Wiscon 42’s Killable Bodies Ban

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    This past weekend, Wiscon 42 banned a panelist for stating that she was trying to sympathize with the choices that individual NAZIs (of the WWII variety) had made, seeming to suggest that doing so was more important than sympathizing with NAZI victims.

    Wiscon’s near immediate banning of the panelist has created yet another internet storm, centering on whether or not the banning was justified, what, if any, motivations Wiscon had, what, if any, motivations the panelist had, and, of course, the right wing peanut gallery is pulling out all of the stops, playing all the familiar cards – identity politics, SJW Cabal, silencing of right wing thought, and all the rest.

    Here’s a round-up of the information that is currently available and the statements that have been issued to date:

    Timeline:

    Sunday, May 27th. 10 am Central Daylight Time: The Desire for Killable Bodies In SFF panel begins
    Sometime shortly after 11 am CDT: Panelist banned and official statement published on the Wiscon website
    12:30 pm:  Comment on the blog demands the naming of names
    12:37 pm:  Wiscon responds tthat the panelist had exited the convention and had not yet been spoken to
    Sometime shortly after the banning announcement – online kerfuffle – continuing

    The Desire for Killable Bodies In SFF – the panel description:

    In SFF with an action element there’s a desire for cool giant battle scenes, heroes who spin, twirl, slice off heads, and general melee violence. This is an old background trope: the killable mook, guard, or minion whose life can be taken in a cool or funny way is familiar from traditional action films. But many SFF stories take this trope further with a killable race or non-sentient army: the Orcs in Lord of the Rings, the Chitauri in Avengers, and the many robot armies that we see represented solely so that heroes can create cool violent carnage without having to answer difficult moral questions. What happens when SFF comes to rely on this trope? If we’re going to have violent action in SFF, is this better than the alternative? Is it ever not just super racist?

    Panelists:

    Moderator: Molly Applet
    Lisa C. Freitag
    Nicasio Reed Website

    Wiscon 42’s Official statement:

    During the Killable Bodies In SFF panel at WisCon this morning (Sunday), a panelist engaged in Nazi and Confederate apologia and also appeared to posit that disabled or injured people sometimes “have to be sacrificed.” (read the rest here)

    Wiscon 42’s Code of Conduct

    File 770’s Initial Coverage (read the comments also)

    Write up of the panel by an attendee:

    This is going to serve as my panel write-up for this panel, but it also a copy of what I wrote as a report to the Safety team about the panel. I am posting this on DreamWidth and Tumblr and will be linking to Twitter and Facebook. Please feel free to link elsewhere. This should all be public knowledge, imo.   (Highlighted texts links to the full post)

    Statement by Nicasio Reed:

    So this morning I was on a 10AM panel at WisCon 42, and it was called The Desire for Killable Bodies in SFF. I’d been very much looking forward to the discussion, even though we’d had little pre-panel discussion about it. It’s a topic that deeply interests me, and that I strive to think deeply about while consuming and creating narratives and characters.

    S. Qiouyi Lu Twitter:

    all I really feel I can say is that, as someone on the wiscon antiabuse team, people really have no idea how much thought, consideration, discussion, and weight go into our evaluations of reports. safety deals with stuff at the con but AAT is for managing post-con consequences  (initially reported by File 770, item 3)

    Coffeeand ink write up:

    But I’m still seeing misinformation about what happened going around, so, for what it’s worth, this post is what happened from my perspective. I was in the audience. If you aren’t a regular reader of my blog, you should probably be aware that I’m Jewish.

    Livetweets during the panel:

    this panelist has now defended both Nazis and Confederate soldiers and this is not where we need to put our compassion

    Background:

    Wiscon has been at the forefront of code of conduct, harassment and related issues.  This may have something to do with the convention’s purpose, which is to celebrate feminist SFF and provide a welcoming and safe platform for related discussions.  Feminist efforts along these lines are often allied with LGBTQI and other minority communities.  The general vibe I get from Wiscon is, if discriminating against women is wrong, so is discriminating against others.

    In 2010, Wiscon rescinded a Guest of Honor invitation to Elizabeth Moon over anti-Muslim statements made by the author.  More detail here in K Tempest Bradford’s post and Jim Hines’s post.

    In 2013, Jim Frenkel, an editor at TOR, was identified as a harasser (the incident took place at Wiscon 37…and purportedly at other events).  He was subsequently released by TOR.  Frenkel was also a regular committee member of Wiscon and participated in Wiscon 38 the following year, despite complaints from many attendees.  Wiscon staff ultimately removed Frenkel and subsequently banned him through at least 2018. File 770 report. Geek Feminism Wiki summation.

    Commentary:

    We’re not able to effectively comment on the panel as it seems that much of the issue is context-related and we were not in attendance.  We do agree that sympathizing with NAZIs (and slave holders) is different from attempting to understand motivations.

    Wiscon’s response time is currently being questioned by some as being overly reactionary.  Some suggest that this is because of past ‘dithering’.  The committee is being up front and open asbout their process, so lets wait for the rest of the information before making judgments.

    Lots of noises being made by the “right”, all overblown mischaracterizations and we’ll not link, other than to say, once again, this is not a free speech issue and boy are you guys sure harsher when it comes to women….

    Passing Thought: 

    If you have ancestors who were reprehensible human beings – even if they weren’t thought to be so within their lifetimes, societies and cultures – you may ask why they were the way they were, but if you are a decent human being, you acknowledge that they were reprehensible.  You don’t go looking to justify their behavior in order to make yourself feel better about your family tree.

    As a Jew:

    I am very familiar with the fact that many Germans were faced with impossible choices during the rise and reign of NAZIsm in that country.  I am also very familiar with the fact that the NAZIs forced many of those same impossible choices upon their victims during the Holocaust.  There has been much scholarly work devoted to trying to understand how and why various individuals and groups made the personal decisions they did.  Some insight into these behaviors can be found in various studies of the Judenrat, the Jewish councils placed in charge of Jewish communities and ghettos by the German authorities.  Once such can be found here.

    5 COMMENTS

    1. I blogged about this and said:

      The latest kerfuffle: a panelist was banned from the current convention and may be banned from future ones. Her sin? Suggesting that Confederates and Nazis should be treated as human beings in fiction.

      No one’s ever made a clear distinction between fiction and literature, but a traditional one is that literature deals with nuance: in a literary work, there may be good guys and bad guys, but they exist on a spectrum and their motivations come from complex histories. A pulp fiction writer doesn’t need subtlety or a knowledge of history or sympathy for people who come from different circumstances: Nazis and Confederates are bad people who may be killed without a second thought as the plot demands. There’s no need to ask why fascism is popular in times of economic desperation or to note that many Confederates were conscripts or deserters. In pulp fiction, Crusader logic applies: kill them all and let God sort them out.

      Ah, well. Whether WisCon was ever truly a literary convention is debatable. That it is not one now is not.

    2. Note that there is no mention of process here, much less due process.
      The way I heard it, Lisa got back to the hotel from lunch to find out she’d been ejected . No one whatsoever had tried to contact her.

      Point of information: Ten million men were drafted into the German army.

    3. Sounds like a pretty hot topic anyway.What makes a killable body? That kind of question promises to open cans filled with all sorts of worms. Rather unfair panel discussion. I wouldn’t touch it personally.

    4. I wasn’t there, but it seems to me that the question would be whether she expressed sympathy with the humans, or whether she expressed sympathy for their actions or their ideology.
      This is a critical difference.

      • I wasn’t there either (one reason I tried to provide as much info available as possible). I think at this juncture we need to take our cues from audience reaction: reporting seems to suggest that multiple audience members received Freitag’s statements as expressing sympathy for all three – the people and their actions, actions derived from the ideology. I do find it significant that when objections were raised, Freitag is reported to have “doubled down” rather than trying to specify or explain.
        I have been both a speaker and a moderator for panel subjects that have raised uncomfortable issues – been called on a few things myself – and each time I was moderating and something like this came up, I was very careful to make sure we understood the objection, and then gave the panelists an opportunity to either clarify their position, explain that what was heard was not what was meant or to explore why the audience member and the panelist(s) had different perceptions of the subject.
        I can’t go into detail because I simply don’t remember it, but the most recent example involved a panel on compare and contrast The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery; one of the panelists, a POC female author, pointed out, following my discourse on why I enjoyed Orville, and following an objection from the audience, that she didn’t like the show because of the way black characters were portrayed. When given the chance to respond, I had to admit that while I try to be sensitive to such things, I had not picked up portrayals that could clearly bother others with a different life experience. I didn’t “double down” and insist that my response was the only one that counted, I accepted the audience member and the author’s positions, as valid ones. In a very real sense, going the push back route, rather than listening, is the equivalent of insisting that others are WRONG! if their favorite color isn’t yours. I don’t have to agree with their position (though when it was explained in this case I did), I can still choose to discount it if I want, but at the very least everyone had a chance to express their opinions and were encouraged to give it some thought. Judging from audience reaction, I was not the only person in the room who learned something. There was no internet kerfuffle resulting from my displayed insensitivity because there was no kerfuffle during the panel: everyone got to lay out their positions, they were listened to and everyone had a chance to explore the fact that our experiences in life are different and equally valid.

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