Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Supanova Loves Adam Baldwin - But I Don't

There's been a bit of controversy around the Supanova convention's latest guest announcement - it seems Adam Baldwin, formerly of Firefly and now of Gamer Gate will be gracing us with his presence here in Sydney come June. A lot of people, including myself, are very disappointed by this decision, and I wanted to outline a few of the reasons why.

Firstly, for those of you not from Australia, I think it's important to understand the con scene that this is all taking place in. To put it bluntly, there isn't one. There is Supanova once a year in each capital city, and occasionally MUCH smaller (think 50 people) events in Sydney and Melbourne. This year newcomer OzComicCon will be entering the marketplace for it's second round, but it's still very new and much more niche than Supanova, which bills itself as a Pop Culture Convention. Pretty much everyone who goes to conventions in Australia, and a lot of people who would never consider going to a more niche convention, go to Supanova. Over 50,000 people attended in Sydney alone last year - it is pretty much the biggest event of it's type in Australia*. Supanova is to geek culture in Australia what the Last Party of the Year is to teen movies - it's a Big Damn Deal, and if you're not there you're missing out on the social event of the season.

Who Supanova choose as guests is very reflective of the type of visitor they're looking to draw in. One of the reasons I've always appreciated Supanova's guest selection is that they didn't look down on the female dominated fandoms like Harry Potter or Merlin - they got over every single related guest they could get. That meant there has always been a good turnout of women at Supanova, which in turn makes me feel more comfortable going along and convincing my female friends that it's a welcoming space. When there is only one convention a year, MAYBE two, it becomes a huge deal whether women feel safe and welcomed at said convention. If we don't, we're largely shut out of the convention experience in Australia - we're the ultimate losers who aren't invited to the Big Party.

Imagine Supanova as the Big Party of the Year, but for these guys instead of the jocks
Supanova have invited some questionable guests before - I wrote here about their decision to bring over Edward Furlong, formerly of Terminator 2 and now of the prison system because he can't seem to stop beating women up. In the end, that was a problematic decision that resolved itself because Furlong broke his parole (with ANOTHER charge of domestic violence) and wasn't able to attend.
It could be argued that in Edward Furlong's case, his private life is his private life and it shouldn't effect an appearance as an actor - I happen to disagree with that, but I can see the case to be made. In the case of Adam Baldwin however, his recent behavior has had consequences that were anything but private.

You may or may not have heard about the shitstorm of garbage flying around online recently that was officially dubbed GamerGate - by Baldwin himself, incidentally. It began as accusations that a game developer had slept with a game reviewer in return for a favourable review of her game, and has grown into an 8-Chan fueled doxxing** machine. If you choose to, you can read more about the specifics of various events here and here, but the short version is that there is a certain subset of gamers are currently monitoring various keywords on social media because they feel they're fighting an ethical culture war, and they can be very hostile. To be fair, I will include this post that describes a GamerGate supporter claiming harrassment - however, I am highly skeptical of the validity of these claims. I've seen the vicious response from self proclaimed GamerGate supporters on more than one occassion - most recently someone I follow on Twitter mentioned Adam Baldwin's upcoming visit to Sydney, and how disappointed she was, and within half an hour her feed began flooding with strangers very happy to throw their disapproving two cents in. While I've seen GamerGate supporters insist this isn't the case and everyone is just lying, the movement is largely targeted at women, and supporters get far more vicious far more quickly when "conversing" with women.

"How dare you talk about Jayne that way?"
Adam Baldwin is very happy to be identified as being in support of this "movement". You can read a delightful interview over here where he describes GamerGate as merely a skirmish in a "culture war", being waged between people who agree with him and people attempting to push viewpoints he believes are merely a political agenda. Is this really someone we want to invite over to join our Big Party? I certainly wouldn't invite him to my party.

However, this could all still be brushed aside as just Baldwin's personal opinions - we shouldn't judge celebrities for having opinions we disagree with, he's got every right to his opinion, etc. And it's true, he does. I don't think he should be burned at the stake for his opinions, or even have to shut up necessarily. But I also don't feel comfortable having him at my party - not just for his opinions, but for the friends he'll bring.

Maybe his appearance won't bring a larger than usual number of GamerGate supporters. Maybe they won't be encouraged to be more vocal in their intolerant opinions because of his presence. Maybe I'll also grow wings tomorrow. Maybe I'm just a cynical, overly skeptical bitch, but I believe that Baldwin's appearance will absolutely bring out the work of geek culture in person, just as his support has online. I believe his Gamer Gate supporter fans being there will make the crowd more hostile, and I will certainly feel less safe there as a woman, and a fat woman at that. If there's anything 8-Chan and 4-Chan users love making fun of, it's a fat woman (trigger warning for suicide on this link). Why would I go to a party with these guys, even if it is the part of the year?

Sadly, Supanova haven't yet responded to the Baldwin backlash, despite a petition currently circulating trying to convince them to rescind their invitation (and the inevitable counter petition). I'm oretty sad about the idea of missing it this year - you will have seen from my previous posts about it how much this event means to me. I would hate to miss the Big Party for the first time in seven years, but it looks like I might have to sit this one out for my own peace of mind.

*A reader suggested PAX Australia might have higher attendance numbers, but I was unable to find exact attendance numbers for PAX online.

**doxxing is the practice of disclosing personal information about someone online, in order to facilitate harassment such phone calls and emails to their employer or family, and calling in fake 911 calls in order to get the person being harrassed a visit from the local SWAT team ("swatting")