Steven desJardins (stevendj) wrote,

Thoughts on World Fantasy Convention

World Fantasy Convention has always been an oddity. Most science conventions are run by local fan groups, who put on the same convention each year. A few, like Worldcon, are mobile and run by different fan groups each year, with future locations chosen by members of the current convention. World Fantasy is run by a different fan group each year, but the sites aren't chosen by fans. They're chosen by the parent organization's board, which tolerates fan attendance, but considers it their duty not to cater to fans. The board favors high-priced hotels, and high membership fees. They're proud of it being a "professional" conference, and they're pretty openly elitist about what they consider professional.

For the past few years, World Fantasy has had a lousy track record with handicapped access. Even when programming was accessible, attendees has trouble getting handicapped-accessible hotel rooms, getting into hotel restaurants, etc. This year, the committee chose a Brighton hotel that's grandfathered out of British accessibility laws, and put the registration area and some programming in rooms that either aren't accessible or that are very inconvenient to access, and they've been snotty in response to complaints. They've also been snotty in response to questions about gender parity on programming, pissed people off with tone-deaf explanations for fan-unfriendly policies (such as charging a fee for kaffeeklatsches, which are traditionally a free event, on the grounds that it discourages people from changing their minds after they sign up), and pissed more people off with insulting panel descriptions (calling female writers "broads", for instance). Thirty years ago, ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, neanderthal attitudes might have gone unremarked, but fandom has been developing a stronger sense of fairness. Effectively excluding the disabled by choosing a non-accessible venue may be legal, but it's not moral, any more than excluding blacks by choosing an all-white country club would be. Snidely dismissing people's concerns about gender balance is, again, a moral issue: I don't expect everyone to share my feminist priorities, but I do expect people to accept the principle that equality is a respectable goal.

Elitism is baked into WFC's core, and this seems to be the year it turned toxic. I am very glad that I did not buy a membership, and I'm nearly as relieved to find that none of this year's chairs are on the staff of next year's London Worldcon, which I am going to.

I'm sure that there will be better World Fantasy Conventions in the future. I know most of the people running next year's WFC, just outside DC, and I'm sure they'll do better. But I've been uncomfortable with WFC for a while, enough that I hadn't bought a membership even though it was local, and this year's trainwreck has pushed me to a decision. I will not attend World Fantasy Convention, not next year, not ever. The convention no longer deserves to exist. Maybe if the leadership changes, I'll reconsider. But for the foreseeable future, I'll spend my time and money elsewhere.

(Note what WFC's public bidding requirements have to say about handicapped access. Oh, you guessed it: their formal bidding requirements have nothing to say about handicapped access.)

I also will not support any Worldcon bid that has any of the current chairs in any significant position. (For future reference: Amanda Foubister. Stephen Jones. Michael Marshall Smith.) It may not be much, but if I raise my concerns at bid parties, it could eventually help make a difference.
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