So. That BSFA Award Ceremony, eh?
John Meaney was this year’s host, and after the presentation of the James White Award, he fired up his Powerpoint and launched into his introduction. You can follow the rest of the story on Twitter, where what would in the pre-social media age have been people nudging their neighbours to check they weren’t alone in their bafflement became a running back-channel commentary on what was unfolding. At first I thought it was just going to be not funny, but in hindsight the picture of Meaney holding a gun and joking about it was a sign of things to come, and we moved into putting up pictures of Lauren Beukes to show she was not only a great writer but so very gorgeous, and a story about Lavie Tidhar and how Israelis like martial arts, and you can see how the tweets moved from bafflement into being actively offended and pissed off. When he started to discuss gender parity and a panel on women in SF I decided that life was too short and walked out, and I wasn’t the only one to leave.
(The main hall at the Radisson Edwardian is huge and I was sat near the back of the audience, and when the hall lights go down and the stage lights go up it’s almost impossible to see the audience from the stage. So walking out was less a protest that I expected anyone involved to notice, and more a self-preservation instinct.)
There’s a response from an attendee who was not a BSFA member here, and Rose Fox rounds up some more comments on Genreville. Cheryl Morgan has some wise commentary, and if you want to watch the ceremony yourself it’s available online, because not only was there an audience at the con it was streamed live on the internet. James Nicoll and his commenters discuss it here. Meaney has also responded, rather disappointingly to my mind.
I am hoping that the BSFA will respond with an apology – people were offended and upset, and the organisation as a whole needs to take responsibility for what was said on their watch. I know that it’s a volunteer organisation, and it’s not fun to put time and effort into a hobby and to have people respond with unhappiness and anger and tell us when we’re being sexist and racist, but we can’t use the fact that we are volunteers to shield ourselves when we fuck up. An apology, and a promise that in future they will try to do better, will go a long way. They’ve done it before, they can do it again.
There’s a wider point I want to make, though – one reason why this went down so poorly is the context of a convention where there seemed to be a concerted effort to work on the issues we have about diversity and inclusivity and to stop riding the failboat, reflected in some incredibly positive coverage in the mainstream media. I’m not saying we are anywhere near finished working on our issues – we’ve barely started – but I felt more positive than I have at any previous events about both our ability to actually work towards these goals and also our ability to hold our hands up, apologise when we get it wrong, and keep the process going until we get it right.
And into this environment came a speech which relied on stereotypes and terrible Powerpoint, and the defence is that it’s not so bad because everyone is friends and can take a joke. I had no idea that “Meaney-Lally insults are a con tradition” and I’m hardly new to conventions, and while there is a place for in-jokes and poking fun at our friends, I would suggest that maybe the place to do this is not at the flagship event of the BSFA, with a large audience who aren’t familiar with your jokes. The impression it gives is that the BSFA is a cliquey bunch of mates who are out of touch with what was actually happening at the convention and in the wider world, and that’s not going to attract new members to the organisation. Even if the jokes were funny and non-offensive, I’m wondering if a different strategy wouldn’t be better – do as the Clarke Award does, and talk about the nominees, introduce them and the organisation to the audience, and look like we’re a set of professionals who care about what we do and the image we present.
 I did chuckle at a picture of Christopher Priest in a funny hat, because I am 12.