Last week, The Mary Sue published an article decrying a marketing email sent by Fan Expo Canada inviting convention attendees to "cuddle a cosplayer" at Toronto ComicCON.
According to The Mary Sue's article, the phrasing encourages non-consensual touching of cosplayers in an environment (conventions) where there have been problems with harassment in the past. They published statements from some cosplayers who were offended:
Pirko has been cosplaying for over eight years and attends 6-8 conventions a year on average. She’s attended Fan Expo conventions in the past, most recently in 2008.
“At first I couldn’t quite believe it, clicking on the link and seeing that it brought me through to the Toronto ComicCOn tickets page. Then I got frustrated and angry. I didn’t think anyone at FanExpo was malicious, but rather just clueless,” Pirko told us. “Over the past few years cosplay and consent has become a big deal, and many people i’m friends with have shared their stories of inappropriate things that have happened to them, including groping and touching that’s firmly in the assault category.”
While writer, podcaster, and cosplayer Amber Love has never attended a Fan Expo show, but she too took offense to the email’s message, saying it made her cringe.
“If it had been some other show with a sketchy reputation, I’d probably roll my eyes but this was a specific case where I’ve always heard great things about the professionalism of the convention,” Love said. “Using that phrase as a mission to get to people to buy tickets is akin to saying it’s perfectly acceptable to touch someone without permission and there would be no repercussions for those actions.”
Frankly, it's sad that these issues need to be serious concerns, but it's certainly not unwarranted with the reports that we hear every con season of inappropriate behavior toward cosplayers and sometimes women in general. In fact, the Mary Sue pointed out that Toronto ComicCON didn't even have a harassment policy last year. They demanded an apology and a retraction. Instead, Fan Expo doubled down on Facebook:
Thanks for an amazing start to 2014!! While we're all bathing in post-con glory we'd like to address some safety concerns brought up last week.
Fan Expo has a great history of ensuring fans' safety, so on behalf of my team we quickly responded to last week's enquiries on our cosplay position. Unfortunately this was in the final days surrounding our March show so expressed to a journalist that officially addressing concerns in time for their deadline would be a hasty response and wouldn't be giving an important issue due attention. As an act of faith we did escalate rolling out the policy we'd been working with it's unfair to say we "hadn't got around to it" when it's an important policy and any legal document will move slowly. http://www.comicontoronto.com/faq/
Instead of seeing our genuine interest to respond after the show what resulted was an inflammatory style of story that most alarmingly included false statements. Inflammatory journalism can incite irresponsible companies to respond, but when that's not the case it can instead hinder a company from working with the community. So rather that respond further to that journalist we prefer to find a journalist or group in Canada who knows our shows and track record (and ideally has been to our show more recent than 2008), and who'd work with us with the bigger picture in mind to rollout something for our August show in Toronto.
Much of our team are on a break from a very successful show weekend and on their return I will be trigger finding that person/group and determining what we can achieve together for all of our fans including the cosplay community. Your patience is appreciated, and please keep watching here for updates. In the meantime if you have any suggestions for a media person or a group - please direct message or comment below!
Shelley - Fan Expo HQ
Despite the confusing tactic of having the post written by someone with a gender-neutral name like Shelley, The Mary Sue was undeterred, with several of their reporters responding in the comments, telling Fan Expo that they need to simply own up and apologize. The Beat's Heidi MacDonald pulled a Rich Johnston and chimed in with a link to her own article on the subject, and even Tom Spurgeon offered to write an article if the con paid for his travel and accommodations at the event.
Well, Fan Expo Canada, you needn't pay attention to them, because the journalists you're looking for are right here at The Outhouse. You see, here at The Outhouse, we've never even heard of inflammatory journalism. The thought that our journalism could be inflammatory or irresponsible has never crossed our minds when publishing an article. False statements? What are those?!
So you see, we're perfect to tell your side of the story. To do just that, we've arranged an interview with Fan Expo Canada founder and crack-smoking mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford:
The Outhouse: Hi Rob Ford. Thanks for joining us.
Rob Ford: It's my pleasure.
OH: So, these chicks are hounding you, eh?
RF: They're chasing me around five months. They're counter surveillance me. He's hiding here. He's hiding here. Fuck off.
OH: Do you think there's any merit to their claims, though?
RF: Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But do I? Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.
OH: Wait, what? No, we're talking about the sexism thing. "Cuddling a cosplayer."
RF: I've never said that in my life to her. I’m happily married. I have more than enough to eat at home, thank you very much.
OH: Well, it said it in the email Fan Expo sent out. Don't you think whoever sent that email should learn a lesson from this?
RF: I'm going to kill that fucking guy. I’m telling you it's first-degree murder...he dies or I die, brother!
OH: Okay, that's a little harsh...
RF: When he’s down, I’ll rip his fucking throat out. I'll poke his eyes out. I’ll make sure that motherfucker is dead.
OH: Well, we appreciate your enthusiasm, but that's probably not necessary. You should just try to be more understanding of cosplayers, you know? They deserve the same respect as anyone else, regardless of how they're dressed. They aren't sexual objects.
RF: I don't understand a transgender. I don't understand, is it a guy dressed up like a girl or a girl dressed up like a guy?
OH: That's pretty insensitive and somewhat homophobic. And cosplayers are not all transgendered, though some transgendered individuals are cosplayers. I'm not sure why you would even think that.
RF: We're bringing accountability to City Hall. First time ever.
OH: And at Fan Expo?
RF: We're going to put an end to the gravy train.
OH: Are you saying that you're going to apologize? That's really all anyone wants.
RF: With today's announcement, I know I embarrassed everyone in this city and I will be forever sorry. There is only one person to blame for this and that is myself. I know admitting my mistake was the right thing to do and I feel like a thousand pounds have been lifted off my shoulders.
OH: Aw. That's sweet. See, that's all you had to do. Hopefully, we can put all of this behind us and move forward with a convention in Toronto where everyone feels safe from harassment, with a solid policy in place, and where all of comic fandom can be represented in a positive way.
RF: What does OxyContin go for on the street, so I have an idea?
So there you have it, folks. Fan Expo Canada representative Rob Ford has apologized, and... what's that? Oh, really? Folks, we're hearing that Rob Ford is not actually a representative of Fan Expo Canada. As a matter of fact, as of right now, Fan Expo Canada has still not apologized, making them actually less reasonable than Rob Ford. Wow. That's impressive.
Look, Canadians, maybe you do things differently up there in the Great White North, but here in the US of A, we believe that comic book fans should be able to attend conventions dressed up as their favorite characters without worrying about being judged (unless they enter a cosplaying contest, in which case then it's fine, if you are a judge in said contest) or harassed. A cosplayer isn't like a moose, okay? You can't just cuddle one without asking first.
So just admit it was a joke in poor taste, put out a harassment policy, and let's all move on with our lives. We're sure Toronto ComicCON will be a fun and safe event. Well, as long as you keep Rob Ford far away from it.