So last week, I had an encounter with the fly-bitten rump of the sad puppy movement. I’ve never really bothered engaging with that side of genre culture before as I think that a) providing those people with any kind of platform serves only normalise their ideas, and b) the only real overlap between their interests and mine is the Hugo awards and I don’t really give that much of a shit about the Hugos.
The encounter happened as a result of someone mentioning a right-wing fantasy magazine by name in the comments of a blog post that I had written. This had the effect of summoning the owner of the site who sensed an opportunity to promote his magazine. Having decided to treat my blog like a Reddit AMA, he changed into a robe, put his feet up on the coffee table, and announced himself happy to field any questions that people might have.
I had a look at his site, clocked the image of the Gamergate mascot stood in front of a Confederate flag, and duly told him to go and fuck himself.
Cue about 36 hours-worth of internet hugs for our ego-searching snowflake as close to a dozen right-wing genre bloggers clutched at their pearls, lamented my rudeness, and reminded their readers that the only way to defeat knuckle-dragging brutes such as myself was to continue supporting initiatives featuring right-wing authors and presses. I won’t link to these people because fuck their stupid faces and I won’t address any of the points they made because none of those arguments were written with me in mind. I’ll explain what I mean by that statement in a second but in the meantime, here are some of my favourite responses:
Despite featuring in a wide array of blog posts, comments and tweets, I was never the intended audience for those utterances. For one thing, everyone was quite disciplined in their refusal to either link directly to the site or use one of those anonymising services that hides the origins of internet traffic. Had I not been aware of the way that puppies operate, I would most likely never have noticed the silky caress of their gaze.
Bloggers and commenters spent a chunk of last weekend wanking themselves into an outraged frenzy but rather than focusing that outrage directly at me in an effort to ‘call me out’ or change my behaviour, the emotional energy was directed indiscriminately outwards in a manner suggesting the real point of the exercise was to foster feelings of in-group loyalty and out-group hostility among the people who happen to read those blogs.
The reason for their lack of direct engagement is that, as a person with a nuanced set of ideas and over a decade’s worth of clashes with the great and the good of genre culture, I am of little interest to the sad puppies. Like an ancient and preternaturally wise banyan tree, I have nothing to offer them except for shade and the occasional branch across the top of the skull. However… strip me of my humanity and turn me into a symbolic representation of the broader genre community’s ‘unreasonable’ and ‘unprovoked’ hostility towards a certain subset of right-wing science fiction fans and I can inspire blog posts, sell magazines, and generally bring the in-group closer together as they huddle for warmth against the cold of the interstellar night.
The insular fluffiness of puppy safe spaces reflects the growing desperation of their community leaders. Before Gamergate, the sad puppies were nothing but a collection of third-rate authors who spent their spare time cluelessly goading their smooth-brained fans into voting for them in popular awards. After Gamergate, the puppies were a real cultural force that could unleash hours of sustained unpleasantness with a single blog post.
In hindsight, it is easy to see why Gamergate took an interest in the puppies. From the outside, genre culture is a collection of flabby middle-aged liberals who spend their time reading books and giving themselves awards. Actually… to be fair… this is precisely what a lot of genre culture looks like from the inside too. I’ve participated in genre culture for well over a decade now and just the thought of walrus moustaches and Hawaiian shirts makes me want to set off a mid-sized convention centre’s sprinkler system.
Unfortunately for the puppies, while it must have been comically easy to convince a bunch of teenaged nihilists to troll the Hugo awards, it was never going to be easy to convince basement-dwelling trolls to set aside their Japanese pornography long enough to read a bunch of over-written Catholic fantasy novels. The fact that Gamergaters turned up to harass liberals but didn’t stick around to spend money explains why prominent puppies have downplayed their involvement, decreased their ambitions, and failed to step back from the movement in time and wound up being forced to repeatedly beg for financial support from their dwindling fanbase:
Obviously, nobody deserves to be immiserated and socialist government would ensure that nobody would ever be reduced to online panhandling but if you are going to be a radical right-winger who burns his professional bridges because he plans to live on the money he makes giving suck-jobs to Pepes then you might want to make sure that they leave the money on the dresser before you take out your false teeth.
The puppies’ experiences as nerd-fuhrers may well come to define their adult lives but their flirtations with moral entrepreneurship failed to secure them the kind of following that might provide access to the lucrative world of conservative cultural commentary. Even worse, their attempts to cultivate a right-wing alternative to the stuttering multiculturalism of mainstream genre spaces appears to have resulted in little more than a handful of underwhelming blogs supporting the work of a few self-publishing authors.
The more time passes, the more apparent it becomes that the puppies didn’t just fail to storm the barricades of genre liberalism, they failed so spectacularly that it has wound up costing them significant amounts of money and prestige. Unfortunately for anyone with an interest in literary science fiction, this means that the puppies will inevitably come crawling back to liberal genre spaces in the hope of rebuilding their shattered careers. At this point, I give it about a year before we are introduced to a ‘woke’ Brad Torgersen who dusts off his military uniform to condemn Trump’s foreign wars and blogs about how his day job in the healthcare industry has helped him to understand the suffering caused by the decision to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
A couple of weeks ago, Angela Nagle wrote a great piece about the ideological instabilities at the heart of the alt-right and everything she says is relevant to the declining power of the sad and rabid puppies:
While liberals enjoyed cultural hegemony and became complacent and intellectually lazy, the young transgressives of the alt-right produced an undeniable level of creative energy. The war for the soul of America Pat Buchanan waged in the 1990s has long since been won by the cultural left, and the tyrannical overreach of liberal intellectual conformity undoubtedly helped create the youthful rebellion against it. But this temporary alliance of very different factions — the most stark being between the traditionalist right and the libertinism of chan culture — has produced a schizophrenic incoherence.
The social and ideological instabilities of the puppy movement should come as no surprise once you realise the gulf that separates adolescent edge-lords from a bunch of stupid old men who want fandom to go back to the way it was in 1953. What is surprising is the speed at which a movement whose ruthlessness once made international news has been reduced to bleating about politeness and passing out internet hugs. Liberal genre culture may be ponderous, self-serving, and morally confused but it was never quite that pathetic.