Over the past 8 months since last Wiscon, i’ve been trying to formulate some sort of programming idea that would begin to address class issues. It’s now just slightly more than 48 hours until the programming suggestion period closes and i still have no concrete ideas. I’m no sociology expert, no theory expert, no expert in whatever-you-need-to-be-an-expert-in to discuss class critically.
All i know is this: Every time a class discussion starts to happen at Wiscon, i feel like my head is going to a-splode.
It’s hard to even explain, exactly, why — i feel like i can’t quite get the words in order to articulate why i get so angry. But it just feels like so many discussions of class get started off on rocky footing and tumble downhill fast. There’s something fundamentally wrong with, for example, entering a conversation by saying, “Well, i grew up in a double-wide modular home, BUT…” Is a double-wide modular home such a strong class indicator? And is it so “obviously” something to be overcome that we have to immediately erase it with a “but”?
Here’s another example of a troubling experiment in exploring class critically: The Plunkett Award (). A great idea, really! I would love to see some group take up the task of identifying speculative literature that truly explores ideas of class. But. But the name drove me crazy. Here’s how Steven explained it at the time:
To be most precise, when considering titles for the award, we looked first for people who were unambiguously associated with class questions in SF — people like Tiptree or Brandon. And no one leapt to the minds of the people I asked.
Failing that, I proposed that what we needed was a juxtaposition: Whenever I go out in one of my many James Tiptree Jr. Award T-shirts, someone asks me who Tiptree was, or why he has an award. I then give them my 30-45 second explanation, doing my best to work the words “ineluctable masculine thrust” in there whenever possible — and when I get to the punchline, “Alice Sheldon”, they get it — they’ve been led in one direction by the award, and the revelation of the name makes them rethink their assumptions.
Plunkett is not really a name that conjures up nobility — we’re not talking Tudor or Bourbon or Romanov or Hohenzollern here. Just Plunkett. (It’s also why we didn’t name it the Drax. ;))
Here’s what i had to say about the name at the time:
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this ever since the award was announced via “A Momentary Taste of Wiscon” at the convention. And i just … don’t get the logic of the name. Sheldon was a minority (i.e., woman) using a pen name that presented her as one with privilege (i.e., a man). But Dunsany was a peer writing as … a peer. And packaging the award under the name Plunkett doesn’t give me an “ah ha!” moment when it’s revealed that Plunkett=Lord Dunsany, it gives me a “what the fuck” moment. (In fact, all 5 of the people in my room at the Concourse essentially went, “What the fuck?”, so i don’t think it’s just me.) Instead of going from privilege to non-privilege, as Tiptree/Sheldon, the Plunkett/Dunsany goes from non-noble-sounding to nobility. Two not only different but downright opposite directions.
The name still strikes me as very wrong-headed. And it sort of encapsulates, for me, just how we keep going about discussions of class wrong. We’re approaching it from the wrong angle. We’re getting it all backwards and upside-down.
Which brings me right back to where i started. I want to talk about class. I want to talk about class at Wiscon, because i think we’ve been getting it wrong. And i’m tired of getting it wrong.
But i don’t know where to start. I don’t know what programming to suggest — the form of the programming (panel or round-table?), the content of the programming (a Class 101 programming piece, or a “let’s make a list of books that deal with class” programming piece, or something else entirely?).
Is anyone in the SF community already talking about class? Blogs or discussions you could point me to? Does anyone else even want to talk about class?
Here’s one thing i do want to do, and i’ll start it right now: What speculative literature have you read that addresses class in some way — either well or in a “oh, John Ringo, no!” way? I’ll go first (and also keep a list). I really loved The Kappa Child by Hiromi Goto (Red Deer Press; 2001). It’s one of the few times i saw the rural working class / poor depicted in a way that was … real.
Also, if someone else has already started compiling a list of speculative literature that deal with class, PLEASE, point me to it!!
ETA: Also, if you wouldn’t mind spreading word of this post around, that’d be awesome! I’d love a broad range of input. Thanks!!
(PS: Apologies to anyone who endured this post while i was futzing around with it. The formatting got all screwy and my attempt to fix it, um, didn’t. I think i got it now.)
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This was originally posted @ my LiveJournal.