Sunday 13 August 2023

The Numbers Game

Over the past decade, there has been a regularly recurring argument about the maximum number of individual contributors that can be listed for each group finalist on the Hugo ballot. This is more common with fan categories like fanzine, fancast, and semiprozine — in recent years some of the contributors lists for an individual publication have extended to several dozen names.
In 1959, editors of Cry of the Nameless
— F. M. Busby, Elinor Busby,
Burnett Toskey and Wally Weber —
became the first team of more than three
credited for a single Hugo finalist. 
(Cry of the Nameless April 1958 cover

On one side of the argument are those who express logistical concerns about the size of the ballot. On the other side are those who want to ensure that everyone who contributed to the success of a work or publication are given nomination-level credit for their work.

The reason this argument is recurring is because the current WSFS constitution does not offer clear answers about the number of names that can be officially listed. Adding to the confusion, this question has been adjudicated differently from year to year. In 2013, up to nine people were listed per Hugo group finalist … but two years later the number was capped at five. In 2022, there was no upper limit on the number of names credited per group finalist … but this year it was capped at seven.

Since each Worldcon appoints a different Hugo Award Administrator and the decision is within their purview, it has been decided differently each year. There is also no public-facing document that explains the rationale for a limit of exactly seven this year, which makes the number seem arbitrary to observers.

The inconsistent nature of these decisions is concerning, as it calls into question the fairness of the awards process.

We would suggest inserting clarifying language into the WSFS constitution (possibly as Section 3.2.13). This clause could either provide guidance as to a maximum number of contributors per group finalist, could offer clarity about what level of involvement warrants an individual being listed as a contributor, or could state that there is no limit.

Hugo Award administration is a difficult and complex role, and we have a lot of respect for the dedicated volunteers who have taken it on over the years. We would suggest that having clarity in the WSFS constitution on this point would make this aspect of their work easier.

There is a long tradition of recognizing several individuals for a Hugo-shortlisted work; as far back as 1959, the fanzine Cry of the Nameless listed four editors on the ballot. All six members of Monty Python were credited for The Holy Grail in 1976. In 2009, the Hugo ballot credited nine individual contributors for the movie Iron Man.

The conflict over the number of credited contributors seems to have arisen in about 2013, with larger and more complicated fan publications trying to ensure that everyone involved got to call themselves a Hugo Finalist. Given that those participating in these projects are often rewarded with little other than recognition, excluding individual contributors from the “limelight” is often felt keenly.
Questions have been raised over the capacity
of the pre-ceremony Hugo Awards reception.
(Photo by Cora Buhlert via File 770)

Those advocating for a more expansive approach to contributors’ lists make a colourable argument that it is often marginalized voices who get omitted from lists of contributors when limits are imposed. Having a maximum number of names per publication will possibly have a detrimental effect on creators who are non-male, who are non-American, and who are racialized.

Those advocating for a more restrictive set of rules point out that the pre-Hugo reception already has capacity issues and logistical constraints. They also suggest that if everyone gets called a “Hugo finalist,” then the status becomes devalued. In addition, the distribution of perks to Hugo finalists, such as the rocketship pins, etc., increase costs on Worldcons.

Both of these positions have merit, and neither should be dismissed out of hand. But the debate should take place in the appropriate forum. The WSFS membership on whose behalf these awards are presented deserve a say in this matter, and the way to do this is to allow both sides to make their case at a business meeting.

The Hugo Awards aren’t the only organization that has had to confront similar issues. As major Hollywood productions became more financially complex in the 1990s, the Oscars had to wrestle with how many producers could be credited for a single Best Picture. After a record-breaking five-producer movie won Best Picture winner in 1999, the Academy imposed a two-producer limit.

What should be noted, however, is that this limit was voted on by the Academy’s Board of Governors, was communicated clearly and well in advance, and was not changed arbitrarily.

Rather than having this argument play out every year over social media and through strongly-worded letters of complaint, there should be an opportunity to discuss and debate a solution at the next Worldcon.

Recognition at the Hugos should follow consistent rules that have buy-in from the community at large.

No comments:

Post a Comment