So by now, as you've probably already heard, Tom Preston was sprayed with water by a masked attendee at the London MCM Expo this past weeked. The prepetrator and his accomplice, of course, went on to post video of their asault on Tumblr, where it spread like wildfire. This goes beyond the guy who handed Rob Liefeld an anatomy book at a show some years back. It's getting physical.
We've officially reached the tipping point where fans are now physically assaulting comics professionals. I'm sure your first reaction to that statement is to say, "Aw, he got spritzed with a water sprayer... that's not assault." But it is. According to the legal definition of the term, assault is an act intended to cause an apprehension of harmful or offensive contact that causes apprehension of such contact in the victim.
So let's not mince words. Tom Preston was assaulted as he exhibited at a comic convention last weekend.
I see this as another symptom of a growing problem that has been festering in our community over the past several years. We've lost the ability to have a civil disagreement. It came into sharp focus for me when Scott Kurtz posted his thoughts on the Jack Kirby / Avengers case. The reaction to that post was vicious. I saw people on Twitter actually suggesting someone kill Scott. And worse yet, few -- if any -- bothered to address the very well-formulated and substantiated logical argument that he constructed. Instead, the reaction was aimed at defaming Scott as an individual. The personal attacks and insults flew wild after Scott posted that piece. But the actual addressing of his logical position was rare.
I've said it before, I think it's happening on a much wider scale than comics. Look at American politics. I'm old enough to remember liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Today's political discourse has become a zero sum game of "If I lose, then you win" football. Heck, throughout the Republican primaries, one of the most often-stated requirements of a strong candidate was that he be able to "beat Obama." Issues of economy, health and foreign affairs fell a distant second to the candidate's ability to win.
It's not about choosing the right person for the job anymore. It's about winning the game. And that spells out real trouble for the country when we value the ability to win over the ability to lead. And, lest my conservative friends bristle, let's make this perfectly clear: The other side of the aisle has proven themselves just as lacking when it comes to waging civil discourse. It takes two to tango, and our political leaders are dancing up a storm.
So it's time to realize that the rules have changed. We're not as safe behind our tables as we thought we were. Today it's spraying water; tomorrow it's throwing punches. The barrier has been broken, and unless we -- all of us -- make it perfectly clear that this behavior is unacceptable, then you have to know that it will escalate. Water-spritzing is officially played-out. The next guy is gonna have to bring something new to the table is he or she wants to be the next Web celeb for a day.
What needs to happen
Convention promoters need more feet on the ground during con hours. Volunteers have to keep their eyes open for these sorts of things, and be trained in a proper procedure for apprehending and/or identifying the perpetrators when an assault occurs.
Comics pros have to start looking out for each other. That attendee was surrounded by comics pros. Granted, they're behind tables -- and probably focused on doing what they came to do. But we have to be a little more vigilant. If you see something like this going down in your aisle, you need to immediately:
- Alert a con official / security guard
- If no con official is nearby, grab a volunteer and demand they get an official/security guard on the spot quickly
- Do what you can to help locate an identify the perpetrator. This includes photo/video evidence as well as physical descriptions. One good Neighborhood Crime Watch tip is to take note of the individual's shoes. They can remove a mask or turn a shirt inside-out, but the shoes are going to be a constant.
- I can't recommend getting involved physically. Nope. Can not recommend that.
Attendees have to know they're part of this, too. They're more likely to be able to mobilize in the perpetrator's immediate vicinity, and they're not blocked into booths. Attendees have to take action (as described above) during the physical assault at a comic convention.
Most importantly... Learn how to argue?
We have to re-learn how to have a civil disagreement. We have to be able to wage all-out war on the facts and premises of an argument without stooping to the level of defaming the person who embraces the opposite viewpoint. The anonymity of the Web makes it so easy to be a douchebag. Maybe that's why we need to try a little harder to resist that urge.
Because even though that kind of fighting may help you to win, in the long run you'll realize that it came at the expense of a much greater loss.