The Parable of the Speck and the Log, or, telling others how to love sf/f will never work
Imagine that you, like me, were a fan of your local sports team. Imagine that you have watched their games for years—perhaps since childhood with fond memories of cheering the team on with your loved ones. Imagine that you wear the team t-shirt every Friday during the sports season. Imagine that when you see strangers on the street, or bus, or in the store also wearing the t-shirt (or hat, or scarf, or some other article of clothing with the team logo), you exclaim the team cheer (in my case it’s “Go Hawks!”), and the other person smiles and either repeats the phrase to you, or replies with another well-known cheer for the team.
Imagine that (perhaps because it was a time in your life when you couldn’t afford the official team merch) you made your own scarf or hat in the team colors. Or maybe you just couldn’t find the thing you wanted, so you made the banner or the sign or whatever about your favorite player or the team and put it out to share in the team spirit.
Year after year, game after game, you cheer for your team when they win. You are sad when they lose. You get ecstatic, jumping up and down and screaming, when they make it to the play-offs. When they don’t win the championship, you console your fellow fans, talking about how they were robbed and how next year will be different. Over the years you’ve bought tickets and attended games when you could afford to, you’ve bought the merch, you’ve organized viewing parties, you have screamed and hollered and been a fan.
Then, finally, imagine your team makes it all way to the top. They win all the games in the play-offs, they make it to the final championship, and OMG, they win!
Oh, the cheering and the screaming! Fans pounding each other on the back! Shouting “We won! We won! We are the champions!”
The team flies back home and there’s going to be a parade, so you put on your team jersey and your hat and scarf with the logo. You make a big sign on which you have painted the team logo and written the words, “We’re #1!”
And there you are at the parade, in a crowded sidewalk, holding up your signs, yelling happily as the team goes by on the vehicles of the parade. You’re excited and happy and everything is wonderful.
Except a guy walks up to you. You don’t recognize him. Maybe he’s wearing a button down shirt and tasteful slacks. He’s holding a clipboard. “No, you are not number one,” he says, angrily.
You’re confused “What? We won!”
He shakes his head, pulls out some identification that seems to say that he is an official of the league. “You did not win. They won. You are not a member of the team. You are just some wannabe who thinks that being a fan counts.”
And suddenly, everyone else on the sidewalk goes silent. Some of the people in the crowd say, “Technically, he’s right. We didn’t win. We cheered them on to the win, but that’s not the same thing.”
And someone else in the crowd points to the jersey and other gear he’s wearing and says, “I support the team with my money, too! I’m at least a part of the win!”
The guy with the clipboard and some others in the crowd shake their heads. “You can technically say that you contributed to an award winning team, but that’s it. Anything else is just a slap in the face to all those hard-working players who won this year and in the years before.” He takes your homemade sign away from you. “This is trademark violation. Don’t make us sue you.”
The parade is decidedly less festive after that.
Imagine a few months later, and you’ve tried to shake off the feeling you had when you were told that you, as merely a fan, have no share in the team’s victory. It was just some silly technical legal thing, you decided. That’s okay. You still love your team. You still wear your t-shirt. And when you see another person wearing their shirt and they exclaim the traditional cheer, without thinking you reply, “We’re number one!”
And suddenly the clipboard guy is there. “Okay, that joke might have been funny right after the win, but you have to stop. Every time you claim that you’re part of the winning team that is a slap in the face to all the actual winners. You are disrespecting the championship trophy. You are shitting all over the award. Don’t you see that?”
“But I’m just being a fan. This is what we do,” you explain. “We cheer when they win, we cry when they lose. We put in our time and money supporting them. When I say ‘We’re number one’ I know that I wasn’t literally out there on the field, but we’re still part of the team.”
The guy with clipboard sneers, looking you up and down. “Don’t be ridiculous. You could never be part of the team. Show respect for their hard work.”
“How is cheering not showing respect?”
“I never said that cheering isn’t showing respect. Check your notes. What I said was that when you shout ‘We’re number one’ and wave around your homemade sign that you are slapping them in the face.”
“But ‘We’re number one’ is literally a cheer—”
Clipboard guy leans in until his nose is practically touching yours and shouts, “Listen! Stop being an entitled, immature princess! Just sit over there and be quiet and wait until we tell you when you are supposed to clap and what you are supposed to yell and and stop trying to claim that you are something that you aren’t!”
You start to walk over to the designated fan place he has pointed you to. You see, among the other bewildered fans, one of the actual players from the team. “What are you doing here?” you ask.
The player smiles and says, “I’d rather share a space with a million silly people who think it’s awesome to be part of a win than one dour guy shrieking that people who love the team are entitled princesses.”
You don’t have to imagine, you just have to read the comments: ABOUT AO3’S HUGO AWARD.
Right after the Hugo awards ceremony, as part of my A Hugo of Our Own post I said:
I do have one quibble with some of my fellow members of AO3 (as we call it): you are not a Hugo Award-winner author. No matter how many of thousands of words of your fiction is in the Archive. Just as authors whose work was published in Uncanny Magazine this last year aren’t Hugo winners by dent of Uncanny winning the award; they are authors who have been published in an award-winning zine. Another way to look at it: Camestros Felapton compared the AO3 entity to a library: “It’s the library that’s being nominated, which includes its contents but which is not the same as its contents.” (emphasis added).
Yes, all of us who support, use, and contribute to Archive of Our Own should take pride in this win. But don’t go slapping a Hugo logo on your fanfic, all right?
I haven’t yet seen anyone grousing about AO3 winning. I saw a bit of that “Ew! Fanfic! ICKY!” when it was nominated. I saw more people trying to disguise their fear of fanfic cooties with arguments about why the Archive itself is not a “Work” in the sense necessary for the award.
I firmly believe that if someone seriously tries to claim to be a Hugo Winner because they have fanfic in the Archive of Our Own that they are making a fraudulent claim. I also fully support sending a cease and desist to the couple of people who are trying to sell unlicensed Hugo merchandise or running a kickstarter with unlicensed use of the Hugo logo.
- Someone who changes their twitter handle temporarily to “Hugo nominated pornographer”, or
- someone else making a single comment on twitter being happy that Hugo voters have endorsed their man-loving-man slashfic, or
- someone else making a few comments on twitter that all the fanfic they love is now award-winning, or
- someone else making a single ‘I have written Hugo award winning porn, you’re welcome’ comment
…are clearly not literally claiming to be Hugo winners. What they are doing is precisely the same as fans shouting, “We’re number one!” after the team they love wins the championship.
That is not disrespecting the award, that is reveling in it!
And Clipboard Guy? It doesn’t matter if you are technically, pedantically, legally correct when you point out that the cheering fan isn’t actually a player who fought it out on the field and won the game—you’re still being a biased, dour jerk who is screaming in the face of some fans because they aren’t being fans in exactly the way you want them to. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t think you’re telling them to keep their fanfic cooties off their award, because sometimes our words have implications we didn’t mean—that you didn’t (consciously) mean them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Finally, you’re the only person who is disrespecting the spirit of the award.