I’m looking forward to steering away from the political internals of con committees and talk about more fun fan things like award ceremonies and masquerades (wigs, lycra and capes, oh my).
But I have a bugbear to get out of my system and that’s the public resignation.
I’ve talked previously about the not uncommon occurrence of committee members resigning a few weeks prior to a convention and then enjoying the convention without any responsibility. That’s one thing. But it’s another thing when a committee member resigns publicly often in lieu of informing the committee directly. I can accept that someone can have their reasons and there can be valid reasons for quitting a committee. All too often though the person resigning does it publicly, often via a bulletin board or newsgroup, to avoid a direct confrontation with members of the committee.
Ignoring issues of one accepting personal responsibilities there is always a price paid by the convention when this happens. A public statement of resignation will always be considered to have a reason for being public. That it’s to not face up to committee or the convenor is not one people assume, especially as it does not put the resigned in a complimentary light. It will automatically be seen as a protest and there’s always a reason for a protest. If you are publicly resigning then it will be interpreted as an act you believe is for the good of the members and the specifics of the protest would be pertinent to them.
If you want to make a public protest then so be it, make your protest, give your reasons why and stick it to those you think deserve it. But if you don’t give reasons then it isn’t a protest, it is just trying to hurt the convention. The average member who happens to know of the resignation will see it as an indication something might be wrong with the con because someone is upset enough to denigrate the committee and that’s automatically perceived as tantamount to denigrating the convention. That’s well and good if that’s the purpose you intended to communicate. But a protest over how or who is running the convention means nothing if you then proceed to go to the convention. A protest means making a public sacrifice to draw attention for the cause you’re protesting, like a hunger strike or a boycott. If you don’t make the sacrifice, as is traditionally part of what a protest involves, then you aren’t acting for the good of the convention, just out of your own interests of causing damage or running away or even to avoid sacrifice, in this case being able to have fun at the convention rather than work it for the good of the members.
When the protest is insincere, an act of illusion, it doesn’t take away from the person’s own delusion in the act of publicly resigning. The normal reality is, unless you are the convenor, the body of the convention membership doesn’t particularly care that you were an individual member of the committee in the first place. Indeed, it is quite presumptuous to think anyone would care. It shows a bit of deluded self-importance as if one believed being on a committee gave them a superior place that others respect in the manner of fannish class distinction. Truth is it will be seen simply as an act of spite, unless, of course, you give a very good reason that the public needs to know like an entrenched conspiracy to embezzle funds or accusations of sexual harassment. But if you don’t give a good reason it looks more like you couldn’t cut the mustard rather than acted on principles.
By coming to the con but without any longer having the responsibilities of being part of the committee it means your protest was empty and insincere. You validate your own unimportance to the process of quitting, you reinforce your delusion that you are on a fannish pedestal of some sort and simply justify their original opinion that whoever you were to resign was unimportant and indeed no hindrance to the value of the con. In the end you might as well be someone who quit because you didn’t like the idea of spending half the weekend on the registration table. Indeed, by publicly quitting you let everyone know you might have just done the convention a favour, but not in the way you intended.
In the ideal realm of the con committee all members are equal and when it comes to courtesy and the sharing of information and ideas this is basically the way it should be. But that doesn’t mean all responsibilities are equal and in reality not all committee members are as important as others and those levels of importance will also vary throughout the development of the event. This is where good commonsense comes in play when dealing with inter-committee relations. Individual committee members should understand where their place is within the scheme of importance and priorities at any particular time. In other words committee members, when picking their fights, should quickly work out what to hold on to and what to let go.
Normally, within a committee, the most important person from beginning to end, if you don’t count the charismatic leadership of your convenor, is the treasurer who has to deal with the money. Money is most important thing to be dealt with, there’s little argument of that. Although, it is a not uncommon activity of the treasurer to put all paper work in plastic bag and dump it 3.00 in the morning on the doorstep of the convenor before going on holidays just before the con or immediately after.
The convenor then takes the bag over to the secretary’s house. And yes, some would indeed argue that the secretary is the second most important committee member because they keep all the paperwork together, take the minutes, process the memberships and control all the correspondence. However, it is usually only secretaries who argue this position.
But from the perspective of the convention members there are two positions that are fundamentally the most important and, indeed, all that are important. First is the person in charge of public communications, promotion material, announcements, flyers, brochures and websites. For the year running up to the convention it is this person who is responsible for getting past members to rejoin and to get members new to the convention experience. For the first several months of the year prior to the convention no other committee member is more important to the eventual success of the event.
All too often though, the publicity person is treated as the door mat to the rest of the committee, waiting on their respective department contributions, being made to answer to every little detail for which some committee members have niggling issues because it’s easy to have niggling issues over small details that you can see on paper (like images and fonts) to make one feel like they have power on the committee while still not having any ideas of their own. Remember, nothing gives a committee member a sense of power than saying “No, I don’t like it and just because.” Then the publications person having to go back and make changes continually till the very last minute and then pressured to get the material out on time.
On occasion a person who knows a thing about publicity and publications will understand that the reality is that the committee can go on with time wasting crap all they like but really they have to answer to them, give them the material they need and give it to them on time if they want good promotion material. And a good committee should know that getting the information out there concise and with minimum, but with stylish flare is going to get those needed members to get all the cool stuff happening at the event itself. A good communications / publications person is worth their weight in memberships.
The general convention populace cares about two things. First is that the committee maintain their promise to hold a convention that won’t, at the very least, suck. That duty falls to the people who get the word out there. The second thing they care about is that the promise is followed through to the very last minutes of the closing ceremony and a con is successfully delivered to them that, at the very least, didn’t suck. Con members are good spirited people, if you deliver a convention that achieves a “at least it didn’t suck” status they’ll be grateful you put in the effort and you can consider your convention a success, especially if you're happy with the numbers who attended, thanks to the efforts of promotions.
So who becomes the most important person after communications have done their job? That would be the programmer, but I’ll talk about their job another time.
There’s no real or even magical formula for a great con committee. The usual situation is that you either all get on or some of you don’t. Commonsense professionalism should keep things under control and a good convenor has to put that into play whenever it is wanting. But it helps if everyone can respect each other’s turf provided also each person has respect for their own turf.
There is a general rule; they who do most of the work should have most of the say. I’m not saying that each committee member can be or should be in total control of what they do, they all should be working to a brief collectively nutted out from the beginning. Their respective roles are to decipher and execute to the style and philosophy of the intended convention. A good convenor should find the right persons for the job and then for the most part let them all get on with it. This is the ideal, but the nature of things means it is all too rare for the ideal to be a reality. But if the committee is made up of honourable and responsible people then a great con committee is well on the way to getting there.
A con committee is a team of volunteers and they deserve the gratitude of the members for their services. Even when a convention was a disappointment or a bit of a mess we should still appreciate that at least the event actually happened. So the standard convention committee member has a reasonably respected non-professional status when it comes to convention running and that’s the way it should be.
But they deal with other people’s lucre in the form of seed monies and individual memberships, plus arts funding (when they go down that path) and things not given in coin like airfares and the like by publishers when they bring out a writer. So the regular member of a con committee has an obligation to see themselves as volunteer professionals and the average convention member and convention guest has the right to see committee members as such too and expect a quality of service, because in the end, despite all the feel goodiness, there is still a transaction going on.
A convention has the obligation to provide the service paid for. Sure, we all don’t try to think like that in the convention environment, but it should still be the silent understanding between convention and member. It shouldn’t be so silent within the committee meetings though. Despite being a “for the good of the community” team of amateurs (even when one is a certified accountant doing the accounts or a working designer doing the promotions) a professional sense of responsibility is the expected of any committee utilizing money that’s not their own and who actively seek more members and in the process more money.
So a commonsense professional attitude is something any committee member should maintain during the actual business of running a convention. I think we can all agree that’s a good way for things to be and I think many of us agree that the reality is often not like that. But then the whole process of running conventions is to free the dreams of a super groovy con from the tight binds of hard pragmatism and the reality of human foibles. And the only bind breaker I can see is the power of clear-headed commonsense.
Now, from my experience there are three general types of committee members, the dreamers, the workers and the useless. Often dreamers and workers tend to be attracted to their own kind and so you usually end up with either a committee full of super cool ideas and ambitious projects and taking conventions to strange and new horizons or a committee wanting to go back to basics, keeping it all simple and traditional.
In most cases the dreamer committee see all the dreams fall apart leaving just a taste of the sumptuous banquet they had in mind within a convention that doesn’t run all that smoothly. And frankly, much of the committee had to go through so much shit - infighting, the aforementioned useless who attach themselves to dreamers, the failure to see how reality likes simplicity – that they are grateful just to get to the closing ceremony intact.
The worker committee delivers a competent, but wholly unremarkable convention that cannot be disliked or treated as a failure but all too often fails to spark fresh enthusiasm for the con going experience and certainly doesn’t stay long in the memory of convention history. Indeed, many a dreamer committee was formed from what they perceived as the tedium of the worker committee con.
Both are valid philosophies, both have their place in the scheme of things. The dreamer committee creates change, updates the format, keeping the zeitgeist in the crowd. The dreamer committee’s problem is they forget their uplifting ideas are connected to rickety frames with wax, often shoddily glued on by those who have yet to grasp the concept of unpaid professionalism. When the con flies too close to the sun, when the pressure is on, suddenly committee members pull out, have hissy fits, battles of ego head butting, find excuses not to do their job, do all the shit foible ridden humans do.
The worker committee may not have any grandiose plans, or drastic ideals of change and development, but they deliver a convention pretty much as they said they would. Yes, it might be dull and break no new ground, but it happens and usually smoothly. Boring as that sounds, it is crucial such committees exist because they ensure a convention is delivered every year, they fill in when the new ideas committee doesn’t eventuate or, yes, even collapses in a debate of their own importance (though thankfully, this has been terribly rare). And though they try nothing particularly new, they do tend to keep what has worked in the past, stuff created by the dreamers.
We need dreamers and ideas people for the future of conventions. It is their ideas that keep conventions fresh, alive, attract new members, new generations of members, turn the convention experience into a vibrant, exciting experience to partake of year after year. They are the icing the plain cake of convention structure needs. But it is too often the case with the dreamers to mistake the icing for the cake.
And the workers understand the cake. The workers know something very important. Yes, a yearly convention always needs and should crave new blood, but the core of convention membership that come back year after year, the lifeblood, are not geared to bells and whistles, they aren’t apposed to them either, but these regulars are in the habit of seeking or making their own entertainment at conventions, usually via the company of fellow regulars and friends, and all they really want to know is that there will be a convention next year and it will be at least competently run.
Luckily, for the Swancon experience this phenomenon has resulted in an unbroken chain (though it has come close once or twice) for an astonishing 36 years and shows no signs of changing that pattern. This has been because of the oscillating nature of dreamer and worker committees to ensure there are always conventions year after year, having just enough continual development to not die a heat death. And every so often, a convention comes along that creates such a momentum to give the thread of conventions new life for years. Those conventions are usually by a committee of dreamers and workers, old hands and fresh blood who have successfully come together and worked in harmony. These committees strap cool ideas to sturdy tried and true frames and they don’t use wax to keep it all together, they have found the secret formula of commonsense professionalism.
Guests, who needs guests?
I thought it would be fun to open this with how we don’t need no guests. We don’t go to conventions for the guest, like we don’t go to the convention for the programming. But the truth is that guests are important to a convention (programming too, but that’s for another time). We need guests. We need them for us to appreciate and, perhaps more importantly, we need them to appreciate that we appreciate them. The right guest isn’t just a groovy addition to a convention, not just an enhancement to a program and special events, a good guest becomes the symbol of our reason for our festivity, our congregation of fannishness. We use them to be our temporary idol, monarch for the weekend, our spiritual leader on a mini-crusade.
That’s why at the closing ceremony when the guest announces they had a great time, the audience cheers because their pleasure is validation to how good the audience have been as worthy fans to the general cause of the fantastic. And when the guest makes a statement addressing how special he thinks this body of people have been to their experience, saying something like “What a great group of people you are”, then the audience go berserk with jubilation, because when a guest the audience particularly likes returns the favour then it is like the closing of a circuit and the current of direct input to the veins of a crowd immersed in an already electrical atmosphere of fan comradeship.
So the trick for a good con to be is to find the right guest.
It is not just the privilege of a con-committee to choose a guest they are most excited to see, in fact it is their right. But no one wants to run a convention where the guest impressed no one. Finding the balance is the debate you have with yourself as you prepare a shortlist. It is natural that you put big names first, people who are stars of the genre. Now I don’t think it is all that silly to put on the top of your list your ideals even if a bit unrealistic; for two reasons, first it might not be that silly once you think about it a bit more, second is that it helps give direction to the type of artist you want to get. And you might as well make the decision process fun.
So your dream guest is someone very well known, a big seller, an award winner and very cool, entertaining speaker. Great. You ask them, they say no. Bugger. So you go down the list till someone says yes. Awesome. Done.
But there’s another approach. Look for someone yet to be big, certainly yet to be too big, and present them to your membership as someone they should be paying closer attention to. Don’t get someone that everyone already owns their books. Get someone who you are going to help sell books, help be a bigger writer, help them have a career. These are writers who need to be sold to the membership (that’s right PR, do a good job) and at the time of the con be someone who can sell him or herself. Honestly, it is the best guest score if they arrive a kind of nobody and leave a star. My experience they have been the best guests, the best cons, the best closing ceremonies. Because it feels even more glorious to celebrate someone humble, an emerging writer, or a long-timer who has doesn’t quite had the Gaiman break. Because often this writer is as good a writer as the best names, as good a speaker, as good to hang around with dude or dudette. And there are lots of them to choose from.
Still, you have to choose one. But finding the names isn’t the hard part. It’s finding out which of them would make a good guest, make you, the committee look good at the closing ceremony. Investigating the convention scene in the North America and in Europe is a good way to go. Find out who are regular guests and make multiple appearances because you know they are adept and experienced. Make sure though that they are invited because they are liked.
Seriously, there are certain regular guests on the circuits you just don’t want (if you are con savvy then I’m sure one or two names will come to mind). So make sure they leave nothing but good vibes in their wake. A good telltale sign is if they are used as toastmasters. Toastmasters are people who have a reputation for being entertaining speakers, often funny. Plus, inviting someone to be toastmaster is a way to invite somebody back who has been invited back too often as guest but the membership still wants them back.
The good news is that provided you do you homework you are much more likely to be a hit with your guest than a miss.
It’s a different story for guest that a publisher is putting onto you. Actually, saying “putting onto you” is mean. A convention can always say no to a publisher who wants you to invite an author of their choice, someone they are touring or they are willing to pay for. If that person falls into your desired criteria then all the good and you save the convention some money (so you can buy more sparkly for some special event and the hotel likes you more). But it is common that the author being touted has little experience of conventions, of fan interaction or public speaking at all. Indeed, they could be a pretentious prat, or someone who hides in their room all day. Or, more commonly, appear at a few items but are taken around town the rest of the weekend to sign and appear in numerous bookshops. Of course, this is only a serious problem if they are your main guest. If you have your own chief guest (even if the promotional guest is a bigger name) then it doesn’t matter what the secondary or added guest is like. If they are awesome then you have a super awesome con, if they are a dud then it doesn’t hurt your convention. In other words, get YOUR guest and then anyone else who wants to come along is welcome.
Whatever you do, I think it’s important that your guest be a speaker. Indeed, though the term “guest” is appropriate, I think you should always think of your guests as speakers and judge them on the criteria. It makes it easier when selecting multiple guests, especially local ones. I’ve seen minor guest completely outshine the main guest because they can give a fun and professional talk. Actually, I think you can have a “Guest of Honour” and a set of “Guest Speakers”, but I’ll talk more about that and how to use your guests when we get to programming.
A quick word about the Fan Guest of Honour; I believe in them and it is one of the few traditions of fandom I hold as important. A fan guest can be someone everybody loves and that makes that job easy, but it is more likely most members don’t know whom they are. Certainly they are not associated with your professional guests. But a good fan guest is someone who can be as entertaining and as knowledgeable as any of your professionals, they just happen not to be professionals (or at least, you’re not honouring them in that capacity). Now I can understand if your want to honour a fan that isn’t of super wit, super knowledge or likes to speak to more than two people at a time. If you do choose such a person then, please, honour them in a manner that still entertains, roast them, have good speakers give glowing tribute, put on a funny play about them, or with tongue in cheek make them king of a panel and have ye worship their greatness (seriously, if they don’t have a sense of humour, don’t make them a guest). If you do your job right then at the closing ceremony your audience will know why you have chosen to honour that fan and will join in accordingly.
Now I’m going to change the subject a little. I’m going to put my hand by the side of my mouth and whisper to you all something that no one tries not to talk about. Seriously, between you and me, the guest liaison is a bit of a scam.
Look, I’m sure guest liaisons are nice people, but do you really need them? If you are a large convention, one with several guests and dozens of speakers, then having someone dedicated to deal with all that particular correspondence and information relaying is important. They are someone who is up to date on all aspects of the convention and become the one contact for all these people. It can be a busy job and it is worthwhile that all interaction be with the one person who the guests have come to rely on.
With small conventions where you’ll be lucky to have three guests at most there isn’t that much communication to be done. Also the job of guest liaison was created when correspondence was typed letters put in the mail and communication now is very different. And so when it comes down to it the guest liaison is bypassed at the crunch. You now have a website manager, email circulars are sent by the secretary, the program is emailed out with the reply address to the programmer one click away and when it comes to dealing with a crisis it is usually the convenor who contacts the guests directly to assure them or announce serious changes. In this time of electronic communication the guest liaison for small conventions is a bit of a redundancy.
So why do we still have them? Largely for unthinking tradition, you form a committee; you automatically create a chair for the guest liaison. Now, perhaps not entirely conscious about it, but the sense is there that the guest liaison is a bit of “not much to do” position. But it does sound important. It has an air of prestige. It’s faux prestige, but then that’s the point. It’s implied importance with not much responsibility. So someone who wants that role is thinking how important, how cool that job is. They get to indirectly mingle with the guest (often someone they’ve helped select) and they can feel they scored the gravy job (harder to get people to volunteer for secretary or treasurer). And it is amusing how often the guest liaison will be a pushy voice at committee meetings; it’s the nature of the beast.
But putting someone in the job of guest liaison can work the other way. It’s a great way to sideline someone who you don’t want to risk giving real responsibility or don’t trust to finish the job at con time. Thus it is often mutual when someone wants the job and the convenor is happy to give it to them. The guest liaison is in a chilled position and the convenor knows they and the secretary and the programmer can take it over anytime, and likely will. Guest liaison is often the position that falls away by con time or the guest liaison is the person who often does the quitting just weeks before the con.
But we haven’t actually spoken about the real job of the guest liaison. It isn’t all that correspondence before the convention, it is at the convention the job matters, looking after the interests of the guests. And in my experience it is amazing how often that job isn’t done. The guest liaison is meant to be on call to help the guest find food, get special medications, transport them to and where they need to go, make sure they have all they need and even some of what they don’t need but would really like. All too often this role has fallen accidental to an ordinary but decent member of the convention who hits it off with the guest early on and the guest feels comfortable to ask them a favour rather than seek out the guest liaison who has resigned two weeks earlier or is busy enjoying the con they are not supposed to be going to but running.
Indeed, forget the guest liaison. Direct pre-con correspondence can be done by the convenor, generic update sent out by PR, website access is 24hr, the programmer directly corresponds about programming issues. The guest liaison is the person who meets the guests at the airport, takes them to the hotel, gives them their mobile number and says call me anytime, even three in the morning. They check in with the guest every morning to see what they might need throughout the day. Ideally a committee should pick someone who won’t just treat their job with honour but likely be so savvy that the guest has just made a new friend. I know I’m talking idealistically, but a good guest liaison doesn’t mind smokers, can share a drink and know where the good restaurants and 24hr chemists are.
Honestly, a good guest liaison can be the very thing that makes a guest praise your convention on their blogs and tell colleagues to jump at the chance of being invited rather than use the guest experience for anecdotes at the Bad Conventions panel. And trust me, there are Swancon guests, highly respected and influential ones, who have done both.
Sexual goings-on at conventions are a natural adult proclivity and fans have their own special brands of play. At any regular science fiction convention there’ll be the guy with mild Aspergers looking on the white board for directions to the Furry “Scritch & Yiff” Party, the resident Leisure Suit Larry who tries to chat up every woman in the elevator, the corset brigade who compete for who can best balance a glass of wine on their chests, the guy who thinks dressing like a pirate will impress the ladies, the lass who decides it’s her sacred role to set free the restrained cherries of lonely nerds, the man who thinks if he wears revealing clothes it will encourage women to do the same, the person who keeps the Who Hooked Up With Who chart, the couple who think their S&M gear make good hall costumes, people using the con as a test lab for exploring their sexual identity, swingers who politely invite you to join them and their friends or those that play spin the bottle in the wee hours before skinny-dipping in the hotel pool. And then there’s old-fashioned chemistry and perhaps the Dutch courage to act on it and the mythical one night stand. Hell, getting laid at a con is almost considered a fan’s rite of passage.
Yes, for many a science fiction convention is the place where one who has suffered the restraints of their sexual expression in their formidable years can now let themselves blossom into the children of Pan, frolicking in their freshly released libidos and all around them be the witness of their true, exciting and delicious selves.
And though I must admit that at times the results aren’t always aesthetically pleasing (lycra and capes, oh dear) it is largely harmless, adult play that is a part of the circle of fannish life or that of any close-knit community of mutual interests. And in this swirling pool of hormones comes friendships, relationships, love, marriage, family and eventually toddlers owned by long time con goers wishing some people would put on a few more clothes.
But on the whole the convention floor is a moderate place with few perceptible improprieties, well, none that need addressing with any seriousness. For the overflow of fan sexual energy actually pours out on the late night room party floor, and on occasion quite literally. And this need to express sexual freedom, the right to be sexy, and the want to parade it publicly is more the natural way of things than otherwise and shouldn’t be seen as anything else.
Still, it does on occasion go a little too far for comfort. In a crowded room party getting drunk and bullshitting on about the failure of utopian literature is par of the course, bitching about being snubbed by a bigger name fan is also a normal thing to do and yes, an intimate chat with someone that leads to a heavy pash in the far corner of the balcony is even tolerable. But trying to hold a conversation while two others proceed to give you an intimate massage you hadn’t asked for or being distracted by three people rolling around the floor expressing their sexual freedom for everyone else to act as witnesses… well, I’ve had my drink jostled more than once by a few over-enthused at the their end of the bed while I try to debate awards procedures sitting at my end.
And before anyone thinks I’m being all-superior, I admit in my more adventurous fan days of yore to having followed through with the odd party dare and all I have to say about it is, with apologies to my gay friends, I’ll never pash an unshaven man again. Ladies, how do you do it?
So let’s ignore notions of comfort or acceptability and acknowledge that a large part of the expression of sexual freedom comes from the feeling of being safe in the convention environment, that you are amongst understanding and accepting friends (though tolerance is sometimes misinterpreted as accepting). Much of this sense of feeling accepted comes from a strong principle at the heart of science fiction fandom and similar communities; a strong sense of welcoming society’s rejected. Within fandom those who feel insecure, even inadequate or just feel like an outsider can enter the fold and often with a little time get the courage to come out of their cocoon. Sometimes they come out of their cocoon a bit too brightly, but it adds to the colour and is further testament to the sense of safety and of protection that one can feel when fully enveloped in the con-fan environment.
Now, what I have written so far has been intended with an air of humour and affection, but I’m afraid that from this point on I will be quite serious.
This sense of being safe is of great kudos to fandom and it is commendable for the level of safety that is provided within the convention space. But there is a reality that should not be forgotten or ignored. The space within a convention cannot be totally safe. No more or less safe than any other public or semi-public environment like a shopping mall, a university campus or a religious social hall. You will get the same mix of easy-going people, introverts, extroverts, pain-in-the-butt people, dickheads, bitches, dudes & dudettes and the occasional sexual predator.
The predator is not some dumb shit hoping to get a lay. They are willing to take advantage of people and to manipulate situations to get what they want regardless that it not be mutually shared. And they do it with skill. They can get victims into heavily compromised situations before they know what’s going on. I know it sounds strange, but a male predator can get a woman naked, lying next to them in bed, while still convincing them there is nothing sexual going on. They themselves can act as if they are sexually naïve. They can gently press for the intimacy of friendship and say things like “we can stop at anytime, we won’t go too far”, “I don’t want sex I just need a hug with skin to skin”, “You need to take your bra off for a proper massage”, “You know, I haven’t kissed someone in a long time”. They can be subtle and smooth and often the woman doesn’t quite realize the extent of the abuse until it’s well over.
You’re mistaken if you think it doesn’t happen because you never seen or heard of anything like this. That’s because the abuser usually gets away with it. The victim is too ashamed to reveal what happened or they don’t think anyone will believe them, or they’ll be seen as bringers of unwanted news. The victims can even blame themselves, which is tragic.
And as they are usually not revealed these abusers are hard to identify, especially if you are like every other normal person and have not even considered the possibility of their presence in such a close knit and seemingly safe community. Because these abusers present themselves in an everyday manner that a fan community would deem as normal, even charming and they have friends, even be popular. And remarkably, they don’t see themselves as users and abusers or what they do as taking advantage, never as assault and certainly not as rape.
Occasionally, if you are lucky, you’ll spot the telltale sign when some people refuse to associate with a seemingly harmless, even appealing person. Sadly, you rarely notice when somebody is not talking to somebody and, with the nature of fan politics, people not talking to people can be a regular state of affairs. Usually to really know what’s going on you have to have the luck to hook up to the right grapevine. But then those who know how to get the lay of the land or have their head screwed on to bullshit (usually from experience) are not the ones a predator goes for. And don’t assume all predators are men and all victims are women.
Now, I understand if you know someone who acts disingenuous to lure people into sexual situations and see them as being someone acting on a weakness and to paint that over the situation, especially if the victim doesn’t cry assault. But so what if it is a weakness of character? They won’t stop acting on that weakness, that impulse, if they can get away with it and the more they can get away with it the more likely they’ll go further. It is about obtaining a power to overcome, even only temporarily, their feelings of being a social failure in the world outside of “welcome all” fandom where they are not nearly proficient in seduction. [I suggest reading this]
But despite whatever their reason for being frauds, it is not the perpetrator for which we have first duty of care, it is the victim. Regardless of why, who or how, it comes down to the fact that within a community it is about protection. We can’t just turn a blind eye to certain behaviour we have in the past tolerated because of some tribal law of universal acceptance (see the Five Geek Social Fallacies), it is about creating and maintaining a safe place and it isn’t a safe place if abusers of trust are allowed to operate in anonymity. I’m not saying you have to act publicly, or have a witch hunt or that there is always an abuser somewhere around, because much of the time the convention environment is a safe place to be, but we can’t be blind to it happening, because then sooner or later it will happen as surely as it already has.
Democracy is good for a country, not a convention.
I guess with the last piece I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger. The con committee losing their direction, a convenor losing their faith, the fate of friendships in the balance, and what will become of the con?
Well, lets go back in time, back to the beginning.
The con begins as an idea. An idea has to be shared so it becomes an idea between two, three, maybe up to five people, often very quickly. It should be worked out just as quickly who are the primary motivators, who are the ones with the seed germinating in their minds. If there is a clear director then it is natural they be convenor. But why need it be just one director, one convenor? In fact, get rid of that word…convenor. Sure, it’s needed for the formal process of the convention, but it is a word misleading to the role of who must hold the reigns.
A good con needs directors, they who are to hold the overall vision so to allow individuals to concentrate on their turf, individuals who make up a crew, a team, a collective. Yes, get rid of that word committee. Yes, under the constitutional rules and stuff it is called a “committee”. But words have power. People call it a committee so they act like a committee. And committees allow a lot of petty, bureaucratic, political bullshit to go on because the structure just appeals to that side of out natures. So stop being a committee and start being a collective, a team, a crew.
And frankly, if you can’t get out of the mindset of committee game playing then you are very likely indeed to be more of a hindrance to the running of a con and often the second most likely reason the con sucks. But some like the set up. And those who like the setup are those who like there being a convenor, a single person, who they think they tell what to do, but still be willing to take final responsibility, I mean fall, because really those committee members are gutless wonders.
When the convenor is the person with the drive and vision and ability to direct their fellow committee members (and yes, they also need a committee who trust their convenor) then the con has a firm foundation, something every great con must have. If the vision is a joint one then the convenor should be a shared position. Who’s in charge should be made clear, whether it be one person or two or three, it should be made clear to the rest of the committee formed around them and to the con going fan base. And yes, that really does matter.
I know, it sounds pretty basic, even obvious. But you might be surprised how often those who first come up with doing a convention get someone else to be convenor, because they don’t have the courage to face their peers in a do or die fashion, and then proceed to undermine the very person they put at the head of the meeting table. And it seems to always turn to shit.
And so we’re back at the cliffhanger as to how this dysfunctional committee proceeds while holding onto all their petty angst?
And the answer is easy; they bring in more committee members. Hazzah!
And amazingly, those new, enthusiastic committee members, often to fill needed places of responsibility, or later in developments to do other committee member’s chores (details of that for another time), are not aware of the squabbling, the recalcitrant activity, the conflicts of ideas and even the conflict of interests (another to deal with later) and are especially misled on the level of work that is expected of them. That is until they are well entrenched in the committee process and feel it’s too late to back out, regretting they got involved and harbouring a hidden resentment for the sod who pulled them in, which is usually the convenor because they want more numbers on their side to deal with the friends who are trying to block vote them out of the con they thought they were going to run.
Yes, my dear friend, you now can envision yourself in this suffocating jungle of petty bullshit, angst monkeys shitting from vines, birds squawking continual inanities, dead fish of special projects floating by in the stagnant stream of ambitious dreams, the hot steamy atmosphere of selfishness blocking your pores as you lay on the hot, damp and dirty convention floor and whisper to yourself, “The bollocks…the bollocks.”
Oh, and if you do hold onto some petty angst while on a con committee then you really should see what it is in your personal life that needs addressing. I suggest professional help.
Convenor, it is on your head. Deal with it
A single person rarely brings the seed of a convention forth. Usually it forms itself in the air between three or four people, often while caught in a con induced high and within the loud din of a room party (A bad time to make such decisions – though far less conventions would happen if they weren’t). It feels, as it should, as a team coming together. That’s exciting in itself, that creation of comradeship.
So you prepare your bid for the business meeting and realise that someone has to be the convenor. A con committee needs a convenor, once referred to as the chair. The tradition and structure of conventions is that it is a gathering convened by one said person at a particular place and time. And as such you have a convenor.
This group, who think of themselves as “the core” propose one of their friends and colleagues to be convenor often on the grounds they have been more active and interactive, often using their personable and practical life skills, and hence are better known to the fan community and more respected for that reason. Thus they are best suited to be the main face when making the bid and to garner a stronger confidence for their con and thus the votes. And when you win the bid that committee pretty much forget they made you convenor and you all go back to being that happy little “core”.
But the terrible truth is that throughout the history of conventions almost inevitably the only names remembered in the oral mythology, passed down through hotel bars, fan lounges and in the dimmer hours of room parties, are those of convenors or chairs of shit conventions. No one knows who else was on the committee or care who or if any of them particularly fucked up their duties, it is only the name of the one person who was in charge of it all who is remembered.
Eventually, the convenor will realize this truth, perhaps semi-consciously, but it rises and floats on the surface and stays there like a stubborn turd in the toilet bowl. And because that turd just won’t go down no matter how much you flush a worse truth then permeates your nose. Your fellow “core” didn’t pick you because you’d be best for the convenor’s job, they more didn’t want the job themselves. They didn’t want the job because they didn’t want the responsibility. They didn’t want it to be on their head when it screws up.
This is when the tension in the committee begins, because though the convenor is grasping the realization of the situation the rest of the core is still caught up in the fun of ideals. They have that freedom because they don’t quite feel the real responsibility, and I mean the real responsibility that you have to answer for your convention. And oddly it doesn’t directly occur to them that it will all fall on the convenor’s head. You think it would, but denial is extremely effective and rather easy to do when you put your mind to it.
So in short you get a weird, but rather common situation, a convenor who is feeling a bit shafted by their friends and friends who resent how their friend who is convenor is not treating them as equals in the process anymore. The resentments, though not clearly identified, begins to grow, turning into that fracturing, the nay-saying, the outright rejections of proposals, the accusations of “you are trying to take this con away from us” and all the petty, petty bullshit that seems to infest the average fan committee swirling around in unpleasantness like lycra tights and purple capes spinning in a laundromat.
What happens from here depends; the convenor depressingly caving in to the squabbles and thus no cohesive leadership, a convenor who is taken out of the loop by the others, thus no visible leadership, a convenor who takes others out of the loop, etc. All the usual human crap, but we’ll leave that for another time.
“My white tops are all stained.”
“Some wanker has left a pair of tights and a purple cape in the washer.”
“What wanker would do that?”
“A sad one.”
“Someone didn’t flush the toilet.”
I'm giving over my lj for a time to a project designed to get something out of my system.
My plan is to deal out, in no particular order, my thoughts about small science fiction conventions, and the running thereof, based on my experiences with Perth's Swancon.
People who know me well enough have no doubts about my affection for this long running institution or the value I hold for it. People who know me less well may question that because frankly I want to talk more about the bollocks. Yes, like when you spot the dimply arsed hairy dude sitting down to a hotel breakfast at the table next to you wearing lycra and a cape in preparation for a roleplaying panel, this will not be an entirely pleasant experience.
Okay, here goes.
For those enthusiastically thinking of running a convention.
YOU DO NOT GET TO GO TO THE CONVENTION Y
The initial enthusiasm many have to run a con is that they have a dream con in mind. That dream con is the con they dream of going to, the con they'd like to attend but have felt the usual disappointment of those that they do attend. You know, the ones we spend bitching about at breakfast (with the lycra dude chortling too loud at his fellow diner's retelling of the CSI furry episode) or later in the evening at the bar (where there's no signs of lycra but still the distant chortling of mid-list writers watching on a laptop a youtube remix of Battlestar Galactica, a Lady GaGa song and the CSI furry episode, intellectual chortling, though it sounds the same).
Anyways, you have a dream con all figured out and you make the commitment (while drunk at a room party or on a sugar high during a game of Cosmic Encounter) to rally your mates and make a bid at the business meeting. Your one mistake is that your dream con floats in your mind as if you're attending it. You forget you won't be attending that con because you'll be too damn busy running it. Well, that's what you should be doing. Funny how often that doesn't dawn on committee members till it's way too late. It's often why committee can look so damn unhappy or some individuals seem rather useless at dealing with anything when the con is actually underway. Committee members, I tell you: You don't get to go. Fuck off and run the damn con. You wanted to run it, now run it. Your job isn't to have fun, that's our job. Your job is to make it fun for us.
Now, this isn't to say a committee can't have fun. But it has to be a different fun.
So when you decide to run a con you have to make sure in your mind that your objective is to manage a con and not create the con you always wanted to go to. Now there's nothing wrong with the two overlapping, even coinciding (in a way, they should) but we're talking about the mindset. You have to sacrifice the dream of going to that con and replace it with the dream of giving that con to others. Like Buddha deliberately not achieving full enlightenment so he could remain on this earth and point the way to Nirvana. Your goal is to produce a convention others enjoy in your proxy. You can bask in the achievment, the closing ceremony applause, the good reviews on blogs, even the rare email of "Thank you" (which do feel the best). Running a con can be a rewarding and worthwhile experience. It usually isn't, but that's by the by.
I know exemplary committee members who have admitted to me that they don't entirely enjoy the con experience simply as a member participant, but get their fan jollys by working on them, usually because that is how they get there sense of community. These people are what keep conventions coming along every year. Usually, though, they aren't the driving force (unless they come out of the woodwork to save a failing con, which is more often than you think). The driving force, the initial momentum, is from those who get an idea in their head and say, usually, by the Sunday evening of the convention "You know what'll make a great con?" So after generating that first excitement, followed by a ping of bliss when winning the bid, it often, about three months in, turns into a deflating realization that it's actually work and then, about three months before the con date, that they'll not get to go cause there's all this shit in the way called running a con (which by now half of them regret having got involved in the first place). This is not a problem for the con pragmatists and realists, but for the dreamers it can be.
And that is why it is not uncommon for a committee member or two to resign just weeks before the convention is due. Sure, they'll have a reason, even a legitimate sounding one, but they invariably turn up to the convention and sit in the fan lounge, having fun, sometimes bitching about the committee who are running around keeping the thing going. And yes, the members of your former committee may have been rude arseholes and yes they did distort your vision for the convention, but you are still there, going to the convention you were meant to be running. But then hey, I've been to cons where almost the whole committee decided they'd also go to their own con. Needless to say they were shit conventions. [more down the track about resignations, particularly the public kind]
So if you are thinking about running a convention, think about the con you want the experience of having run, not the con you wish others would run for you so you can experience it. Do that from the very beginning and you've made the first step towards a successful, even legendary, convention.
Oh, and be kind to the lycra guy, he may be the one who saves your convention or sends you that thank you email.
Though not likely.
This is the rest of the facebook adventure in one easy dose.
Robin know you don't have wait long for a random monkey to start peeing. He runs over, cups his hands... yes, he knows this is getting gross. Ah, man, that stings the eyes!
Robin is still trying to get pee out of his eyes when the remaining henchmonkey drops his club and screams out of the chamber. Snail Ninja leaps off Robin's shoulder in pursuit looking like a streak of snot on a mini-motorized skateboard.
Robin has Snail Ninja back on his shoulder and joins the crowd of monkeys surrounding the big pile of monkey manure and all you can see of Cheek Scar Bastard is a paw sticking out of the crap. The monkeys look to Robin as he says, "You are one ugly fucking stinkin' monkey." See, for the best hero lines, ya gotta pick your moments.
And as the monkeys party through the night on top of Mt Pootmootoo the little monkey that drew the picture that began it all now draws one more to bring this little adventure to an end.