Convention season is upon us now and with it the questions about acceptable behavior have reared their heads again.
Specifically you had Fan Expo Canada, which was March 7th thru March 9th. In an effort to drum up last minute sales, they sent out an email which included the line “escape the deep freeze this weekend – cuddle a cosplayer.”
This obviously caught the attention of several people and eventually was brought to the attention of Jill Pantozzi of the geek news site The Mary Sue. There was concern that the statement could be seen as encouraging the harassment of cosplayers. Pantozzi reached out to Fan Expo Canada to attempt to get a response on their intent with the ad. The response she got was that they had thought about pointing out that consent was implied but felt bringing focus to the rules all the time would hurt the fun of the convention. They did resend the ad but added “with consent” in brackets to the end of the statement. So far, the only official response to this has been to accuse the Mary Sue of being inflammatory and making false statements. As the convention just happened, I expect more news to be coming out about this story, in the coming weeks.
While this was going on, another issue occurred with the Capital City Comic Con in Austin Texas. The convention, which is going to be held this upcoming July, put out several fliers; one of these was a close up of Power Girl’s Breasts with the tag line “Everything is BIGGER in Austin.” When a commenter complained about this on the convention’s Facebook page, the convention replied that the flier was all in fun and questioned if the commenter had ever been to a convention. A couple of days, later the convention responded to the issue as it started going viral. They stated that both the staffer who made the comment and the designer of the flier were no longer with the con staff, and apologized to the fans for what had happened.
Standing in contrast to this is Emerald City Comicon. The same week the two issues above were occurring, ECCC posted an image of the anti-harassment posters that will be going up around their own convention. The title of the posters is “Cosplay is not consent, and it goes on to detail the convention’s anti-harassment policy, including who to go to if you are harassed and the penalties you face if you violate the policy.
The contrast in the above examples illustrates where we stand in geek culture, in regards to dealing with the issues of harassment and making events safe and inclusive.
On one hand, you have people who have not matured in how they deal with these issues but find themselves running conventions. They want to grab people’s attention and fall back on the old adage “sex sells.” Unfortunately, they do not consider the broader message of what they are putting out, nor how it can ultimately promote a hostile environment. It is not from a place of malice, but ignorance. The best way to handle it is to do what was done above and call them out. Make it clear that even if they don’t see the harm in it, harm is still there. The ones that are receptive to the message will thrive, and the ones that aren’t will find their reputation falter and their event suffer. The ones that take steps to make sure their events are promoted as a safe and inclusive space will find more people wanting to go, and can use it as a means to actually promote their event. With all the concerns about hostility in the convention scene, the ones that make sure you know they will do everything in their power to make sure you are safe will be the ones that ultimately thrive.
In the shadow of events like Aki Con, (where we saw the worst case scenario play out),and other ongoing tales of harassment, this is going to continue to be a hot button issue. I think this year is going to be very interesting in this regard, and I for one am interested to see how conventions actually play out.
I’ll keep an eye on things, and let you know what comes from this.