On -ism: The Wrong Response

By | Thursday, May 28, 2015 Leave a Comment
You've heard about how Denver ComicCon hosted a panel about women in comics that featured exactly no women, right? I think the consensus on this one is pretty easily, "Boy, that was dumb as shit!" I mean, this seems obvious, right? I'm not going to belabor that point; it's been made repeatedly elsewhere.
Trina Robbins

Here's the part I want to talk about: the Denver ComicCon's response.

Let me start by reminding everyone that most conventions don't actually set up too many panels on their own. It's creators and fans who come to the show organizers and say, "I'd like to host a panel on X." The show then looks at all the requests, sizes them up, and gives a yay or nay to each one. It's then up to the person(s) who made the request to develop content and wrangle other panelists. So when a women in comics panel was suggested, I'm sure DCC said, "Yeah, that's a good idea" but did not know at that time who all the panelists might be.

Now, you could argue that they might have done more due diligence or follow-up, or that someone should have caught the problem when the program schedule was being written up and printed (with all the panelists' names) but I'm sure there was nothing glaringly wrong with the initial pitch. As far as I can tell, the show organizers weren't being that mind-bogglingly obvlivious, they just focused on other aspects of the show and assumed the people running that panel would take care of things. It seems more like a failure of oversight and/or coordination than anything else.

Jackie Estrada
The problem I have with DCC, though, is in their response. You can read it in the link above, but the short version is that they not only assumed zero responsibility, but they doubled down and defended the panel's lack of women. They even went so far as to say that "the panel was not about current women creators" and then in the very same paragraph quote the panel description which says, "Includes an introduction to many of the female illustrators/creators attending the convention."

That is absolutely, unequivacably the wrong response.

There are essentially two schools of thought when you're responding to a public screw-up like this. There's the lawyer approach, and the PR approach. The lawyer approach is to make sure that nothing you say can be used against you. Don't admit culpability, don't admit responsibility, don't even admit there's a problem if you possibly can. That way, if you're taken to court, no one can use any statements you made outside of court to lead to a guilty verdict. You're basically pleading the 5th Ammendment.

The problem with this is that, unless you're actually likely to face criminal charges, you look like a complete ass. I mean, you still look like an ass if you are facing possible prosecution, but people at least understand why you're trying to bend over backwards to deny reality. But if you're not in legal trouble, this lawyer approach does nothing positive for you. You look like a kid who's standing there with his hand stuck in a now-broken cookie jar still clutching a cookie and saying, "I didn't do it."

The PR approach comes at it from the other direction by directly owning up to things. You not only admit that there was a problem, but you take responsibility for it -- even if it's not directly your fault -- and go on to suggest things you'll attempt in the future to ensure it doesn't happen again. It suggests that the problem came about out of ignorance, not ill intent, and that you're trying to recitfy things. It ends your part of the conversation on an optimistic and positive tone, so not only will you not be ridiculed for the linguistic gymnastics that you have to conduct in the lawyer approach, but people will be hard-pressed to take too a negative view of someone who's openly trying to do better.

And, hey, funnily enough, it means things actually get better too! Both for how people view the convention itself, as well as all the attendees who are able to get a better set of panels on diversity!
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