and find something in it that's applicable to their lives. If an artistic award gets that right, it's purely by coincidence.

That being said, not all awards are created equal. That awards are inherently flawed doesn't mean that some aren't more flawed than others. The people championing the Dragon Awards (inevitably to be known as the Draggies) seem to think that the award will be better than the Hugos because DragonCon has a larger voter base than WorldCon. But, again, DragonCon is a regional convention. You get a larger sample size, but of a smaller cross-section of society. It's already bad enough that SF awards are dominated by American tastes without narrowing it further to a specific section of the United States. The people championing the new award aren't really doing it because of the larger voter base. They're doing it because it's nice and provincial -- it's not gonna be tainted by all those damned foreigners and their fellow travelers with their cosmopolitan tastes. This is going to be an award for Hobbits, picking out works full of nice, Hobbity sentiments, and the fact that not anyone outside the Shire will give a damn ... well, nothing outside the Shire matters anyway.

And that is why the Draggies can never live up to the expectations people are setting for them.. The Hugos are far from a great award, but to win it, a work has to appeal to people from around the world. You can't write a story that makes Americans go, "Fuck yeah! USA!" and expect to win. But with the Draggies, that's exactly what people are expecting to happen. If it does, they will fail; if it doesn't, the people championing them now will denounce them.