The Hugo Awards, the award ceremony for people who skipped their high school proms, caters to a forward-thinking bunch -- as you'd expect from sci-fi nerds. This has led to some important conversations about the future of the sci-fi and fantasy industry, especially when it comes to diversifying this once very male, very white monolith. This was evident during the 2020 Hugos, which saw many great minority voices uplifted and even saw an all-female nominee list for Best Novel. Sadly, its 71-year-old host, G.R.R. Martin, didn't want to talk about the changing times. All Grandpa R.R. Martin wanted was to smoke his pipe, not remember the young'uns names, and talk about the time he tied an onion to his belt and went to cons in the seventies.
And the 2020 Hugo Award audience was having none of it. During and after the three and a half-hour scripted event (it was supposed to be only two hours but when you book Martin just be glad he brings the script in under four-thousand pages), many viewers and nominees became angry at Martin's racially insensitive mistakes. Particularly his constant mispronunciation of the names of several minority authors and outlets, including winner Rebecca F. Kuang -- which, granted, feels like an impossible surname for someone used to easy to pronounce names like Daenerys and Utherydes and Archmaester Ch'Vyalthan.
Those faux pas became even more disrespectful when it turned out that the contestants had been asked to provide a phonetic pronunciation of their names (though Martin now claims he didn't receive all of those). And, seriously, how hard is it to read the text at the bottom and see that Kuang is supposed to be pronounced Hu-a-ng, or that Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders are pronounced "Emily Nuts" and "Chocolate Jackhammers" respectively.
Martin also showed his age by making vaguely transphobic crotch jokes and continuously harking back to his time in the '70s and '80s like they were the good old days -- when, incidentally, there weren't any confusing, 'ethnic' names one had to worry about. He also repeatedly ignored contemporary nominees to talk about deeply racist old guard authors like John W. Campbell and H.P. Lovecraft. (Both won Retro Hugo Awards this year; it's not like Martin spontaneously started chanting the ritual to summon Shoggoth). Martin later asked to be forgiven for accidentally giving so much of the spotlight to these old white supremacist embarrassments by tweeting a quote about human imperfection by Voltaire -- because nothing makes people forgive you name dropping a bunch of 20th-century racists like name dropping an 18th-century one.
As much as my heart goes out to the several amazing authors who had a life-defining moment ruined by the mumblings and bumblings of Martin, I do also feel a bit bad for old sea captain Martin. Here's a guy who's been told for over a decade to stop investing so much time in media appearances and get back to finishing his books and, when he finally does so, the first awards show he phones in lands him in the middle of a heated debate about representation in the fantasy and sci-fi community. Here's hoping that this very important conversation can continue with Martin once again on the right side of history, something I'm sure will happen once he releases a full written statement coming Summer 2020-- Fall 2020-- Spring 2021-- When it's finished.
For more weird tangents, do follow Cedric on Twitter.
Top Image: Wikimedia Commons