by KT Pinto
November 8–10, 2013
Cherry Hill, New Jersey
This is a review of one of my favorite conventions: Philcon, which took place this year (its 77th anniversary) at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Philcon has always been a highly intellectual convention which manages to create an equal balance of serious and playful events covering a variety of genres and interests. They are also a small enough con where finding staff and/or friendly faces as well as all the different activities is a very easy thing, even for a newcomer.
This is why I felt a little let down this year.
Philcon has fallen victim to a trap like many cons their size do: they tried to please everyone at the expense of their veteran participants’ fun.
I’ve noticed throughout the convention circuit over recent years a rash of overly-sensitive fen complaining about anti-female, over-sexualized and/or dangerous situations at smaller conventions. Now while cases of this are true—I myself have been both stalked and harassed at a couple of conventions and we’ve all seen the all-too-true reports online of these events—many of the situations are benign ones that occur when you have a bunch of socially-challenged (and I include myself in this description) fen and beautiful men and women (yes, the groups completely overlap) in one location.
The circuit’s answer to this has been to host flirting and socializing panels during the con that are aimed at educating people so that these incidents become less common. I have been a participant on many of these panels at various conventions. The audience during these panels is always filled to capacity (at Philcon it’s held in one of the large ballrooms, and last year there was not one empty seat), and I have yet to be on or at one where the panelists didn’t take the subject matter seriously. Although this is perceived as a fun panel, panelists always went over the importance of body language, saying no, inappropriate touching, personal hygiene, “flirting with intent,” and so on.
This year, things changed. It’s a change I’ve seen happen at other cons, and never for the better. From what I understand, because of complaints and concerns of some people, the flirting panel was changed into a flirting and harassment panel. I went to the panel mainly because my friends Dr. James Prego and Dr. Tobias Cabral were participants. The audience was sparse, and—although Dr. Cabral tried to keep people on point—the comments from the panelists ranged from how women are weak victims to comparing con-life to the movie Titanic (I know, I couldn’t follow that either). I think my least favorite moment of this panel was when one of the female panelists stated that women are raised to acquiesce and men are raised to demand and so females are targets for harassment.
There was another panel added to the schedule called “Codes of Conduct at a Convention.” By its description, it was yet another panel about how to interact with people and how not to harass others. I didn’t go to it because, not only was it at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, but I found it rather insulting that people saw it necessary for Philcon to beat full-grown adults over the head with rules for playing nice. In short, they took a panel that was fun and actually addressed the problem of harassment and turned it into a series of lectures that talked down to its audience and attracted a smaller turnout. Bad move.
I say this not only as an experienced con-goer and panel participant, but also as someone who has been a member of convention security teams and has owned a gaming company that ran LARPS ranging in size from 20–500 people. Philcon has regularly been a safe place to enjoy a weekend, and these panels seemed like overkill.
On top of all this, the rest of the con became muted out of concern for accusations. The parties—which were at first to be fun adult events like a BLT (bathing suit, lingerie, toga) party—became low-key, taciturn events which were a disappointment (more so because I actually remembered my bathing suit this time). And there was no lobbycon, which is a Philcon staple… I know because I sat in the lobby for many hours waiting for it.
I know this may all be a coincidence, but it seemed like Philcon was missing the fun.
Moral of the story: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Philcon didn’t need fixing. Like every other living organism (for that’s what a good convention is) it needs to grow and expand, not contract and chip away. Hopefully Philcon will be able to reboot and tweak itself, and get back to being the fun, safe convention it has always been.