Con drama: liberals, diversity, and dickwolves

There’s been a lot of talk about cons this past week. DragonCon, WorldCon/LonestarCon and PAX were all last weekend, and it seems that half the internet was in attendance for at least one of them. And oh, the drama that has ensued.

Liberals taking over the Hugos

The Hugo awards were announced at WorldCon, of course, and as usual, there’s been backlash over the results. Whenever John Scalzi is involved in anything, there’s going to be controversy. John Ringo, a military sci fi author, posted about how he felt that Scalzi only won because of a liberal conspiracy. Since Scalzi has been working so hard recently on promoting anti-harassment policies at cons and calling himself a feminist (related: this is what a feminist looks like), then obviously the highly liberal Hugo voters voted for him because of politics and not because Redshirts was any good. And other blah blah popularity contest complaints.

This kind of thing crops up every year, as people try to come up with reasons why someone has won an award–any reason except their book being actually good. I think what’s dumb this year is that Ringo is an author, and apparently hasn’t learned the lesson of not being an asshole on the internet. In some way, his ranting was successful, however; I’d never heard of John Ringo before yesterday.


After the furor of the Hugo results settled down, people began to talk about WorldCon and how it can be fixed. WorldCon moves to different locations around the world every year, occasionally piggybacking on other cons that are happening in that same location. Every year, WorldCon members vote to see where it will head next. The problem is mainly that “around the world” tends mostly to be the US, and the con has a narrow demographic. At the moment, I haven’t really seen much talk of what can actually be done about it, but lots of talk that something probably should.

I’m not sure if talk of WorldCon inspired the wider discussion of diversity in sff, or if it just happened to parallel it, but that’s been going around as well. You can check out the #diversityinsff tag on Twitter for a lot of this, but the gist is that sff is still predominantly white (in terms of authors, agents, editors, etc) and we continue to persist with this “white characters/Western culture is universal relatable and everyone reads that, while anything non-white is niche and unmarketable” point of view. Mary Robinette Kowal did a quick survey (that you can fill out here) to see how the demographics break down. It’s interesting, but not surprising, that the majority of people who have filled out the survey are white, female, and between 30 and 40 years old, and the sff they consume is generally US/UK based.

A few links, before this gets long (too late):

Movements: On Escapist Literature and Being Dangerous” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz talks about diversifying the genre.

Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism” in Psychology Today, about how hypocritical it is to say you “don’t see race”.

Related is Mishell Baker’s tweet: “There is no way to escape writing about race, sexuality, and gender. Your only choice is -how- you write about it.”


In other con drama, Penny Arcade Expo happened, and once again everyone’s talking about the dickwolves controversy. The dickwolves thing, in case you hadn’t heard about it, is just another example of people failing at not being an asshole. Back in 2010 Penny Arcade did a one-off comic about the weird morality of role playing games like Word of Warcraft. The comic contained the line “Every night, we are raped to sleep by the dickwolves.” (As an aside, I can’t ever watch an episode of Law and Order, produced by Dick Wolf, without thinking of this comic). Anyway, some people objected to the rape joke, and instead of saying “Sorry about that, we didn’t mean to upset rape survivors and we’ll try not to do that in the future,” Penny Arcade complained that people were bullying them and censoring them, and then started selling dickwolf t-shirts and talking about how not sorry they were.  A lot of the people who complained about the rape jokes were subsequently inundated by rape threats and death threats. Eventually PA pulled the merchandise from the store.

Anyway, at PAX this weekend, comic artist Mike Krahulik mentioned on stage that pulling the merchandise was one of his biggest regrets. This was the last straw for a lot of people, and even Wired had an article about giving up on PAX for good. A lot of people see PAX as the definitive con in the gaming industry, so pulling out of PAX is a very big thing.

I had written more on this, but as I was in the process of doing so, Krahulik posted a clarification that’s actually very thoughtful. He writes:

I regret the follow up strip, I regret making the merchandise, I regret pulling the merchandise and I regret being such an asshole on twitter to people who were upset. I don’t think any of those things were good ideas. If we had just stopped with the strip and moved on, the Dickwolf never would have become what it is today.

Very true. If only he’d thought of it three years ago.

Other news

Lightspeed Magazine has announced their “Women Destroying Science Fiction” Special Issue. Awesome? Yes.


5 Replies to “Con drama: liberals, diversity, and dickwolves”

  1. Hi, I found this via a pingback at Cheryl Morgan’s blog. I’d like to correct one thing you say about Worldcon: while it does move around every year, it’s usually a complete standalone. (Occasionally, if there’s a high-profile local con which is normally held around Worldcon time, it’ll be combined with that; for instance, the 2007 Worldcon in Yokohama was also that year’s Japanese national sf con.)


  2. Note: Worldcons aren’t “parasitic”. They aren’t piggybacked on top of some other convention. Every one of the 71 Worldcons held to date has actually been a completely independent, start-up, one-shot convention.


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