They’ve seen the world they knew and loved crumble under their feet, undone by diversity, feminism, and “political correctness.” Over the weekend, they tried to hold an event intended to celebrate the populist everyman. Instead, they watched in horror yet again as democratizing mobs stole away their privilege.
No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump putting on a George Wallace act for 20,000 adoring Alabamians. I’m talking about the Hugo Awards, a set of honors for excellence in science fiction handed out every year since 1955 at the World Science Fiction Convention, known colloquially as WorldCon. This year, a group of mostly straight white men—threatened by the increasing amount of attention paid to women and people of color exploring progressive ideas in sci-fi—tried to hijack the Hugos. Calling themselves the Sad Puppies, with a more viciously right-wing spin-off called the Rabid Puppies, they exploited the Hugos’ open nominating process to stuff the ballot box with writers they perceive as friendly to conservative interests.
The effort did mean that the ballots people voted on were front-loaded with Puppy-favored writers, but the whole stunt ultimately failed. “Not a single Puppy-endorsed candidate took home a rocket,” Amy Wallace at Wired writes. “In the five categories that had only Puppy-provided nominees on the ballot—Best Novella, Best Short Story, Best Related Work, and Best Editor for Short and for Long Form—voters instead preferred ‘No Award.’ ”
Wallace spent a lot of time interviewing Puppies, of both the Sad and Rabid variety, about their motivations. It all sounds very familiar. Just replace the words sci-fi with America or mainstream media, and the Puppy rationalizations are indistinguishable from what you’d hear from Donald Trump and his supporters: that they are simple, good-hearted men whose Earth has been ravaged by racial minorities, queers, and feminists, all of whom have less merit than most any straight white guys but who are boosted unfairly by the affirmative-action agenda of politically correct hipsters and cultural elites. Wallace explains:
They say their beef is more class-based; [author Brad Torgersen] says his books are blue-collar speculative fiction. The Hugos, they say, are snobby and exclusionary, and too often ignore books that are merely popular, by conservative writers. The Sad Puppies have a name for those who oppose them: CHORFS, for “Cliquish, Holier-than-thou, Obnoxious, Reactionary Fanatics.”
On the phone from the Middle East, where he is currently deployed, Torgersen lamented what he called “the cognitive dissonance of people saying, ‘No, the Hugos are about quality,’ and then at the same time they’re like: ‘Ooh, we can vote for this author because they’re gay, or for this story because it’s got gay characters,’ or, ‘Ooh, we’re going to vote for this author because they’re not white.’ As soon as that becomes the criteria, well, quality goes out the window.”
As Jeet Heer at the New Republic notes in a piece about Donald Trump, this kind of reactionary rhetoric is often framed as populist, but it is in fact “the voice of aggrieved privilege—of those who already are doing well but feel threatened by social change from below.” So it is with the Puppies. Far from being the bullied outsiders who can’t catch a break, the guys are doing pretty well by themselves. Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia, the authors who organized the Sad Puppies, both sell a lot of books; Correia has made the New York Times best-seller list. Theodore Beale, an author who organized the Rabid Puppies, grew up as the son of a wealthy CEO. Now Beale owns a sci-fi publishing company—which just so happened to publish a huge chunk of the books that got Puppy nominations.
In other words, just as Donald Trump is a rich white guy who acts like he’s put upon because he has to listen to women’s opinions and share his country with Mexicans, the Puppies are privileged men who think that the world is coming to an end because people who don’t necessarily look or act or write like them are winning awards that they want for themselves. Like Trump, the Puppies managed to get a lot of attention for this temper tantrum. But while faux-populists always portray themselves as a silent majority, they usually prove to be simply a mouthy minority.