The Most Hyper-Toxic Possible Discussion: What To Do

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Title: The Most Hyper-Toxic Possible Discussion: What To Do
Creator: Gary Farber, plus comments
Date(s): Sep 17, 2000
Medium: online
Fandom: science fiction
External Links: The Most Hyper-Toxic Possible Discussion: What To Do, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

The Most Hyper-Toxic Possible Discussion: What To Do is a 2000 essay by Gary Farber.

It was posted to rec.arts.sf.fandom.

The essay was written in response to another fan's post that was titled Ed Kramer arrested for sodomy.

Some Topics Discussed

  • the recent allegations against Ed Kramer (a co-founder of Dragon*Con) regarding his sexual abuse of minors
  • convicted child molester Walter Breen, the Breendoggle controversy about whether to ban him from fan-related events
  • the essay begged fans to not talk about Walter Breen, or Ed Kramer, or similar unpleasant topics because the whole subject made fans too emotional, stirred up bad feelings, which led to canceled fanzines, arguing, broken friendships, and disrupted fan activities

From the Essay

In another thread, Hal O'Brien referred to "The Walter Breen hoo-ha, when fandom was both smaller and more vulnerable, immediately comes to mind."

I used to be a truly active student of fanhistory, many years ago. I collected every fanzine I could, and avidly read thousands and thousands, from the Thirties through the Seventies (when I first started).

Eventually, although this wasn't measurable, among other things, it seemed to clear to me that I undoubtedly, at the time, ended up knowing far more about "the Walter Breen hoo-ha" than anyone else who wasn't around for the original feuds (it occurred primarily in 1963-65, though it also kept going and going and going, as I'll amplify upon).

I read just about every document the feud produced, short of personal letters, and I got to read a few of those as well; I read just about every relevant apazine from every apa in existence at the time (not difficult, there were about seven).

I had the interesting realization that given my distance from it all, I had as good a chance at being something vaguely resembling "objective" as anyone ever had.

And I'm not going to say a word here as to what I concluded or thought

of it all, as that's irrelevant to the point I'm driving towards.

All people really need to know for that point is this: it was the largest feud in fandom since the 1939 Exclusion Act of the Futurians from the first Worldcon. It tore apart fandom. The vast majority, or at least plurality, of active fans, felt a need to choose sides, on the issue of whether Walter Breen, well-known active fan, successor to Terry Carr and Ron Ellik in editing the sole fannish newszine, Fanac, newly husband to Marion Zimmer Bradley, deserved to have been barred from attendance at the 1964 Worldcon by the committee, and, in their words at the time, "surgically separated from fandom," in various other venues, such as being thrown out of FAPA, over the issue of whether he was a dangerous child molester. (As inevitably happens, many sub-controversies arose, and many pre-existing feuds were brought to the table).

The end results, among others, including the cessation of almost all the major fanzines of the time, the gafiation of many leading fans, the retreat of a considerable number of the remaining leading Big Name Fans of the time into apas, hatreds that last to this day (which I'll expand upon, because it's relevant), the break-up of friendships of decades standing, and in general, what's as close to the ruination of fandom as is possible short of a giant meteor strike.

It was, like, a *bad* Thing.

The feuding never stopped, but it, after years, died down. Some people eventually, mostly decades later, made peace with each other, while others still hate, and this will erupt whenever given a chance.

A number of years ago, the Boondogle, as it was called, came up in discussions on the Timebinders mailing list. Oh, we can discuss this objectively now, said a couple of people.

I'd seen other attempts, larger than a handful of reasonably like-minded people, attempting to discuss the Boondogle, within just a few years earlier. I leapt in and said, no, no, you don't know what you're getting into, this will instantly flare up into an unresolvable mess of wildly emotional accusation and counter-accusations. Don't *do* it.

But people did, and it flared up into an unresolvable mess of wildly emotional accusation and counter-accusation and after a while everyone concluded that it had been a terrible mistake, and the mailing list must never try that discussion again.

A couple or three years went by, and a lot of fans who hadn't been around for that discussion joined Timebinders, and, lo, the Boondogle came up, and it was said that now we can discuss this, with distance, calmly. And I leapt in and said, well, you can guess. And guess what was said.

And we saw the same thing happen, only far worse, and this time with some of the original participants involved again. It was very ugly. And shortly some who thought it was now discussable, such as Leah Zeldes Smith, said, I paraphrase, sheesh, Gary, you were right, I was wrong, we cannot discuss this. And eventually the conversation was declared verboten.

And, lo, recently, the Memory Hole mailing list decided that it could discuss, well, you just guess. But this time, there were even *more* original participants present. And the feuding went on for the past several months, and it became 90% of what the list saw go through, and it led to the eventual banning of a member, who continued to bombard members with e-mail from outside the e-groups list, the decision by the list-owner to close off the archives to outsiders, and the general nausea and ill will and exhaustion that that argument always brings.

Predictable as it might be.

And now, we again see before us, a situation that, although fandom has changed, and the subject is certainly not as close to the heart of fandom as Walter Breen was, is similarly volatile, and similarly futile for fans to discuss in open public fora. We're not going to change anything.

The most useless thing in the world is to attempt to stifle or discourage either fannish discussion, or Usenet discussion. My attempt to give any sort of warning here is apt to be as futile as such warnings ever are, and as all my past attempts to give such warnings have ever been, and doubtless ever will be.

But I cannot help but try to contribute what I can.

There is no good to be served by speculation or commentary, in large open public fora, on the current situation of the fan in question. There is no good to be served by speculation or commentary on what his situation will mean to fandom, when held in large open public fora. (Just a *hint* of the potential might be clear from those who followed the recent "Grrr..." thread on rec.arts.sf.fandom: that ain't *nothing* compared to what a Real Case like this can bring.)

But there is much ill potential. It can cause the tying up of these fora, such as Usenet newsgroups, in ever-nastier and more tangled knots, as people hurl ever more bitter and personal accusations at each other, over questions of such emotional fraughtness as to be unresolvable by civil discussion. It can cause further damage to the fan in question, and it can cause damage to every institution of fandom that becomes entangled in any related question, or discussion of any related question.

In short, this is a plea to shut up on the topic. Don't discuss it on newsgroups. Don't speculate about it on them. Don't argue about it on them. Don't do what we normally do about every topic under the sun. Because this is not like other topics, and it's hypertoxic as hell, beyond any discussion you've ever seen, and it will hurt everyone who participates, and it will hurt a real person, and it will hurt us all as a whole.

Exercise restraint. Don't respond to stupid posts. Don't respond to idiots. Don't respond to cross-posts. Just don't go there. Just say no. Let the storm pass, and talk about it quietly, if you must, in places where it can't become a discussion that expands.

We'll all be the better for it in the end.

Fan Comments

[Demian Phillips]: Um. Is there somewhere where I can Go read about this incident? (since the more vocal regulars are attempting to head it off at the pass.)

[Gary Farber]: Naturally, the events of the end of Walter's life caused a lot of retrospective discussion, and some reconsideration. On the other hand, in the view of many, the facts of Walter are distinguishable from the wisdom of the committee, and others' acts. After all, Bill Donaho long ago came out of the closet, and had apologized to Walter, and made up with him, and with many other Breen defenders. But this is probably about as much substance as I want to get into. I have the mild hope that this amount of discussion is harmless here, given how few have facts to argue about, and that it can be nipped in the bud if Real Argument were to start, but that's also playing with fire.

See also

Lashon hara, a Jewish belief very similar to the sentiments behind this discussion.