Tale of Two Cons: Ripple Effect in the Small World of Steampunk Created by ProfHoppingood on 3/6/2013 9:28:25 AM
Steampunk Chronicle gets to the heart of the sudden cancellation of Steampunk Industrial Revolution.
Article and Research by Trish Nolde and Emilie P. Bush
Organizers of Steampunk Industrial Revolution (SIR) announced late Monday the cancellation of the Nashua, NH, event scheduled for April 12-14, 2013. This came just hours after performers and guest panelists received a mass email informing them of the con leadership’s decision. In a message on the SIR official homepage, spokesman Alex Gingerich stated, “After looking at all of the available information, as well as looking at other considerations, we have no other option than to cancel Steampunk Industrial Revolution 2013…We found ourselves in the middle of events that were outside our perview [sic] and we are not equipped to handle, and never should have been asked to put ourselves into that situation.” The statement can be read in its entirety at www.steamrevolution.com
On the surface, this is a story about a convention being cancelled, a small event considered to be pleasant, well-run and entertaining. So, what happened? Why did Steampunk Industrial Revolution fold in its third year? The reasons behind the event's abrupt cancellation apparently have more to do with Steampunk's dirty little convention secret: people misbehave. However, the broader question is how does the Steampunk community, and convention teams in particular, respond when tempers flare, personalities run rampant, and socially inappropriate, sometimes violent, behavior erupts.
One incident from multiple perspectives
To get to the bottom of the “events not fit to handle” by the staff of SIR, one has to investigate an incident at a convention several weeks ago – a physical exchange during a LARP game at TempleCon (February 1-3, Warrick, RI)
After reviewing the public information and interviewing of as many of the participants as would speak to the Steampunk Chronicle, the facts of the TempleCon incident are harder to pin down than first appearance. All viewpoints agree to the following: there was an altercation between Jeffrey Lilley, known to some by his Steampunk persona name “The General”, and another person. This altercation was initiated as a result of a misunderstanding stemming from a LARP game involving an item that had been taken from a third party (a friend of Mr. Lilley) as part of the game. Mr. Lilley attempted to retrieve the item from the victim, and then pushed him back towards a wall until the disputed item was tossed to the ground. “There were no punches,” Mr. Lilley said, and he adds that the entire incident, from beginning to end, took less than a minute. No charges were pressed, and no con security was involved.
However, eyewitness reports differ in some details. Some say that a punch was thrown, while others deny that. At least one person, posting on Facebook, claiming to have seen the incident said that the victim was already leaning on the wall. Another said that the victim was less than six inches from the wall. One said that the shove was forceful enough that it could have caused serious injury. However, no official claims made to law enforcement or to the conventions security seem to exist.
Safety concerns go public
In the wake of the TempleCon incident, the begining of the end of SIR came with the public Facebook page announcement made by Ashley Rogers on Saturday, March 2nd, that she would be withdrawing from Steampunk Industrial Revolution. According to the statement, she was unwilling to participate in the event due to ethical concerns over the participation of an unnamed individual who had allegedly assaulted a guest at TempleCon 2013 (Feb 3-5).
Upon Ms Rogers’ announcement, Colleen Lamm, co-chair of the SIR expressed regret for the decision to withdraw and requested that people be patient while the staff met over the weekend to meet and consider how to proceed with the con, promising a public update on Monday, March 4th.
In an SpC interview, Ms. Rogers asserts that she began in early February her attempts to alert the SIR chairpersons about her concerns surrounding this individual, who she firmly declined to identify to SpC as Mr. Lilley. (However, multiple sources involved with the con indicated Mr. Lilley in statements to SpC reporters). Ms Rogers says she sent multiple emails to the chairs expressing her intention to withdraw her participation if this individual was allowed to attend and participate. She claims her insistence reflected her desire to insure guest safety, and a moral obligation on the part of the convention to provide a safe environment for all attendees.
Several sources spoke to SpC off the record and reiterated that the core of the issue involves the apparent hostile behavior at TempleCon and repeated other incidents centering around this one individual. Multiple sources familiar with the administration of Steampunk conventions say that this individual has caused problems at a number of events, but it must be noted that there have been no arrests or ejections recorded.
In an interview with SpC, Jeffrey Lilley was asked for his response to the allegations that he is an aggressive person. He responded, “An aggressive person? I don't like to think so. I was a Unites Stated [sic] Marine for 8 years, aggression comes with the territory. But I like to think I don't take it out on civilians, I know I rub people the wrong way sometimes but I think that's just my nature. I have never been in any legal trouble for anything related to aggression or the like… I wish the people who had an issue had tried to communicate with me and reached a middle ground instead of threatening SIR.”
Rancor leads to fear of financial fallout
Ms. Rogers was not alone in her stand to withdraw from SIR. Fellow guest and author Margaret Killjoy says he felt the need to step back after hearing Ms. Rogers's concerns. In a statement to SpC, he says, to him, it wasn’t so much about the accusations made about Mr. Lilley’s alleged behavior. “Personally, my choice to withdraw, however, had more to do with the way I felt my concerns were being dismissed outright.”
Another source stated that the tumultuous emotions alluded to by the organizers of SIR in their official statements are a result of some participants perceiving the convention leadership as “giving bad behavior a pass”.
But the threat of financial ruin over the incident seems to have influenced the SIR leadership’s decision to cancel. According to comments on the Steampunk Industrial Revolution Facebook page, co-organizer Lisa Sussenberger elaborated:
“Financially we are a tiny convention and a potential large loss of revenue was very likely given how little time was available for emotions to settle. Add that to high emotions and a possibility of tempers flaring and we just couldn't take that risk. Even asking for three days to investigate things provoked more comments, public accusations and a list of questions that seemed like demands. We became the battle ground in a war we neither wanted nor could afford.”
Another source close to SIR indicated that Steampunk Industrial Revolution had never been financially solvent, and that it is possible that the fallout from the scandal dealt the final crushing blow to this small con. Colleen Lamm, in a comment on the official Facebook post that announced the cancellation, elaborated by saying, “It was not an easy decision to cancel, and the events that have been recently debated were not the only reason this decision was made. It might have been the straw to break the camels back, but there were other issues that were being discussed. I am sad it ended on this sour note.”
Tee Morris, who had been slated to attend as a guest, when asked to comment, replied, "To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. This episode should be a cautionary tale to fans, both those who organize conventions and those who attend. What may not be 'a big deal' in some people's eyes may come back to haunt you and the event on a whole. So if you're going to throw a punch, make sure it's worth it because you might just cost the rest of us a con."
Moving forward and lessons learned.
Steampunk Industrial Revolution, according to AnachroCon Co-Chair Cindy MacLeod, is no different than many other cons of its size: they run very close to the line between profitability and debt. Small changes in fortune can be overwhelming. According to statements from the SIR leadership, there are no plans to resurrect the event in the future.
Where does that leave fans, guests and vendors?
Mr. Lilley was asked for his reaction to the disbanding of SIR. “I think it's honestly very sad,” he said. “I think it's horrible that a small incident at a different con was thrust upon the staff of SIR. It should not have been such a war, much less theirs.”
Editors note: Clearly, the incidents of TempleCon are a classic case of “he said / she said”. There is not an official police report, and eyewitnesses vary, memories are fading and the other party in the alleged shoving incident was unable to be reached for this story. Again, there is NO official document of incident that could be found by SpC. And in light of the nature of conventions, a place where excessive drinking and exuberance do go on, things can get out of hand. Lines get crossed and damage done. The question is how do we as a community go forward? The Alliance of Alternate History Conventions (link to story) was formed in part to help conventions of all sizes begin to share information and begin to curb the behavior of guests who behave in a manner that threatens the safety and enjoyment of members attending the cons. From a member perspective, the Backup Ribbon Project is a movement for solidarity among members to speak up when they see actions happening that threaten anyone at a convention. http://backupribbonproject.wordpress.com/
In my interview with Jeffrey Lilley, he said to me that he was aware he had an abrasive personality and I asked him if ANYONE in the community had taken him aside and spoke to him about his behavior. He said, “Yes, my friends have. And that's what friends are for, to watch out for each other. And to be fair, as I said before, I rub people the wrong way but it's never intentional nor intended. My actions have been pointed out to me and I have made many steps forward to make sure I understand how to better act in civilian life, but it can be difficult sometimes.”
SpC Welcomes your comments and opinions. Send your Letter to the Editor to letterstotheeditor@SteampunkChronicle.com with the words Letter to the Editor in the subject line.