dragoncon

 

Debate: The Dragon*Con Boycott

When my editor at Word of the Nerd asked for a writer to cover the 2013 Dragon*Con Boycott, I didn’t just jump on the chance to write a serious and controversial piece.  I write about geek fashion and movies!  But it was the first I’d heard about a boycott, and curiosity set me to googling, and the more I read, the more I felt a burning conviction that I had to be the one to cover this.

dragoncon

The controversy focused around the fact that one of Dragon*Con’s founders, Ed Kramer, had been arrested Aug. 25, 2000 on accusations that he sexually abused three boys, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  The man has been clearly manipulating the system, as 13 years has gone by without the case being resolved.  He claimed to be too ill to stand trial.  His guilt or innocence is really not for me to judge, but evidence that he was a world-class manipulator was clear.

The boycott, which has been led by horror author, Nancy Collins, stated that, although Dragon*Con claimed to have separated themselves from Ed, they were still paying him upwards of $150,000 a year.

Well, of course, being a mother, and having a child roughly the same age as the boys Ed was accused of molesting, my initial reaction was “Well, crap! I guess this means we’re not going to Dragon*Con because there’s no way in HELL, I’m letting my money go to this guy’s defense!”  The boycott alleged that ⅓ of my ticket cost would go to Ed Kramer and his defense, and I didn’t care what the circumstances surrounding it were, I simply could not in good conscience support this man financially.  I didn’t want a PENNY of my money going to him, so what choice could I have?  I have only been to Dragon*Con once, and it was literally THE TIME OF MY LIFE!  So I really was not happy about the decision that I felt forced into making.  But the more I dug, the more I found out what a dynamic situation it was.

Dragon*Con states that Mr. Kramer has had absolutely nothing to do with the convention since his arrest in 2000, while Nancy and the other boycotters claim that this is not true.  Boycotters claim that he has been actively involved, even invited back as a guest, and that the remaining chair members of Dragon*Con had come to his defense in court.  Dragon*Con insists that Kramer’s only current relationship to Dragon*Con is that he was a shareholder who was legally entitled to a dividend.  Dragon*Con had offered to buy him out several times, and it is my understanding that they actually acquired a percentage of his shares, but he held onto 34%.  Kramer then sued Dragon*Con, with some complaint of not receiving fair payment, or something like that.  Because of the lawsuit, Dragon*Con has had its hands tied on their options, as GA law has restrictions on what changes a company can make when it is under current litigation.

I spoke directly with Greg Euston, Director of Public Relations for Dragon*Con, and the information he provided me was eye opening.  I felt convinced after our conversation that Dragon*Con really couldn’t legally do anything further until Mr. Kramer stood trial, and they had tried on several occasions to end this whole mess with a buyout, but Ed wouldn’t go for it.

I was conflicted.  How could we suggest punishing all of Dragon*Con and everyone involved, for the actions of one nutjob?  But how could I allow that nutjob to cash in on MY fun?  It wasn’t worth it… but what else could we expect Dragon*Con to do?

It was in a follow up conversation with Dragon*Con’s PR guy, that I understood something that had previously eluded me, and clearly was not understood by the populous of boycotters.  I asked Greg Euston “Besides the portion of money that goes to Mr. Kramer, where else does my ticket money go?”  Greg had to explain to me, as a shareholder, Mr. Kramer is legally entitled to his percentage of the dividend.  That means that AFTER Dragon*Con has paid the hotel fees in the multiple hotels that host the convention, the travel and hotel costs of the invited guests, hundreds (thousands?) of employees, attorneys, and whatever other costs are incurred in the process of putting on a MASSIVE convention, Thursday-Monday on Labor Day weekend… after all that, they make donations to their official charities.

“Since 2005, Dragon*Con has raised almost $224,000 for its official charities.  For the first time in 2013, Dragon*Con will match up to $50,000 in funds raised for the official charities – Noah’s Ark, Georgia Conservancy and Sheltering Arms – through auctions, silent auctions, Braves Night and other events.  With this match, we believe it’s entirely possible to raise more than $100,000 to this year’s official charity partners” Greg explained.

Ok, so after ALL that, if  anything is left, they decide whether or not to declare a dividend.  I am not sure what it means that they “decide” but that is how it was expressed to me.  So, if anything is left, and they declare a dividend, THAT is what goes to shareholders.  According to Dragon*Con PR, that typically amounts to less than $1 per share.  Ed Kramer, with his 34%, holds 2050 shares.  So, tell me, how much of my ticket price is going to Ed Kramer when thousands upon thousands of attendees only bring in a profit of less than $1 per share?  And the $150,000 claim that Nancy Collins made… Well, according to Dragon*Con (and I asked more than once for confirmation) that is a payout that happened exactly ONCE, in 2011, when they had an unusually high payout.  But as recently as 2008, there have been years with absolutely NO payout.

So, forgive me for being long winded in this explanation, but there are clearly a lot of variables involved in this situation.  The article that I had stepped up to write was going to need to be very objective, and I wanted to make sure I covered all possible perspectives.  I did an email interview with Nancy Collins, and got a written statement from Dragon*Con PR as well.  I got a statement from the head of Austin Browncoats, a charitable organization that attends Dragon*Con as a vendor, giving 100% of proceeds to charity. I got an amazingly well thought out statement from popular goth performer Voltaire, in which, he totally won me as a fan, despite my lack of interest in goth music. I also reached out to several of the guests who had been listed on the boycott’s Facebook page as “not attending”, with an implication that it was a result of the boycott.  The only guest to respond was Doc Hammer, of Venture Bros. who said it was pure coincidence, and that it was just gossip if they were being associated with the boycott.

So, I really felt I had some amazing material to work with for my article, and I knew what direction I wanted to go with it.  I wanted to present alternatives to the boycott: ways to make a stand against child molestation and Ed Kramer.  What could we do to help move the trial along?  Was there any option of petitioning the courts to expedite the trial?  As Greg Euston pointed out to me, Ed Kramer must have other sources of income, as he was racking up some hefty lawyer fees… what about his books and film?  After all my digging, I’d come to the personal opinion that the boycott was great in principle, but that it wasn’t a useful solution.  Not only was a boycott going to have little to no effect on Kramer’s financial situation, but it was going to take down so many other people in the process.  People whose livelihoods depended on Dragon*Con.

I hadn’t begun writing, but I had it all pieced together in my head, and I felt really good about it.  Then the news broke!  Dragon*Con’s merger meant Ed was out for good!  Hurray!  We beat the bad guy!  My editor was on me to get the story out immediately, but it required me doing a LOT of rethinking.  This meant that the boycott was a non-issue now, right?  So I sent an email to Nancy with a copy of the press release and asked if she’d like to add anything to our interview.  What does this mean for the boycott now?  Her response was that it didn’t change anything!  It wouldn’t change anything until she saw it in legal documentation.

I was a bit dumbfounded.  I mean, this kind of stuff gets filed on public record.  It didn’t even cross my mind that Dragon*Con would lie about something this big, but Nancy was certain that they had.  I decided to contact Dragon*Con PR and ask if they could give proof, but they were either unwilling or unable at the time, and suggested giving a call to Ed Kramer’s lawyer for confirmation.  Well, I jumped on that!  The phone connection was poor, and they guy was smug, but I got this much: He was NOT HAPPY.  The merger was opposed by Kramer, and is what is called a “squeeze out merger”.  He said that his office had not released an official statement and basically had nothing more to say.  He did confirm for me, however, that Ed Kramer would not be receiving any further dividends in the future.

See, now I’ve taken up all that page space, and I’m only just getting to the good part!  I notified Nancy of the attorney’s confirmation, and I received no response.  However, I did stumble across an article stating that she had called off the boycott!  Great!  I mean, I was a little put off that in our correspondence she didn’t bother to mention it, but whatever, no big deal.  I asked her to confirm that she had in fact called off the boycott, and asked if she’d like to add anything, or if I should just copy/paste from the other article.  She had not responded by the time my article went live.

My article, http://www.wordofthenerdonline.com/the-newest-twist-in-the-dragoncon-boycott-saga/, and the supplemental interviews/statements published just before midnight, with a final “update” that reports of the boycott ending had surfaced, but we were still waiting for confirmation from Nancy.  She got back to me shortly after, saying to use the quote from the other article, which I’d already decided to do. I went to bed, feeling quite happy with myself.

When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was check my view count.  There were roughly 800 views between my article, and the statement from Voltaire, with a handful of views for Nancy’s interview, and Dragon*Con PR.  This was HUGE! This happened in my sleep!  I don’t think my best fashion piece has reached 800 views YET, with months for them to collect views.  An average post of mine gets 200-ish on the first day (which is the most important).  So I was on cloud nine because I hadn’t even publicized my work yet.  I’d posted it on my Facebook page, and sent the link to Nancy, Voltaire, and the Dragon*Con PR, that was it.

My next move was checking my email.  Dragon*Con PR had sent me a one line response:

“Looks great Jessi.  Thanks for all the hard work.  Best, Greg”

Good, he liked it. I’d also received a short response from Voltaire:

“You did a great job of fairly presenting all sides. V”

Ok, I’m still feeling good here… I mean, they weren’t overly flattering, but clearly complimentary.

Next I opened the email from Nancy.  It was more than one line.  It was two, to be exact:

“Wow.

So you completely ignored the videotaped interview with Kramer’s attorney on WSB where he admitted that Kramer’s annual dividend was $150K?”

It was followed immediately with a separate email from Nancy:

“So why did Kramer turn down $500K buy out offers if he was making so little money from DragonCon?”

My elation instantly disappeared.  My very verbal, out loud reaction was, “What!? What video?  What the heck is she talking about?”   Followed immediately with the thought, “How the hell should I know anything about the inner workings of the brain of a psychopath?”

I actually grew quite furious.  I knew I had represented Nancy and her cause, fairly and objectively.  I had given her every opportunity to update her statement and make her cause.  I had given her entire interview, word for word, for a large audience to see. And somehow the only thing she seemed to notice was the lack of mention of a video that she claims I was aware of.  I’ve seen no such video.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist.  I’m saying I was not aware of its existence.  I read through our past correspondences and it was not there.

Ok, so I’m pissed, but I make a personal habit of being polite and professional in the internet, despite personal opinions.  So, I didn’t respond to her email right away, because I felt I’d give an emotional response.  I decided to go about my business and come back to this later.  I began sharing my article on FB, G+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc… I started going down my list of FB communities and sharing in those that would find it of interest.  I had, “liked” the Dragon Con Boycott community FB page early on in my research, and so it was still on my list, and I figured, ok, so Nancy isn’t satisfied with my article, but it’s an objective and informative piece.  Others in the community may appreciate it, because they are clearly invested in this.  So, I posted a link, without comment, to the page and continued on my way.

You can imagine my surprise when FB notifies me of a response, and I go back to the community page to find that the admin of the page had commented on my link, the exact same response in my email from Nancy.  It was not the first time that something from a personal email with Nancy had come up verbatim on the community page, so I assume it was Nancy moderating the page. Like the email, she immediately followed with a second response.  I cannot quote it word for word, as the entire post was later removed, but it basically said that I wasn’t a real journalist, but just a blogger… and bloggers will always be just bloggers, and not worth her time.

Well, by this point, I’m irate.  Instead of waiting for a personal response, she decided to publicly insult me.  I knew that it was unwise to comment in my emotional condition, so I sent the link to my editor and he decided to defend me and my writing.  He explained what I told him, that I had not seen the video in question.  The response was (and now I’m quoting my editor, because I didn’t have time to actually see this before the whole thing was deleted):

“I gave her the link. It’s linked on this page. Do I need to chew her food for her and wipe her ass while I’m at it?”

Hello!  WHAT?!  No, she just didn’t!!!  Seriously?  Ok, so I go to the page to look, because at this point I have to respond… well, guess what?  Not only have my editor and I been banned from the community (remember, I have not said a WORD in there yet, aside from the link to the article), but the link to the article and all comments had been removed.  In it’s place I found this, which had a timestamp of pretty much “just now”:

“Now that the boycott is over, and DragonCon has finally done what it said it couldn’t do, I am no longer tolerating you ugly, immature, sociopathic little bastards. That means banning and removing posts from you sore losers. Besides forcing the ouster of Kramer, if the DragonCon boycott had also revealed a very nasty side of fandom/geek culture. One it will have to come to terms with if it wants to continue to grow in a healthy direction.”

I can only assume that she was referring to myself and my editor, since we’d just been banned, my article deleted and that had been the ONLY action on that page during that time period. Ok, so here’s where it got ugly.  I posted a link to the status update she had made, with the comment “Well, isn’t that professional?”  I couldn’t resist venting about it… I knew Nancy wasn’t going to see it, so I was safe from interacting with her.  A couple friends took it upon themselves to head on over to the original update from the Dragon Con Boycott page to “defend” me… and really, my name didn’t even come up.  I don’t think the article even came up, but it turned into the ugliest thing I have ever witnessed on FB.  While my two friends, and a couple other onlookers made some valid points, asked some valid questions, and behaved in a generally “grown-up” way, the page admin (who did not appear to be Nancy now, and later she did confirm that more than one admin runs the page) and their followers began to personally attack anyone they thought “opposed them”.  They accused people of supporting child molesters, being idiots, and even went so far as to tell a dear friend of mine that they’d like to see her child put in a room with a child molester.  All the while, accusing my friends of being immature, unintelligent trolls who were attacking poor Nancy.  Now, you can go see for yourself how ugly it got, but you’ll only see one side of it, because at some point, the page admin decided to ban anyone with a reasonably functional brain and mature attitude. https://www.facebook.com/DragonConBoycott/posts/525783650809941

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am to find that the boycott that I thought I had objectively covered, had actually been seen through rose colored glass.  I thought that they were interested in punishing a child molester and protecting children, but clearly, that is not the intention of those involved with this.  Had it been, the admin should not have allowed a comment that suggested someone leave their child in a room with a pedophile to remain, while deleting anything that they felt “opposed” them.  For the record, in case this post gets removed (because, seriously, it makes them look like a bunch of douchebags, so if it were my page, I’d have taken it down the moment it got ugly) the person who made the quip about putting someone’s child in a room with a pedo is this fella:

https://www.facebook.com/joel.adams.3532, but don’t think he’s the only one making inappropriate, juvenile responses.  They were protecting “poor Nancy” with a vengeance.

Look, I’m not gonna say that she was wrong to boycott.  I applaud her for making a stand and doing SOMETHING.  I don’t think it was the most effective route, but still, good for her!  And I haven’t been following this since the beginning, so I can’t imagine how hard it was to take an unpopular stand.  I’m sure she received a lot of flak for it.  But let me be clear.  This was not about making a stand.  This was not about the boycott.  This was about villainizing anyone who chose not to join the boycott… anyone who believed that they could attend Dragon*Con without it meaning that they were supporting a pedophile… anyone who supported Dragon*Con in their efforts to make things right… anyone who wasn’t kissing Nancy’s ass, and now it seems to have extended to anyone who suggests that there is more than one side to this story.  I’m sorry to see that now that the boycott is officially over, they are looking for someone or something else to sink their venomous fangs into.  🙁

For the record.  I did respond to Nancy via email.  After all that, I calmed myself and composed a very professional and polite email, to which I’ve still received no reply.