Journal Entry

Monday, June 3, 2013

Dear Barry & Mike

There is something that makes me very sad about Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg descending into whiny self-parody in the SFWA Bulletin.

As much as part of their schtick has always been to flaunt and revel in their old-timey dinosaurness (something which, you know, you'd never catch their elders Ursula Le Guin or Carol Emschwiller doing, or even Fred Pohl), they have also typically displayed a certain dignity and pragmatism.

But it takes a certain kind of willful blindness not to get that slathering wolf whistles all over your tribute to women editors of years past might piss off... well, pretty much anyone born after 1960.

It's not that we don't know how it was when you guys came up. We know that back in the day, talking loudly about Andre Norton looking good in a bathing suit was supposed to be a gracious compliment about which she should be merrily grateful, while talking about Isaac Asimov in a bathing suit was always a laugh line, a way of ribbing on him, but gently ribbing, because who in their right mind would actually care about how he looked in a bathing suit? We know this. We get it. We can make the imaginative leap to your context.

And we get that when you're hanging out together typing stuff up for SFWA it must feel like it's *still* thenadays, and that the temptation is great to just swim in the sweet, sweet nostalgia of when men were men and even the toughest broad cared about her hemline and fedoras were not ironic in the least.

So I'm not even mad about that first slip-up.

What upsets me, though, is that you apparently can't make the imaginative leap to our context. You apparently don't get that talking about how hot an editor is in a skirt -- not in a love letter or a roast or an autobiographical reminiscence, mind you, but in the three sentences you're planning to devote to sum up the influence of her career in a grand retrospective in the central house organ of her writers' organization -- is, for us, kind of disgusting. I don't use that word as an ad hominem attack, or hyperbolically. I mean it clinically and carefully. The emotion it evokes is disgust: like finding a clod of rotten, moldy dirt in your favorite sugary breakfast cereal.

(Disgust is all about context. There is nothing wrong with rotten, moldy dirt in your garden, under the mulch. There is nothing wrong with a delightful anecdote about how hot the SF writers of yesteryear were, in your memoirs. But to climb up on the awards stage and make your presentation speech all about how the winner gives you a boner... see, it's not the desire there that's gross. Go desire! Desire is human and lovely. No, what's gross is the power. You get to talk about her boobs; you know perfectly well no one is ever going to use your moment onstage to talk about yours.)

And then, honestly guys, the confused ramble about censorship? ("I don't know if anyone is trying to censor us, because they are anonymous to me, though perhaps not anonymous to those who went and looked at how they signed their posts, but if they were, that would be bad" -- wtf?) That's just painful. Like, if you say something that sucks, and we tell you it sucks, that's... censorship? Stalinism?

I don't think we need to spend any time here, I think you actually get perfectly well what a tremendously facile and silly argument that is, and in fact, at that point, I think you were just trolling. That is, having been accused of being insensitive jerks, you are on purpose acting more jerky, so people will yell more, so that you can laugh and point. I hope that's not what it is; doubling down on jerk is, you realize, a pathetic retreat, not a valiant stand.

I don't know you guys personally, but I've been reading you for years, and there are men of your generation and background, whom I love, whom I can well imagine doing this. Speaking unthinkingly as if it's still 1958 and the boys' club, and then, when called on it, trying to wrap themselves in the flag. That's why it makes me sad.

Please cut it out. You're better than that. Act like the men you want to be. Can you imagine Bogart and Jimmy Stewart hurting a woman's feelings and then going on a rant about how she deserved it and is trying to control them? No, no you can't. They would listen until they understood, and then gracefully apologize. So come on. You do the same. Time to earn those fedoras.

Posted by benrosen at June 3, 2013 05:15 PM | Up to blog
Comments

Thank you; well said. I especially like how you pointed out that there are only a few lines and that it is in the context of writing, not a person memoir. With narrative, which needs out most details, with limited space, the details that are included are the ones on which importance is placed. This is a fact that should be obvious to writers.

Posted by: Alex Haist at June 3, 2013 05:58 PM

Plenty of us born pre-1960 are also disgusted. We remember what things were like Back In The Day, and we don't want to go back there. Why Resnick and Malzberg haven't grown up mystifies us.

Posted by: Xopher Halftongue at June 3, 2013 11:25 PM

That's a really good point, Xopher, and I stand corrected.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at June 3, 2013 11:46 PM

Well said!

Posted by: Avram at June 4, 2013 04:11 AM

Xopher is sensible, as usual, and I (born 1928) also share that disgust (and, probably, disappointment, at least in the matter of Resnick, who's a rather good writer & whose moments of knuckeheadness (IMHO) haven't been excessive).

Posted by: Don Fitch at June 4, 2013 01:59 PM

Ben,

I've read a lot about this particular uproar in the last 72 hours, most of it tone deaf and wildly overreacting. I wish everyone involved would read this piece. In fact, I think I'll point them to it. Very well said.

Posted by: John O'Neill at June 4, 2013 10:49 PM

I was born before 1960, and can, in fact, remember it. I also agree with Xopher. Resnick, whom I've met, certainly could have done better. It's one thing to try to make a joke out of material that really wasn't all that funny in 1958 I suspect, but not to understand that the context has changed and that people expect better is a true failure both of imagination and decency. They're adults, they should behave like it.

Posted by: Fragano Ledgister at June 5, 2013 09:37 PM

Ben,

As promised, I quoted you on the Black Gate blog, and there's been some discussion of your comments here:

http://www.blackgate.com/2013/06/07/jean-rabe-resigns-as-sfwa-bulletin-editor-amidst-controversy-over-sexist-articles/

Just FYI. :)

John

Posted by: John O'Neill at June 10, 2013 08:32 PM

Thanks, John!

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at June 11, 2013 08:21 AM

Just happened to run across this. Don't know much of anything about blogs but...

I'd like to understand this controversy better, but though I easily found Resnick's/Malzberg's responses to the complaints (everyone's is providing links to those), I don't seem to be able to find their original statements that started the whole issue. Can someone point me to that?

I did see the cover picture referred to. Maybe I'm too old fashioned myself, but it's hard to imagine THAT being controversial in any way.

Thanks!

Ps. again, I don't know about blogs, but if someone could email me, that would be great. I'm at bruce@brucedelaplain.com

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