While stock is still being taken of the record crowd at this year’s New York Comic-Con—a crowd by and large peaceful and fun loving, and if my eyeball guess was right, perhaps 50% under the age of 21—it may be seen as a watershed for the continuing issue of harassment at cons. The issue of inappropriate behavior towards cosplayers has been widely noted, and several efforts are underway to draw attention to this and get conventions to set anti-harassment policies. At New York Comic-Con several disturbing incidents, while in no way condoned by the convention organizers, may not have been handled in the best way. The first involves a film crew from the local cable access TV show Man Banter, which bills itself as “The Most Unapologetic Man Show in the history of Public Access TV!” . Shockingly, the film crew got press passes pretending to be from Sirius XM and went around asking female cosplayers for interviews only to start asking very inappropriate questions. Cosplayer Bethany Maddock has one account.
Before the interviewer even uttered a question there was an immediate problem. He locked eyes with my chest. I noticed, covered myself up with my arms and pointed at my face powergirl style and said “HEY eyes up here buddy” He proceeded to tell me how he was “just looking at the costume” in which I proceeded to tell him he could continue to look at is as I covered up my chest. Off to an already embarrassing and perfectly douchy start. Then the very first question that pops out if his mouth was “So, does your costume help you get laid?” It’s at that point where all my con creeper stories I’ve read on tumblr and heard through my friends, kicked in. I ended the interview immediately, Was able of get a very liberating “FUCK YOU” in there as I walked off.
Maddock took a picture of the crew—all wearing rather hard to miss “Man Up Face Down” t-shirts—informed con security of the trouble, and yet found them hours later doing the same thing:
After meeting with security, sending them this very clear picture of the offender, and being assured something would be done to protect my fellow cosplayers…. I ran into them again much later in the day in the artists alley, interviewing other cosplayers. Needless to say I was extremely disappointed in security, the very people that are HIRED to deal with situations like this.
There’s ANOTHER account of the Man Banter shenanigans here:
My friend A was busy posing for other photographers at the time. I’m noting this in case any other photographer in the room noticed them and possibly took a photo with them in the background. The creeper interviewer (which will now be known at TCI) was about 5’ 2” – 5’4” tall (we were eye-level with each other), slightly stocky athletic built, short crew cut dark hair, brown eyes and tanned complexion. He had at least three others with him, dressed all in black. One of them carried a full camera with built in sound boom, and one other had a clip board and looked like a production assistant. There was some sort of logo on the cameraman and on the interviewer’s mic (probably some generic “The_____ show” but I couldn’t see clearly). The following the conversation we had: [snip] TCI: Can I be a geisha? (Warning bell two) Me. No, you can’t. TCI: Why not? Me: Because you lack certain things, like style, tact, grace— TCI: Ah, but do I smell? Me: Well, I dunno, I’ve only stood next to you for about 20 seconds, so I can’t tell if you do or not. But however— TCI: Well in my experience, girls who stand next to me longer than 20 seconds get a cream pie. (silence) Me: I would give you a slap in the face. TCI: (back away) Really? Would you? (silence) (I snap my parasol shut) TCI: Thanks so much for the interview, bye! (leaves)
It’s bad enough that these idiots were there making people feel uncomfortable while pretending to be a legit news outlet, but that security was informed and did nothing is troubling, although apparently there was some confusion over who this crew was. NYCC show runner Lance Fensterman commented in Maddocks’ FB page:
As soon as we were made aware of this on Saturday night we began to investigate the media outlet (jerks) in question. On Sunday I began working with the second victim directly. The guys lied about who they worked with, we were eventually able to figure out who they really were. We’ve banned them from NYCC immediately and all ReedPOP shows. As I said, the details twist and turn a bit but what I hope the community will realize is that we take this seriously. We do not tolerate behavior like this from anyone. Once we are made aware, we will jump into action to do what we can to investigate and remove the offenders. We are not perfect but we do care deeply about our fans, all of them and want to create a place where everyone can have a great time free of garbage like this.
It’s not clear how many victims there were, but the fan community needs to have ZERO TOLERANCE for this shit. Man Banter has already removed their videos, FB page and twitter so it’s clear they’re on the run. While checking out Tumblr, it was shockingly easy to find more accounts of harassment, as in this one from Jenipedia:
Apparently, there is a YouTube trend where guys film themselves kissing random females to see their reactions. This actually happened on the show floor on Sunday. I couldn’t tell if these guys had press passes or not, but they looked pretty unofficial. They were “interviewing” what looked to be a sixteen-seventeen year old female cosplayer. I didn’t catch what they were asking her, but she seemed to be really uncomfortable. Then the “interviewer” grabs her and kisses her. The girl was understandably horrified and found some excuse to break away from them. I think they saw me glaring at them because they bolted soon after. Honestly, I had no idea how I was supposed to react to this, but I checked up on the girl who was visibly shaken and she said she was going to go get her mother. For her sake, I hope her mom raised hell over this and talked to somebody about it. I ran for the nearest security guard, but I couldn’t really give an accurate description because it happened so fast and I was kinda in a shocked stupor for a few seconds before they ran off. I have no idea what happened to these two guys, but I sincerely hope they were busted.
OKAY this is not a pretty picture. BUT THERE’S MORE. While cosplayers are putting themselves in the line of fire with flamboyant costumes (something that does not deserve the treatment above), women professionals just doing their jobs were also getting harassed, as Becky Cloonan reports::
Now on to the guts. There are really two parts to this con- the main floor and the Artist Alley. (This is what I see of it anyway.) I only spent one day walking around the show floor and it was insanity. Security did their best at the impossible task of crowd control, but it was still too much for me. I had too many people up in my personal space, and far too many of them being guys tell me things like “Hey baby,” “What are you doing tonight?” and “Come on, be nice!” among other things. I am so nice, you guys. I am really fucking nice, but this kind of shit just doesn’t make me feel comfortable, and as a professional who has been drawing comics since 2001, it’s absolutely ridiculous that I feel alienated and uncomfortable at a convention like I did at NYCC this year.
Sadly, these are not the only stories about this kind of behavior towards female professionals I heard at the show. And it wasn’t just aggressive assholes coming on to a random attractive woman. In some cases, the inappropriate comments came from fans who knew and recognized the professionals. Now, I know that human nature is human nature. I also heard of a female fan asking a male professional “what are you doing for dinner?” But when a guy gets this, he laughs it off. For women, who are already being treated as (lets be honest) marginal to the business by a show that has only 10% female guests it is far more alienating. And this is at a show that has 40% female attendees, according to Fensterman. This 40% is not booth babes, drag-a-longs and off-duty exotic dancers. It’s highly engaged fans who have been tumblring, tweeting and FBing their enthusiasm for the brands on display at the show for days and weeks. Their dollar is the same as anyone’s dollar. Sadly, it seems that something in the air at New York Comic-Con makes these casual examples of harassment and inappropriate commentary more common. And this atmosphere was not helped by the colossally inane and insulting Arizona I Love Big Cans campaign. In case you missed it Arizona Iced Tea, a privately owned NY-based maker of tea and energy drinks, was the sponsor of one of the big panel rooms, the Empire Room Stage, Sponsored by Arizona Beverage Co.—the con took Hall E, which was formerly split into smaller panel rooms, and turned it into one big room for things like Cup O’Joe The New 52 and John Barrowman—NYCC’s equivalent of Hall H. The sponsorship included this horrible ad in the program book: But EVEN WORSE was the video ad that ran before EVERY PANEL in The Empire Stage, as described by Leah Cornish, managing editor of LeakyNews. She reporters that before THe WAlking Dead panel, a live spokesmodel with ample assets came out and introduced a “special” video that was evidently meant for “special” people.
We were treated to a two-minute PSA about how “big cans” were just awesome. Jenny sported low cut everything, exercised on an elliptical machine in heels, and even joined two of her big canned friends, to spread the love for… um… iced tea. The shot that really got me, though, was the one in which Jenny attempted to drink a can of Arizona Tea. I say attempted because she did that terrible thing we’ve all done while extremely drunk and playing competitive drinking games, where you really aren’t drinking at all, but are in fact just opening the back of your throat and forcing the liquid down. And pretty much 90% of the liquid flows out over your mouth. Yeah. That got a nice slow-mo closeup. I wonder what that was supposed to remind us of? Oh wait. I don’t have to wonder. Because plenty of the classiest of attendees in the audience summed it up by yelling the classiest of epithets at the screens. Luckily, I would say most of the audience reacted like I did, with groans and a lot of “WHAT”s and a fair amount of facepalms. I just can’t understand what Arizona was thinking.
They were thinking their audience was morons, that’s what. Yes I know it was mean to be “edgy” like Go Daddy and Axe, but Go Daddy recently ended their cheesecake campaign and everyone thinks Axe is for tacky guys who can’t get laid. According to Cornish, Robert Kirkman reacted with disdain at his bottle of Arizona Iced Tea on stage, and if so, that was classy. The epic stupidity of running this kind of sexist campaign at an event that is supposedly inclusive and aimed at a wide audience that is not only family friendly but, I repeat, 40% female, is just….insulting. Even worse, the pervasive nature of a major sponsor of the show presenting “big cans” everywhere creates an atmosphere that promotes and tolerates objectifying women. You know, I can’t believe I just wrote the phrase “objectifying women.” It’s 2013. Are we STILL fighting the same old battles? What makes this even more exasperating is that
EVERYWHERE I LOOKED EVERYTHING ELSE WAS SO MUCH BETTER THAN IT USED TO BE.
Everywhere I looked there were female creators, female characters, female editors, female fans. Cosplay was everywhere. Gangs of teenaged girls dressed as Sailor Moon, laughing smiling and having a fun time. Spunky female Lokis and dangerous Poison Ivys. Participating, having agency, pursuing their own fantasies. NYCC is not “nerd” culture, its a much wider “regular folks” mix of people with an expansive list of interests. The show has become a “marketing” con with consumer brands taking up a huge portion of the show floor. And of course, with a wide mix of folks, there come creeps and jerks, and with them behavior that cannot be tolerated. In an interview I conducted with Lance Fensterman for PW, he told me he regretted the Arizona campaign and it should not have been done. (I’ll have more comments from Fensterman in my full report tomorrow.) Apparently, calmer heads prevailed though and the ads were pulled after Friday night.
I know the ReedPOP folks take safety and respecting their congoers very seriously. There was all, this aside, a very fun, enthusiastic, social and youthful vibe to the show that reminded me of anime show with the interest spread out over more. But clearly, now that “comics” events are fully integrated, more problems are evolving. I’d like to think our corner of he world can evolve to a higher place where these problems are someday not even an issue. But t’s going to take a lot of work from all levels of con society.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.