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C11P18 – Nothing

October 20, 2014

Pakku is experiencing some minor frustrations. Just stay calm.

The weekend before last, when I was at a local convention in Colorado Springs, I had a somewhat disturbing experience at a convention for the first time. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly had ODD experiences at cons, and sometimes even frustrating or unpleasant events, but this was the first time for something unsettling. What was also interesting about it was how simply it was resolved.

I took a quick bathroom break, leaving Cory to man the table on his own. When I came back, I noticed a man with a large, expensive looking camera around his neck, leaning against the wall next to my table, somewhat obscured by one of my banners. I didn’t think anything of it, just thought he was taking a moment out of the way to rest. I nodded at him and returned to my seat. At the table were two women, both cosplaying. As I typically do, I asked if they wanted a free sketch, and started working on it as they perused my books.

That’s when I heard the click of a camera. Close. I turned my head, and found the man had come right next to me, behind my booth, and was taking photographs of the women in front of me. At first, I was too baffled to process what was happening. I was in “the customer is always right” mode, and at first wondered if maybe this person was somehow with the two women. As he took his second shot, I noticed one of them tense. Not affiliated, I concluded. At this point, I had my second thought. What if these ladies assumed that somehow, this man was affiliated with me? Here he was, behind my table, in my space of business, and I wasn’t saying a word. The whole thing started getting me really mad, both at him and myself. And before I even thought about it, I found myself opening my mouth, and out popped a question. One that I’ve seen, in different variations, on posters insisting that “Cosplay is not consent!”

“Excuse me, sir, but did you get permission to take their photograph?”

He blinked and turned to me with an air of defensive confusion. “I’ve photographed them before!” he said, to which a snarky voice in my head muttered, That’s not an answer to my question, but instead of voicing that thought I just stared at him. Flustered, he didn’t say another word, and immediately stopped taking pictures and left.

Once he was gone, one of the women said to me, “Thank you for doing that, by the way. He did ask for a photo earlier, but ever since then he’s been following us. It’s been kinda creepy.”

I don’t know if that was the last they had to deal with him for the day, but at least at my table the situation had been solved. It’s occurred to me since how powerful just a simple question can be. In my head, I always like to think that I’d meet problems like that with impassioned speeches and righteous, life-changing lectures, but I’m not sure those are actually effective outside of a movie. But a question…that can do a lot to change a situation in a fairly non-threatening, non-combative way. You can ask a question fairly gently, and the question itself can be brief, but it can convey a lot. It can make people think, let them know they’re observed, that maybe something about the situation isn’t right.

I know at most of the places I’ve worked, one of the ways that I was taught to address people that were unfamiliar and a potential security risk was to simply ask them if they needed anything. “Hi, can I help you? Who are you looking for?” (Of course, this resulted in me once offending a visiting big-wig who exclaimed with a shocked outrage, “Do you know who I am?” to which I had to reply, “Well, no. That’s why I’m asking.” …but that’s another story entirely.)

Have you ever used a question to change the tone of a situation?


Oh wow, that is an intriguing and, yes, pretty creepy story! And it’s creepier still that his interpretation of “permission” was so far off from the girls’ interpretation of the same word. I’m sure they were agreeing to a one time snap of the camera, not a photo shoot.

Good for your for CYA and for defending their position as well. Calling attention to behavior politely certainly has a resounding effect on the person who is behaving that way.

I think, with a lot of these communities, it’s a big issue of boundaries. Permission for a single photo, combined with bad boundary understanding, becomes permission to be followed with a camera.

Mostly, we all need to get better at recognizing, inquiring, establishing, respecting, and enforcing boundaries.

I mean, I let a man come behind my booth into my space and take a number of photos before I even let myself acknowledge something was wrong. Can you imagine a normal business letting that happen?? “Hello, just a normal Starbucks customer coming through. Don’t mind me, I’m just going to stand behind the register and photograph other customers while you work.”

If I was paying better attention to my own boundaries, he wouldn’t have gotten to the first photo. And if he was paying attention to boundaries, he would have asked before he even ventured behind the counter.

We all have a lot to learn.

Everything in this shop IS REAL! WHAT THE HELL! Here’s hoping Paku is having second thoughts about helping Warren and is about to vent his frustration FEELINGS on his minion.
And good on you for saying something! My mom is the most bad ass little Jewish grandmother you’ll ever meet. A question followed by silence, or a raised eyebrow if you are being really naughty, is a really good way to break up some of the worst behavior. Congratulations social justice warrior! You’ve leveled up!

“Warrior” implies somebody has to have war made upon them, and I’m the one to fight the battle. While I do think there is a societal shift, and thus a war of past perceptions and new ideals, I don’t think I’m the right person to join the soldiers. There are lots of roles in war, and warrior is not the one I want. I’m not comfortable with my own rage to do a good job of it. Better to leave that to someone more qualified.

How about negotiator? Or educator? Maybe a technician? Medic? I think I’ll be one of those instead.

I missed Pakku. I really did.

Yeah, honestly, in most cases when something hinky is going on, people think it has to be some kind of big confrontation, but really all you have to do is be brave enough to change the tone of the situation. If you suggest to someone doing something questionable, whether it’s making prejudiced remarks or creeping on cosplayers, that people around them do not support their actions, it usually shuts them up. My favorite thing that I learned is just asking people making prejudiced jokes to explain it to me. And then they have to squirm and try to dodge the question.

Interesting question re: taking photographs. I have always been under the impression that if one is in public anyone can take your photo. They just don’t have unrestricted rights to use it commercially.

This would be a good question to pose to a lawyer. I may just know one who might weigh in.

Legally, I’m not sure for a single photograph. However, I do think there may be a legal line that gets crossed if a person is singled out and followed. I imagine that crosses into harassment, or a violation of a reasonable expectation of privacy. Being caught on camera as a person part of a crowd, or in the background of a photo, probably doesn’t entitle you to any protection. Being followed by someone and singled out for many photographs…I expect that’s a different story.

It would be interesting to know the exact legal rights of a person in that situation though.


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