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Harlan Ellison™, increasingly irrelevant for years, is now entirely so, as his trademark grope of Connie Willis at Saturday's Hugo Awards ceremony demonstrated.

I would have mentioned this in my upcoming Worldcon report, but I didn't want to gloss over the incident in the course of recording all the good things that happened in Anaheim. This was definitely not one of them.

Harlan Ellison™ was one of my heroes as an angry young college student. I had somehow managed to overlook him until I ran across a copy of Shatterday between my junior and senior years of high school. When I started college, I discovered to my delight why a good university library kicked ass over my local bookstore—more volumes of Harlan Ellison™ than you could shake a fist at. I was sometimes ambivalent about his fiction, but his essays rarely failed to move me. Their articulate rage and vivid conveyance of a forceful personality—practically a force of nature—thrilled me beyond reason. I read everything I could lay my hands on, and I'd be lying if I denied that Ellison's rhetorical style wielded a huge influence on my own later writings about Mormonism. * 

I can still clearly recall the moment when one of the earliest big cracks in my young worldview appeared. It was a Harlan Ellison™ essay in which he spat vitriol all over the LDS Church for its decisive role in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment. I felt that I respected women, but until that moment I had never critically considered the objections to the ERA that I had been spoon-fed at home and from the pulpit. If one of my intellectual heroes disapproved of my people, what did that say about me? Was I really as good, thoughtful, and respectful a person as I believed I was?

Looking back now, Harlan Ellison™'s in-print posturing strikes me as hollow, and I realize that it has for some years. Not that he was wrong then, not at all, but his shrill pronouncements have lost some of their moral authority—the same way that his scolding of the Hugo audience for not respecting Betty Ballantine with a standing ovation lost its force after his appalling grope of Connie Willis.

I can't remember the last time I read a good new Harlan Ellison™ story, but I will always remember the moment when I lost my respect for him. It was the moment when, in response to a woman who called him a friend putting him in his place, he could only think to open a six-pack of BoobGrab™.

Connie Willis may be taller, but the big boob in this photograph is Harlan Ellison™.

* This link leads to a 404 page by design. There you'll find links to Internet Archive'd copies of the Mormonism-related writings I mentioned. They are no longer available on my own site, but I wanted interested parties still to be able to find them.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on August 29, 2006 9:22 AM.

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