One of the arguments that comes up in the Sad Puppies furor over the Hugos is that the Hugos need this kind of treatment because they no longer reflect what people actually like (I touch on that here) because it’s departed too far from its roots.
Eric Flint agrees that the Hugos don’t reflect popular taste, but his arguments actually make sense (Matthew Surridge guts the Sad Puppy arguments here, and Flint’s own post demolishes the claim it’s all the work of sinister lefitts shutting out conservatives.
•The field’s simply too big. It used to be that even if you hadn’t read all the nominated stories, you’d be familiar with the authors because it was possible to read all the authors. Now there are lots of popular and/or talented authors you haven’t read. No argument here: short of acquiring super-speed, I can’t possibly keep up with all the fiction I’d like to (even my Is Our Writers Learning? posts have fallen by the wayside the past few months).
•The Hugos and Nebulas were born in an era when most specfic appeared in magazines. That’s where writers made their money, where readers followed the writers they liked. Now most of the money’s in novels, and a lot of authors don’t even writer short fiction. Nevertheless, three of the four prose awards (short story, novella, novelette) are still for short fiction.
•The mass audience rewards good storytelling. Hardcore fans who vote for awards may like storytelling but because they’ve read so much, they want more literary quality as well. Sometimes they prioritize literary quality and brush off the storytelling as hackwork.
That sounds right, though I’m not as sure as I am of the first two points. There are some Year’s Best lists that I’ve learned to ignore because they invariably opt for Art over Entertainment, even if the Art isn’t entertaining at all.
So I highly recommend Flint’s analysis, which goes into all this in more depth.
One point where I strongly disagree is his conclusion (when discussing whether the quality of popular specfic is worse than it used to be—he concludes No) that popular movies really have dropped in intelligence due to Hollywood making them for the teen/twenty-something male audience (though that strategy has encountered problems).
It’s true that Hollywood made a lot of smart, critically acclaimed intelligent movies for the popular audience back in the Golden Age, but Hollywood also made a lot of dumb movies. Universal Studios, for example, consistently lost money on its A-list films. For a long time what kept the studio in the black were Abbott and Costello’s low-budget, lowbrow comic films. And while I love Abbott and Costello (I finished an eight-pack of their films a couple of years back), I wouldn’t class them as intelligent. Likewise Gene Autry’s low-budget Westerns did very well at the box office (as Peter Stanfeld has written) when serious A-list Westerns—the ones that get written about in movie histories—weren’t doing well.
Plus the movie studios were headed by individual moguls who had the clout to greenlight a prestige production they knew wouldn’t make money, but would give their studio a touch of class. Today, bottom-line thinking rules, as it does in so many areas.
But that’s not the thrust of Flint’s post. And on the thrust, I think his argument’s solid.