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Worldcon Business Meeting Motion To Perpetuate US Cultural Dominance?

August 10, 2014

With this year’s Worldcon imminent, the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) have released a preliminary agenda for this year’s business meeting.

The agenda appears a good deal less worrying than last year’s, which included motions to dismantle the fan categories and impose severe limitations on the use of cheaper supporting memberships to encourage people to nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards.

In fact, this year’s agenda even includes some interesting procedural business designed to make both the WSFS and the business meeting itself more accountable to the community as a whole. Firstly, there’s a motion (PDF) to require that all changes to the WSFS constitution be ratified by a vote of the membership at large. Secondly, there’s also a move to make it much harder to use procedural rules to shut down debate at the business meeting, which is what happened to last year’s discussion about a possible Hugo Award for Young Adult fiction. The language of this second batch of motions is High SMOFese but Kevin Standlee provides some much-needed explanation.

The one thing that does worry me is the motion entitled ‘Hugo Nominating for NASFiC Members’ (PDF). The proposed amendment to the WSFS is, again, written in High SMOFese (the cross-out text is the existing rule, the underline is the proposed change):

The Worldcon Committee shall conduct a poll to select the nominees for the final Award voting. Each member of the administering Worldcon and any member of any convention sanctioned by WSFS in Article 4 held in the immediately preceding, current, or immediately following calendar year, the immediately preceding Worldcon, or the immediately following Worldcon as of January 31 of the current calendar year shall be allowed to make up to five (5) equally weighted nominations in every category.

The explanatory notes frame the motion as a matter of accessibility and a way of opening the institutions of fandom up to more people:

Because of its suitability for smaller markets that do not have the facilities or concentration of people necessary to bid for or run a Worldcon, NASFiCs have great potential to be a pathway for exposing new fans to WSFS, Worldcons, and international fandom.

The use of language is quite deliberate: In an age of increased concern about accessibility and diversity, who could possibly object to making the institutions of fandom more accessible by creating “a pathway for exposing new fans to WSFS, Worldcons and international fandom”?

For the record, I am absolutely in favour of making the institutions of fandom more accessible to American fans, just not when that accessibility comes at the expense of everyone who is not an American fan.

At the moment, if you become a Worldcon member then you get the right to vote for that year’s Hugo Awards as well as nomination rights for the three years centred on the year of your membership. For example, I purchased a supporting membership for this year’s Worldcon last year and that gave me the right to vote for this year’s Hugos as well as nominate last year, this year and next year.

What this motion is proposing is that anyone who attends a NASFiC should automatically get the equivalent of a free supporting membership for that year’s Hugo Awards. What is a NASFiC? It’s an American convention put on by the WSFS whenever that year’s Worldcon happens to be taking place abroad. In other words, whenever Worldcon does leave America, a load of American fans should get free supporting memberships in the name of accessibility.

My problem with this motion is that Worldcon is already institutionally biased in favour of American publishers, writers and fans. Since the first Worldcon in 1939, fifty-three out of seventy-one Worldcons have taken place in America. With most Worldcon members coming from America, it is rather unsurprising that American authors and publishers tend to dominate the annual Hugo Awards. This historic bias is also self-perpetuating as demonstrated by the fact that next year’s Worldcon is taking place in a small American town without an international airport rather than the capital of Finland.

Genre fandom is not a diverse place. A tiny space built by people with limited social skills, fandom has historically dealt with all major differences of opinion by excluding the outliers. However, while fandom’s history of ignoring and excluding women may be terrible, its history of ignoring and excluding people outside of the US, UK, Canada and Australia is actually far worse. One way of combatting this historical bias is to literally take the institutions of fandom and take them to countries whose fans and writers have been traditionally ignored.

Taking Worldcon outside the US makes Worldcon more accessible to people outside the US. Making Worldcon accessible to people outside of the US makes it more likely that their publishers, writers and fans will show up on the Hugo ballot. Having more non-American writers and fans show up on the Hugo ballot makes them more visible and thereby promotes not just accessibility but also diversity.

Worldcon already has an in-built bias towards US genre culture, giving NASFiC members a free supporting membership institutionalises and encourages that bias at a time when both Worldcon and the WSFS should be working to open themselves up to the world outside America.

You cannot give a free supporting membership to the members of the American national science fiction convention without also giving one to the members of every other national science fiction convention. Doing so would further institutionalise the already objectionable American dominance of Worldcon and do absolutely nothing to address the historic marginalisation of non-American voices in both fiction and fandom.

This is a motion that talks the language of accessibility whilst walking the path of historic American privilege.

7 Comments
  1. August 10, 2014 11:47 am

    This historic bias is also self-perpetuating as demonstrated by the fact that next year’s Worldcon is taking place in a small American town without an international airport rather than the capital of Finland.

    Which was an offensively stupid decision.

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  2. August 10, 2014 1:43 pm

    Stupid, selfish and extraordinarily short-sighted.

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  3. Cat permalink
    August 10, 2014 8:21 pm

    I agree; this idea (free supporting membership to Worldcon for NASFiC members) is not fair.

    Now, if every country, from Austria to Zaire, got to appoint an SF convention of their own whose members got free supporting memberships to Worldcon, I think *that* would be more fair. I bet we’d get more non-US participation that way than we have now.

    But that is not what they’re talking about here.

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  4. Tully permalink
    August 11, 2014 3:05 pm

    Simple enough to me: I don’t understand why as a member of WSFS I should vote in favor of diluting any of my few membership benefits. One of which is Hugo nominating/voting rights.

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  5. August 11, 2014 5:50 pm

    Tully —

    Surrendering power to the wider community is a great way of making the wider community feel invested in an institution and people who feel invested in an institution are more likely to support it and generally help it to grow and remain healthy.

    What’s the point of having control over a public institution if not to make sure that it remains in good health? Power is only ever a means to an end.

    I’m generally in favour of surrendering control if it means including people but I really don’t think it’s appropriate to target NASFiC members for inclusion at the cost of everyone else.

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  6. August 12, 2014 8:04 am

    What are the rules on multiple votes?

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