The CHORFs running WorldCon have really outdone themselves this time. I’m not going to get into the whole Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies/Hugo Awards thing, but suffice it to say that there’s been a long-running controversy in the “scifi community” (I use quotes because it’s really more a clique composed of elitists in the industry and their hangers-on) about the deleterious effect of political correctness on the Hugo Awards and on the quality of science fiction in general.
One man who has strong opinions about this subject is Dave Truesdale, the editor of Tangent Online, a review magazine for short scifi and fantasy. Truesdale was invited to be the moderator of a panel on the state of short fiction at MidAmericon, the 2016 incarnation of the World Science Fiction Convention, also known as WorldCon. I don’t know Truesdale; in fact, I’d never heard of him before this. Apparently he has a history of going on rants about political correctness in scifi and fantasy, which prompts one to wonder why anyone at WorldCon thought it would be a good idea to have him moderate this panel.
But they did, and Truesdale showed up and did his thing. Essentially what happened is that Truesdale opened the panel with a five-minute rant about “special snowflakes” and “pearl-clutching”. There followed some tense moments where the panelists objected to both the content of Truesdale’s statements and the appropriateness of them in the context of a panel on short fiction. After the first ten minutes or so, the panel settles into a pretty amicable back-and-forth among the panelists, more-or-less on topic. There was no swearing and no personal attacks. Nobody lost their cool and nobody ran for the exits. Basically, it was just another scifi con panel.
Then things got interesting. Dave Truesdale’s membership to WorldCon was revoked. The powers that be tweeted a “brief statement” (complete with grammatical errors) explaining Truesdale’s expulsion.
Speculation and accusations flew online. Then Truesdale posted audio of the panel, which he had apparently surreptitiously recorded. You can listen to the whole thing here and make up your own mind about Truesdale’s behavior. As someone who has attended quite a few of these panels, though, the notion that Truesdale did anything worthy of having his membership revoked is laughable. “Excessive discomfort”? Please. The worst thing you could accuse him of is being a bad moderator–and frankly I’ve attended (and been on) panels that had worse moderators. If going over time or off topic were offenses punishable by ejection, there’d be nobody left to do panels.
WorldCon defenders have predictably tried to downplay the seriousness of the incident or focused on what they see as Truesdale’s supposed bad behavior. Author Ann Leckie went on a Twitter rant ridiculing the idea that Truesdale’s expulsion amounted to censorship:
Jim Hines gives a hilariously one-sided account of the panel (“Truesdale tries yet again to get back to the evils of political correctness. Sheila Williams shoots him down again.”) and then goes off on a tangent about how this was a “deliberate and preplanned hijacking” of a panel, as if that were the smoking gun the CHORFs needed to undermine Truesdale’s credibility. Howard Tayler went on a Twitter rant about panel moderation etiquette, as if people were booted from cons for being bad moderators all the time, and this was a good opportunity to review some helpful hints to keep that from happening.
Okay, reality check. Truesdale didn’t personally attack anyone. He didn’t swear. He didn’t lose his temper. He didn’t threaten anyone or throw chairs. He talked a little too long off-topic at a panel. That’s literally the worst thing you can say about what he did.
People hijack panels all the time. I have never heard of anyone being ejected from a con for hijacking a panel or being a poor moderator. As far as I know, it’s unprecedented. (Feel free to correct me if you’ve heard of this happening.) Is Dave Truesdale a jerk? Maybe. But being a jerk is not a crime, and believe it or not, scifi conventions tend to attract people whose interpersonal skills are sub-optimal. Writers tend to be opinionated and abrasive. If WorldCon is going to eject everyone who commits a social faux pas, they might as well just move the convention in the parking lot.
What it comes down to is that WorldCon ejected Dave Truesdale for voicing an unpopular opinion. You can call it what you want; If it makes you feel better to call it “criticism” rather than censorship, feel free. If you want to focus on Truesdale’s character, go for it. If you want to pretend this is all just a little misunderstanding about panel etiquette, that’s up to you. But the fact is that Dave Truesdale was booted because he said something that the people in power didn’t like. Dance around it all you want, but that’s what happened.
Was WorldCon within their rights to boot Truesdale? Probably. But that’s beside the point. Nobody (that I know of) is arguing that WorldCon committed a crime or violated Truesdale’s Constitutional rights. We’re simply stating a fact: WorldCon ejected someone because they didn’t like what he was saying.
I won’t belabor the point for those who miss the irony of someone being ejected from a convention for arguing that people being are too quick to take offense. For those whose eyes are open, though, Truesdale’s ejection is further evidence of something we’ve known for a while: the CHORFs of the scifi community have no qualms about silencing those who challenge the politically correct orthodoxy.