I don't have a special spin on Harlan Ellison joining an internet fray, nor do I have a side to take on anything. What I do have is a sort of surprised pause, when, in the course of reading about an issue that I had no plan to comment on, someone on a message board professed that Wiscon was a con that only existed as an -ism con.
What does that mean? I'm not sure. Wiscon is one of the highlights of my year. It's a place where I feel very comfortable, a place where I pilgrimage with a couple of excellent friends. I go because of the strong writing track, but I'm also pleased that there are tracks in academics, fandom, and other issues. It seems to me that it's a rare place, one that approaches our genre fiction from an analytical viewpoint, something I'm not unfamiliar with during the course of my academic work.
Apparently, someone finds the idea of a con that tackles issues in literature of the fantastic distasteful somehow, a reason for chastisement. I'm sure that this person votes with their dollars by not going, and therefore can continue to disdain the endeavor from a distance. Everyone has a right to their opinion.
It is true that Wiscon calls itself a feminist SF convention. I suppose that could be threatening to some. It could send the message to those who don't understand feminism that feminism can include both genders. In truth, most of the attendees are women. It could frighten away those who feel that SF and fantasy shouldn't be politicized or examined. It could be perceived of as a place that celebrates difference, and difference can be pretty intimidating to some.
I wonder if people realize when their words are written down and left haphazardly on the internet, they run the risk of being perceived by one facet, one sentence, one line of their existence. I only know the person who said this from one disgruntled discussion on a message board. I wonder why that person felt the need to attack Wiscon. Sometimes you wonder about the why, which is actually why I like Wiscon. Wiscon itself wonders about the why of so many things.
If you look deep down, what we say speaks volumes about ourselves. I can't understand anyone or anything until I gather a complete body of evidence. I think it's dangerous to be dismissive and paint with a broad brush when you observe from the outside. This is what I try to teach my students in every class. This is why I don't jump into Internet battles, because I have no idea of metalanguage or of a body of evidence and discussion.
It could be that this person has tried the convention, and has decided its not for them, but to dismiss the con because it thinks about issues and causes. I'm baffled.
It makes me sad that someone takes something I think is worthwhile after amassing a large amount of evidence of its worthiness, and dismisses it seemingly in a moment of pique. By writing this, I want to discourage the culture of the immediate, which is ever more prevalent in our electronic medium. We have to be careful about what we say, and when we say it, not to mention what we believe, and what causes us to believe it. And even then, perhaps, we shouldn't write down something that will later become an unflattering snapshot of ourselves, if that's not the way we want to be perceived. And to those who rigidly and stubbornly stand behind every assertion as unchangeable and true, I hope you will think of your future as well as your present self, because an open mind doesn't mean changing your views, but does mean respecting those of others.
To counterbalance the dismissal, I like Wiscon a lot, based on observing it, up close and personal, for a long time. And you can hit a lot of previous entries to see why.
I continue to hope for a world where civil discourse even makes a more gentle internet, but I know that I am by nature naive.