05 September 2013

Yes, We Are All Individuals

It's been a fun week or so, for some value of "fun" that resembles "fouled up nonsense."

  • This is the only explanation I've been able to come up with for the current battles over the extent of copyright... except, perhaps, an even more cynical "let's you and him fight" straight off the elementary-school playground. I've had it with large actors claiming that the position that happens to be to their immediate individual economic/power advantage is therefore necessarily the One True Way regarding copyright. That includes Google; that includes all of the various distributors; that includes almost all of the organizations purporting to represent "the interests" of creators, and for that matter of users; that sure as hell includes those who advocate some kind of "transformation" as always legitimate reuse of copyrighted material.

    The entire point and purpose and mechanism of the arts is that there are, in fact, virtually no universals. For example, it's not actually in the best interests of users who want all entertainment to be free to pirate works from the past (often dressed up as "preserving" the past), because that kind of behavior will chip away at the margins of what is being produced now and in the future. Device lock-in is at least equally problematic; so is cloud storage of everything (one EMP could wipe out millions of "libraries"). More to the point, trying to pretend that a single legal framework is necessarily the right one for all of the arts is ridiculous on its face. The most-apparent consequence of the above is simple: The increasing tendency toward cryptic, inconsistent, obscurantist opt-out "solutions" that try desperately to take choice away from those who actually have choice — usually in the name of efficiency. Think about that for a moment: What part of "the arts" matches well with "efficiency"?

    Well, I suppose that distribution of copies of artistic works, and to a lesser extent access to noncopyable works (e.g., concerts), can benefit from efficiency. But that's not the same thing... and anyone who pretends that it is is utterly insane.

  • I suppose that beats the problems with awards, though. I'm going to pick for a moment on the Hugos, but the following thoughts apply to virtually every creative-arts award (and especially the literary ones) to a greater or lesser extent. For the moment, I'm going to leave aside the intellectual dishonesty of having a separate subaward category based upon how a work is marketed rather than its own characteristics. I understand and accept Mr Wendig's concerns, but they presume both a coherent definition of "YA" and the ability to accurately and unarguably sort works into (or out of) that category; the obvious counterexample of Animal Farm should be sufficient to demonstrate otherwise.

    That said, I was at Millennium Philcon, when the hard-core fen actually booed the announcement of a YA work as recipient of the Best Novel Hugo. For that, they had only themselves to blame: Due to the insane process for producing the final ballot, three out of five candidates were objectively unworthy of any "best of" award. One was, indeed, only marginally publishable crap, but made it onto the ballot for fannish reasons. The remaining two finalists were mediocre at best, and made it onto the ballot for fannish reasons. I don't defend Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as even the best of the Harry Potter books, but the goofy nomination system put it on the ballot, which simultaneously managed to avoid seven works objectively superior to any on the ballot. Of course, three of those seven novels were not published by a "speculative fiction" imprint, so they had no chance to get onto a Hugo ballot... for reasons that parallel Ms Ashby's concerns.

    And a belated congratulations to this year's Hugo recipients, even if — yet again — the selection of finalists was so flawed that it devalues the award system through no fault of the nominated works or authors.