There is a lot to say about this particular incident, most of which has been said already by people smarter and more eloquent than I. But I do want to add a few words specifically about the subsequent Wiscon decision and why I followed it with great interest.
A few years ago a local convention I attend regularly asked Larry Niven to be their Guest of Honor.
At one time I would have been delighted by this, I have enjoyed several Niven novels over the years and of course All the Myriad Ways is a classic collection, from the titular story to the oft-referenced “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.” Additionally Niven is Los Angeles fandom and therefore I’ve met him at several cons and we have many acquaintances in common.
However at the time he was asked to be GOH, it had recently come to light that he had made some, to my mind, very unfortunate comments regarding
Spanish speakers in his role as consultant to the Department of Homeland Security. As a Spanish speaker, a citizen, a human being and a fan I took exception to his comments and the context in which they were made. Those in a position of power or influence should be aware of the potential consequences of their words and deeds.
I don’t want to digress, so if you want the specifics I would recommend entering “Sigma” “Niven” and “Spanish” into a search engine. What I would like to discuss here is my reaction and its effect on my eventual convention activities and experience.
For starters: My objection was not to Niven attending the convention, fandom is diverse and contains many diverging viewpoints. That’s life and that’s people and it’s generally a Good Thing. Further, I would not have objected to Niven being a guest or being on panels, he’s certainly important to the genre as both and author and a fan and quite likely has much to say that is worth hearing, and much to write that is worth reading.
My objection was to the Honor portion of Guest of Honor. I personally subscribe to the ‘member’ theory of con-going. I am not a passive audience or ‘customer’, I’m a member, and as such I have always tried to participate and to help create the space and community I am part of. So when the convention chooses to honor someone by implication that honor is bestowed by the entire convention, myself included. Obviously there is no vote, the committee chooses the GOH, but like a government that I have not personally cast a vote for, it still represents me. I may not be familiar with the work or personality of the GOHs, but generally speaking I trust that their contributions to the
field have in fact done us honor by their work as an artist or a person, or ideally both.
Now of course a person can be a good artist and a poor human being, and I am not suggesting that this is the case with Niven. He is by all accounts a nice man to know. Neither am I suggesting that an artist should be excluded from consideration as GOH for their personal life or beliefs, although I bet people known to be unpleasant are not in fact considered. But a GOH is generally picked because of their standing in the field.
And here is where I found myself having a hard time. The reasons that Niven was chosen as GOH were the exact same reasons he was chosen as a consultant for Sigma and given a voice of influence by the US government. The two are not separate, his comments came from ‘Niven the respected SF author’, remove the ‘SF author’ portion and
the ‘DHS consultant’ goes away as well (as does ‘SF con Author GOH’). His actions in one sphere cannot be separated from his work in the other.
For this reason I initially decided to skip the convention. Several friends asked me to reconsider, and eventually a combination of two arguments convinced me to attend. The first boiled down to ‘What are ya, chicken?’ but the second and more persuasive was this; making myself invisible was the easiest, laziest and least effective thing I
could do. If I felt the Spanish speaking community had been slighted, then the correct answer was to highlight and celebrate said community.
I was contacted and corresponded with the concom, who had been unaware of the controversy, and assured them that I would not confront, harass or embarrass their GOH and explained a little of what we had planned, which amounted to a very tongue-in-cheek celebration of Spanish and Hispanic genre, which Andy Trembley
We got flags, sombreros, Tequila, loteria (which played as a drinking game is pretty deadly stuff), luchador masks, some pretty awesome Superzan movies. We costumed accordingly; a friend and I both sporting Frieda Khalo ensembles, and spread the message without referring to the catalyst incident at all. It was all very silly, and honestly with a bit more time it would have been nice to do something slightly more informative and less… um, stereotypical. But the point was to keep it fun and laugh at ourselves while also being loud,colorful and most of all present.
File 770, Issue #159, April 2011