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On The Mid-Ohio Con Incident
posted May 4, 2006

I have had very little to say about the incident at the 2005 Mid-Ohio Con between Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein and Taki Soma. For one thing, I wasn't there; for another, there's almost nothing to talk about. A few details of the incident are still in dispute and are likely to remain so. Inappropriate action in general was admitted to. The police were called in and then their services were dismissed. The actor's employer found out the next day, investigated the matter through third party professionals and took action about which they cannot release detailed information because of privacy concerns. Stories were written; public apologies were made. Without a boycott, a campaign to press the agents of these decisions to change their minds, or a return to potential criminal prosecution, this is over except the virtual grousing. Dismiss for a moment the assumption that anyone gets to handpick the outcome to a complaint, and it's clear the aftermath unfolded in textbook fashion, close to exactly how you want every incident to be handled. The only institution with an investment here whose actions/feelings have yet to be revealed is the convention, who in cases like this should have a choice to make on whether or not they want the CBLDF to come back.

Two side stories spun out of this. One was a cluster of inaccurate, exaggerated and just plain bizarre column writing, blog reportage and message board chatting. As a collective force, that stuff did little more than 1) foist onto an unsuspecting world enough bullshit to shame a Dan Brown novel, 2) whip some people up and make some others feel better about themselves, 3) created a narrative where the reveal of the instigator's identity could have had a significant effect on public opinion regarding the event entire and 4) hideously, cast serious aspersions on innocent people. I think we can now state with some confidence that the road to URL hell is coded with good intentions. It's hubris to think you can fume and agitate and browbeat your way to an outcome of your choice -- in this case, kicking Charles Brownstein out of the comics industry -- by claiming to be pure of heart, or that doggedly charging forward is any way to bring resolution to complicated matters where the quality of people's lives on all sides, and sadly some far removed, is at risk. The good news is that while Internet-connected fandom flailed, the police did their job, the CBLDF took action, and the comics press even stepped up. As much as it may cause us heartache, we can't limit our sense of justice to a pre-selected outcome in a single case where we may know one or both of the involved parties. We have to want all of it to stop. If there were similar movement and focused attention by the involved institutions regarding every instance of industry bad behavior, the vast majority of such behavior would be eliminated.

The second idea to spin out of this mess is the Friends of Lulu Empowerment Fund. This is a great idea in that a Fund would ideally funnel these extremely serious matters out of the jurisdiction of Nerd Court and whispered warnings on the con floor and into the world of real courts and police officers and invested businesses, where things are more likely to be brought to a resolution that matters. The problem so far seems to be that no one really knows if or how such a Fund can work in a practical sense. The difference between a Defense Fund screened by a board and a Fund that aids in the pursuit of civil action on the request and word of those pursuing such action is Grand Canyon-like. There is neither a natural advocacy role to be filled nor a specific, obvious function for donated monies. This is a big problem. A Fund gets a few weeks of "what a nice idea" before it enters into several years of being judged on the result rather than the intentions of those involved. Given the vast confusion that ruled the day in this latest fiasco, perhaps a first step could be to direct money and resources so that stand-by, independent legal advice is free and available when such an incident of some sort happens in the future. Whatever direction is taken, it will have to involve a lot more than hashing things out on-line. And thank God for that.