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Don’t Punch Down


Just to drive everyone (including myself) absolutely insane, I’ve altered my speech. Again.

Below is the updated version of my speech that reflects feedback so far and the amended brief: it’s exactly 750 words long as per requirements.


I have to write and deliver a 5 to 6 minute speech for university on a contemporary topic. I decided to write a speech – Don’t Punch Down – to be delivered in a fictional role. In this speech I’m pretending to be a Continuum X science fiction convention organiser.

(I’m following the parameters of my brief whilst avoiding contentions topics like politics, discrimination and refugees drowning. One of my classmates went on a rant a while back about how, according to her, vision impaired people should be called ‘blind’; I’d really like to avoid unnecessary conflict.)

I have written this speech to be delivered during the Welcoming Ceremony as the second-last speech after the usual video montage/welcomes and before breaking for drinks and book launches.

This speech will be work-shopped on Thursday then delivered the following Thursday for assessment: feedback would be appreciated.

Don’t Punch Down – the speech

Welcome to the national science fiction convention and the tenth annual Continuum convention.

It’s my responsibility to respond to complaints of harassment and bullying according to Continuum’s code of conduct. In that light, I urge you, one and all, read the code of conduct and don’t punch down.

Punching down is when someone uses a position of greater power to bully and intimidate another person or uses a position of power to encourage other people to bully and intimidate someone with less power.

So what, you ask, does this have to do with us?

You think you’re not famous; you’re not a best-selling author; you’re a small fish in a big ocean; you could never punch down. So why am I boring you?

Punching down comes in as many forms as there are perceptions and degrees of power.

Look around you. Many of you are published authors; you’re in the ‘inner circle’ of writing groups and clubs. You’re publishers, booksellers, podcasters, academics, convention organisers and many of you consider yourselves to be ‘just fans’.

Punching down occurs when someone with perceived power puts down, bullies or intimidates someone with less power and when someone with perceived power encourages other people to bully and intimidate someone with less power.

I’m the editor of a fan publication; I feel isolated when I work on Dark Matter. Wonderful contributors write guest blogs and reviews while authors submit to interviews but only my partner sees my tears when I’m bullied, flamed and trolled.

A few years ago I would have said I have no power. When I was accused of punching down I was indignant: to punch down requires power.


Punching down requires only a perception of power.

The SMoFs – the Secret Masters of Fandom, or in this case Secret Masters of Fanzinedom – have repeatedly attacked and reviled me.

They’ve said incredibly hurtful things publicly on the web.

I’ve cried buckets of tears.

My response was to out them then to lampoon them.

I was accused of punching down.

I was indignant.

‘I have no power’, I said. Then I received a few lessons in perceptions of power.

I removed links to their identities and their zines from my website so only people who know Papa SMoF’s face will recognise the subject of my caricatures.

Their response?

Comments and emails haranguing me about removing the links.

O. M. G.

They were annoyed when they stopped getting traffic from my website.

They also decreed that Dark Matter is a semi-prozine not a fanzine because the standard is too high.

So. Because they look up to Dark Matter in their own way, any response from me is punching down.

Any response from me makes me look like a bully.

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t start it, it doesn’t matter that I’ve been deeply hurt.

For me to respond is to punch down.

Punching down is even worse when people with perceived power encourage others to bully and intimidate; when a leader incites friends and followers to gang up on someone in retaliation for a perceived offense.

Ben Aaronovitch criticised a blogger’s review of his work. He bitched to the twitterverse, thereby encouraging retaliation against her. The net result: a flamewar and, overall, fewer readers for his next Peter Grant book.

What are your goals for attending this convention?

If you want to build, to create or to celebrate, a back-handed comment shutting down queries or discomforting commenters undermines your goals.

Inciting others to gang up on someone, to bully and intimidate someone, undermines your goals.

Think twice when talking to others especially if you’re feeling offended in any way.

If you see bullying and intimidation happening support the victim, do not support the bullies.

Remember: punching down relies on perceptions of power.

Perceptions are all relative.

Even the least known published author has more perceived power than every aspiring yet unpublished author.

Even the award nominee passed over for the award has more perceived power than all those eligible who were not nominated.

Even the podcaster or fanzine publisher who was passed over for nomination has more perceived power than fans who consume and fans who support but do not create.

I urge you, during this convention, read the code of conduct; be careful and considerate in your interactions with others.

As Bill and Ted said, ‘Be excellent to one another.’

Let’s all enjoy this weekend of stimulating conversation, celebration and participation in this, our community.

Welcome to Continuum X and party on, dudes.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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