Supanova Boycott Controversy

Adam Baldwin’s scheduled appearance at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Sydney this June has prompted a call for fans to boycott the event. Conrunner Daniel Zachariou, who announced he is keeping Baldwin as guest, is trying to navigate through the protests.

Baldwin, tagged the “celebrity face” of #GamerGate, is an effusive source of trolling political tweets. Last October File 770 reported fanartist and #GamerGate target Brianna Wu leveled this accusation against him: “Actor @Adam Baldwin defamed my character, publicized a libelous video about me and sent an angry mob of 200k people after me.” They exchanged several verbal salvos through Twitter.

Apart from his profile in social media, Baldwin is best remembered from the TV series Firefly and its continuation film Serenity. He also has done voice work in many games. And lately he’s appeared in TNT’s post-apocalyptic drama The Last Ship. It’s for this work he was invited as a Supanova guest. But it’s Baldwin’s support of #GamerGate that has roused opposition to his appearance at Supanova.

Albert Santos started an online petition asking Supanova to revoke Baldwin’s membership, justifying it with these arguments:

Baldwin has a history of calling for aggressive action, including doxxings, on others. He has called people “dipshits” and “morons”, has aggrivated key GamerGate tagret Zoe Quinn directly, has threatened former Supanova guest Wil Wheaton, has called Thanksgiving “Victory over the Savages Day” and has suggested that antivaccination campaigners all be “doxxed and tortured”. These are all things that he has said and done, primarily through his twitter handle, which he regularly wipes clean. These go directly against the code of conduct of Supanova, which they kindly in the statement supporting him.

Over 6,000 have signed the petition at Brianna Wu tweeted her support: “This is very straightforward: Are you comfortable with bullies in geek culture? Because @AdamBaldwin is a sexist bully. He needs to go.”

Also, cosplayer Eve Beauregard claimed in a widely-quoted comment to a writer that Baldwin’s appearance might lead someone to attend whose conduct would somehow jeopardize attendees’ personal safety:

“From my perspective, the moment a guest or their supporters makes a considerable portion of your attendees feel unsafe, you have a very cut-and- dried decision to make. You either remove that guest from your event or you send a very public message that you’re comfortable with your attendees fearing for their personal safety and in turn not attending out of fear.”

Zachariou offers two main reasons for sticking with Baldwin: Baldwin’s past track record as a guest, and their binding contract with him:

Zachariou defended his decision to allow Adam Baldwin to attend, stating that Baldwin had already previously attended a Supanova event (“Adam was previously our guest and as strident in his opinions then as he is now”). He also made mention of the fact that he had “no knowledge of Gamergate” when Baldwin was originally booked and Supanova has a contract that they’re “legally beholden to”.

The con is four months away but the decision to keep Baldwin is already having consequences. Supanova was dumped as a major sponsor of The Ledger Awards, an Australian award for excellence in comic arts and publishing. The awards team has returned Supanova’s sponsorship money.

Supanova’s Daniel Zachariou on February 12 posted a lengthy comment on Facebook in an attempt to mediate fans’ concerns. It says in part:

To exclude someone from Supanova for their views, even if we don’t share them, goes completely against the spirit of the expo that we’ve presented all these years as all our stars appear to discuss their work in pop culture, not their personal political or ideological viewpoints. We similarly embrace all our fans, whatever their various pop culture passions may be, and that inclusiveness is at our very heart.

And it includes a statement from Adam Baldwin:

The harassment and threats being made on both sides of the #?GamerGate debate shame the games industry and make it extremely difficult for casual observers to see the merits of arguments about corruption, ethics or journalism.

Threats of violence and/or “doxxing” should be reported to law enforcement and handled at their discretion. Such threats are reprehensible and have no place in any debate.

Obviously, I condemn harassment. The YouTube videos linked on Twitter at the outset last September contained no personal information of any individual. I had zero knowledge of what might be in their comments sections. No one can honestly be expected to check vast comment threads below articles or videos before linking to them.

Lastly, I believe that pop culture conventions are inappropriate venues for controversial topics, so I will respectfully not be discussing them at Supanova, or its related events.

Zachariou added:

Given that we have Adam’s statement above verifying he will not discuss #GamerGate while stating categorically that he does not condone harassment, bullying or doxxing under any circumstances; given we as Supanova will not allow questions regarding the subject from the floor; given we as Supanova as a professional organisation must fulfil our contractual obligations; given Supanova will be providing the highest level of enforcement of our Code of Conduct (a condition of entry to the event) to ensure our strong anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies are maintained; and given that so many fans continue to support Adam’s appearance as part of our ‘Serenity’ 10th Anniversary celebration, we will be proceeding with Adam’s attendance as planned.

As we’ve already mentioned, Supanova Expo has an incredibly inclusive array of fans who kindly share the space with each other, based on their mutual passions for imaginary worlds. Our programming crosses all demographics, celebrating diversity and a wide variety of genres. Supanova does not condone or allow bullying or harassment in any way, shape or form at our events which ensures a friendly, safe and welcoming environment. Both the Code of Conduct and the spirit of Supanova are agreements to treat with honour and respect every single fan and friend at the expo. You’ve always made us so very proud with the positive atmosphere you have created at every event.

The statement empathizes with the concerns fans have voiced, and sets concrete behavior guidelines for Baldwin and attendees.

This experience underlines three things conrunners should take responsibility to do:

  • Know your guest’s act.

Adam Baldwin is a font of political opinion or an online troll, according to your tastes, but it’s inconceivable to me someone running a large pop culture convention would know nothing more than that he’s that guy from Firefly. (Inconceivable – yes, that word does mean what I think it means…)

  • Vet your guest’s act periodically.

Various celebrities are the subjects of gossip, controversy and bad news every day. Maybe one of them will be a guest coming to your con. Google people every once in awhile so these things don’t blindside you.

  • Decide at the outset whether you’re sticking with your guest.

A con committee should already have run its social media cost/benefit analysis before announcing a guest who has baggage or is controversial. Only choose people you’re prepared to stand by. In general, it should take something truly unexpected, like criminal behavior, or slandering one of your other guests, to reopen your decision.