About A Horror Show

A beautiful, well-reasoned letter arrived in my inbox. Quite frankly, it was a nice change from some of the hate and threats that I’ve received lately. I wrote a post earlier asking us to be careful and thoughtful when dealing with important things like sexual assault and was surprised at the backlash.
I think we’re all basically saying the same thing: predators aren’t welcome in our community. We can unite on that. But I do urge caution that in the zeal to protect, we don’t become predators ourselves.
I will share this letter. Then I will step away. I won’t talk about this unfortunate situation in interviews, on social media, or in private messages. This has become a circus that greatly distracts from the original message, which is safety, love, and concern.
As this year’s Stoker Awards toastmaster Stephen Jones said in his opening remarks, “It truly saddens me when I see what is happening to our community.”
As writer Mercedes Yardley discussed on her website, these remarks are in reference to a series of cases involving allegations of white supremacy, theft, and sexual assault in our community. “These are important things, and that’s why this is so difficult.”
Since they claim to have disdain for what they call passive aggression (and what Mrs. Yardley and others might call tact in public speech), we’ll be just as direct as they prefer: This letter primarily regards Brian Keene and his Horror Show podcast, particularly the episodes from April 28, May 5,and May 19. (Brian and Dave, there’s your desired plug.) As Mrs. Yardley says, this is about a much broader problem in our community, but for good or ill, it’s one of which the show has recently chosen to put itself at the forefront.
We’ll say it up front: Brian and Dave are not bad guys. But even good men make mistakes, especially when they haven’t been trained in journalism ethics and procedure. And snarkily titling an episode, “Mercedes Yardley’s Rules of Broadcast Excellence” doesn’t mitigate that concern in the slightest, self­-evidently. We applaud them tackling issues of importance on their show, but the execution does leave something to be desired, and their colleagues shouldn’t be mocked for simply suggesting that we can all do better.
Among the chief concerns is assuming things not in evidence: First, the demonstrated accusation that Mercedes Yardley was not only speaking purely to Brian and the show, but attacking both. Given the title of her post and the totality of its content, that strikes us as an arrogant assumption. She was clearly speaking to the entire community. Part of Mrs. Yardley’s point revolved around the reactionary abdication of reason and scale going on, and their reaction has perhaps proved her point more singularly than anything.
Then there’s the demonstrated assumption that Mrs. Yardley was referring to RJ Cavender in everything she said. That is beyond not in evidence, and if one assumes that she was not referring to Cavender in that particular section of her remarks, it puts rather a lot of comments both on and off the show into stark relief. So, people got that backward: RJ Cavender is a very different man from the other man named on the podcast, and repeatedly conflating the two is not only unfair to the other man, but frankly negligent. The show not only allowed the other man named on­-air, but restated it and further opted to use the word “rape” in conjunction with that man through the duration of that episode. When even the accuser can’t attest to what happened, it’s not proper to name the accused, especially without also naming the accuser, in instances where neither party is a minor.
The show refers to people as witnesses simply because they call themselves witnesses. The show has that backward. A witness who can not say what he or she claims to have witnessed is not yet a witness, neither legally nor rationally. If a person isn’t attesting to anything, that person is just a guest or interviewee, not a witness. Those who did attest are potential witnesses, yes, but not all those the show called witnesses have done so.
They say, “If we’ve been deceived… if Mrs. Yardley has any information… share it with us,” but they’ve got that backward, too. They were right about the current culture being toxic, but wrong in assuming that part of that toxicity doesn’t stem from misapprehending the nature of process and rushing to judgment with only one narrative of events in hand. And to be clear, multiple accounts of the same narrative don’t constitute a hearing of both sides. It’s the show’s responsibility to be ethical and responsible in what and how it “reports” (in quotes because neither of its hosts are actual reporters), especially when accusations of felony behavior are involved. It is not Mercedes Yardley’s responsibility to remind anyone of this fact, nor to provide anyone with evidence or testimony that isn’t hers to share. In at least one instance, people other than Mrs. Yardley have confirmed that information exists and invited Brian to private dialogue about it. As of this writing, he has opted not to take them up on it. No one’s saying Brian and Dave were deceived. We’re saying they and others have chosen to focus on casting aspersions, impugning true motivations, and elevating unsourced gossip. And that’s not serious, sober examination.
People are allowed to bring up the fact that no one has stopped to consider the possibility that evidence or information of that sort even exists; that in a community full of writers, no one could seem to come up with an alternate narrative aside from the one provided by an accuser, let alone one who admits to having no clear recollection of the events in question. Accusing Mrs. Yardley of “attacking” anyone for warning people to be careful with serious allegations is just distasteful. Accusing her of making things more difficult for victims in the future? Unacceptable. A victim is someone for whom victimhood can be demonstrated by a presentation of evidence, not by the collective reactions of a mob, and it’s a bit self-­righteous for the hosts to castigate any woman about the perils of sexual assault, nevermind one who just won a Stoker Award for a story about sexual assault.
Beyond that, of course, there’s the small matter of the accused being presumed innocent until proven guilty in our society. Simply using the word “alleged/allegation” doesn’t absolve anyone of the responsibility to bear that fact in mind at all times, and that is precisely why responsible people and media outlets try to account for gaps in coverage. Note, too, that there’s a difference between receiving no reply and getting the response, “No comment.” But then, perhaps one would have to be an actual journalist to know that.
They say, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” but in contextualizing that aphorism, they seem to get the crux backward again, because the expression doesn’t account for who actually set the fire. Which would be fine, except that determining who set the fire is essential to determining who deserves victim status and who deserves to stand accused. Only due process, which the community has not observed and which the show did not observe with regard to one who was named and accused, stands a chance of sorting it out. And since these topics are as important as they are, we don’t get to abdicate due process.
They say they’re embarrassed for Mercedes Yardley. For the culture everyone involved was critiquing, maybe, but for her in particular? They say “shame on” Mercedes Yardley.
Shame on Mercedes Yardley? For being the voice of reason? Really?
It seems to us that the only people who should be ashamed of themselves are those who’d even begin to suggest that Mercedes was somehow engaging in victim­blaming. That’s not only an ugly and perverse lie, but worse, one that misses the entire point of her post.
C.A. Suleiman & Craig Spector

7 Comments on “About A Horror Show”

  1. For ease of consumption, since a lot of people are understandably busy and in the digital age even going to another blog entry is a click too far, I re-post here what I posted the other day on Mercedes’ other entry on this whole sordid and unfortunate affair.
    This was in response to a post Brian made to Mercedes on her prior blog entry, linked above. If this all seems terribly anal: it is not obsession or even much more interest than is due in this circus, in which I literally have no monkey. My writer brain just works this way: examine, investigate, research, ask questions, take notes. Your mileage may vary.
    Props to Mercedes Yardley for her good graces in all this. As she said: “predators are not welcome in our community. On this we can unite.”
    I hope that much, anyway, is true.
    Craig Spector
    May 24, 2016 at 7:39 am
    Brian, all due respect, but I do notice that while you maintain that only your guest named the accused on your one show episode — and hence, you bear no responsibility(?) — you exercised extreme care in the previous show that no one name the accuser in the non-Cavender incident. It’s a pity that that level of care was not exercised more consistently. Why? Because it confuses and enflames things needlessly. And even, recklessly.
    Additionally, over the arc of three… four?… podcasts, the allegations against Cavender and the other accused have been so thoroughly and vigorously conflated on your show that it becomes difficult for a listener to understand which individual you are talking about and for which alleged misdeed…indeed, you seem to enjoy mushing them into one seamless threat, and you very willfully extend the culpability of Cavender’s clear fiscal malfeasance into matters which are, at best, murkier.
    This may make for rollicking advocacy and scandaliscious internet fun (tune in next week when we NAME NAMES!) but it makes for really crap “reporting.”
    When you subsequently snarked off in last week’s podcast and mocked Mercedes for being your “new program director” and derided her for suggesting you were “doing it wrong”? Uhm, yeah dude, I’ll say it: she’s right, and you are doing it way, way wrong in this.
    If it helps, I’ll put on my best Samuel L. Jackson voice: ‘You wanna ‘report’? Then REPORT, mutherfucker!’
    One of these events is fast becoming horror’s own UVA Rolling Stone. The accusers are Jackie. And you? Are you horror’s own Nancy Grace?
    Even Nancy Grace was an actual prosecutor before she became a TV personality.
    Serious allegations deserve serious, sober examination. A couple of guys swigging bourbon and mouthing off into a microphone is neither. Allegations don’t get much more serious than RAPE, and being a journalist carries with it an express and implied ethical and fiduciary responsibility to examine it fairly, rationally, seriously, and not just cheerlead a lynch mob for clicks and giggles. So far, you are falling woefully short in this.
    In other words, as the popular saying goes: do better, dude.

  2. “I think we’re all basically saying the same thing: predators aren’t welcome in our community. We can unite on that. But I do urge caution that in the zeal to protect, we don’t become predators ourselves.”
    Predators come in many forms: wolves and sheep, guardians and aggressors, damsels in distress and knights in shining armor. Social justice with all its pitchforks and torches is not justice; it is revenge. It perpetuates victimization in an ever continuing cycle that has no foreseeable end. There are no checks and balances. Just a bandwagon that will take you to the front row of the witch burning.
    And we can all just discuss true guilt or innocence at the after party, right?
    And yes, there absolutely can be smoke without fire. Heat builds to a point where fuel decays, but a lack of oxygen prevents flames. You know, like when people play Telephone, and the rumors build up, but there’s no actual unadulterated truth to sustain a real investigation? Podcasts, blog posts, and Facebook rants and confessions aren’t investigations. At best, they can help to clarify; at worst, they are the gasoline to inflame the torches of the pitchfork crowd, a mob that can just as easily turn and burn your own village to the ground, just to keep themselves warm while they wait for the main event.
    The whole stories of any of these situations will never be fully realized because everything is tainted by the stench of accelerant, bourbon, and Michael Jackson’s popcorn. And time.

  3. omg I had no idea that you were being attacked over what you said. You were stating things which we all know are true and you had the guts to stand up. Stupid, stupid idiots attacking you. (Big hugs)

    1. Thank goodness *someone* had the guts to stand up for you and for common sense.
      Kudos to C.A. and Craig.

  4. I’m glad to see reason getting the respect it’s due; that’s all you’ve asked for — reason, clarity, and thinking before judging. Seeing others stick up for what is right, for some semblance of order and consideration, some better sense of what is reality before affixing guilt, is what any situation like this needs. I’d hate to be accused of something in front of people who thought that asking for reason, a depth of understanding, and clarity before making any decision were ‘victim-blaming’ tactics. That’s incredible to me anyone would even say it anywhere, let alone say it to you.
    CA and Craig are correct in their points and they’re to be congratulated for wanting to see this handled in a better, more even-handed way; there needs to be a sense of due process, not mockery and bullying, in this matter. There hasn’t been any so far. What critic of Mercedes has a clear sense of who said what, what a timeline of events was, or even why you need to have all the facts before you start forming an opinion? I don’t see it. I’ve only seen it with the three mentioned — Mercedes, Craig, and CA.
    Nothing outrageous has been asked for. Nothing that anyone wouldn’t want for themselves if unlucky enough to face a crowd who shouted “victim-blaming!” when asked to practice caution before proceeding with judgment.

  5. Thanks, Teresa. I give huge kudos to Mercedes and CA Suleiman: they both strike me as very decent and lovely people. They’re also, to my knowledge, relatively new to this scene. I’ve been in the horror community for a longish time: long before podcasts or Facebooks, certainly, or even the HWA. I love the horror community but I also keep myself at a bit of a measured distance from it. I have since @1993 or so, mostly because of the rumor mill, which has always been a part of it, even before the Internet and social media. I think it has ever been thus. The Internet and social media just amplifies and metastisizes it.
    True story about the rumor mill: as stated, I kind of x’d out of cons after the breakup of the Skipp & Spector partnership, which was fabulously messy at the time. Having not gone to cons for years, I went to one in ’99, because I was promoting the launch of my (now long passed) Internet publishing venture, Stealth Press (1999-2003.) I was at a con party in some suite, quietly nursing a beer and watching the scene, when some young guy sidled up, a cute girl he was visibly trying to impress in tow.
    We chatted a bit, and then emboldened, at one point he leaned in to me: “I know the REAL reason why Skipp & Spector broke up…”
    “Really? Do tell…”
    He looked around and stage whispered, loud enough for his girl friend to hear. “I heard it was because Skipp sexually molested your daughter.”
    I was like, huh. What does one possibly say to that? I took a contemplative sip of my beer.
    “Yeah,” I replied. “That might be meaningful, if I had any children.”
    Rumor mill, folks. 100% accurate, always. The twerp and his girl scuttled away, but I could only imagine how much talk, how many furtive whispers transpired — live, on telephones, and old school-style message boards — before that guy became so bold.
    The horror community has many wonderful people in it. Also a few who are simply ghastly. And like anything else, everyone else falls somewhere in between.
    For me, it is up to all of us to make this community what it is and will be, no matter where we stand in the inevitable heirarchies and cliqueish pecking orders. I hear from a lot of young writers, and fans, who love horror but take one look at the state of the scene and want no part of it. Too ugly, too toxic. That’s a damned shame.
    But we can do better, folks. It’s up to all of us to do better.
    Or not.

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