The Banality of Despite

Warning: This post contains mentions of child sexual abuse. Though I go into very little detail on the subject, there may be more explicit mentions at linked sites.


Recently a Wall Street Journal article appeared online, covering the noisy nonsense known as the Sad/Rabid Puppies—also sometimes referred to without a trace of irony or awareness by its proponents as “Puppygate”, under the mistaken notion that appending “-gate” to the end of something makes it appear like a serious scandal and not a trumped-up controversy.

Vox Day—an internet demagogue, unrepentant liar, demonstrated racist, unabashed misogynist,  and ineffective editor whom none would allege to be an author of any sort or a publisher worth mentioning (h/t TangoMan for keeping me honest there)—was delighted to have the SP/RP’s nonsensical, self-serving platforms correctly labeled as an attempt to drag SF/F into a culture war, but took exception to the description of himself as “probably now the most despised man in science fiction”, raising the question on his blog: if not him, then who?

Over in the comments on File 770, Glenn Hauman answered that question with two suggestions of persons more despised than he is:

Living? Ed Kramer. Deceased? Walter Breen.

The Wikipedia links in the quote are my insertions. I add them because I have every reason to believe that the vast majority of the people reading this blog post will not recognize those names or know what they have in common, which is the sexual abuse of children.

The thing is, while I agree that Ed Kramer and Walter Breen are more despicable than Vox Day, I disagree that they are more despised. You have to know someone to despise them, and Ed Kramer and Walter Breen are very obscure figures in SF/F.

…now, because I know that my satirical activities have attracted A Certain Audience to this blog, I can already hear the sharp intakes of breath as people rush to correct me. Obscure? The co-founder of DragonCon obscure? Am I really so ignorant to not know what a big deal DragonCon is? Obscure? The ex-husband of Marion Zimmer Bradley obscure? He was so active in fandom community circles! How can I call that obscure?

Yes, they’re obscure.

More obscure than Vox Day is, and let me tell you: Vox Day is pretty obscure.

Oh, there’s that sharp intake of breath again…

Let me back up.

This is the “ungraspable scale” problem all over again. We, none of us, really know how big a place the world of SF/F is. We, none of us, can begin to grasp what it means for a place to be even as big as we think it is.

I would bet money that if you had pollsters standing at the doors of DragonCon and ask everyone as they come in if they know who Ed Kramer is, a sizable majority of the attendants would not be able to explain who he is. I mean, a substantial majority. I don’t want to guess at the exact number, but I think closer to 90% than 50%.

To people embroiled in this imbroglio, the idea that people who are active readers and appreciators of SF/F wouldn’t know the name Vox Day might seem unfathomable. His deeds are infamous! The only man thrown out of the SFWA! (…or was he? Dun Dun Dun!) He is the most despised man in science fiction!

Let me tell you: since I’ve been writing about the Puppy incident, more people have learned the name Vox Day for the first time from me than participated in the Hugo nominations this year. I guarantee it.

You want to know who the most despised man in science fiction is?

If we’re limiting it to men, I can think of two strong contenders.

George Lucas and George R.R. Martin.

I’m going to pause to let Vox Day and his followers (the Dreadful Elks, I think they style themselves as?) have a moment where they consider whether or not to triumphantly crow that a rainbow-headed SJW just declared that George R.R. Martin is worse than a child molester. If dealing with anyone else, I’d say that me mentioning this possibility would head it off… but one never knows with the Elks.

For everybody who’s able to keep up, though, please note I didn’t say that Lucas and Martin are top contenders for the worst man in science fiction. I said they’re in the running for the title of most despised.

I mean, who despises Ed Kramer and Walter Breen? The vast majority by a wide margin of everyone who knows the history of their crimes, but how many people is that? Who despises Vox Day? I think at least a simple majority of people who run across him, but how many people is that, really?

Now think about how many people saw Star Wars Episodes I-III, was disappointed or even disgusted by them, and blamed it solely on one man: George Lucas.

Even that’s probably a smaller number than we in the various SF/F communities think. We move in spaces where those movies are despised, and everyone who despises them knows exactly what was wrong with them, and that’s Lucas. Right? But we forget how big a place the world is. We forget that there are millions of people saw those movies and enjoyed them. We forget how many people there are who, whether they liked everything in a movie or not, don’t really connect it to a person standing behind the camera. We in SF/F fandom communities forget how many people just go to the movies to watch the movies.

But even leaving out the vast multitudes of people who genuinely enjoyed those movies and/or have no inclination to despise George Lucas for them, I’d wager that more people do despise George Lucas than despise Vox Day, Walter Breen, or Ed Kramer.

I’d wager the same is true of George R.R. Martin.

I feel awkward pointing this out because I’ve enjoyed his blog and exchanged comments with him, and I am—despite some snark about his word choices—what can only be termed a fan. Mr. Martin, in the very unlikely chance that you find yourself reading this, please believe me when I stress again I’m not calling you a worse person than anyone.

But yes, I will say it: George R. R. Martin is more widely despised than Vox Day.

For what reason? I don’t know. Probably not one reason but many, from many directions.

He’s the better known figure. His work is at this weird intersection of being both strikingly different from most of what’s out there but also widely popular, which means it’s polarizing, which means people have opinions, and wherever there are opinions of sufficient strength and diversity, there will be despite.

Who else is more despised a man in science fiction than Vox Day?

Joss Whedon, probably.

Rob Liefeld, though being a comic book creator he’s more obscure than the other contenders I’ve mentioned. Still, I’d wager anyone who is a household name in comic book households is better known than Vox Day, and thus if they have even a slightly contentious reputation, they are likely to be more despised than he is.

Joel Schumacher? Maybe. The case could be made.

I’ll say again: I’m not saying these men deserve more acrimony than Vox Day, and certainly they have committed no transgressions to my knowledge that are the equal of sexual assault against children. This is not about who owns the crown of “Most Despicable Human Being Involved In The Production of Science Fiction And/Or Fantasy”, but who is despised the most.

And while there’s not a steady correlation between “how many people know about this person?” and “how many people despise this person?”… you do have to know of a person, and think about them, in order to despise them.

So whoever the most despised man in science fiction is, it’s going to be someone that people know about and think about more often than they know and think about Vox Day. The answer is thus likely to be surprisingly petty and banal, rather than salacious and sensational. It will be someone who ruined a franchise rather than lives.

To put it shortly: more people care about what they think Michael Bay did to their childhoods than even know about what Walter Breen did to children.