Spencer Ackerman is, of course, an ace defense reporter, but I really love it when he writes about culture. And I particularly appreciated this meditation on the New York punk club that was critically important to him growing up, because I think it reflects, to come back to a perpetual hobby-horse, the kind of norm-building it would be great to do in fan communities and at conventions:
Above my desk I keep a photograph that my wife bought for me of ABC No Rio. ABC No Rio is a punk club and (former?) squat on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where every Saturday afternoon a motley assortment of bands perform. I think of it as the punk rock version of the Boys & Girls Club, because that was the role it played for me as a teenager…it was supposed to be a place where you would be made to feel unwelcome if you groped someone in the pit; if you made a homophobic or racist remark; or if you engaged in otherwise destructive behavior.
You could be drunk or high and have sex — you weren’t supposed to be, but no one was really going to stop you — but if that translated into behavior that threatened others, your ass would be kicked out. It was filled with contradictions — a scene that supposedly glorified nihilism and free expression being so rigid? — but they were resolved, intellectually speaking, according to the baseline principle that those were the basic social responsibilities needed for the world in which we wanted to live to exist, a haven from the aggravating bullshit around us.
Again, these principles were never fully realized. I know women who were abused at ABC No Rio. I am thinking in particular of one individual who got away with it, probably because of his scene cred. I cringe at the idea that this piece will come across as treacly or sanitized. These are the reflections of a straight white boy who came up in the mid-90s and who went on to do all manner of bad things in his life. Your mileage may vary.
But it was important that these were the basic values that you were expected to adopt if you wanted to be part of what ABC No Rio was.
When I wrote about my experience at New York Comic Con, I noted how level the crowd seemed, how there were no particular signifiers of coolness. It also didn’t feel, for me, at least, like an unsafe space. The female cosplayers I saw getting their pictures taken mostly seemed to be objects of admiration because their costumes were completely and utterly awesome, less because they were intensely sexual or revealing. And almost no vendors were employing booth babes, perhaps in a sign that strategy is played out, though we’ll see when I hit San Diego Comic Con next year.
But despite that generally neutral atmosphere, it would still be great if there was a way to sell en masse the idea the dominant culture at cons was inclusive and oriented against harassment. Some changes, like panelists making a conscious effort to treat questioners who raise issues of representation and inclusiveness in art with respect, even if the questions are tough, would be relatively easy. Others, like adopting sexual harassment policies and training staff to enforce them, would take slightly more effort. But none of this is impossible. And even if enforcement’s inconsistent, the effort is important.