Thoughts on the MEFA Situation
I've been trying to wrangle my thoughts into words for a while now. It's a situation that upsets me for a variety of reasons.
I came to the MEFAs with a lot of uncertainty about awards. I started participating in fandom right around the time MEFA results came in, and some of my friends at the time, despite having multiple pieces nominated, came away with nothing and were upset about that. It didn't seem to make sense to me to have something that would be guaranteed to make some people feel bad. (Here is where I recorded my mixed emotions at the time.)
Over time, I became a convert, though. The MEFA system was particularly brilliant because of the reviews: It felt like a story didn't even have to place in order for the MEFAs to be an enjoyable experience. I enjoyed checking in on my reviews each week more than I looked forward to the results, and I long said that the nomination was the award for me: It meant that someone liked my work enough to want it recognized and others to read it. I knew I could look forward to the reviews. Over the years, I was involved in various roles as a MEFA participant: author, nominator, voter, volunteer. I could never be as involved as I would have liked--grad school and starting my teaching career saw to that--but I tried to lend my support where and when I could.
I always admired the central MEFA volunteers for what was clearly a monumental outpouring. Hey, I know as well as anyone what that means. You sacrifice from your RL and especially from your creative life. While others are participating and having fun, you're doing very not-fun chores behind the scenes. And the pay sure ain't great. ;)
I find it hard to criticize admins for that reason, even when I don't agree with them. I've obviously been criticized during my time as the SWG owner, and it hurts. It hurts to pour so much of yourself into something and to have it thrown back in your face. It's like dreaming up what you think is a really special gift for a friend, then receiving a phone call from that friend, complaining of the hassle of taking that gift back to the store for a refund. It's easy to think uncharitable thoughts about your critics, too, at times like these.
At the same time, as an admin, you have to expect this. You don't go into running a website or a major fannish project because you want to be loved. You certainly hope people will enjoy what you're doing, but criticism will always be there, and it really is a matter of the heat and the kitchen. I was privately devastated the first time I was publicly critiqued in my role as the SWG owner. I bore up because I knew that was what was expected of me but, gods, I lost sleep and wondered what the fuck I'd gotten myself into. I've learned over time better how to bear it, mostly because I expect it now. That's not to say it's always easy, but it really is part of the job.
I suppose some would say it shouldn't have to be. I'm not sure. There are people who are asshats because they like being asshats, and there are people who speak from a place of emotion because they so love and care about what they speak of. Over the years, many people have told me (or I've overheard them say, which is even better) that they view the SWG as their online home. This always gives me such a thrill of joy. What an honor! Someone loves something that I built enough to view it as a sort of home. That implies a level of comfort and even protectiveness that I've aspired to. I've worked very hard to make it that way. In those moments, that effort is worth it.
But that emotion flows both ways. Think about it. You go to the dentist's office and the chairs are now blue instead of orange and facing the completely opposite direction. If you even notice, you almost certainly don't care. But say you went home one day and discovered that, while you were gone, someone swapped out the living room chair for something different and completely rearranged your cabinets. Hey, maybe you didn't even ever sit in that chair but this is your home! You're probably going to be pretty upset.
I try to keep that in mind when emotions directed at me or my projects run a little high. People don't expend passion on what they don't care about or have hope of making better. It's why so few of us waste our time and energy complaining about (much less to) ff.net and LiveJournal anymore. Those places made clear they wanted to be services, not homes, for their users.
Decisions were made by the MEFA admins that I did not agree with. That's fine; I'm not called upon to agree with everything that others do with the groups they run. However, since I viewed the MEFAs as a home and not a mere service, then I did publicly speak about my misgivings and did so with the hope of improving things. I felt that the administration could have handled the critiques they were receiving better but, again, I say that in the same breath as I say that it's perilously easy to Monday-morning quarterback other admins.
What has upset me is the response of some of my fellow fannish denizens who either sought to minimize the feelings of those raising concerns, to silence discussion over concerns, to conflate critique and attack, and now to heap blame for the dissolution of the MEFAs on those who brought up concerns. While I recognize that this, too, comes from a place of emotion--sadness, disappointment, protectiveness of friends and sites one loves--it still angers and saddens me.
The concerns brought by some authors about the new ratings system was not "drama." The original letter (which I did not sign because I was on vacation at the time but would have, if given the opportunity) was written in a professional tone. No, it wasn't laden with apologies and sycophancy ("We're so sorry to trouble you! We love you and so appreciate all that you do for us!") common to much of our correspondence in fandom, but that did not make it disrespectful. I ask what was the alternative? For one person, in a fit of pique, to pound out an emotion-laden rant on a public mailing list and rouse others to join the melee? A letter that is considered, commented upon, and revised by multiple signatories is the opposite of much discourse in fandom, and I didn't feel it was out-of-line at all.
Someone compared the issues raised by the signatories as making a mountain out of a grain of sand. I do realize that the admins who drafted the new guidelines believed them to be an insignificant change and one brought about with the intent of addressing a different issue that did require addressing. As I have said many times, I absolutely believe them in this. However, intent by an admin writing a policy and interpretation by participants who are bound by that policy are different balls of cheese. One hopes intent and interpretation align perfectly or nearly so; in this case, that clearly didn't happen. Many, many authors felt the new version of the guidelines constrained them in ways that the old didn't. Many, many authors felt they were being singled out or made to go to extra lengths to justify the inclusion of their higher-rated works. Whether this was the intent of the admins is not the issue; the issue is that many people felt this way. I would further point out that these people are, on a whole, intelligent, mature, and not inclined to drama and wank. Are all of them wrong, merely making a mountain out of a grain of sand? I was one of them; many of my stories that competed and placed in past seasons I would have questioned the eligibility of under the new guidelines. I am not stupid, immature, or wankish, and I do resent the implication that my concerns came from any one of these rather than a legitimate desire to make right something perceived as gone wrong.
Because, again, I would point out that the desire to fix the ratings system didn't come from a place of wanting to hurt but to help. No one would have bothered if they didn't care about the MEFAs and making them the best they could be. Many of us knew the impact of the changes were going to be big; many authors were already talking about not participating as a result of them. Maybe some people think that losing large swaths of authors is no big deal. I don't really care to participate, once that becomes the acceptable response, because now you're making a service, not a home. Sites and events worthy of the latter give a shit about the people that have made them what they are.
Anonymous personal attacks were received by several of the MEFA admins. Personal attacks are not acceptable, and many of us have condemned them publicly. However, there was a lot of conflation of the critique of the ratings policy with the personal attacks. Oh, how "personal attacks and all this drama about the ratings system" rolls off the tongue! They are different things, folks, and it is a form of personal attack to suggest that those bringing forward legitimate concerns are the same as those spouting anonymous and hate-filled vitriol. That's the ironic thing.
Now, of course, come the accusations that those bringing concerns are the reason the MEFAs ended. To me, it seemed the problems afflicting this year's MEFAs were a right clusterfuck--including tech problems--but I'm sure it's nice and convenient to blame Those People, those skeevy adult-writing authors, for bringing down a beloved award. Let's be frank, folks. If critique of a policy, no matter how heated, was what caused a fandom institution to close its doors, then it wasn't long for the world anyway. I say this as an admin and, again, with the recognition that you have to expect these kinds of problems, and you either deal or you don't. There's certainly nothing wrong with reaching the point where you can't or won't deal anymore, but pretending like an otherwise healthy and thriving fandom institution came suddenly crashing to the ground because of a critique over a ratings policy would be laughably ridiculous if I hadn't seen so much finger-pointing to this effect.
When I joined the fandom, it sometimes felt like there were more rifts than there were commonalities. There were whole groups that would not talk to other whole groups. I made it my goal to try to bring at least the Silmarillion contingents of those groups together, to make a place where we could all play, equal to each other. I felt like the MEFAs was another institution that tried to do this--it wasn't perfect, but it was getting better--which is part of the reason that I supported it as I did. At times, for me, writing my mostly mainstream stories and in my privileged place as a website owner who gets to make happen what she wants in her online home (it's not that simple since governance of the SWG is a collaborative effort with my comods and sometimes the membership base but, technically, as the site owner, I could), it's hard to believe that some people have good, valid reasons for feeling excluded, that they aren't just hanging onto old hurts. It's easy for me to advocate that we all have a group hug and sing a round of "Peace, Love, and Understanding." I have so rarely been excluded, felt minimized or silenced, or unfairly labeled in this fandom. It's hard to remember that others have had vastly different experiences.
This incident did all of the above for me and goes down as one of the most shameful in my years in this fandom.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!