FaceRail 2010: Soap Opera, Oil Spill, and Cult

I have decided that the various “fail” events in Science Fiction are like daytime soap opera. The dialogue is purple and cheesy, people love one another one moment and hate one another the next, everything is waaaaay overly dramatic, everyone is rushing around on the verge of towering rage or eternal despair, and nothing ever gets resolved. Everything is just fodder for the next episode, the series stretching on into the future with no forseeable conclusion. Like sand through the hourglass…

When “fail” came trick-or-treating to my doorstep in 2006, I made the mistake of assuming its representatives were rational adults in a reasoned discussion. I didn’t realize I was encountering the gust front of a quasi-cult that was quickly going to be haranguing and harassing authors for a variety of (almost entirely imaginary) offenses — tied to “isms” of one sort or another: racism, sexism, homophobia, et al. I had thought then that it was going to be a civilized discussion — a genuine exchange of viewpoints — and that my interracial marriage actually gave me a somewhat unique perspective on certain aspects of certain “isms,” thus I proceeded into the quicksand with head held high.

Silly me. The “fail” were not a community interested in diversity of opinion. This was a monoculture with a very specific set of orthodoxies, few of which jived with me — in spite of my experience. And so I rapidly found myself made an unperson in the discussion.

I should have walked away. But I’m a bit of a sucker for argument, so I didn’t. The debate intrigued and riled me. So I went on to make it a point of sticking my nose in whenever the “fail” washed up on someone else’s beachfront property.

But because the “fail” behaves precisely like an oil spill, I’m realizing no single human being can combat it. Every time I try, I just walk away slimed and exhausted for my effort. And the spill persists, as if untouched.

After this latest round of “fail” in 2010, I keep hearing Obi Wan’s admonition in the back of my head: you can’t win, but there are alternatives to fighting.

I’d previously thought it proper to stick my head up and say, look everyone, this is pretty much bullshit, this whole “fail” thing, but now I am beginning to see that every time I do that, the mess never changes nor gets any better. The same people perpetuating it actually appear to thrive on the activity generated as a result of confrontation. It gives them something to talk about — fresh energy to rail against evil-doers, evil-thinkers, and evil-speakers.

Thus spending too much time or effort in melee with the cultist complex merely feeds that complex, and I’m not going to let myself be part of that cycle anymore. I wish I’d never started in the first place.

Live and learn. Sometimes it’s harder than at other times.

Goodbye, “fail.” And good riddance.

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5 thoughts on “FaceRail 2010: Soap Opera, Oil Spill, and Cult

  1. Yeah, I got into it on the Tor.com messageboards with some folks who seemed to think that an editor of an anthology should judge potential authors not by the words that they wrote but instead by the color of their skin, or the gender of their preferred partner. I believe that MLK would be ashamed to be associated with some of the folks today.

  2. Skip, I have often felt the same, about MLK. When I was a kid, the “color blind society” was a wonderful ideal. Nowadays we’re not colorblind, we’re hyperracial. We seem to pay attention to race more than ever before. And sexuality. And gender. I used to think the goal was making sure everyone had genuine freedom and equality of opportunity? Apparently the real goal of progress is to create a heirarchy of privelege-slash-protection based on which victim group you can be assigned to. If the anthology in question was the Mind Blowing SF anthology, the “fail” masturbation over that book was as stupid as fail gets. Mind-blowing fail, if I do say so.

  3. Yep, that was it. I gave up after awhile, because I felt I was beating my head against the wall with people that didn’t seem to understand, and willfully so, how what they were requiring at great volume was at direct odds to what they claimed to want.

    My comment was that when I buy an anthology I want to be entertained. And that’s the only thing that I want the editor to do – select for entertaining stories. I don’t care about the color of the author, and in fact, I’d say that I don’t actually know the color/race of a good portion of the authors I read. Or even gender – heck, I was surprised to find out that China Mieville is a guy. The only people named China I’ve ever met were both women. But did that matter at all? Of course not.

  4. First of all, thank you sir, this is the best blog that tackles this annoying, yet fascinating subject and as a woman in interracial marriage – and opposing the Racefail – I really relate with your writing.

    I don’t know if all authors and bloggers are aware of this, but English is widely known language and we fans of the genre everywhere follow these blogs. When encountering these failfests first time I tried arguing from my North-East European perspective (and that of a history student) – that what gets called “racist” in fiction (and life) is often tribalism that divides people in many ways, not just race. That you cannot generalise all us whites as privileged colonialist slavers taken in to consideration that Europe is pretty big continent and some of it extremely un-privilged, and with painful history. That you are supposed to relate with character’s personality and deeds, not skin colour (its a bizarre idea that I, as a Finn would relate with say, Italian character, just for racial reasons, if rest of the cast were super-heroic Inuits)

    All anti-racist fail-participants just employ extremely patronising tone. When reading a discussion about “Avatar” and its supposed racism I pointed out that the “army guy joins the natives and becomes their leader” is world-wide used trope and I’ve seen it in Chinese epics where the whole cast was Chinese – therefore it cannot be a “white man’s burden” thing but an universal story. I was blocked immediately for this.

    And all those guidelines to “white people” how to discuss, be a good “ally” etc. Mind-boggling stuff.

    I just think its wrong to blacklist authors (those author “shit lists”) because of ideological reasons. Or act as if people are evil just because they don’t adhere to this particular theory about racism. In my country blacklisting used to be done to avoid pissing off Soviet Union in good old days, but I’ve always admired how Americans seem to have a little more tolerance to different opinions that us Europeans. Not anymore then, I guess.

  5. Great comment, and thanks for posting it here. I agree with virtually everything you’ve written, and can only add that anti-racism as it’s carried out in the fiction world seems to be a particularly American phenomenon — such that I tend to conclude that the closed-circle conversation is more or less happening in very specific instances with a very few people. Who have, unfortunately, made a habit of being very loud and accusatory towards… well, everybody else.

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