Sci-Fi Hugo Awards Controversy Is a Cultural Proxy War

An ideological battle over diversity, inclusion, and ownership is being fought over sci-fi's most prestigious awards.

If you're not familiar with the Hugo Awards, it's basically the Oscars of science-fiction and fantasy writing. The Hugos are given out each year at the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society — Worldcon for short. This year, the 73rd Worldcon will be held in Spokane, Washington, on August 22, 2015, though it's likely the topic of conversation in Spokane will extend much farther than sci-fi for its own merits. The Hugos are currently embroiled in an ideological battle over diversity, inclusion, and ownership not too dissimilar to last year's Gamergate uproar. The belligerents include a slate of left-leaning authors who champion progressive values in their work and a collective of right-wing authors led by a group called the Sad Puppies. Only sci-fi and fantasy, right?


Here are the basics. The Hugo Award nominations are voted upon by paying attendees at Worldcom. Last year's awards were swept by purportedly leftist works. Thanks to an orchestrated voting campaign, this year's nominations are dominated by right-wing works. The expected mudslinging commenced earlier this week.

Doesn't this all sound familiar? It should. We've seen this with Gamergate. We've seen this with Black Lives Matter. We've seen this in almost every segment of American pop-culture and society. One group argues for inclusion/equality/favor in subsystems that traditionally favor an entrenched power. The entrenched power and those who support the status quo mount a counterattack against "leftist assaults." One argues in favor of cultural harmony through diversity. The other believes forced diversity to be an affront to sacred meritocracy.

Step back from the fray and the conflict appears to be nothing more than nerds fighting over whose toys are better. Step further away and the context of the battle begins to fit snugly within a larger culture war between competing ideologies. It's politics, pure and simple. It's progressivism vs. traditionalism and left vs. right. It's not a debate over whose sci-fi is best. It's a debate over what makes works great in the first place. It's a battle over values, pure and simple.

Perhaps the real interesting question here is out of which realm of society will the next great theatre of the culture war emerge? Video games? Been there. Comic books? Done that. Maybe it'll be sports or graffiti art or some other McGuffin we perceive to be male-dominated. Who knows?

As for the above, I'm not willing to take sides for myriad reasons, most of which don't take into account whatever topic people are arguing over today. What can be said is that the progressives appear to be winning... for now.

Read more at The Atlantic.

In the Big Think interview below, author Kabir Sehgal explains that science fiction offers the best clues for what the future of economics will look like: 

Photo credit: Ase / Shutterstock

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