wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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Codes of conduct

The rant about Harlan Ellison yesterday is actually just the intro to something a litle more deep and complicated, which is a little closer to home as well. See, Ellison's useful mainly as a bad example to others, a superstar in the constellation of obnoxious fucks who clutter the public square. We can point and jeer, yes, and say to our SO "You ever act like that around me and I'll rip your face off," and it has a positive local effect but unfortunately not much else.

The worst thing about Harlan Ellison is that he's not unique. There are hundreds, thousands of budding Harlan Ellisons all over fandom: people that either don't know or don't care where the limits of acceptable behavior are. A short list would include the folks who thought it would be funny to grope divalea at Comiccon last year, the fangirl at AI this year who thought it would be okay to handcuff herself to bam2 without asking first, the fans who groped yammerin_nutsak...You know, it's disgusting that the list could easily go on much further than I have the time or patience to research it, and I'm not even including the ultrafeminist complaints about "He STARED at MY BOOBS!" that you'll find if you root around in the comments to various peoples' blogs. (Can we at least concentrate on getting criminal behavior under control before moving on to enforcing politeness, ladies? Kthnxbye.)

So why is it that all these people don't know -or choose to ignore- the very basic, kindergarten-level rule about keeping your hands to yourself? Why do we even have to lay out rules about when it's okay to lay the sexual touching on people? Do we have that many sociopathic shitheads in fandom? Personally, I don't think we do. We do have some legitimate creeps in fandom, perhaps especially in anime fandom which is blessed with a large number of attractive young women. There's no denying that some guys show up at anime conventions specifically to get an eyeful and maybe more, just as there were definitely people who showed up at Minicon in the old days (and Convergence now) specifically to get their drunk on. In both cases, those folks aren't really there for the convention, and if they cause trouble they should be ejected posthaste. That covers the invaders from the Danelaw, as it were. What about the bad apples in our own barrel?

Looking strictly at anime fandom, there are a number of things going on in our subculture which are reflective of the larger pop culture, some things that are the result of people seeing what they want to see in Japanese culture, and some things we have in common with the larger SF fandom community. I'll try to address those each briefly before tying them together with possible solutions. Pop culture as a whole has been hard at work for the last forty years deconstructing traditional gender roles. Some of the results have been good, others less so, and one of the bad results is that a lot of people don't really know the basic roles any more. Young men in particular get offered some fairly unattractive role models - the old blue-collar working class soldier/worker/farmer tends to get disrespected in favor of the gangsta rapper or neutered androgyne in pop culture. Camille Paglia points to the rise in popularity of BDSM as being characteristic of breakdowns in sexual roles, not only in modern America but in Edwardian England, Rome, revolutionary France, and still older cultures; it should come as no surprise that these tendencies get reinforced by things otaku see in anime and manga. (N.B.: I am not claiming that all anime and manga are riddled with BDSM imagery or plotlines, or even most of it, but there is some out there and it's not all that difficult to find, especially in anime aimed at older teens & adults.) Thus we see a lot of kids running around in collars, chains, etc., and I'm not just talking about the catgirls.

Japanese culture, perhaps especially as depicted in anime, tends to be very rigidly ordered in terms of social position. As Kyoko Mori says in her book Polite Lies, one of the reasons most Japanese don't talk to strangers is that they literally don't know how. Without knowing what relationship one has to another person, one can't possibly address them with any certainty that one will be using the correct honorific, thus increasing the chances of inadvertently offending or looking rude & boorish. This highly structured society probably looks awfully attractive to kids who aren't coping well with the chaos of adolescence and the transition from a somewhat orderly elementary school to an anarchic, noisy middle school. Especially if those kids are somewhat bookish and don't feel quite at home with the anti-intellectualism rampant in popular culture. Japanese society's exaltation of hard work and studying is quite a contrast to the scene in American secondary schools, which give lip service to academics while relentlessly promoting sports and social involvement. Japanese society also has a place for those interested in arts and crafts, while American pop culture seems more interested in the bizarre, abstract and high-concept fashion. This too drives teenagers interested in working on their drawing and costuming skills into the world of fandom, where such skills are encouraged and rewarded.

Finally we come to SF fandom, a subculture of long standing but unfortunately one also known for not dealing well with women. In fact, until the last decade or two that marked the increase in media fandoms along with an explosion in fantasy fandom, there just weren't that many women around. This led to a strain of misogyny in the fandom which, regrettably, persists to this day, and thus we come around to Harlan Ellison again. Reinforcing that strain was the unfortunate fact that a lot of guys who wound up in SF fandom were socially retarded. (This was also true of a lot of the women, BTW; this is by no means another "it's all the stupid men's fault!" screeds.) On the other hand, SF fandom did establish itself as a protected space for a lot of behavior not tolerated well by mainstream culture. People who didn't conform to societal norms about sexuality, politics, or a number of other things found tolerance in fandom, if not encouragement. The limits to tolerance were not always well defined, though, and more than one con committee has found it necessary to remind convention members "If it's illegal outside, it's illegal in here too," and "Nudity is not a costume!"

So we wind up having to deal with hundreds of poorly socialized young folks, influenced by media portrayals of a culture apparently more friendly than their own (but with its own unpleasant aspects that tend to be glossed over by anime) and turned loose for the weekend in a space where the normal societal standards for behavior appear to be a lot more relaxed than what they're used to and they're surrounded by hundreds of other kids within a few years of their own age who look and act a lot like they do. This is a pretty liberating experience! It shouldn't be too surprising that some of them get carried away and start thinking "There are no rules! I can do what I want!" Awareness of this is part of the reason Anime Detour has always taken a hard line on antisocial behavior. We'd much rather bring the hammer down hard on a few screwups than make life miserable for everyone, and so far that's worked. Sort of. I've always been a firm believer in setting expectations for people and holding them, to those expectations, and for the most part the members of Detour have acted like the adults I expected them to act like. The question for today is whether that good behavior is going to continue as the convention gets larger, how we can ensure that it does, and what we're going to do if it doesn't. We have a complicated cultural collision going on here, and it can make the job of communication very difficult.

Part of the reason any society works is that the vast majority of the people in that society agree on what the rules are and also agree that the rules should be enforced. By that definition, the subculture of anime fandom (and especially the small town of Anime Detour, Minnesota, that exists in that subculture for a few days each March) is a society, but does everyone know what the rules are? How can we communicate the rules so that nobody has an excuse for being ignorant of them? What do we have to do so that people understand "KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF" applies at Detour just like anyplace else? I'm perfectly willing to admit that our existing policy of making a hideous example out of offenders may not be the best way to deal with the problem; the only defense I have to offer is that so far it's worked. I'm sure the Detour staff would be interested in other ideas as well.
Tags: anime detour, culture w/o politics, the bush of fandom
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