The Right to Refuse Service

Dear Convention Organizers:

I know that I’m new to the whole con thing, and that it’s a culture that’s been humming along on its own for quite some time, so please forgive my ignorance when I ask this:

Why in the hell do you let people like the Fan From Hell into your cons?

If I ran, say, a restaurant, and a customer came in, swiped food off people’s plates, wiped his ass with the tablecloth and announced he was going to sodomize his entree as it was being served, I don’t give a stony rat’s ass if that person is the restaurant critic for the New York Times, he’s getting tossed out and barred from returning. You can’t please everyone, but, as a business owner, I damn well better make sure I please the vast majority of my customers, people who are trying to have a nice meal without worrying about the ravings of a steakfucker.

You know who this woman is, yet you allow her to show up, harrass the guests, annoy the vendors and bring down the place, all in the name of…what? Having an open and friendly environment for all to express themselves? Listen: putting on an Imperial Stormtrooper outfit with kitty ears is self-expression; using your daughter as a way to finagle your way into the company of actors, artists and writers is fucking child abuse. And you let it happen.

The con circuit is small enough that people know who the bad apples are. And I don’t mean the people who are a little off; the beauty of science fiction conventions is that everyone is a little off. I mean the stalkers, the harrassers, the gropers. The steakfuckers.

Geeks, of course, don’t like conflict. They’ve been bullied and put down all their lives, and cons are the place where they can feel free of that. You’re still running a business, folks, and that means you not only have the right to refuse service, you have the responsibility to do so. That’s no excuse to allow the kind of awful behavior Colleen Doran and company talk about in the comment thread. These aren’t kids we’re talking about, but grown adults, people who should’ve learned about things like manners and personal space and proper goddamn hygiene.

Show some spine, organizers. Toss out the steakfuckers. You’ll be making cons better places.

Love and kisses,
Adam Rakunas
Worldcon Member

9 Comments

  1. Adam Rakunas
    8/9/2006

    …protocol permits you not to invite someone you don’t like to a given event, but if someone spills the beans and our hypothetical Cat Piss Man invites himself, there is no recourse. You must put up with him, or you will be an Evil Ostracizer and might as well go out for the football team.

    Sweet Jebus. I’ve just gone out for the football team.

  2. 8/9/2006

    Oh, honey, I’m ON the football team.

  3. Adam Rakunas
    8/9/2006

    Oh, great. Now my inner fanboy’s about to get beaten up by my inner linebacker.

    …Rumble Girls rawked!

    *gets stuffed into locker*

  4. 8/9/2006

    Ever since I related the story of Cat Piss Man, I’ve been asking the same question. Everyone running conventions or attending conventions has at least one horror story involving a Cat Piss Man who wouldn’t stop sodomizing the hamsters, but nobody says anything about stopping it other than saying that they just won’t attend any more. Elvis help you if the Cat Piss Man ends up wrangling his way into becoming a guest or (horror of horrors) a con chairperson: I know of several conventions both extant and extinct that let a CPM take over the con, and the ones that survived the experience only live because the other staffers were competent.

  5. 8/9/2006

    Adam: AWESOME! I am working on the sequel (prequel) now.

  6. Vanessa
    8/10/2006

    “Tolerant and accepting” is not the same as “will put up with anything”.

    Where do you draw the line? That person who causes burning sensations, watery eyes, itching, swelling and nausea in other people? Draw it right in front of him/her.

  7. David Cake
    8/10/2006

    Speaking as a convention organiser — its easy to get rid of such people as soon as they cross a line, be it by interrupting an event, doing some obviously crossing into illegality (like public steakfucking, messing with others belongings, etc), or when someone complains — such as if a guest genuinely asks them to stop behaviour and they don’t.

    But having committed to running a public event for a broad audience, being an arbiter of hygiene standards and ettiquette is both a difficult position to be in (its mired in legalities, difficult to legally enforce, etc) and not at all what we want to spend our conventions doing. Fundamentally social problems should have social solutions — what gets me is why everyone else at the convention is tolerating it too.

  8. Why do we let those people into our conventions? Because fandom has a long history of tolerating moderate neurochemical disorders; and when you’re selling memberships or doing casual troubleshooting, it can be hard to spot the difference between the Fan From Hell, and respected, well-liked, long-term members of fandom who happen to be going through a rough patch.

    Also, for all you know, that woman could have had her badge pulled at some of the conventions she’s attended. SF conventions don’t have a lot of options for throwing people out, unless what they’re doing is literally illegal.

    Say you pull her badge. What then? She’s still a registered guest at the hotel for the weekend. There’s nothing you can do about that. If she stays, she’ll have legitimate access to all the public areas of the hotel, including lobbies, corridors, bars, restaurants, and elevators. All you can do is keep her out of the function space: art show, dealers’ room, consuite, and programming rooms.

    If she respects that rule, you’ve still got her in some of your major convention areas. If she doesn’t, the task of keeping her out is going to land on the shoulders of little seventeen-year-old convention volunteers who are doing badger duty at doorways. They’re not up to dealing with a large, aggressive, mentally disturbed woman who’s upset about having her badge pulled. And unless you station badgers at every function-space door, the Fan From Hell is still going to get in.

    Finally, there are no sanctions you can impose that won’t hit her kid harder than they hit her.

    What can you do? Believe it or not, many of those seriously clueless convention attendees already know that they’re bad at picking up social cues. They respond well to having the situation explained to them in clear, simple, non-judgemental terms:

    – I’m sorry, you can’t sit in on this conversation. We’re discussing professional business.

    – You’ve already had your time with [celebrity]. You need to stop bothering him now.

    – I’m sorry, I don’t like being hugged by strangers.

    – Our group is going out to dinner, but we can’t invite you to come with us, because we’ve all agreed to limit the party to six.

    – Please stop playing the piano. We’re not doing live music at this party. (Or: Playing live music at this party is by invitation only.)

    If that doesn’t work, try firmness. Two or three people standing there with their arms folded, saying “You’ll have to leave now,” can generally get the message across.

    If they’re so out of control that even firm, clear verbal commands can’t get through, get their address and contact social services in her area. The Fan From Hell may or may not be beyond help, but that kid of hers desperately needs it.

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