Friday, August 19, 2011

why do people respond to failfans?

In a private discussion, someone asked, "If you're an author who's actually gotten books published, why interact with these freaks at all? I don't really see where Jim Butcher's career, or anyone else's, has suffered for not living up to the Failiarchy's standards. Is there really anything to be gained from responding to their spitball attacks?"

I answered, "The reason people respond is that until the last year or so, they initially seemed like people who honestly cared about oppression, instead of crazy people who think they're Jesus with a sex change. The right response to them is none at all."


  1. If I made a list of '5 things that annoy me most about failfans,' number one would be that they make it difficult, if not dangerous, for authors to interact with fans in an intelligent way. (Though a close second would be their amazing ability to tell what's offensive to every PoC, woman, gay person, person with disabilities, etc, in the whole world.)

    It seems to me that the main reason that authors get slammed in fails is that they're nice enough to read what a fan has said, and want to react or respond to that like the fan is just another human being. Compare this to Neil Gaiman or George R.R. Martin or Orson Scott Card who all have internet presence, but who never seem to interact with fans un-moderated. So when some failfan makes a big deal about something they said or did, they never see it, or never respond.

    As a person who writes things sometimes, I'm interested in knowing what authors I like think about things like the question that sparked racefail. And since I've found most authors are intelligent people who write well, I'm interested in their ideas about other things, no matter if I disagree, and when I do disagree I'd rather understand their point then try to change their mind. (Now there's an 'other' failfans have no interest in treating like people: conservatives. I'd lay money that not one failfan is interested in understanding, say, Orson Card's views on homosexuality or Moon's views on Muslims with the depth and sensitivity they expect for themselves.)

    Failfans are the reason we can't have nice things on the internet.

  2. I'm in the mood for indiscretion: Racefail 09 began because writers and editors responded to failfans as equals, thinking they were going to have the kind of discussion they would have with other writers or editors or old-school fans. But the failfans did not respond the way equals respond in discussions; they started screaming that their targets were racist for not accepting their pet theory of how racism works. What writers like Gaiman, Martin, and Card knew was to treat fans as audience. It's what the rest of the pro community is learning.

    It's a hard lesson for many pros to learn. I came out of Minneapolis fandom, where writers and fans interacted as equals. There are places where that equality can still happen, but the internet isn't one.

    What do you think is the question that sparked racefail? I'm curious about whether we agree.

  3. I don't know, I thought there was a fair amount of jackassery on both sides of the Racefail "debate". People treating each other as equals was not the first thing that came to mind when I waded through it. (Mind you, I think many of the authors and editors who got dog-piled really were trying to have a reasonable discussion. It was mainly in the comments that things started getting ridiculous. One of the interesting things about internet discussions is that it only takes one or two people to shift the whole thing into a free for all.)

  4. Oh, I blew up after I saw good people being accused of being racists, and I won't excuse my reaction; I was as much of an asshole as Micole or Tempest, but I think Kynn and the failfans with the anonymous threats win the asshole contest.

    If you track the dates, the acceleration in Racefail 09 began with the failfans. Jay wrote his essay; Micole dissed it in her snotty way. Bear wrote her piece; Avalon's Willow responded in her angry, self-obsessed way. Bear's friends spoke up for Bear; the failfans said Bear's friends were racists for thinking Avalon's Willow and Deepad's reading was superficial. And so it went.

  5. Yep. I knew what order it started in and I reckon a lot of the extreme reaction on the part of writers, etcetera, was because they saw their friends and family or their livelihoods being threatened in some way. So they went into defensive mode. If somebody feels cornered, they will bite. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) That's part of the reason it's so easy for one or two people to turn an internet discussion into a complete and utter mess.

    Sensible people who don't like being bitten do their best not to corner others and, if they start to feel cornered, they try to find a way to extricate themselves from the situation. (Not that any of us are always sensible.)

  6. Will: From what I've seen, it looked like the question that started it all was 'how does one write people and cultures that one is not a part of in a realistic manner?'

    This is a perfectly reasonable question, but one with a YMMV about a million miles wide. Smart fans and wannabe writers recognize this sort of thing and take each writers advice and approach with a grain of salt, deciding for themselves if the authors level of inclusion/literary merit/professional success match up with what they are aiming for. Failfans apparently do not, and had to get into 'who are you to talk' with Ms. Bear. It degenerated from there, IMHO.

    And the audience relationship some authors have with fandom is smart, but it's a shame to see the doors the internet opened for us shutting because of a few hateful people.

    (In addition, it backfired. I know that in my own writing I've found myself erring on the side of not including other races because if I get it wrong, people might think I'm racist. I can easily see other new and experienced writers taking the same lesson from racefail, and I assume that's not the reaction they were looking for.)

  7. Emily, total agreement. It's a crucial question that writers should ask and should be able to discuss with respect for each other's experiences.

    As for your reluctance to include other races now, the saddest thing about anti-racism theory is its adherents often make racial situations worse. Frex, a link from the sidebar: An Anti-Racism Campaign: Who Needs It? (Current Issues Brief 20 1997-98).

    Try to ignore failfandom and do your own research to write characters of different races. Sure, you'll get some things wrong, but there isn't a fiction writer out there who gets everything perfect. Remember that failfans aren't the experts they think--see Micole's ignorance about Jews in the Old West, or Pam Noles' ignorance of Malcolm X's growing doubts about black nationalism.

  8. Also, keep in mind that they're going to react the same way no matter what you do. Therefore their opinion should be irrelevant. (This is not a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" argument. It's an "if the only response you ever have to me is negative, I don't have to take your potential reaction into account at all" argument.)

  9. I think the main result of the original Racefail and subsequent fails is that a lot of people, both writers and moderate readers/fans, are now afraid to say anything about race, disability, writing the other, etc... at all, because they have seen the ugliness these topics can spark. Plus, as Emily said, a lot of writers are now reluctant to include characters of color for fear of running afoul the failfans' idea of how "the PoC experience" is to be portrayed. Never mind that people of color are no more a monolithic block than any other group of people.

    All this would be rather counterproductive, if the failfans were really interested in a more diverse SFF genre. However, I'm not certain that they really are interested in that, because they strike me as being mainly interested in being right. There's a lot of hatred towards professional writers in there as well.

    I stay the hell away from race discussions and don't interact with known failfans at all. I don't ever link to their posts, not even when they say something reasonable. And in retrospect, the best thing Elizabeth Bear could have done was to publicly ignore the responses by Avalon Willow and Deepa D.

    Sorry about the anonymous btw, but I have a recognizable first name, though not as recognizable as coffeeandink's.