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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Weird Tales Fiasco: An Update (or, Head-in-Ass-Syndrome Anyone?)

It seems the furor over the would-be publication of the first chapter of Save the Pearls by Victoria Foyt hasn't quite sunk in yet for Marvin Kaye, the new editor of Weird Tales.  You can read my previous post and all the attached links to get a sense of what happened -- if you don't know already.  To add to the mess, as Rose Fox of Publishers Weekly reports, Kaye has taken to defending himself in emails sent to individuals requesting to have their subscriptions canceled rather than posting a public response as "promised" by the publisher (the request Rose discusses was made by L. Grabenstetter here)(I've taken the liberty of reprinting the message here, though I strongly suggest reading both Rose Fox's and L. Grabenstetter's articles):

Your wishes will be respected; I believe the publisher will handle that, I regret your decision, and can only say that after reading the book, I found it a powerful attack on racism, just the opposite from the charges leveled at it. However, I only recently saw the marketing of this book, and find it in terrible taste; had I seen it, I would not have read the book. As it is, we have decided not to publish the story. 
Regarding Scott Card’s story, I did not see any homophobia in it, or I would have objected, but for the record, I did not want to buy anything from him; the publisher, Tor Books, made it clear that if I did not include his story, they would not publish the book at all. MK 
I can't help but wonder what is going through Kaye's head.  Whatever you think of Card, his Hamlet rewrite was thoroughly panned for, well, being rather homophobic and legitimating certain anti-gay stereotypes.  How Kaye can defend Hamlet's Father against these criticisms is perhaps indicative of his inability to accept what many are saying about Save the Pearls. While I have personally reserved judgment on Save the Pearls because I have yet to read it, the community has voiced its mostly-negative opinion.  They are not happy, and the more I read about their reasons, the more I'm inclined to agree with them.  Most people/organizations would see the anger being funneled their way and immediately go into damage control.  But not Kaye.  Rather than, if you'll excuse the phrase, take his head out of his ass, he's decided to suspend critical analysis in favor of further idiocy.

At this point it doesn't really matter whether Save the Pearls is racist; Kaye and the publisher have made a critical error, both in effectively lying to us about when they became aware of the depth of controversy surrounding Foyt's work and in refusing to recognize what is happening to them (or, rather, what they have done to themselves) as a product of poor management, poor vision, and poor public relations.  By sending defensive emails to subscribers, you don't help your case.  Just look at how poorly Progressive Insurance have handled themselves in recent weeks.  The point is that as a member of a professional venture, it behooves you to maintain professional decorum, even if the Internet will not afford you the same courtesy.  That means admitting mistakes when you make them, acknowledging and fielding counterpoints with respect, and so on (these are basic concepts of argumentation, by the way).  Perhaps some people are being overly harsh to Save the Pearls, but you cannot make that case by, as I mentioned the other day, treating the opposition with condescension bordering on contempt.

I'm not sure if Weird Tales can recover from these massive failures.  With subscribers shedding the magazine and the SF/F community generally up in arms over it all, it will take an extraordinary amount of work to gain the community's trust.  And that might be an understatement.

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  1. I left this comment for Rose Fox, but given her idea of ethics, I don't expect it to appear on her site: "The ethics of reprinting private correspondence are not debatable by ethical people. Or do you really think Kaye is a corporation?"

    Their double standard on what's private and what's public really should go into my next post about them.

  2. I suppose their justification would be that Kaye was acting in the interests of a business. Not that that is necessarily a good rationale.

    As a general rule, I don't post my own email correspondence. That rule might one day be broken, but nothing has yet been sent to me that warrants posting, and this despite an editor lying about me in public (the emails I have of our conversation paint a very different picture of what actually happened).

  3. Hmm. I would say a public lie would justify going public with an email, though I understand why you might not.

    But this? It's just another example of outrage theater.

  4. He's not mentioned me by name yet, which may be the point at which I thrown off the gloves and tear him a new one in public. I've got Tweets from him saying all kinds of condescending stuff to me about Atheists, too, but that's more personal than relevant to the editorial side, I guess.

    Perhaps it's another example of outrage theater. I take it is an example of a failed business practice. Whether we want to argue the ethical implications of posting email correspondence doesn't change the fact that what Kaye has done is shoot himself in the foot here. That, to me, seems to be the bigger issue. My hope is that people learn from it (by people I mean other magazines, business, whatever). But who knows if that will happen...

  5. Kaye's, what, 70 years old? He's old school. He thought he was having a private conversation about whether a book is racist. The lesson to learn is nothing is private on the web.

    Have you read the book yet? Do you think it's racist, or confused but well-meaning, or something else?

  6. I haven't read the book yet. I've been explicit about taking no official position on the text for that very reason.