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C11P18 – Nothing

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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?

16 Comments

Children visit this site. Moderate your language accordingly.

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.

So, your creepy cosplay story has inspired me to tell one of my own!

One time, when I was naive to the dangers of being a girl at an anime convention, I went to a con with a friend and I was dressed up as Kairi from Kingdom Hearts. I know you were at least a fan of the first game, but I’ll be giving some context for readers who might not be. Kairi is the love-interest of the main character, Sora.

So, I found and bought this plushie of a special fruit called a “Paopu” that in the games is supposed to signify an eternal bond from two people. As a cosplay gag, I was going around asking Sora cosplayers to “share the Paopu” with me, which signified us both holding the plushie and smiling as people took pictures of us with our cameras. Overall harmless and I’d seen people do stuff like that at cons before, so I didn’t think anything bad would come of it. Keep in mind I was like, 16 at the time.

So I find a Sora and Riku (other point in the love triangle) group without a Kairi and I ask Sora if he wants to do the thing, he says yes. Then his Riku friend was like, “Can I share one too, Kairi?” and I thought it was kinda cute so I said “Sure” and we did a group shot too. And everything was fine.

Except I kept runnning into the Riku. Over and over again. In different places. And I started to suspect that he was following me, because he’d be like, “hahah, funny meeting you here, Kairi” and “we keep running into each other” but it was never really sincere. So eventually I see him for the fifth or sixth time and he looks at me and gets all up in my space and was, “We keep meeting like this! It must be the paopu we shared, we really are bound for eternity, this must be fate!”

And at that point my ‘creeper meter’ went off and I ran to find my friend and I pointed him out and we spent the rest of the convention avoiding him. Actually, I think I parked myself in the board game room (which is HUGE at the con I went to) and didn’t move until we had to go home. I never saw him again, and I’m thankful for it.

The horrible part is that I never knew I could talk to anyone about it. I thought it was all on me because I shouldn’t have done the cosplay stunt, or I shouldn’t have gone to different panels than my friend, or wandered alone. I didn’t think I could talk to security because some guy was jsut being weird, I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously. And I never told my parents because I was terrified I’d be in trouble for being too friendly and that they would blame me. Thinking back now, they might have told me to be more careful, but I don’t think they’d have blamed me.

Standard disclaimer: Do not follow this as legal advice, seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction before pursuing any legal action. This commentary does not create a representation or attorney client privilege.

Generally under the law if you are in a public space, you may be photographed once or hundreds of times. It’s how celebrities don’t get to go buy jelly beans in ratty jeans without it being on a headline somewhere. The legal issue would be ‘To what extent is a convention public space’ given that it is generally open to the public, but is still in a potentially private venue and behind a pay wall.

The answer to that one, for me, is I don’t know. There’s also not a lot of developed law in the matter, as only two jurisdictions have a lot of regulations over the ‘Right of Publicity’, and they’re exactly where you would expect: New York, and California. Everywhere else is common law rights and a mish-mash of other overlapping laws in different areas.

But if you feel uncomfortable at a Con, always tell security or someone you feel safe speaking to. Regardless of if they can do anything about the photographs themselves, most Cons do have policies allowing them to remove harassers that are written in to your agreement when you come in. That’s also, I imagine, why so many Cons have ‘Membership’, not ‘admittance’.

I agree that the convention being a public space would be the sticking point. Since, no matter how big it is, there’s almost always a gate-keeper to access it. It’s still a private event.

I thought that normal people had some legal defense against being photographed, but maybe that’s just for children? I know there is a lot of issues around kids being photographed, but maybe that’s just protective parents?

Huh. Regardless, it’s still a creepy thing to do, to specifically photograph someone without their consent. Especially if you’re following that person around.

Right, but then again there /isn’t/ a true gate-keeper, either. Any member of the public can pay to get in, as opposed to a truly private event where you can’t get in if you’re not invited.

Multiple courts have ruled that laws against ‘Up-skirt’ photos are unconstitutional, for example.

And it is creepy as hell, and it’s part of why I don’t take a lot of pictures at conventions, so I don’t come off as accidentally creepy. But creepy and skeeze-tastic, and illegal, are not always opposite ends of the same spectrum.

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