Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Kerfuffles 'R Us

Over the weekend, there were a couple of "internet slapfights" (nabbed from one of Elizabeth Bear's journal tags). One involved science fiction & fantasy, the other involved romance.

The romance one is about the rape romance subgenre, and Jenny Crusie's excellent response to the debate is the only link I can drum up at the moment. (That doesn't mean it's not being slugged out on the internet, it just means that romance isn't my genre and I have no idea where to go to get the good genre dirt. I tried a few likely suspects, but didn't get far. Plus, I wasn't invested in it. While I've never read a rape romance [nor do I have any wish to at the moment; that sort of character redemption isn't my thing], my first novel did involve a rape scene, though the perp was a villain and not the hero.)

So I approached the debate as summarized by Jenny more from a censoring is bad/write what the story requires perspective. In fact, I think the only genre where you should really be concerned about content influencing your audience is in YA, and that doesn't mean that certain things should be off-limits. Rather it means that the content better be handled very well and be very appropriate to the story and it probably isn't a bad idea to have a discussion about said content as an author's note at the end of the novel or on the author's blog or something.

As for the science fiction & fantasy thing, man. Where to begin? To summarize, the upcoming Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) election has sparked an at times rather heated series of debates among those who are concerned with that org and the future of the genre in general. Needless to say, I've been following a lot of the discussion with interest since this is my genre. Things turned decidedly, well, ironic when the outgoing SFWA VP, in an explanation as to why he didn't run for Prez and thus may have inadvertantly created the previously uncontested ballot situation, went on a rant about how the internet (or, rather, the results of the internet's popularity and constant presence) is "pernicious" and that people who publish their work on-line for free are "rotting the organization from within." He calls these folks "webscabs" and "pixel-stained technopeasant wretch[es]."

This provoked many responses, mostly outraged. The best, though, is from Scalzi, and he tackles the issue based on the meager argument the outgoing VP provided and cited some excellent examples. In the volume of comments and posts (not going to link them all; mostly you can read the comments from the couple I linked to get a good cross-section), a few folks are trying to bring things back 'round to a debate on the future of electronic publishing and digital media and what, if anything, we should Do about it. But they are so few and far between that I think the VP may have realized some of his error and has since rescinded the term "webscabs." The rest, however, I believe stays.

It is unfortunate that a writer, someone who works with words for a living, chose to express himself in a way designed to insult those with whom he disagrees and to demonize that which he doesn't like/fears with no substance to backup his rhetoric. It is especially unfortunate because a debate as to whether or not the internet effectively "sublimat[es] the private space of consciousness into public netspace" and, if so, whether or not that is pernicious, is a great debate to have, particularly within the genre. But then again, maybe that debate has already been waged and the matter concluded--though not, apparently, unanimously.

(Indeed, even discounting the verbiage, the VP doesn't really seem interested in having the debate--on The Internets is Bad or on Free eBooks are Bad. His only real example about the perils of modern web-based tech is this: "A problem with the whole wikicliki, sick-o-fancy, jerque-du-cercle of a networking and connection-based order is that, if you "go along to get along" for too long, there's a danger you'll no longer remember how to go it alone when the ethics of the situation demand it." Seeing as how there's an entire generation who basically grew up on the 'net yet has an acronym for "going it alone"--IRL--as a distinction from the internet, I'm not buying his argument before he even gets started. And regarding the e-pub stuff, he asserts his opinion as fact that free e-books are taking away his business/money/bargaining ground with traditional publishers, and offers no evidence of such.)

And in true, modern fashion, the offended folks decided to bite their thumbs at the VP. They've created T-shirts and icons with "webscab" and "pixel-stained technopeasant wretch" in unapologetic fonts. They've even created a day to celebrate their wretchedness. While I can understand after seeing all the response why the VP may feel the internet is pernicious, I don't think it's a substantive argument for his cause. After all, the power of the internet is only reminding him that he feasted on his own foot in this case. He didn't have to email someone else and ask that person to post the rant.

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