|Aussiecon 4 Masquerade - Reasons and Reactions
||[Sep. 11th, 2010|10:41 pm]
This is going to be a long, long piece, as I have a lot of ground to cover. I want to cover it all here so that my apology doesn't have anything in it that looks like trying to make excuses.
That said, as much as I'm taking responsibility for what happened, I am also going to be pointing out some of the major inconsistencies of reaction that surround the event. Some of these have annoyed me greatly because they treat information from a single source as fact, and react according to that assumption.
Let's face it, most people like to be outraged first, and spend time checking their facts twenty-ninth.
My way of dealing with things is give people facts, and to ask people to think about them. If people want to hate me based on those facts, fine. If people want to hate me based on what they think they know about me, and what they believe happened, and ignore any facts that challenge what they already feel they know, that's pretty much their own problem.
That said, I am actually quite angry about the way things have been manipulated to take an already unfortunate situation and make it look substantially worse. I'm quite willing to wear my screw-up, I'm not willing to wear what people imagine my screw-up to be, based entirely on hearsay.
That said, I am choosing not to repeat the story here. I have two reasons for this.
1. With the one obvious exception, I have been damned by people who never heard the original anecdote. Many have already made up their minds based on this single Tweeter's account of what was said, and some have already shown that they won't let facts get in the way of their opinion.
If I were to present the piece here, given it's not going to be the homophobic diatribe that people expect it to be, I would probably be accused of having watered it down. As it is, I expect many to assume my reluctance at retelling the piece is proof absolute of my guilt of having delivered a homophobic diatribe.
Damned if I do, damned if I don't.
2. If I repeated the piece here, then there's a chance someone else will get hurt. If 400 people read it, shrug, and go, "That was it?" and one additional person is hurt by it, I will feel bad for that person. This is actually my main reason for not repeating it.
I'd rather hurt my 'case' than cause another person needless distress.
Quick background on ourselves and the build-up to what happened. Nick and I have co-MCed many times over the last twenty years. Because of the way we work together, we always like to have time to prepare. We will usually have many phone calls working out material, and several mini-rehearsals once we're actually together in the same state. This way of handling things usually produces a good result. People still talk about the War of the Worlds and Matrix pieces we presented at Aussiecon 3.
I'm not saying we're perfect, or that the stuff we do is to every taste, but we usually do a reasonable job when we have time to prepare.
At the start of the year I asked if we would be wanted to co-MC the masquerade. I asked early because I knew that both Nick and myself had an exceptionally busy year ahead, and so to do the job at the level where we would be happy would need lots of lead time. I was told no, we wouldn't be needed. That actually suited both Nick and myself.
Three weeks out from the convention, Nick rings me, and tells me he's been asked to MC the masquerade, and he wants me along because he doesn't feel he can do it without me. We seriously discuss not doing it, as the timing of being asked is a hell of an imposition. There is no way we would have any time to prepare pre-con because our schedules were immensely full.
We reluctantly agreed to do it, and hoped we would have time to figure out material at the con. Between Nick's commitments, and me trying to make sure my wife didn't end up with all the child wrangling duties, I saw two hours of the con in the first two days, my wife saw about one. The first time Nick and I truly got to discuss what we could do was during the masquerade rehearsal.
In the meantime, between dealing with a toddler, a four-week-old baby, and my other convention commitments, I literally had around two-hours sleep the night before the masquerade. I tried for more sleep during the day, but was interrupted in that.
This is not an excuse for what happened, merely an explanation of contributing factors.
Originally we had asked that the filk-singers fill the judging period, having been stung last time by a long judging process, and were told this would be fine. When I turned up to masquerade rehearsal, I found out that the filk-singers asked had pulled out, and we only had ten entries in the masquerade.
The masquerade was going to be a fifteen minute event.
So we peddled as fast as we could to come up with material we could use to pad things out a bit. Despite the way things have been presented by the initial Tweeter offended, and those that have taken his words as factual, we only had a small amount of scripted material.
At no point was the anecdote that caused offence any part of any discussion we had.
So, claims that it was scripted, or that we specifically wrote 'the joke' for the event, are quite simply wrong, and very, very misleading.
We ran through the masquerade, and we were doing ok, not great, but considering the situation, we were passable.
Then came the judging. It was a long judging, and not just in a subjective sense. I would be rather surprised to find that the judging was much under half an hour. I suspect it was longer, but don't know for sure. There's no way we could have realistically expected the judging of ten entries to drag on for so long. Turns out one of the judges was dissecting every detail of every entrant.
Again, claims that what we were doing was scripted are ridiculous when you take into account Nick's regular comments towards the end asking where the judges were, which at one point even included him saying, "Where are my ex-friends?"
So we have a stressful situation, lack of preparation time, I'm operating on two hours sleep in the last thirty-six, and we have a long judging. The audience are starting to leave, because there's only so many photos you can take, and the judging is taking ages. So I start on whatever anecdotes I can come up with.
I do a couple, but it's all me. While I'm telling them I'm desperately trying to come up with stuff for Nick to do. Then I hit on the personally embarrassing anecdotes.
Why would I go in this direction? Two reasons -
- An audience likes to hear about times when an MC was embarrassed. It humanises an MC, the audience can fully empathise, and such a story also makes them feel better about themselves at the same time. The 'how awful, I'm laughing because I'm glad it wasn't me,' effect.
- The other reason was I knew that Nick and I had a bunch of anecdotes about ourselves with regards to this subject, and we knew how to tell them. Plus it would give each of us a rest while the other told a story.
The vast majority of these anecdotes are harmless. Sadly, tiredness, stress, and poor judgement on may part meant that the first I went for was the one that caused all this upset.
I basically gave a quick set-up on the first that came to mind, and threw to Nick.
Nick said no.
I cannot stress this enough. He said he didn't want to tell it. He saw the potential issues where I was blind to them in the stress of the moment. This is why in my previous post I go to great lengths to make it clear that the mistake was mine, not his, nor anyone else's.
So, Nick said no, then the entire audience started calling for the story. When several hundred people are demanding something, it's hard to fight against it. And it's oh-so very easy for others who weren't in that particular set of circumstances to say he should have resisted the will of the audience.
Again, I'd like to be clear. This is an explanation of what happened. It doesn't excuse my poor choice of story, or the fact that that was the one I threw to my friend.
After giving a fair amount of background on the situation, the actor, and his personal regard for the actor, he told the anecdote. It's a story about a person seeing the potential for a bad pun and leaping on it, even as part of their brain is saying not to, only to realise just how dreadful what they have just said is.
That's right, the story was, ironically enough, about when you've said something stupid in a moment of madness, and deeply regretted it.
It's a story about the size of the faux pas, and everyone's reactions to it, including the teller, not the faux pas itself.
And, as far as I am aware, only one person in the entire audience took issue with the single line in the story enough to comment on it. And he presented this line not as part of a greater whole, but as the entire point of the anecdote.
Context is everything.
Now I'm not saying something tasteless wasn't said, and I'm not saying that the person who tweeted about it wasn't hurt, nor am I saying that this person didn't have a right to be upset, or that it was right to tell it. I am saying the single line that he reacted badly to was one that the rest of the audience reacted to differently in the context of the anecdote that surrounded it.
He has chosen to read this as an indication that virtually the entire audience at a WorldCon Masquerade were homophobes. I have chosen to read this that the audience actually understood the real point of the piece, the embarrassment of having made the comment in the first place.
Someone was hurt by the telling of this story. And I deeply regret that they were hurt. I don't regret it because of the trouble that followed, I don't give a damn about that, and I don't regret it because of the people who jumped on the bandwagon.
I regret it because someone was hurt by a moment's clumsiness on my part, and it shouldn't have happened.
That said, I have found this person's actions after the event curious at best.
Ask yourself this question. If things really went down at the masquerade as the single Tweeter who kicked this whole thing off described, why didn't a single other attendee also express their outrage? Given how quickly people who weren't there have reacted with hurt, surprise, and anger based on what he said happened, why did no-one else in the audience react the same way?
Why weren't we boo-ed off stage?
Does it really seem likely that out of a pretty big audience, only one person was outraged when, and I quote the offended party's Twitter feed, "Masquerade MCs say gay people deserve to die and it's very funny when they do, particularly if you can make a pun."
This paraphrasing gives me a serious issue. If I'd been at that masquerade event, I know I'd have been furious. My friends would have been furious. Twitter and Livejournal would have been ablaze within minutes. You wouldn't have had one person doing a dozen posts complaining, you would have had dozens of first-hand witnesses screaming for blood on Twitter & LJ.
Just stop and think about that for a moment - fans aren't shy about putting the boot in on most things they don't like. Literally hundreds of people were there. Does it seem in any way reasonable that there were none with internet access to complain immediately or later? None who were queer or queer friendly? Does it seem realistic to assume that we happened to have an entire audience of homophobes at a WorldCon masquerade?
Does that seem likely?
Because it's essentially what has been suggested.
This is where I start to have real issues with what has gone down.
So far, none of the people who took his version of events as fact, and have attacked us as homophobes who supposedly made made a pre-scripted comment deliberately intended to hurt, have attacked the audience. No 'the audience should be ashamed of themselves,' or 'my God, Aussies must be really horrible people,' meanwhile the MCs are tarred in this way, based on the same criteria - one person's version of events.
How is this right? When asked if the audience boo-ed us, he makes it clear that the audience laughing is a solid part of the reason he was upset, but the people taking his word for how things happened have yet to bring the audience up as also being guilty.
Sorry, but in my opinion, you don't get to pick and choose the facts that work for you. If you take his version of events as absolute truth, then the WorldCon audience was also to blame. If you think that there is some doubt that the WorldCon audience was that bad, then it also casts doubt on how bad he made the piece out to be.
Again, I'm not saying he didn't have a right to be upset, or that the piece wasn't in poor taste, or that I'm blameless. And I'm not trying to say the audience were to blame.
I'm saying that if you treat his every word as accurate, you have to accept that the audience were also a big part of the problem. And if you choose to ignore the part he says the audience played, possibly because it seems a bit extreme, while still attacking us, then I really don't care about anything you think, because you're so obviously not interested in fairness or trying to find out the truth.
Further to that, does it seem likely that an openly gay MC would have been so completely homophobic? Does it seem likely that his co-MC (me), a person who has lost good friends to AIDS, whose two children have three gay godparents, and who helped set-up and run queer support phonelines in the early nineties, would say gay people deserve to die?
Someone who has been unfairly hurt, and who is lashing out due to that hurt, is presenting the information in a highly inflammatory manner. That's fine, he's angry, and hurt, he has every right to be upset with what I caused to be said, and for that to colour how he presents the situation. It's only natural for him to speak from the gut, from the heart, from his emotions.
But, maybe because of his extreme anger, some of his actions and reactions make no sense to me.
That he thought it was a piece of scripted comedy I find surprising given how much we were obviously not dealing well with the lengthy delay. Nick wouldn't have kept asking where the judges were if we still had material.
That he didn't immediately come down the front and demand an apology from Nick and myself I can understand. It's not easy to confront someone who has just pressed a really sensitive button. He may well have been afraid of how we would react, that we would verbally attack him, or laugh at his distress. In actual fact, we would have apologised to him immediately, and in all likelihood would have also made an apology to the audience as well.
In fact, this is what we would have preferred. To make a personal apology at the time of the error.
Instead he requests an apology from the ConCom. Now requesting an apology from us I understand. Requesting that the ConCom elicit an explanation and/or apology from us I understand. He does neither.
This person is actually one of the staff of Aussiecon. He knows it's a volunteer run event. Asking the ConCom to apologise for something they couldn't have had any foreknowledge of or control over seems odd. If Nick and I had refused to apologise either to him personally, or in the newsletter, then asking for an apology from the committee is the next step.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I found that as time went on, his reactions became more extreme.
He says that he no longer feels safe at a convention where this sort of thing remains acceptable. We were two people out of two thousand. When asked by someone what was said, he refuses to repeat it, but then later presents minimal information, and paraphrases his own extrapolation of what was said.
Let me stress this, at this point he is the only person writing about this who was actually there. Everyone else who writes about the 'homophobia of the masquerade' are basing everything they know on what he says happened. And his version of events makes it sound like a ten minute anti-gay diatribe, not a single line in an anecdote.
Rose and Perry, the con co-chairs, apologised in the newsletter, which was the other thing that blew things out. It was a poorly worded apology by the chairs that made it seem as if the masquerade was wall to wall offensive material, which this person then chose to quote select bits of to back up his assertions - the same assertions that had caused the chairs to apologise like that in the first place!
I understand the chairs sought to contain a situation, I just wish they had spoken to me before posting the apology. For a start, if they had, I probably would have said, "let us apologise first and see if that's acceptable, as this isn't your fault."
But they were in a difficult position and were racing into damage control. To me, the demand that the ConCom apologise was unreasonable, since it hadn't first been demanded that we apologise.
If we had refused to apologise, then I'd accept him pushing for them to. But we were never asked to by anyone. I chose to put my hand up and accept the blame, I chose to be the one to apologise. The easiest thing for me to do would have been to lay low and let it blow over. But that wouldn't have been the right thing to do.
As I said earlier, context is important.
Everyone I meet through the next day, who wasn't there, asks me what was said. I tell them. No-one reacted badly, even though my version is truncated, so they get the full offending line without much build-up. The reaction of every person was basically, "Wait, that was it?!" A few commented that it was a bit tasteless or non-PC, but all were rather stunned at how it had been presented in the apology or by the Tweeter.
People who were at the masquerade all the way through to the end come up and ask me what was said, wondering how they could have missed it. When I tell them, their reaction is also surprise. They heard it, but in the context of the telling, had no real issue with it.
A portion of the people asking are gay. Some of them are not exactly happy when they first ask me what was said. All, without exception, reacted with surprise at how the line has been represented by others. None expressed any anger towards me afterward.
And throughout the day, both Nick and myself had people who were at the event coming up to us and telling us that our performance made the masquerade. Some also make a point that they feel the whole reaction is ridiculous.
These are the reactions of the many other people who were also there. As opposed to the one who was there that complained about the homophobic content.
Now I can't state this enough. I am not blaming him for being upset, but in light of the reaction or lack thereof of every other person there, one has to admit his reactions are at the extreme end of the spectrum. However, the fault is still mine for bringing up a subject that he was so sensitive to in the first place.
I would not have deliberately chosen to hurt someone in that way.
Later, when his posts have been up for a while, people start asking him what was actually said. He's quick to cut short any questioning on the topic. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this, and assume it's because the whole subject is personally distressing to him.
He refers the people wanting clarification to his various replies, the ones where he says he won't repeat the offending line, then paraphrases it in a way that renders it so unrecognisable to almost everyone else who was there that we have audience members who read his tweets asking us what we said, because they didn't recognise it from his description.
Later when it's pointed out to him that the line that has given him such issues was in fact spoken by a gay man, he replies, "comment is typical of those reinforcing a belief that prejudice is good and sound, and makes the con feel unsafe."
Then he replies to someone who asks about audience reaction, "In fact 95% of audience were laughing, which is part of why I've quit the staff and left the convention despite apology."
So, as I mentioned earlier, we're now at a point where the audience who laughed at the piece are also a big part of the problem. Again though, the people who damn us do not damn the audience, even though some blame is also aimed at them by the offended party.
At what point do we say that 95% of the audience are homophobes who think, to paraphrase the Tweeter's version of the piece,'gay men dying is funny?' At what point do we say that maybe 95% of the audience understood the real intention of the story, however poor the subject matter, and one person reacted badly?
What actually seems more likely to you?
And again, for the hard of reading, I take full responsibility for upsetting the original Tweeter. It's not his fault he was distressed, he didn't deserve to hear something that hit him that hard, it's my fault for presenting the material.
However, I will argue that his core claim about the audience being part of the reason he left, because they laughed, has probably hurt more members of that audience than my actions did. Because they can't be unaware that he's essentially calling everyone who laughed a homophobe. And some have actually said they don't feel they can point out that his version of what happened is inaccurate without being labelled homophobic.
While that might seem a cautious reaction on their part, remember that people who knew neither the original Tweeter or myself before this have assumed that his take on events is real and accurate, and that I am a bad person.
And in the binary world of the internet, you can only be good or bad, but not a mix of the two, not a real, fallible human being.
I will also argue that because of the way he presented what happened, there will be people all over the world who have been hurt or offended by the thought that a WorldCon Masquerade could be so relentlessly homophobic. And that the people who looked at his reactions and spread the idea without fact-checking or looking to any other first-hand sources, have also been responsible for distressing still more people needlessly.
That said, I accept that as all part of my responsibility, because however unintentionally, I lit the original fuse.
The next post I do on the subject will be my apology. Many people have said I shouldn't apologise, and there will certainly be those that take my apology as proof that everything the original Tweeter stated is fact. As with me accepting blame, at the end of the day, right or wrong, this whole thing started with something I caused to happen. If my apology gives a couple of people some sort of closure, then what harm is there in me giving it? The important thing is that I've said my piece here, and the apology will come from the heart.
It will be short but will address those people who I believe deserve an apology. I don't see the point of doing a long exhaustive apology, trying to cover every angle, since it's obvious to me from what has already gone down that there will still be those who carelessly misread parts of what I say then complain, who won't listen to anything that doesn't gel with what they believe to be the reality, and who will nitpick over it for things I've said poorly or for things they believe I've missed out accidentally or deliberately.
All this has already happened with the first post, I have no doubt it will happen again with this post, then once more with the apology. And I'm fine with that.
In finishing, I want to say this. Look for other first-hand accounts, or better yet, any video footage. Never base your beliefs on a single version of events. And that counts for everything I've said here, as well as the statements made by the original Tweeter. He has his bias, and I undoubtedly have mine, no matter how fair I've tried to be.
I've done several searches online looking for other people who attended the masquerade and who were offended by the anecdote. At the time of writing this draft, I've found none.
As with the previous post, I request that any online discussions of this subject be pointed to this post, and the apology.