It was a big weekend, and Liz and Steph were pretty distracted by the AFLGF (and also Steph had a busy Singapore weekend), so somehow we managed to miss the theme of Canberra’s SFF con, Conflux, this year with three white guests:
Three white guests, and the theme ‘Red Fire Monkey.’
Thanks to Friend of No Award Rivqa who messaged us on Monday to let us know, because we’d totally missed this and we’ve got some questions.
Question: Why was it called Red Fire Monkey?
Yes, obviously, because it’s a fire monkey year, thank you. I’m Chinese, I know perfectly well what year it is. But, like, WHY was it called Red Fire Monkey? You don’t think that’s a little disrespectful?
As a conrunner, I get that naming cons is hard. (I named Continuum 9 ‘Contraindicators’, but in my defence I spent the beginning of my time as chair living in China, I was just trying to get shit done) But ‘Red Fire Monkey’ isn’t a fantasy to some of us.
Question: So the Opening Ceremony was a good idea?
I’m…sorry? What? He’s doing what?
Hey so, I would have walked out at this point! JUST FYI. I probably wouldn’t have made a big deal of it, though I’d definitely have been tweeting about it and texting Liz in all caps, and telling Rivqa to keep me updated.
You have no idea the face I’m making right now, it sort of looks like Gong Li does through basically all of Curse of the Golden Flower / 《滿城盡帶黃金甲》.
It’s not that you can’t have a lion dance to open a SFF con! And good on those Chinese-Australians for getting money from white people wanting to consume our culture, always. But, like, it’s a Chinese tradition. (There is a smaller tradition in Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean communities, too) It’s an important thing we do to bring luck and prosperity, and has a lot of significance, and it’s not that you can’t appreciate the skills and traditions of our culture, it’s that in the context of a con that’s mostly white (I don’t know if the concom had any azn let alone Chinese-hyphen peeps on it) it feels like you’re using lion dance as shorthand for exotic.
[ETA: I have just been informed that there was no context given before the lion dance! It was just ‘hello here is the opening ceremony oH A LION’ which somehow makes it worse? Because let’s face it, many Aussies don’t know the significance of a lion dance, so it’s just contextless Asian-ness! FANTASTIC. (Not fantastic)]
Speaking of which:
Question: Did you know my culture isn’t a costume?
From the Progress Reports for Conflux 12:
On Saturday, from lunchtime onward, the theme of the cosplay will be ‘Red Fire Monkey’. We hope to have relevant movies and other entertainment on hand to get everyone in the spirit. Look up ‘Monkey King’ on the internet for inspiration. Our mystery judges will be on the lookout to award special prizes for cosplayers!
On Sunday, again from lunchtime onwards, the theme of the cosplay will be “Star Trek”. Once again our mystery judges will be selecting cosplayers to win special prizes – these will be awarded at the special Ten Forward event on Sunday night – open to all in the Hotel bar.
So, on Saturday, the fantasy theme is ‘Red Fire Monkey’, a perfect chance for everyone to get into yellow face. As if to help me prove my point that ‘Chinese mythology’ is here being treated as fantasy, like SFF, Sunday’s cosplay theme is ‘Star Trek’, an ACTUAL work of fiction! COOL. GOOD TIMES. DID YOU KNOW MY CULTURE ISN’T A COSTUME?
Obviously I know the Monkey God isn’t real, except…did you know he’s a god some people worship? (There is in fact a temple dedicated to him just down the road from where I’m living in Singapore.)
Question: What does ‘Asian flavoured’ mean?
The theme for this year’s banquet is, of course, Red Fire Monkey. The banquet has been especially designed for Conflux 12 by the Novotel head chef. It will be Asian flavoured and can provide for special requirements.
Asian flavoured? ASIAN FLAVOURED? EVERYBODY GET OUT, ASIAN ISN’T A FLAVOUR.
[Liz: It makes it sound like the con equivalent of Maggi instant noodles.]
Question: Was it really a good idea to have a panel about Asian SFF featuring one Azn?
I’m talking about this panel, Asian SFF, live-tweeted by Elizabeth.
I’m super into non-Asians reading and interacting with more Asian SFF! There are so many great writers, and publishers, and fantastic stuff in Chinese and Malay that you could be reading (some of it is even translated into English), and I’m glad that they mentioned Lontar which is a great journal doing great stuff! And obviously one isn’t an expert on Asian SFF simply by being some denomination of Asian. But falling into the trap of ‘oh I lived there, so pick me’ is such a fallacy, and it helps to create these environments where we don’t feel we’re welcome.
As an Asian person, I don’t want to be on a panel just for diversity or whatever. I am on many panels that aren’t the thematically enclaved Asian stuff, diversity in specfic or whatever. But if a panel about Asian stuff can be mostly filled by non-Asians, at a con with no Asian guests but covered in the trappings of Chinoiserie and the hints of Asian as fantasy, well, why would we ever think we were ever wanted, or valued, in this community?
Question: Tell me, did you not hear about Spicy Asian Zeppelins, or was it just that nobody cared? Secondary question: also, do you remember the Lionel Shriver stuff from literally four weeks ago? Now I’m gonna think you agree with Lionel Shriver.
In August, the World Fantasy Con program went live, featuring the panel ‘Spicy Oriental Zeppelin Stories’, apparently an in-joke, which sounds fake but okay, because it’s also super racist! And after the program went up, there was a bunch of people being like ‘oh, that’s not okay‘ and then the panel was renamed! Because it was inappropriate.
Also here’s some other problems with WFC:
The WFC 2016 program is frustrating, not just because it’s so manifestly disinterested in the ongoing development of SFF, but because it can’t even pretend with any degree of subtlety that its objections to those developments are anything other than a deep-seated preference for the opinions of straight white men. I’ve harped on the animal fantasy panel because Schweitzer’s response to Pinsker about it perfectly encapsulates the dissonance in his attitude, but it’s the same thing wherever you look. For god’s sake, there are more references to men born in the 1800s than to any women, living or dead. How can that possibly make sense at a convention where people are meant to go to discuss the genre’s future? How can such a convention even have a future, when it’s so hellbent on dismissing the reality of its inheritors?
This is not directly what appears to have happened with this year’s Conflux, but I don’t think we can say that, despite being Australian fandom, we’re not suffering from some similar and related problems.
Just a month ago, we had to experience Lionel Shriver’s totally racist defence of cultural appropriation at MWF. (I note here that Shriver is speaking at Singapore Writer’s Festival AND Ubud Reader’s and Writer’s Festival, both of which I’m attending, so, uh.)
[Liz: Oh God. I need to keep my phone charged those weekends, to accommodate the angry messages I’ll no doubt be receiving. I may also have to stock up on gin.]
We didn’t attend this con. Steph is currently in Singapore, and Liz couldn’t swing it. So we’d love if it seemed like we were being unfair. But in a world where the dominant voices defend cultural appropriation and racism and get defensive when called out, in a world where these patterns happen every year and, in Australia, pass muster as thoughtful programming, there’s nothing left to do but assume the worst.
Question: When will Australian SFF fandom stop being so thoughtless, and so white?
Australia’s Asian population is approximately 12% (according to wiki, sorry!). So why is SFF so fucking racist? Why is it so white? Why are we being driven away by thoughtless shit like this?
Why are we still having to put up with this? I don’t want to have to keep getting into fights over and at Aussie cons, but I will! (And then Liz will have to come help, and she’ll put on that voice she puts on where she’s channeling her mum, and you don’t want that at all.)
[Liz: No, you do, it’s great.]
Steph on papercuts at Aussie cons: on asian girls who go to cons
Steph on racism and appropriation in our spaces: taking up room in con spaces
The original title for this was ‘the exotic as future’ but with its title change it’s still relevant: Space racism: on Hollywood actors & their whitewashing