Horror and steampunk writer Carrie Cuinn enjoyed Readercon. So did I. But she found some of her fellow attendees were not quite up to the mark, and wrote them a vehement Dear Jackass letter. It concludes:
So, Dear Jackass, I can only hope you didn’t realize your behavior was rude, selfish, insensitive, racist, or sexist. I’ll be at Readercon 23, and I think it’s best for everyone if we don’t see you there.
It wasn’t immediately clear to me whether her complaints all related to the same person – the singular “jackass” seems to suggest it does, but I’m fairly sure that several different people were involved here. Moreover, the transgressions she describes are quite different, and I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on them, if only to remind ourselves what not to do.
Note: Cuinn uses the term “jackass” in its casual sense. In the technology community, a jackass is a specific character – someone who makes a controversial prediction in order to get attention or to attract coverage in the press. For example, “World Of Warcraft leads to political violence,” or “The iPhone 5 will be a catastrophic failure.”
Touching briefly on each of the social crimes Cuinn observed, we have:
- Asking silly questions. In one case, someone asked an e-book panel “Which indie publisher, specifically, will publish my illlustrated novel?” This is a silly question because no panelist can possibly answer it. In the questioner’s defense, it was a followup to a question, also ill-conceived, about illustration in ebooks, to which the panelists ought to have given a good answer, but (in my opinion) did not. Rating: a gaffe if you do it once or twice a year; a serious misdemeanor if you do it often.
- Ringing cell phones. Always a social crime, and this audience should know better. In defense, the guilty parties I noticed were women who lacked pockets and so could not have used “silent” mode. In a weekend conference, some allowance might be made for family emergencies. Rating: a misdemeanor in a conference. Worse in a concert hall or theater.
- Wrongheaded opinions. In the cases Cuinn mentions, I believe the opinions were sincerely held and concisely expressed, though wrong. One reason to attend conferences is to hear from people who are wrong; sometimes, they have a point and sometimes you learn to refute them. Asserting facts know to be wrong is a felony, but that’s not alleged here. Rating: no harm, no foul.
- Requesting an annotated bibliography. Not a crime, provided the request is polite and anticipates that the favor that might be inconvenient or impractical to grant. Rating: nothing to see here.
- Attacking and silencing your own panelists. I missed this session, which attracted notice elsewhere. Reading between the lines, I suspect that the moderator was arguing with the program chair who, I presume, had added some unwelcome additional voices to her panel proposal. This is not the way to do it: if you have a quarrel with the program chair, settle it privately or simply decline to moderate the panel and withdraw. Rating: felony, bordering on a high crime.
- Berating a writer at his own signing. Bizarre. A signing, it seems to me, is like a dinner party: if you go, you must be civil to your host; if you cannot in conscience be civil, you have no business accepting the invitation. Readercon signings are mostly tucked into a little corner far from everything. You would usually have to go out of your way to bump into one, so this is unlikely to be a chance encounter. Rating: temporary insanity under the stress of passionate feeling is the most likely explanation.
So, we have six indictments, but perhaps only two real crimes, and I don’t think banishment (the punishment for high crimes) is absolutely necessary. The major violations seem to involve a dispute with the program chair, who in any case has the authority to enforce the appropriate sanction should that be desirable.
I observe in passing that people are seldom taught how to attend conferences. Conference-going is a skill, requiring thought and judgment.