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Four Reasons Why I Won’t Boycott PAX

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Why this geek won’t Boycott PAX

2013 wasn’t a particularly good year for Penny Arcade, Inc’s image. After a relatively peaceful  PAX-East and flagship PAX-Aus, there was another Dickwolves flair up that got sparked again at PAX Prime, and the ensuing fallout was pretty intense.

There are lots of people, former and current fans alike, who are asking for a community-wide call-to-arms to put a stop to these sorts of abuses, but how exactly to do so is hotly debated.

Many are calling for a full-blown boycott of PAX, while others are going for a larger presence and awareness campaign at-event.

I’ve chosen, for now, to be a part of that later camp. Which is in no way saying that those who choose to boycott are wrong, the same way those who were hurt, angered, or otherwise affected by some of what’s gone down but still choose to go are not wrong.  There are different ways to go about this situation, and I thought I’d share my reasons why I chose NOT to boycott.

Reason #1) Financially, it says little.

I know I said that there’s really no “wrong” or “right” in the choice of whether or not to boycott the events – financially is one area, however, where I feel there is a much straighter answer. Many feel that by boycotting we hit them where it hurts – in the wallet. Theoretically, a great idea. Realistically, not so much. With PAX tickets selling out faster and faster with every year, it’s almost impossible to imagine a drop in attendance, ever, even if every single person who opposed even one thing that PA has said or done decided not to go. Our spots would be filled instantly. PAX is, in my opinion, too large a beast to be culled by finances alone at this point. And unfortunately those of us who felt wronged or offended by what’s happened are far outnumbered by those who either don’t care, don’t even know, or are totally on the other side of the fence. By not going, I only open my spot to someone who is much more likely to be in one of those groups than not. Which leads me to point #2

Reason #2) My presence says more than my absence

It’s no secret that harassment, or on a much larger scale, plain naivety and ignorance can sometimes run rampant at shows like PAX. By not going I can’t be there to even the playing field. I can’t be there to play devil’s advocate, to correct someone, defend myself or someone else, etc. My voice can’t be heard if I’m not there to speak. Again, it’s a numbers game. PAX is just far too large an event for my personal absence to be of any effect. Popular speakers or public figures, yes. But me? I’m a nobody, if  somewhat outspoken. But my cause is useless if I’m not there to defend it.

Thousands of potential friendships. Just roll the dice.

Thousands of potential friendships. Just roll the dice.

Reason #3) Everybody deserves a chance to fix things.

And I mean that. Some may argue that the PA guys have had plenty of chances to fix things – and they haven’t been too successful (perhaps have even made things worse). But I feel strongly that they will get it, eventually, or someone on their PR team will. For what it’s worth, PAX is still a wonderful event, fun and filled with wonderful people. By and large the community is awesome – and PAX goes beyond just the comic and the dudes who run the show. It boils down to the very people who attend and volunteer – most of whom are great. WE are the heart and soul of PAX and what makes it work. WE can be the ones to change it, if we put our minds to it. And it’s worth every moment of patience to do so, because …

Reason #4) Simply put, I love the community of PAX and I don’t want to give up on it just yet.

I suppose this is the most personal point here, and possibly the most important – For me, PAX is the launcher of many of the most wonderful things in my life right now. My friends I can say without any hesitation are some of my most pivotal supports I’ve ever had – and were it not for PAX, that group would be much smaller. Many of the adventures I’ve been on since moving to Boston, and even before, have been affected either directory or indirectly to PAX or its community. I owe a lot of the best memories in the last five years to these Expos. Bar crawls, and parties, and food outings, and game nights. How can I possibly throw in the towel now?

Honestly, I can’t. It pains me, certainly, whenever something like dickwolves becomes a thing. It angers me greatly to see people make light of some of those hurtful words or behaviors, people I could have very well stood next to in line for a panel or to buy a shirt. PAX is not perfect – nor are its creators, leaders, volunteers, or community. It needs work, but it can get better. I can’t imagine something that’s been the source of a lot of my happiness not being worth the effort.

How each individual wants to handle the dark sides to PAX and its community is up to them – there is very little black and white within these series of delicate issues.

But me? I’m choosing to be there. 

To The ReadersWhat are your thoughts on the call to boycott PAX? Agree or disagree? Why or why not? What do you think are good ways to help improve the community?

  • Greibach

    I’m in exactly the same place. I don’t blame anyone for choosing to boycott, but I will always endeavor to go to PAX as long as I enjoy it, which I still do. I actually can sympathize with Gabe. I’m not saying he has ever been right, nor that I think that what he has said (most of the time) was acceptable, but I understand in some ways how he feels. To me, he’s always seemed like someone who had a shitty childhood in school, someone who was perpetually bullied, and so he adopted an attitude of “Fuck you, I don’t give a shit about what anyone thinks.” While that’s a good defense mechanism when you are getting picked on, it becomes problematic once you are not, especially once you have hurt someone else.

    Further, as a straight white male, it can be hard to even comprehend how deeply your words can cut when it comes to something that is sexist, racist, etc. To “us”, there are no words that hurt us because they are targeted at our gender, at our race, at our sexual orientation, so it’s hard to even imagine it affecting someone else because it doesn’t affect you. That’s kind of how privilege works. What’s insidious about it though is that while it may be completely obvious to everyone else, if you haven’t been taught about these things when you are younger, you don’t just magically acquire empathy and understanding out of nowhere, but now that he’s his age, people just jump straight to “Fuck you asshole”.

    This in response triggers a self-defense mechanism, especially in people who have been bullied in the past. As soon as someone appears to be attacking you, you stop listening and go into full on counter-attack.

    This is even further compounded (IMO) by where we (as in both Gabe and I) live, and have lived our whole lives. This one is really difficult to fully explain, and is even harder for other people to take into consideration. The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is a pretty progressive place. We don’t have a history of racism or racial oppression compared to most places. We have a huge mixing pot of white, black, hispanic, asian, indian, and everything else. It can be hard for us to even realize how differently people from other places view certain things, especially when it comes to things with a past.

    Take for example blackface. When I heard that people were super upset about it, I literally was so confused about what the big deal was that I thought people were just trying to make an issue out of nothing. I literally had no clue that it even had a history in the south, or that anyone found it offensive because here, it basically doesn’t carry that stigma. This by the way is a totally separate point from the racial stereotype outfits, those are pretty obviously problematic. But face paint? To me, with where I had grown up, it was literally the same in my eyes as, well, make-up. My point I guess is that if nobody knew the historical use, the historical baggage, I don’t think anyone would be nearly as offended by it. That doesn’t mean that it’s right to use it, nor does it mean that people should just completely ignore history, but I guess what I mean is that if you don’t even know something even had significance, it’s really easy to do something on accident that really affects people, and in the era of the internet you can be talking to people with such radically different sets of knowledge that both sides can be thinking “How the fuck can you think that?”.

    I’m not even sure where I am going with this. I guess my sort of overall point is that it’s easy for people from where I live to not associate some words with the harsh realities that come with them in other places. Like many kids raised on the internet, I developed a bad habit of calling things gay in games. I didn’t really mean anything by it, it was just my vernacular. It’s hard to even realize how hard gay people have it in so many other places in the country, much less the world. Growing up in a place where gay kids aren’t beaten up (or at least, NEARLY as often), where we now have gay marriage, where I had a gay friend since middle school, to me it was just a slang, an expression. Before the widespread usage of the internet, I didn’t even know that racism was still a thing. Just think about that for a second. I’m not saying it is 100% not here, but it’s VERY different than many other places.

    So to get back to Gabe, I can see where the conflux of his life circumstances, where he was born and lives, how he grew up, hell even the kind of profession he is in have lead him to being where he is. It’s not right, but I can understand how it came to be because I have had to do some searching as well. Fortunately for me, I have had great people like yourself to give me fantastic perspective without just jumping down my throat and putting me on the defensive. Fortunately for me, if I have said something offensive without realizing it, or realizing just how offensive it is, I haven’t had literally hundreds of thousands of people email me telling me I am the scum of the earth. I personally think that Gabe can come around.

    Incidentally, you may have missed this (or may not have), but Gabe actually posted a pretty heartfelt (IMO) post on this very topic on New Years Day this year. I think it’s worth a read, and most places that just love to hate Gabe didn’t even bother to post about it. http://www.penny-arcade.com/2014/01/01/resolutions

    • One of the things I adore about you is that you fully understand the privilege deal and work towards being a positive force despite that. I appreciate that more than I could put into words!

      You made some great points – and sometimes I also do feel bad for Gabe. I think it’s easy sometimes to get blindsided by sudden and unexpected fame. Kind of like when middle class or poor people win the lotto and go nuts spending it because they just don’t know what to do with money. A kid whose picked on during such a key developmental period in their lives suddenly becoming the king to his own kingdom so to speak, it’s not easy to adapt to.

      I think he is learning, though, as you say. When he was young, games and nerd culture in general was niche and very much made up of a certain type of person by and large. Since then the communities have grown so much it’s like some catching up has to happen. More than just women being a huge part of it now – but minorities of all types, which is what I think the PA guys are missing.

      I did read that apology – it sounded great. i hope he meant it.

      And thanks, as always, for being an awesome voice around these parts <3

  • Moribund Cadaver

    The trick to situations like this often boils down to asking a particular question: which side of the fence does the venue in question fall on in an -overall- sense.

    I.e. one must ask “Is PAX and overall positive environment which is beset by negative elements. Or is PAX an overall negative environment in which positive elements struggle to grow, and are likely to be repressed.”

    When people become emotionally invested, it’s natural to see the negative elements as being dominate because those are the direct threat. One has to try and remain as objective as possible. For instance, it’s a solid argument that a single enlightened person is not going to make headway in say, a small backwards town entirely dominated by a racist culture. There it is more appropriate to leave that toxic environment behind and go elsewhere to build something better.

    By contrast, a different community may lean on the whole towards being progressive, while harboring some residents with regressive tendencies. Here, there is a real battle to be fought in which some good may be accomplished directly. In this more hopeful community, the people who are direct targets of bad people may be tempted to see the entire place as untrustworthy and poisoned. That’s a normal human reaction. It may still be an incorrect grasp of the situation.

    An entity like PAX on the whole, has given a sufficient number of people a positive experience to suggest that it falls on the side of “good with bad tendencies” rather than “bad with a few redeeming qualities”. Therefore, choosing to stay can probably be said with some objectivity to be a productive choice.

    None of this necessarily means any one person who feels put off from going is “wrong” in not wanting to go, of course. It just means that those who do choose to go may not be wasting their time.

    • Thanks for the wonderful reply. I think you put it very well – and I agree.

      There are a lot of people out day that, I feel, think PAX and its community are worse than they actually are – loud majority and such. When stuff like sexual harassment happens, it’s always a small number or bad apples ruining things – although even a handful can say some really nasty things that can feel harmful. Especially coming from the guys who lead everything.

      However, I fully believe the positive outweighs the negative – which is, for me, all the more reason to go back and keep trying to be a positive force.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.