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Why the Puppies Bid for the Hugos Failed

Why did the Puppies fail in their bid to slate the Hugo awards? [Edit: This should really read, Where Did the Puppies Go Wrong in Their Ambitions to Sway the Hugos. It's really about the behavior of failure.]

First, was last year a truly a failure? Did their push fail? Or did it fail to succeed? Did it succeed more than it failed? On their side, they did reach a milestone, turning themselves into a force to be reckoned with. They achieved more than anyone thought that they could. Against them, they failed to achieve any sort of permanent change. They planted their flag onto a hill and could not keep the hill.

So what happened?

These are the facts as I best understand them, with the prudent disclaimer that I am no scholar, my memory is faulty, and I may have been chewing peyote as this all occurred.

To understand the Puppies approach, you must first understand the Conservative playbook. In this book, you identify differences between groups, amplify resentments, and rouse the base by playing on their fears. In this case, they identified that a minority of SFF fans picked the award winners, that these people weren't us, they were social justice warriors (SJW) with an agenda, and that we (the reasonable fans) were being pushed out.

So what really went wrong?

The biggest problem that the Puppies faced was a change in circumstances. The Puppies failed to alter their tactics after their successful slating of the Hugo awards. I know liberals who study this stuff, and when a movement reaches a transition, that's where the movement usually goes wrong. The movement usually fails to adapt to their new circumstance. Its this failure that dooms most movements. And this doesn't happen just once to a movement. This happens multiple times, meaning that any movement must be able to handle multiple transitions. While the Puppies were well prepared to fight their uphill fight, they were not prepared for their total nomination victory. Their gambit to fix the nominees paid off, changing the very nature of their fight. When they continued acting as the underdog, when they continued dividing the electorate, the created their failure.

The nature of their electorate was a problem. As voting for the Hugo only takes getting off your ass and actually doing it, which when life gets in the way quickly becomes secondary, there were many ex-Hugo voters or wanna-be voters in the wings. As they saw it, they were part of the "SJW" voter group, but just not voting. When the Puppies leveled assertions of SJWs and disenfranchisement, the vast number of inactive voters took this as an attack against themselves. Rather than splitting the electorate through resentment, the Puppies solidified the electorate against them through resentment.

The Puppies predicted that the silent majority would ally to their own court. They were wrong by an order of magnitude. When the votes came in, the electorate's message was clear: they were angry at the Puppies.

The next major misplay of the Puppies was trivializing their opponents. This history of social justice in this country is long and filled with many useful lessons. The Puppies learned none of these techniques, but their opposition, the Social Justice Warriors, were well schooled in these techniques. Given a social justice fight, they knew what to do and how to do it, so the SJWs did exactly what you'd expect them to do: they built a coalition.

I'm not sure who taught Conservatives that SJWs only succeed because they browbeat everyone else. (Correct me if I'm mis-characterizing.) That's the sort of information that sets you up to lose. SJWs win by building coalitions from the ground up, and they'll take decades to do it. Most of this is done quietly, not because of secrecy, but because that sort of projects just takes time. This coalition building isn't just a fanciful notion, but the cornerstone of their power. The number one weapon of the SJW is the narrative, building a story that holds the coalition together. A good narrative wins the battle. (Gay marriage is a fine example of this.) So who joined the SJW coalition when the fight got started? The best SF&F writers in the world joined, that's who. They wrote the SJW narrative. That's the sort of opposition that you must absolutely respond to, and the Puppies did not adapt.

The SJW coalition consisted of SJWs, non-voting fandom that viewed themselves as insiders (and thus were under attack for being SJWs), every writer and fan that didn't want a politicized Hugo process, every voter who felt disenfranchised because the Puppies successfully slated their candidate, and anybody who was just up for a good beat-down style fight. They didn't even have to face a transition, as all they had to do was to organize and fight. Unfortunately for the Puppies, the SJWs continued organizing after achieving victory, because that's what they do, so this year cannot be a simple repeat of last year.

In military terms, the Rabid Puppies assembled the militia that could, while the SJWs assembled a veteran field army complete with a propaganda machine. The little militia may win in films, but that's not how it goes in real life.

If the Puppies want to face the SJWs on their own turf, they need to build coalitions. They need to learn how to evangelize a narrative, one that not only builds their slates, but brings in others to their coalition. They need to have a plan that includes the transitions in the fight so that they can respond appropriately. All this would involve actual work, and not just grandstanding and rousing the base. The returns on this work lies years, if not decades in the future. If not this, the Puppies' other alternative is to shift from a symmetrical operation to an asymmetrical operation. [Edit: This is a reference to a type of warfare. No, I'm not advocating terrorism or anything like that.] A good solution would combine the two, as the Puppies must learn how to handle each transition on their way to influencing the Hugos.

The big lesson here is that if you declare a knock-down, drag-out fight, fandom will gleefully respond.

Take a lookie at this: http://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism

I'll sum it up this way: Sad Puppies fit the model for authoritarianism. This article explains even better why the Puppies failed. They were authoritarian while fandom isn't.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
woodwindy
Feb. 24th, 2016 10:12 pm (UTC)
Interesting analysis! Would you be up for some signal amping on this, or would you rather not deal with ravening internet hordes? :)
dacuteturtle
Feb. 25th, 2016 12:24 am (UTC)
Have at it.
woodwindy
Feb. 29th, 2016 02:40 pm (UTC)
There's a moderately vigorous discourse now happening at File770. :)
catsittingstill
Feb. 29th, 2016 12:43 pm (UTC)
This is an interesting analysis but there are parts of it I just plain don't agree with.

You say that "The best writers in the SF&F world" "wrote the SJW narrative." I have been watching this mess since Correia lost his composure about Beyond Binary Gender, and I missed this. If you have specific examples of writers getting out in front of the fan response and telling us what happened and what to do, you might link them; perhaps I wasn't paying attention to the right things. But what I saw was writers writing the Puppy narrative for their own personal gain (Larry Correia claimed that both the publishing industry and fan-run awards like the Hugos are prejudiced against conservatives and destroying mainstream interest in SFF with stories that push political messages at the expense of good old fashioned story. What he wanted was a Hugo for himself. Brad Torgersen claimed that women and minorities only win Hugos because of affirmative action and that "secret cabals" want to send him to the gulag. What he wanted was to be able to pass out Hugos to his personal friends and mentors and people he hoped would owe him a favor down the line.)

Everywhere outside the circle Puppies had drawn around their toes I saw *fans* talking to each other. Fans who were upset that the process of the Hugos had been subverted. Fans who were upset at the dreck on the final ballot. Fans who had never paid all that much attention to be Hugos but who considered social justice a good thing and didn't care for the Puppy sneers about it. Fans who despised any sort of campaigning for awards. Fans who thought some campaigning for awards was okay but persuading a group of people to abandon their own favorites to converge on a set of acceptable second bests to gain political power over the process was unethical. Yes, there were some writers among the fans, but that is because writers are fans too. As far as I could see the writers were neither the first to react nor defining the discontent, nor leading the response. If anybody built that coalitiion, it was the Puppies, by being such jerks.

For example you may be thinking of GRRM. He advocated strongly for voting on quality, as if all the slate nominated finalists had reached the ballot honestly. He got trampled by the horde of fans who No Awarded everything on a slate--including a couple of excellent editors GRRM supported--with the exception of Guardians Of The Galaxy, probably because everyone knew GotG would have made the final ballot anyway. GRRM was a "leader" only in the sense that he was noticeable; where he departed from the general mood of the fans he was decisively voted down.

Later you say "they (nonPuppies) didn't even have to face a transition, as all they had to do was organize and fight." In terms of the outcome of the Hugos no organization was required. All we had to do was buy a supporting membership and vote. Those of us who knew nothing about Hugo voting discovered the existence of No Award as an option--but we discovered that person by person, from friends and acquaintances or blogs of people who had voted in the past. That didn't require organizing; that was people talking to people they already knew.

Now EPH, the proposed change in the way nominations are counted to reduce the effect of slate voting, did require some organization, so I suppose you might be thinking of that.

You frame the rest of this piece in military terms, which seems weird to me. The Hugos aren't some country with a captive population to enslave and a production to appropriate. The Hugos can be (will be) abandoned at any time they don't seem worth continuing to the volunteers who run them. Any attempt to take them over has to bear this in mind, and either maintain them in a condition that seems rewarding to the con volunteers or produce new volunteers with organizational skills and hours of free labor to devote to the project. Somehow that doesn't strike me as the Puppy style; they seem to deal in overdog resentment and anxiety, and "government out of my medicare!" reasoning, but not so much in actual work.

I hope I didn't give the wrong impression; I enjoyed your piece, despite disagreeing with some of the things you said. Thanks for posting this.
dacuteturtle
Feb. 29th, 2016 02:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

Part of what makes the post weird is that I presumed that the Puppy's world view was correct (which it wasn't). The other weird part is that I had this idea half-formed in my head, and this dump was some attempt to wrestle with the mess. In many ways, it's still a mess.

As for organizing, person-to-person is organizing. That's how a social justice campaign really works. It's not the big gesture that wins others, nor brow beating, but the vast amount of person-to-personal conversations that occur. The were a zillion individuals motivated to talk about this event, express their opinions, and turn out when the vote mattered.

My experience of the events happened the opposite of yours. I'm not well connected to fandom anymore, so most of what I learned was through author blogs. I don't imagine that I'm the only fandom person who drifted away over the years. In that respect, fandom itself is a subset of fandom, where most of fandom is disorganized fandom, off doing other things, with organized fandom being merely the most observable part.

Education is a big part of social justice advocacy, and GRRM gave us gold in terms of education. He did the part that he felt moved to give. The thing about a movement is that any movement is not homogeneous. You have many people who participate in the common causes, debating back and forth on the best resolution of the matter. This is what bottom up advocacy looks like. It's messy and inexact, with no central control, slowly coming to a group consensus.
catsittingstill
Mar. 1st, 2016 12:35 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Thank you for explaining. You are right that there are lots of people who watch/read SFF who aren't part of the convention social scene (and a lot of people who *are* part of the convention social scene who don't usually pay much attention to worldcon or the Hugos.)

If you learned about the Puppy business mostly from mainstream media it would have seemed as if writers were "crafting the narrative," simply because journalists seeking to learn about it would have an easy time finding writer names.

I would have to say "messy and inexact with no central control, slowly coming to a group consensus" describes the fannish response to the Puppies fairly well. Oddly enough (or perhaps not) the Puppies were also messy and inexact, plainly aspiring to central control they could not actually manage, and repeatedly disrupting any attempts at a coherent message by outbursts from Puppy nominees that made the whole thing look...bad.

I also respect anybody's right to feel disaffected (as you mention below.) What you feel is what you feel; it is like the direction of the wind--not under your control, and thus not something you can be blamed for. However I would note that they haven't been the least shy in telling their part of the story--if there is one thing Puppies can do, it's talk. At length.

However when your story is all about how it is not fair that people are making an effort to include women and minorities, and it's so awful that it's now considered unprofessional to publicly speculate about what women authors and editors look like in bathing suits, and how fandom used to be one big happy family back when women and minorities had to keep their mouths shut about harassment, nobody has to give you sympathy. That's what has the Puppies bent out of shape--not that they couldn't talk, but that people stopped nodding along and agreeing with them.
Gregory Hullender
Feb. 29th, 2016 05:19 pm (UTC)
Asymetrical Warfare
Could you clarify what you meant by "asymmetrical operation?" It sounds a bit as though you're counseling the puppies to resort to terrorism, even if only metaphorically.
dacuteturtle
Feb. 29th, 2016 05:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Asymetrical Warfare
LOL. Looks like I've been reading too many war blogs lately. (War is Boring. Look it up. It's a great blog written by military aficionados.)

I'm not talking terrorism here. (Who would you terrorize?) I'm saying that if the Puppies want to continue their campaign (that's their choice) and find any measure of success (by their definition), they need to change their approach. Tilting at windmills didn't work the first time and no amount of pointing fingers or claiming moral victory will change the nature of the windmill.

An example of asymmetry would be holding con parties that pushed books by Puppy favored writers. If these books deserve a wider audience, then that should help grown the fan base, giving their favorite writers more prominence. Likewise, they could grow the readership by bringing back disaffected fans with these more-conservative books.

While I don't like the Puppy tactics (clumsy, amateurish, mean spirited), I do respect their fundamental right to feel disaffected and to tell their part of the story. In order to have a strong community, everyone needs to feel able to talk.
Gregory Hullender
Feb. 29th, 2016 06:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Asymetrical Warfare
Thanks. The trouble, though, is that then they'd have to actually be for something, but their rhetoric is all about what they're against.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )