Us vs. Them vs. Grow the Hell Up

I’m still not entirely sure what the hell happened last week. I know it started when someone forwarded a comment I made on Twitter a few weeks back to the SMOFs listserv. I talked about that some here.

To back up a bit, “SMOFs” refers to Secret Masters of Fandom. It was originally coined as a rather joking, self-deprecating term for the folks who work their asses off behind the scenes running conventions and such. The folks who won the bid to host NASFiC in Detroit for 2014? They’ll be smoffing nonstop for the next year to make that happen. (Congrats and good luck to them all, by the way!!!)

I spoke to a number of people about fandom and SMOFs and convention history and so on last week. Multiple conrunners referred to a siege mentality, a sense that the SMOFs are constantly under attack, creating a strong Us vs. Them mentality. Reading between the lines, I suspect that when I critiqued fandom’s lack of diversity by referencing a photo of Worldcon Con Chairs, that was enough for some people to assume I was “them,” one of the people who was out to get the SMOFs, destroy Worldcon, and retire to my secret moonbase where I’d pet my cat and practice twirling my mustache.

Whatever. But later in the week, Nick Mamatas posted a pic of a “SMOF ZONE” sign at Worldcon. I retweeted the pic with the question, “So, um, anyone know the story behind this sign at Worldcon?” and “To clarify, I know what SMOF stands for. I don’t see how a ‘SMOF ZONE’ sign is going to do anything but irritate folks.” Because, you know, if you’re worried about an Us vs. Them siege, then even if the sign was meant to be tongue-in-cheek — and I suspect it was — it’s probably not going to help matters.

This was enough to get me labelled a troll and accused once again of being out to destroy people.

Look, I get it. I’ve seen the comments that anyone who considers themselves a SMOF should be ashamed of themselves. I’ve watched people accuse the entire group of being out-of-touch, exclusive, overly conservative, power-grubbing, and more. I’ve come across the outright mockery. I suspect the folks who identify as SMOFs have heard far worse, and that sucks.

SFWA has gone through similar crap lately. The organization has had its share of screw-ups, and people generalize them to everyone and everything associated with the organization. “SFWA is an organization of old white dudes stuck in the past, working hard to ensure their own irrelevance.”

That certainly describes some members, yes. But not all of them. Any more than the SMOFs listserv is made up of a unified groupmind convinced that anyone who offers criticism or asks questions is THE ENEMY.

I get that some folks prefer a simplistic binary view of the world. Hell, I’m sure I’ve fallen into that trap myself on occasion, though I try not to. But the whole “Us vs. Them” thing is inaccurate, childish, and harmful no matter which side you think you’re on. There are assholes on every side of every debate. Assuming an organization, whether it’s SMOFs or SFWA or liberals or conservatives or whatever, to be a monolithic borg-mind of Wrongness is just going to increase that siege mentality and probably irritate even the people who might agree with you. Assuming all criticism comes from the “Them” who are out to get you means ignoring real concerns and alienating potential allies.

Someone pointed out that it can be hard to hear criticism of something you’ve poured so much time and work into. Yep. I spend a year or more on every book, and as soon as it appears in the world, people start to point out my mistakes, things I could have done better, and so on. It’s hard. Sometimes it feels unfair. Occasionally I go home and curl up in my Protective Blanket of Fear for a while.

But “I worked hard on this” doesn’t exempt you from criticism. Those harsh reviews aren’t about anyone being out to get me. It’s not an Authors vs. Reviewers thing. It’s people taking the time to express their opinions because they care about this stuff. Sure, some of those opinions are wrong. Others raise valid points. Sometimes I even learn from the criticism, and am able to improve future books.

I love fandom. I love conventions. I love getting to geek out with people, to celebrate our stories and our jokes and our heroes and more. But our community also has some serious problems, and I intend to keep talking about them and trying to push for us to solve them. Not because I’m trying to destroy fandom, but because I care about it and want it to be better. And I think the “Us vs. Them” nonsense is one of the things that continues to hurt us, and gets in the way of progress.

I know there are people out there who hate me, and that’s fine. But I hope they hate me for me, for the things I’ve actually said and done, as opposed to their perception that I’m one of “them,” for whatever value of “them” you might be using at the moment.

Thanks for reading. This was something I needed to get out of my system.

Oh, and whoever has been taking it upon themself to forward my Tweets and blog posts to the SMOFs listserv, please feel free to forward this one as well. Thanks!