The 2018 Parsec Situation

This is a piece about the developing situation with the Parsec awards. There is a flotilla of issues here and I’ll do my best to address each one. First off, some basic principles. If you have an issue with these, you’re not going to like the article, and I’d suggest you walk away now:

  • I believe the victims.
  • The individual involved is not going to be named here. I have not had any interaction with them. Others have; their accounts will be linked here. Tertiary evidence in a situation like this is a nightmare generator. My job is to listen to the people who know, not the people who think they know.
  • The Parsec Committee’s responses are a matter of public record. Any fisking of them by me would be performative and unnecessary.

Cards on the table: I co-own Escape Artists, a four show wide genre fiction podcast publisher. EA won two Parsecs this year. Various friends of mine have served on that committee or continue to do so. I was a judge on two categories this year, neither of which were the ones where the controversy has arisen. I was super late getting my results in which has nothing to do with any of this, but I mention to make it clear how aware I am that life happens and professionalism is something that we all aim for but not always hit. And, before anyone jumps on that particular horse, neither of the categories I judged were ones my own shows were up for. The Committee did, and continue to do, a good job to eliminate conflict of interest like that.

Now, the current situation. First off, read Wilw_writes and Shomarq on this. They will bring you up to speed and the Parsec official responses will be in there too. As I see it, we have:

  • Failure of duty of care
  • The volunteer defense
  • The illusion of apolitical awards
  • Consequences for the future

The failure of duty of care is actually the simplest issue here and splits into two fields. The first is basic research.  Anyone researching the name of the individual involved in this controversy will, very quickly, discover their past actions in the exact way the Parsecs did not. The counterpoint here of course is the question of where do you draw the line on acceptable behavior and the statute of limitations on unacceptable behavior. The answer to that question will change depending on who you are. The issue here, oddly, is not that but rather the fact the Parsecs have never asked themselves that question prior to this point. And, as we’ll see, the answer they came up with was far from a satisfactory one for anybody.

The second issue here is duty of care of staff. At least one judge has had direct interaction with this individual. You can read their account above and also why they didn’t come forward initially. The fact that we have to endlessly re-litigate this situation, every time it comes up, is as infuriating as it is needless. The standard template goes:

  • It’s reported after the fact that someone acted in a threatening or harassing manner.
  • The victim is blamed for not coming forward sooner and accused of having an agenda.
  • Nothing changes.

To go through this process in the same year as the Kavanaugh hearings, not to mention Eliza Dushku’s ongoing situation with CBS, is not being ‘necessarily blind’, a phrase with a whole raft of problems all its own. It’s being ignorant on a profound, pan-cultural scale. The simple fact that the burden of proof, and of care, and of initiation is still placed on victims in 2018 is shameful. The fact it’s done so in genre, a field which loves to pay lip service to community even as it ignores the very concept, doubly so. The lack of a complaints policy is like the lack of a roof. Eventually, it always rains.

Next up, the volunteer defense. I think the phrase I took the most issue with in the responses was the reminder that the Parsecs are just a volunteer organization. Yes, they are. So is everyone else. Wearing one of my other hats, I co-run a convention volunteer team and work with lots of other people that do. None of us are perfect but everyone in that field I know is passionately interested in making it better for everyone. You don’t do that by attempting to use volunteer status as a shield. You do it by using it as a tool, engaging with others in the field learning what they’re doing and acting on it. Is it time consuming? Absolutely. Is it necessary and raises the standard of genre as a whole and your corner in particular? Without doubt. Volunteers are the unseen and exploited lifeblood of genre events and changing that is a major project for me. Hearing an organization attempt to use the perceived amateur nature of volunteers as an excuse for a lack of professionalism is unacceptable.

I also applaud the Parsec committee’s decision to judge work solely on merit. I think it’s laudable. I also think it’s impossible and, bluntly, naive. Now, more than ever before, we all need to accept that any piece of art is a subject and expression of the times within which it was created and anyone who doesn’t think that has clearly never read, or worse understood, Shakespeare, Star Trek, Law & Order or literally any other piece of art you would care to name. As the co-owner of a flotilla of anthologies we see this every week on every show and encourage it. Stories are the tools we use to interact with the world and it’s no accident that so many of the people wanting to go back to the ‘golden age’ of science fiction for example, didn’t live through it. Times change. Stories change with them. We understand the former by embracing and dialoging with the latter. A major part of that dialogue is understanding the cultural context within which a creative team sits. And that by definition is always political.

The Parsecs have always struggled with communication. Their stated goal of being the premier podcasting award has always been marred by a remarkable intransigence. Their refusal to move past their outdated and ridiculously work-intensive submissions process is a particularly strong example of this. Another is their sporadic communication style. While this issue has been moved on rapidly, it’s worth noting that at time of writing there’s still no official winners announcement on their twitter feed or website, a week after the winners themselves were informed and days after the news went public.

That brings us to consequences.  Letting down judges like this is bad. Lacking a complaints policy at a minimum in this day and age borders on unforgivable. The community’s trust in the Parsecs has, at the very least, been torpedoed by this incident and the committee’s response to it. Whether that torpedo hit under the water line remains to be seen.

For me, I’d love to see some changes. A complaints policy is years overdue. More awareness of the field and problematic behavior within it even more so. That doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t, be political either but rather based on fundamental decency. Sexism, racism, homophobia, harassment. These aren’t political lines, they’re lifestyle choices and choices that podcasters up for awards should be aware of, just as prose authors are slowly starting to be. Blindness isn’t necessary here, and ignorance is the opposite of bliss. Engagement, compassion, dialogue and change are all needed. I hope the committee feels the same way and I hope that next year, these awards can be what they deserve to be; celebrated.