The Jonathan Ross Fallout

As I started reading the outburst over Loncon’s announcement that Jonathan Ross would be hosting the Hugo Awards at this summer’s convention, my heart sank. I was horrified by what happened – but not just at *what* happened, but more importantly, the *way* it happened. Disagreeing with someone does not give us licence to start viciously attacking them. We of all people should know how powerful words are.

It has nothing to do with how good a host Jonathan Ross would or would not have been – that would be a matter for individual taste, which, let us not forget, is what all art comes down to. There is no doubt Ross is a controversial polarising public figure, but I can also see there are as many advocates for him out there as there are against.

What appalls me is the nature of the Tweeted tirade that started the moment the announcement was made. Of course everyone has a right to his or her opinion, but when did that right give us carte blanche to fill the Twittersphere – and indeed, the Internet as a whole – with such vilification? I do understand that some people feel very deeply that Ross was not a good choice to host the Hugos. I can see people are deeply offended by things he has done – but even more scarily, they are offended by things he is *alleged* to have done, which is not at all the same thing.

If those who disapproved had contacted the convention committee, made their disapprobation plain and asked for Ross to be replaced, well, fine and good. Yes, go ahead and express your dismay – but that’s not what happened here. What we got was a sudden outpouring of hateful and bullying messages, and not just to the convention committee, but to Jonathan Ross himself: the avowed and passionate SF fan who offered his time and services free of charge to host an awards ceremony for the field he loves.

And now the SFF community is making front pages, and not for the right reasons, for the amazing literature or the outstanding artwork science writers and artists working within the genre are producing, but for the vindictive trolling reaction to something a number of those within the community don’t approve of. Watching the fall-out on Sunday and this morning, I felt ashamed for the community in which I have grown up. I hoped we were better than this.

We must be better than this.


Jo sig


  1. Good point. Jonathan Ross is a big fan, he has presented on shows that celebrate SF with enthusiasm, intelligence and humour. Twitter and the internet has become a Pandora’s Box. It’s not possible to clean it up force people to behave because people clearly see some benefit in being able to vent hatred. We are clearly an unpleasant race so maybe an alien invasion is just what we need.

  2. As geeks, nerds and suchlike we and our genre have been mocked, laughed at and bullied by some for years so we should know better than to behave that way ourselves. Massive FAIL on the part of the tweeters in my opinion, they’ve set us back a long, long way.

  3. Yes, let’s keep the genre in the ghetto and be all passive-aggressive about it. A lot of those who proclaimed horror at the idea of Jonathan Ross presenting the awards seem never heard to have of him, others who should know better appear to lack a sense of humour, and I do worry that there’s some weird ultra-PC movement at work in the modern genre that horrifies me just as much as the rather boysie nature of the field as it was when I started working in it 30 years ago. Clearly there are the ‘right’ sort of people and the ‘wrong’ sort in the modern genre. I’m beginning to feel I’m in the ‘wrong’ category – shock-horror a woman who loves sff and isn’t liable to crumple into a weeping heap at the first off-colour joke or lack of parity — or worse, at the imagined threat of such! When did we turn into such a self-righteous, miserable, bullying, cliquey field? Great PR job, fandom: I think we call it ‘shooting yourself in the foot’. As Jo says, it’s embarrassing and people need to grow up and learn how to behave.

  4. Very well said. I am also ashamed and saddened – like you, not by the what, but the how. One of the comments on another discussion described the community as coming across as “humourless and insular” and that’s absolutely how it must seem. Not the way to encourage new fans, or general perceptions of the community. But more to the point I see a great irony.  Some of those want to make fandom a safer, better space are being so aggressive and judgemental in making things better that the average regular fan may well start to feel the community is just not a fun place to be; and since for most of us it’s a hobby, why spend time somewhere you feel is just full of hostility. The only way the community can go forward is TOGETHER and with a consensus; the highly committed people need to take the rest of us with them.  

  5. It is a mystery to me that anyone thought that an insult comic who targets women with fat jokes would be a good and welcome choice at any time, much less in wake of recent controversies in the sf fan and pro communities. Nor can the con chairs plausibly claim they weren’t warned about the likely reaction to the announcement.
    It’s painfully clear that either they did not prepare Ross for the possibility of a less than fawning reaction, or they did and he decided he knew better. Ross’s own public reaction to the unhappiness with the choice could have been calculated to calm the concerns. Instead he threw fuel on the fire with insults and putdowns of people who expressed their unhappiness.
    The Loncon 3 committee has given itself an unnecessary black eye and has no one to blame but itself.

  6. I’m fat and would happily have had Jonathan tease me about it. What’s the difference?

  7. As always, Jo Fletcher makes perfect sense. I’ve been part of SFF for a far shorter time than most – I entered the genre community around 2009/2010. I’m not the kind of person who gets on easily with anyone, but I found that visiting conventions I was meeting some of the nicest, kindest and most accepting people I could ever hope to meet. I looked forward to every convention and I left each one I attended with new friends. Online though seems a different place. People seem to revel in attacking eachother and refuse to back down once an issue is disageed upon. What I don’t get is why so many arguments that could be settled quietly over e-mail or by phonecall and dragged to public attention?If someone makes a comment you think is sexist, why not write to them and give them your opinion on why? What is likely to happen is that they will read what they wrote and tell you why they think it is not sexist / agree with you that it was and correct it. Either you educate that person or they educate you: win-win.If you reply to a blog saying: ‘you sexist ***** **** ******* *********’ and then head over to your Twitter and Tweet ‘Look what this sexist **** ******** ******* ***** has written’, what possible good is going to come out of it?The same thing applies with Ross. If people were upset with Ross as a choice (and, I agree, that inlight of recent events it was probably an oversight to choose him this year – maybe down the road) then a quiet word with Loncon, a petition logically outlining why Ross makes a bad choice or even a letter to Ross himself by the more influencial people in the genre explaining what has been going on and their concerns – he, himself, said ‘I love sf’ – ask him to prove it by listening to concerns and asking for reassurances. Attacking him and telling him he is not ‘one of us’ was craziness, sad, disapointing and concerning for the future of the genre.As Jo says, we’re better than the media are currently making us out to be. However, it is our own fault (as a community) that the media are now able to depict us in such a way. 

  8. I disagree, Lis. I hear the Loncon committee called out for this disagreement and for handling things badly, but they’re just volunteers who disagreed about something. Committees disagree about stuff all the time. And they didn’t need to prepare Ross for hotilities  – we shoud all have acted a bit more grown up about it.
    Jonathan Ross has made off-colour remarks in the past, but is not known for punching down and not renowned as a sexist, ableist, fattist… he just isn’t. Where he has made mistakes he has apologised and allowed himself to be educated by people he hurt. He had lessons he needed to learn, and he learned. And good, because Sachsgate was not nice.  But if you are picking reactive tweets of his as evidence of his evil nature, then you are never going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  9. Lis Carey

    It’s painfully clear that either they did not prepare Ross for the possibility of a less than fawning reaction, or they did and he decided he knew better. Ross’s own public reaction to the unhappiness with the choice could have been calculated to calm the concerns. Instead he threw fuel on the fire with insults and putdowns of people who expressed their unhappiness.

    I’ve read some of the Tweets you’re talking about and they didn’t just express unhappiness; many were downright abusive and libellous.
    Such as suggesting that minorities would be subjected to abuse by him at the awards or that he would inevitably pick out fat people in the crowd and insult them.
    His response was to label such pre-emptive accusations, and those willing to make them, small-minded and stupid. That’s fair enough. I totally agree with him. And when they wouldn’t let it drop he understandably told these people where to go.
    As Jo Fletcher points out, there were better ways for these people to register their unhappiness with the booking, which did not resort to very public abuse, harassment and character assassinations.

  10. Many people are drawn into the SF/F worlds seeking a form of escapism; trying to protect themselves of the harm that is inflicted by others. Bullying is something that we, as a genre, should fight against, in any form we can. But, comedy and bullying are different things. Some people were upset by the choice of Jonathan Ross as a presenter for fear of becoming a target – it is a legitimate fear, but are we to base our decisions on “what could happen”?The snowball of villainy witnessed on twitter did nothing but harm our community. Authors said they were desillusioned, now, by the whole thing, some even claiming they were considering taking a distance from Fandom. We must make sure that such thing does not happen again, for the sake of the genre.

  11. Lis Carey

    It is a mystery to me that anyone thought that an insult comic who targets women with fat jokes ..

    Can you give me any cites for this? I saw Seanan Macguire make this accusation (her behaviour in this bothers me as I was just starting to read her work and am now put off completely) – I assume someone told her that this was what Ross does – I also saw Ross’s “overweight daughter” take issue with that and ask for evidence, which she never got. So, if people are going to go around adding new offences to Ross’s line-up of past mistakes it’d be a good idea to make sure they are genuine and not twitter rumour (tweets do not constitute evidence).
    I’m not a fan of Ross, I can’t see anything in his humour, I think he is stuck in early 20-something male humour and needs to mature. But he’s a SFF fan, he writes (I believe) comic books/graphic novels.
    In fandom’s laudable attempt to make sure that conventions are “safe” places, I believe things are going overboard. Attempting to make sure that nobody feels offended or uncomfortable is NOT where the focus should be. Offence is subjective and the only way to ensure that you offend no-one is to never say or do anything. Ditto with “feeling uncomfortable”.  I feel uncomfortable when there are too many people around me (in fact, I can get panic attacks)… so I want there to always be a 10′ radius about me that never has more than 2 other people in it at any given time. But, you know what, that ain’t the job of the committee or anyone else. It’s up to me to monitor my own feelings of comfort etc and do what is necessary to maintain my own levels of calm.  If I think a performance or demonstration or panel might offend me, it’s MY decision whether I attend. If I am then offended, I can only blame myself.
    As I said, I don’t like Ross, but I’m pretty sure that if he was given a list of “please avoid these areas in your jokes” he’d have done his best. Or at worst apologised afterwards the way Paul Cornell had to when someone was offended by HIS jokes one year.

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