Friday, August 8, 2014

ACM SIGGRAPH & The Mixed Blessing of a Single World View

fifth draft

Some must toil in the slave pits of the rich and some must serve on elite committees that stand above the fray, perfect, immutable, and untouched.  But those who serve in those vile yet glamourous positions in industry can not also serve the committees that rule because they do not adhere to the One World View.  It is only this world view that permits the consensus that allows the elite to rise above the unpleasantness that is the world of computer animation.

As my readers know I have been puzzled by the failure on the part of SIGGRAPH to acknowledge certain issues and to make efforts to help their constituency.  It is as if those problems did not exist or that somehow SIGGRAPH was just completely unaware of them.   (1)

And so, since for years I have wondered who runs SIGGRAPH and how it is managed at the national level, it seemed logical that I educate myself as to the processes and people involved.  I have been an attending member of this community since 1980 and of ACM since 1976 and know many of the people in the field, so it seemed to me that it should be straightforward to figure this out.

I think I now understand most of what I set out to know and which I will describe to you below.  It is mostly benign, it is certainly well-intentioned.

The national organization of our community is not secret, but it is elite, and as always with these things they have a sense of who is "of the body of Christ" and who is not by their very nature eligible to be a member.

If one is persistent you will discover that one of the all day meetings of the Executive Committee (EC) of SIGGRAPH is open to the general membership.  This meeting is generally right before or after the national conference. What is odd is that they do not seem to tell anyone about this which is a little inexplicable but probably not intentionally evil.  I have attended SIGGRAPH since 1980 and this is the first I have ever heard of it.   Nevertheless, the minutes of these meetings are published online at a link I provide below.  Also, the annual report by the president is also published online, as well as various policies and bylaws and these altogether  bring a lot of clarity as to what the people who run SIGGRAPH think and worry about.  I am going to presume that like so many other organizations, the picture that is presented is by no means complete, but it is enough for now.

Paul Debevic, formerly of the EC, was also helpful in publishing on Facebook a picture of the EC at work.  I found this picture very entertaining and enlightening.   I don't have a copy of it, but I am emailing Paul for one and I will add it when it arrives.

It seems to me that these people are conscientious and have the well-being of SIGGRAPH at heart.   If I think that they are not aware of a variety of problems and that they have helped contribute to a disaster on the ground, they will not agree with me.  They have a very specific world view, which I will call for want of a better term, an "Educators Point of View", and are probably not aware of the issues that exist in the various production communities even as they glorify and celebrate those industries at their conference.

And that I think is the heart of the problem.  In building a culture and a group of people who can work by consensus, several important communities that are involved in SIGGRAPH are not represented on the EC.  I doubt that this is because of any evil desire to disenfranchise these groups so much as it is a desire to keep the committee centered and effective.  Be that as it may be, the result is that the EC, in my humble opinion, does not acknowledge or address many issues of great importance, at least of importance to some of us.

My first attempt to be nominated for the EC was very politely considered and declined.   Once nominated, one must then stand for election and must receive a certain number of votes from the general membership in order to be on the Executive Committee. Comparing myself to the current members of the committee,  I think I am completely qualified to be nominated and that my position statement would offer the voting membership a candidate with a clearly different point of view and that this would be well-received.

My choices now are to try again to be nominated, or run a write-in campaign to be nominated outside the normal nomination process.   I hesitate to do the latter because its a lot of work, although I think I would get the required signatures if I organized for it.  Perhaps I will do so next SIGGRAPH if I am still interested.

Because I am frankly discouraged.   I have been informed by a long term colleague and esteemed volunteer of SIGGRAPH as well as an alumni of the EC, that the judgment was made long ago that I was ineligible for participation in SIGGRAPH at some level.

I do not know what this means.  I do not understand it at all.  This has left me very troubled and I had hoped to clear this up somewhat at SIGGRAPH but unfortunately I can not attend SIGGRAPH this year because of resource conflicts.  Maybe it can be cleared up remotely.

I will write another post that clearly describes point by point the changes that SIGGRAPH should make, or at least discuss.   This will basically be a summary and restatement after reconsideration of other posts already written in light of what I have learned since then.  For example, I believe SIGGRAPH should stop glorifying the entertainment industry which they do constantly.   They should make a point of showing the dark side if they must also glorify this industry, so that people who are influenced in their career by SIGGRAPH can see other points of view.

Now that I understand, at least to some extent, how the EC works and who is on it, I understand their failure to act on these issues or even to discuss them.   That is what having a homogeneous world view is all about.  They see what they want to see and everything is beautiful.

I know someone is reading my "Issues" post from 2012 because my web site statistics went crazy there for a few days, and then settled down to its normal pace.  About 1,500 people seemed to read it on those three days, or maybe one person 1,500 times.  Although I do not know who those people are or what they think, I submit that this is evidence that some of what I write about must be of interest to people who attend SIGGRAPH, or why else would they be reading it?

I want to help, but I do not want to force myself and my ideas on people.  Its a lot of trouble, it has very little upside for me, and besides, how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to sincerely want to change.

SIGGRAPH EC Meeting Minutes


1. Issues include encouraging people to go into computer animation in spite of vast unemployment, having keynote speakers who do not know what a computer is, blind endorsement of many of the worst people of the entertainment industry and so forth.   I will write a more concise description of what exactly I would have SIGGRAPH do to bring more balance to the force but until then you can get a very good idea from reading some of the posts on the right side of this blog listed under SIGGRAPH.   And please do not say that SIGGRAPH can not do this or that.  Be serious, ok?  SIGGRAPH can certainly pick keynote speakers who are from our community.   SIGGRAPH can certainly make it clear to young people what the statistics are about employment and have counter programming.   They could certainly have discussion of the state of employment in computer animation in fiction and non-fiction areas.  They can certainly have representation by non-entertainment users of computer graphics.   There is not the slightest prohibition of any of this in their charter. People need to grow up a little about what they can and can not do.

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