Thursday, March 6, 2014

My View on the Ross Thing

You may have heard of the latest controversy to engulf the science fiction community--after all, not only is it less than a week old, this one has been picking up some mainstream media coverage, to the extent that six of the first ten hits for his name deal with it. That's because it pivots around how, for eight hours or so last Saturday, former British TV presenter Jonathan Ross was tapped to host the Hugo Awards at this year's Worldcon, Loncon 3. It was only eight hours because that's how long it took for him to back out of it after the news of his being tapped set off a Twitter storm.

If you've never heard of Jonathan Ross, you may be wondering why he was reacted to in such a manner. He has, in fact, run into no shortage of controversies himself, one of them getting him suspended from the BBC for six months. But that is, in itself, a huge factor in what went down. I get the distinct impression that the Loncon 3 chairs didn't fully appreciate that this isn't just another British con, but a Worldcon drawing thousands of people from all over the world--though mostly North America and Western Europe--many of whom would have never heard of this guy who used to be on the telly. Many of whom had only the stories of his controversies to inform them, and given what the sf community has been through in the last few months, a lot of people out there are understandably on hair triggers.

As an experienced presenter, and knowing that he would be representing Loncon 3 in his interactions with the sf community, Ross should have known how to approach the situation professionally and how to introduce himself to people with no prior experience of him. Instead, this is what we got:

My first introduction to and impression of Jonathan Ross, ladeez and germs.

When you're caught in an incipient controversy, there's one simple rule--don't feed it. Resnick and Malzberg turned the SFWA controversy from eye-rolling and grumbles to flame wars by saying that people rolling their eyes and grumbling at them were liberal fascists trying to censor them. Rob Ford made a mockery out of his status as a crack aficionado by constantly denying that he smoked crack until finally telling reporters that they hadn't "asked the right question." Ross didn't appreciate this, and so he got burned.

But it's more than that, I think. In this, it seems like there's also a measure of fame's blinders. I see plenty of people like Neil Gaiman bemoaning the reaction that Ross received, but how much of this came from an unexamined opinion that everyone would know Ross for Ross? I didn't. I only know Ross from his tweets, and I don't care if Neil Gaiman calls him a friend--I think he's a jerk.

When people voice their concerns about you, the proper response is not to insult them or accuse them of slander. It only makes you look out-of-touch and, frankly, a bit sad.

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