We’ve had a comment on out post about campaigning for the Nebula asking why it is frowned upon to campaign for a Hugo. This seemed like a question worth elevating to a post all of its own (thank you, mysterious Purple Ranger), so here are some thoughts.
On the one hand it was probably a useful barrier to entry. There have always been people in fandom who wanted to restrict access to the Hugos to those whom they deemed “part of our community”. And outsider whose work was not known to that community would have to make his or her work known to them in some way, and that act could then be called “campaigning”, thereby providing an excuse not to vote for the outsider.
But there are more valid reasons for trying to restrain people’s enthusiasm. The Hugos are a strange hybrid of juried and popular vote awards. The electorate is large, but at the same time it is supposed to be an expert electorate in that it is comprised of serious science fiction fans, not just any old joes and janes who happen to come along. The more campaigning you get, the more people are likely to complain that the Hugos are merely given to works that are popular rather than to works that have quality. (And yes, that might be a daft argument, but it is an argument that people make.) Equally, if campaigning happens, when the results are announced people will complain that so-and-so only got on the ballot or won because of the campaigning, not because of the quality of the work, or even because their work was well-liked, but simply because of the effort they put into cajoling people to vote for them. This may all be nonsense, but the more campaigning you have, the more likely it is that such complaints will be made.
Perhaps more importantly, the electorate is not that large. When the nominees are decided by a few hundred people it is just about possible to get on the ballot by running an overt ballot-stuffing campaign (e.g. by paying people for their votes). Regardless of the various conspiracy theories that abound, we don’t think it is possible to win a Hugo by ballot stuffing, but it might be possible to become a nominee that way. Discouraging campaigning is one way to try to prevent this. However, we feel that encouraging more people to participate in the nominations process is a better way to achieve the same effect.
Finally, the SF community has always prided itself on being a community. The arguments in favor of professionals being included in the fan categories have mainly been along the lines of us all being in this together. If John Scalzi or whoever writes entertainingly about science fiction and related issues in a personal blog, that makes that person a fan. But if we are all in this together, that means that there is no “them and us”. Campaigning for an award can bring with it an air of “look at me, I’m wonderful” which suggests that the person doing the campaigning is somehow better that the great unwashed mass of fans. And that would be the very opposite of what the community is supposed to be about.
So what do you think? Should people campaign for the Hugos? If not, why not? If they should, are there limits to proper behavior?