Sunday, September 1, 2013

Skepchick's not-so-accurate DragonCon story

Skepchick responds to their table being punted in a post titled "How Skepchick Got Booted from DragonCon Today"

(Background - Earlier article about this here)

Even the title is a lie. More on this later.

In any case, continuing:

As we have for the past several years, Surly Amy and I staffed a Skepchick fan table, selling (as always) our t-shirts, buttons, and jewellery. We talked a lot with a very nice man in charge of overseeing fan tables in our area (unfortunately I don’t recall his name), who helped us find a good spot for our table.
On Saturday, he came around and said he’d had a complaint from someone that we were selling buttons that were against the rules for fan tables. He explained the relevant rule, which on DragonCon’s site reads:
In deference to our dealers and exhibitors, who purchase a table or sponsor the convention, no general merchandise sales are permitted at concourse tables. You can sell logo merchandise from your organization and other items made exclusively for and by your club, band or organization. Dragon*Con does not charge a percentage of these merchandise sales.
(We hadn’t read that rule because Skeptrack admin Derek Colunado arranges all the skeptic tables and we have no contact with DragonCon.)
I explained to the man that I personally make every button with my printer and buttonmaker, so by that rule they should be fine. However, I pointed out that I was selling Bigfoot air fresheners (like last year), which I don’t make and are not exclusive to Skepchick. I just think they’re funny and relevant. But, I acknowledged that that could be against the rule and if so, I was happy to take it off the table. The man thanked me for being flexible and told me to leave everything as is for now and that he’d run it past his higher ups and let us know if Bigfoot had to go. We thanked him for being fair and understanding, and Amy gave him a Surly necklace he had been eyeing. We didn’t hear back from him by the end of the day.
This morning, we set up the table and were having our coffee when Derek Colunado came over and pulled Amy aside as I was helping a customer. Amy came back and told me, “We’re being shut down.” Derek had told her that according to his boss, there had been another complaint that we were in violation of the fan table rules. She asked to speak with the boss, who Derek went to fetch.
A few minutes later we were approached by David Cody, who is apparently Senior Director and co-chair of the gaming division. (He didn’t identify himself but Derek gave me that name after our conversation.)
Cody pointed at Amy’s jewellery and said we could not sell anything on the table that did not carry the Skepchick logo. While we do have a few logo shirts and buttons and jewelry, most of our handmade stuff is related to science and skepticism but without garish branding.
We first tried to figure out why the rule changed from “logo merchandise from your organization and other items made exclusively for and by your organization” to “logo merchandise only,” but Cody did not acknowledge that the rule had ever allowed for non-logo merch. Then we wondered how we’d been able to sell everything in the past but not now, but Cody simply insisted we were flouting the rules. When we kept asking questions, he told us, “If you don’t like it, I can call my boss, and believe me, you do not want that to happen.”
We were confused. Was his boss a vampire? Cthulhu? We asked him if he was threatening us and if so, could he explain what the actual threat entailed. He told us we had been warned twice already by convention staff that our merchandise was in violation of the rules. We said that did not happen and as I tried to tell him about our positive interactions with his staff, he talked over me and insisted we were lying about having been warned. I told him that it didn’t even matter because I was going to pack up the table no matter what, but at this point all I wanted was for him to stop treating us like garbage and attempting to intimidate us.
After I repeated several times that I was packing up and leaving, he finally left us alone. Amy immediately changed her flight to leave today. I packed up, got some lunch, and then went to the literature track where I spoke about women in Game of Thrones before a packed and engaged crowd that lined the walls of the room and filled all the floor space right up to the lectern.
Now I’m back in my hotel room wondering if I should go to my final panel at 7pm in the Skeptrack room. On the one hand, I do these talks and panels for the DragonCon audience, who are consistently wonderful and enthusiastic. But on the other hand, I’m exhausted and frustrated from the stress of dealing with all this.
I’m an “attending professional” at DragonCon, meaning that I get a free pass to perform on panels but I’m expected to pay for my own airfare and hotel, costs that add up to be nearly $1,000. I expect to take a loss, but selling some Skepchick merchandise at least helps off-set that loss. This year, I have hardly even made a dent in my expenses.
I have essentially paid hundreds of dollars to perform for free for a for-profit organization, whose representative berated me. [emphasis original]
That’s a big deal, especially for someone like me who lives on a blogger’s salary. It’s such a big deal that in a way it undoes all the good that was done by every other hard-working and accommodating DragonCon employee and volunteer I interacted with this weekend. It means that if things are the same next year, I won’t be able to attend DragonCon again despite the requests of the many people who apparently enjoy my contributions each year. And this is all thanks to one DragonCon employee on a power trip.
Apparently, it isn’t the first time Cody has behaved this way. Small comfort.
Regardless, I do want to clearly thank everyone at DragonCon who made this an amazing weekend up til now, and to all my friends on Twitter and Facebook who have my back. I truly hope that next year DragonCon officials decide my contributions are worth keeping. If not, I’ll see you all elsewhere.

What a bunch of malarkey.

The convention policy is badly worded

Admittedly the phrasing around "and other items made exclusively for and by your club, band or organization" does sound like it makes an "out" for items that have a particular affinity to the group.

For this reason, Amy in particular gets a pass for thinking her handmade jewelry (unique and made only by her) is within policy.

Skepchick did not read the policy anyways

Bad wording does not excuse Skepchick not reading the policy in the first place and playing with an adhoc interpretation of the rules worked out on the fly with convention organizers.

Does anyone think convention organizers want to screw around with people at the free tables that so obviously want to bend the rules as far as possible?

Details conveniently missing

In her recap, Rebecca Watson fails to include a crucial detail:

In all this talk about homemade jewelry and buttons, it comes down to the sales of a t-shirt being allowed that is the final show stopper.

Nobody would dare argue that t-shirts don't qualify as "general merchandise" and therefore break conference rules.

It seems that Watson had a load of garbage to hawk, from air fresheners to joke t-shirts, and the organizers understandably gave her the WTF treatment.

Reality distortion field

This sentence is amazing:

I have essentially paid hundreds of dollars to perform for free for a for-profit organization, whose representative berated me.
In Watson's fantasy world, the following things are happening:
  1. A big mean man named David Cody was awful to her (and he's probably a misogynist)
  2. Watson is being abused by a profit seeking enterprise. 
Of course, the facts of the situation are a lot different.

The Skepchick business plan

DragonCon reps, while they make money, aren't the ones shamelessly trying to make a buck here. Rebecca Watson is the scam artist in this situation.

Let's go over the business plan:

  1. Get yourself signed on to speak in a panel (perhaps about how Game of Thrones related to feminism)
    • You'll get a free pass to the event
    • The panel will boost your profile
  2. Park a free booth at the event
  3. Be sure to plug the booth when speaking in the panel
    • Free advertising!
  4. Sell untold amounts of tinkets at said booth
Typically businesses have to pay a lease as well as all travel costs.

In this fantastic plan, Skepchick pays precisely $0 for operating space.

Skepchick may say they're not trying to make a profit, they're trying to "break even" when accounting for the cost of making the trip happen.

That's just irrelevant. Skepchick wants to do something (i.e. attend an event) and has chosen a suspect way to fund it (i.e. skirt convention rules).

Presumably the majority of attendees make this work by having a day job and saving money

Skepchick's plan counted on avoiding merchant fees at the event. Not a good idea.

Yet there are actually people out there that believe Watson's bogus narrative, and they're actually incensed that DragonCon had the courage to deny Watson free hotel and airfare. 

What service did Watson render to deserve this compensation from DragonCon?

She graced the conference with her presence. Such humility. Such compassion. Such bravery.

Skepchick was not booted

The heart of the matter - it's simply not true that Skepchick was "booted" from the event.

No evidence presented suggests that Rebecca and Amy were asked to leave the event. They were simply told to stop selling stuff at their free table.

They appear to have had several choices:
  1. Close the booth and attend the event like normal people
  2. Sell only Skepchick logo'd t-shirts
  3. Pay the fee to be in the merchant hall
Of course, the choice made was option 4. What is option 4?

    Option 4.  Go apeshit, claim harassment and persecution at the hands of rich white males

It's a bit predictable at this point. 

Watson is carried this victim cross quite far. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end.

The free ride is over.

It might be time to raise money in a more honest way.

Perhaps Watson needs some venture capital to get started.

In that case, here's a quarter.


  1. "It's a bit predictable at this point."

    Understatement of the year. Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, and the rest of the thugs desperately need to get some new material. This "go to con, cause a scene, blame everyone else and start smearing and libeling in order to cow your victims into submission" shit is sooooo repetitive.

    Although, repetitive has its advantages. Once this endless loop repeats enough times, only their sycophants and the densest outliers will not realize how poisonous these people are. I hope that eventually they'll all be sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring and wonder why they don't get invited to cons anymore.

    But, seeing how long the community has knuckled under to these disgraceful bullies, I'm not hopeful that will happen anytime soon.

  2. Good grief - Unless the proceeds are going to a registered nonprofit, rather than into Surly Amy's pocket, her jewelry sales are a business, and she should pay for a table like any other business person. Or just not do business there.

    I predict DragonCon getting a wave of bad press from the usual idiots over the next year, ala the treatment of TAM. Starting with a mild statement of differences and steadily escalating when they don't get their way certainly fits their MO.

  3. Amazing. This post has been up for hours and no ool0n.

  4. OK, I'm not following the story, but after reading this, I'm surprised you think SHE is the drama lama.

    1. Do you think I cause the drama seen here?

      Let's be serious for a moment - if Skepchick had said "This is a policy we disagree with but we will comply with" - there would be no drama.

      There would be no post. Maybe a one liner about how they got burned by conference policies that they didn't read.

      Instead, they said the man "threatened" them and they displayed a ridiculous amount of entitlement. Spoke as if DragonCon *owes them airfare and a hotel stay*.

      What do I do? I simply write it all down.

      Don't kill the messenger.

  5. People have pointed out for years that Surly Amy payed for her table at TAM (where she was of course abused, though it should be noted she also sold so much of her jewelry she had to have a box of MORE jewelry mailed to her to help fill her table) and most other conventions. They get, this is a business, she is not a charity. At the first TAM Amy attended she objected when another table was selling jewelry that a person had made, and they were giving 20% of the profit to the JREF, the rest they kept for their group She felt it was in competition to her jewelry, and everyone agreed it would never happen again (the other table was one given to a group, no cost, and they thought having the jewelry a great way to raise some money). This really was unfair, as she had paid a lot for her table. There was also no quality control. Her products are well made, but she felt this other jewelry, while well made was underpriced (since it had been donated). All in all, she had a good point, an event needs to control what is sold at the event. Vendors need to be put first, and if there was a vendor at Dragoncon selling jewelry, this was a point. I know for sure there were vendors selling Bigfoot air fresheners. You can buy them at Newbury Comics. They are made in ...China? Who knows? Now, what happens to the profit from these items sold? They go directly to pay for their airfare and hotel room and bar bill (well that goes without saying) and food and it does add up to $1000 of fun fun FUN! It's FUN to talk on a panel. It's fun to go drinking and hang out with your buddies! It's a subsidized vacation! Taxes collected? Nah, it's for CHARITY! While vendors have to sign up with the state to collect taxes, were taxes being collected? Who cares? After all Rebecca has them packed to the walls!! Dragon Con should PAY HER for bringing so many people to DragonCon. But now, Rebecca is calling for a twitter war against some poor guy that appears to be protecting the vendors (vendors like Surly Amy, that want quality goods sold at events), and she's doing it with her usual class. Rebecca is the only woman around age 35....that still attacks people via twitter using profanity. Let's call him NAMES, like a preteen, and get people worked up....instead of perhaps talking to the boss and finding out just what is and what is not allowed. Perhaps the boss would have said "You can keep selling all this stuff!" Or "here is a form for the state, just pay sales tax!" Or "Let's talk before next year, and since you are set up we're fine for this year." They did not TALK to anyone besides one man, and people are suggesting it was because they didn't want anyone to ask if they had a tax number for the state and are they a real registered charity? Which means you have to disclose just what that money you raise goes toward. Even if it doesn't cover your expenses, you have to pay taxes on that you sell. Next year, show up, sell your stuff, and while I am sure Amy has this whole tax thing down (she knows how to do things legally) Rebecca had better have a tax number also.

    1. Paragraphs are your friend.

    2. Yes, they are.

      From the Dragoncon website re: Vendor fees..."Dealer's Tables are $550. for interior tables and $650. for end cap tables. End cap tables must be purchased with at least one adjoining interior table." [$550+$650=$1,200 minimum for an end cap table]

      There is an additional $100 fee if you require electricity/phone hookup. You must also have a Dragoncon dealer membership which is another $65.

      Here is the info for the Fan tables: "In deference to our dealers and exhibitors, who purchase a table or sponsor the convention, no general merchandise sales are permitted at concourse tables. You can sell logo merchandise from your organization and other items made exclusively for and by your club, band or organization. Dragon*Con does not charge a percentage of these merchandise sales."

      It is hilarious that Rebecca Watson is complaining about not being able to cover her expenses when she is trying to cut into the sales of people who PAID big bucks to have a Vendor's table. Presumably, they also had to pay to travel there and for a hotel.

    3. "It is hilarious that Rebecca Watson is complaining about not being able to cover her expenses when she is trying to cut into the sales of people who PAID big bucks to have a Vendor's table. Presumably, they also had to pay to travel there and for a hotel."

      Well, it's because the mere fact of having Rebecca and Amy there gives any event they attend so much gender equality cred. Don't you see? The conference organizers should be paying them!

  6. As if the hotel and plane ticket aren't written off

  7. It looks like you left step 5 off of the business plan: use every conventions to create as much drama and faux outrage as possible because this will inexplicably make you more appealing to the organizers of the next convention.

    1. ...or if you live "on a blogger’s salary," use it to drive the hordes to your blog post.

    2. 5..4..3..2..1

      And latsot just bleeted sending some cash Becky's way.

  8. I just don't understand why anyone would invite RW.

    Even if she was a world class speaker and an expert on... err... something.

    Isn't it a case of inviting problems for the future?

    1. Actually, it's highly unlikely that she was "invited". There is an application process for presenters and most Dragon*Con guests and pretty much all "attending professionals" are there because they offered, not because they were invited.

  9. Twatson didn't get her way? here comes the rape accusations.

  10. Did somebody forget to let oolon off of his leash? Accidentally give him too much Thorazine?

  11. "Option 4. Go apeshit, claim harassment and persecution at the hands of rich white males"

    Some irony to consider: Rebecca has suggested that speakers refuse invitations to conferences which do not approach gender parity (I believe she has expressed a threshold for herself of 35% women), yet the night before this incident, she hosted a "quiz show" with 9 panelists. One panelist was a young (20-something, I'd guess) woman and the other 8 were middle-aged white men.

  12. I have never in my life been so pleasantly surprised to find the content of a blog that so far surpasses the expectations set by its name than I was by this entry. Well done, uberfeminist.