As for gaming the Hugo awards, it is surprisingly easy. Like all popularity contests, it doesn’t take much to mess it all up. It only keeps a feeling of legitimacy as long as everyone is very polite and careful, because there’s no rule that says you can’t muck it up. The Hugo nominations come from the attendees of this year’s, last year’s, and next year’s WorldCon convention. That’s not a huge group (and figure many people haven’t bought their memberships to this year’s or next year’s yet). Actual number of ballots comes out not greatly over 2000, and if no one is playing games, the nominations are spread out over a huge number of different stories, books, etc. So, if you can get 200 people to vote along a party line, you’ll win. This is even easier since you don’t have to go to the convention, just sign up for a voting membership, pay $40, and you’re good to go.
–Matthew M. Foster on the Hugo Awards.
Foster’s whole post, and its sequel, are well-worth the read as they go into some of the history behind SFF’s recent bout of culture wars.
One of the things that’s interesting to me, is that the whole thing can, arguably, be traced back to RaceFail. RaceFail involved the pro SFF circuit, but I’d always read it as a fandom thing, because a lot of the discussion was on LiveJournal/Dreamwidth, and LJ/DW were Where Fandom Was At back in those days. Six years later, however, and fandom has largely moved to Tumblr, while pro SFF is split across more platforms than it’s interesting to mention.
But the effects of RaceFail are still felt in both communities. For fandom, RaceFail was, I think, the birth of modern fandom social justice and identity politics culture. If you’ve ever seen or made one of those “your fav is ~problematic” style posts, then congratulations. You’re feeling the ripple effects of RaceFail, even if the event itself is fandom pre-history to you personally.
For pro SFF, well. Go read Foster’s posts.
I’m mentioning this, essentially, because I’m old. I still have this mental thing where “SFF fandom” and “media fandom” are two very heavily overlapping circles on the Venn diagram, because that’s where my introduction to fandom came from. But the one thing paying closer attention to the Hugos in the last few years has made me realise, is just how divorced those two communities are.
The Hugo awards are supposed to be a popular vote. As per the quote above, anyone can buy their way into the process for forty bucks. And yet… people don’t. The voting pool for the Hugos is tiny, at about 2,000 people. Works are winning with primary votes of 1,000 and less. Actually getting nominated onto the ballot in the first place takes somewhere between 50 to 200 nominations, depending on category.
So, my question to you, fandom, is: Do you think there are 200 Welcome to Night Vale fans out there prepared to vote for their favourite show? Individual episodes are eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, and the show’s got a book coming out this year. Reckon that can get on the 2016 ballot?
Or what about Homestuck fans. Y’all gave Andrew Hussie $2.5 million for Hiveswap. How about a nomination for Best Graphic Story? Or even Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form for one of the flash clips? Andrew Hussie himself is eligible for the Best Professional Artist category. You think there are more than 500 Homestucks prepared to pay $40 to see their fav get a little rocket statue?
Or how about you, Dragon Age fandom. Y’all know video games are eligible for both the long and short Best Dramatic Presentation categories, right? You remember when you cried over Dorian’s personal quest or nearly shat yourself when Corypheus turned up? Are there 1,000 of you out there who want to get that recognised?
To anyone who’s ever used the Archive of our Own. Think that deserves some recognition for its contributions to fandom? Well, then maybe it deserves a nomination for Best Related Work. Yeah, there’s some debate as to whether it would qualify, but no-one’s ever going to make that ruling unless someone gets the ballots in, right?
Or how about you, yes you, the J. Everyfan reading this. You know that the Hugos have Best Fan Writer, Best Fanzine, Best Fancast, and Best Fan Artist categories, yeah? Best Related Work also covers fandom meta. I’m sure you can think of someone who you’d love to see win something for their contributions, be they fic or art or otherwise.
Here’s the thing about fandom as it currently exists, mainly on Tumblr: it’s huge. It’s huge, but it’s also very, very divorced from the Venerable Old Institutions of its grandparent fandoms, including the Hugo awards.
The Hugos were first given out in the mid-1950s, when my parents were just toddlers (and I’m fandom old). According to the Hugo site itself:
The Hugo Awards, to give them their full title, are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. They were first awarded in 1953, and have been awarded every year since 1955. The awards are run by and voted on by fans.
And, sure. That might have been true 60 years ago. But in 2015 it’s become painfully obvious that the Hugos are, far from being a populist award, a tiny clique of old-guard SFF pros squabbling over what they see as the heart and soul of fandom.
The Hugos are hugely prestigious, but they’re no-one’s heart and soul. There are a lot of people who’ll hate me for saying this, but fandom’s heart and soul is younger, now, and it lives online. It talks in YouTube clips and Tumblr posts, not in ‘zines. (And does anyone under the age of 30 even know what a zine is anymore?) You want to talk about slates of nominees and culture wars and take-overs? Fine, let’s talk about that. Because you know what I want to see for the 2016 Hugo awards?
I want to see Welcome to Night Vale up for awards in Best Novel and Best Dramatic Presentation. I want to see Stephen Universe and Agent Carter and whatever anime is big right now. I want to see Homestuck. I want to see something from the OTW and I want at least one videogame up for Long Form and one DLC/expansion up in Short Form. I want to see fanfic writers and fanartists up for their categories. I want to see someone get nominated purely on force of their Tumblr.
Whether or not I like the individual nominations doesn’t matter. I just want to see them, because seeing them will tell me the Hugos are relevant again. That they mean something to kids who were born after the invention of the personal computer, let alone born this century. You want to talk about logrolling an awards ceremony? Tumblr fandom is orders of magnitude bigger than the voting pool for the current Hugos. If y’all want those awards, they’re yours. No old greybeard muttering about “true fans” and “golden age SFF” can take that away from you. Literally not; by numbers alone there just aren’t enough of them.
Think it’s not worth the effort because the awards themselves aren’t relevant to you? Then make them relevant; that’s my whole point! They’re a popular vote! Make them popular again! Talk to your friends, your followers. Find what works and individuals are eligible and make Tumblr posts about them. Buy a membership to WorldCon (“Supporting” is the one you want if you’re not attending the con itself but just want the ability to vote in the Hugos). Vote this year, nominate next year.
Blow off those fucking cobwebs, and shake things up a bit. I dream of the day it happens. I know you can do it, fandom.
And, hell. If nothing else, it’ll piss off a bunch of dusty old straight white men who think they own what it means to be in fandom. Fuck those guys, amirite?
So go on. You’ve got a year. Make yourselves heard.