Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cyberbullies and Star Wars - I thought it was no big deal, but I was wrong

 A lot of you probably heard about the uproar a few days ago, but for those who didn't, a synopsis:

    A local news station in Florida ran a photo essay on their website, under news, that consisted of around 40 photos of people in costume at Celebration VI, a Star Wars convention held in Orlando a week ago. The photos had extremely snarky, and sometimes downright insulting, captions. (I'd link to it, but it's since been taken down.) The outcry from fans was instantaneous, and petitions and postings condemning it and demanding its removal spread through social media like wildfire. The station left it up most of the day, then replaced it with a glib not-apology by the photographer/author of the essay, which resulted in even more outrage. Eventually, an actual apology was posted. See it at

 Now, after seeing at least three friends post indignant links to this story, I went to check it out, expecting...well, I don't know what I was expecting, but something shocking, outrageously horrible. But all it was, was pictures with mean, unfunny captions.  And the last photo in the slideshow was of the photographer (not in costume) who admitted he was a Star Wars geek himself.  I thought, what's the big deal, any geek has seen way worse attacks than this. To me, it looked like attempts at humor by someone who doesn't know how to be funny. You know how there's always that guy at a party, who makes a comment he thinks is funny, but really just causes people to cringe, and the host to quickly change the subject? Like that.

 But I overlooked an important point: This wasn't just some d-bag's blog, or Facebook page, this was a NEWS WEBSITE. The photographer/author is a journalist, with editors, who all looked at this piece and said, "Sure, that's fine, people will think it's a cute human interest piece." That's what elevates this to cyber-bullying. That's where the real outrage should come in, because a legitimate news site thinks there's nothing wrong with ridiculing people in costume. People who, by the way, numbered in the thousands. Attendance figures haven't been released yet, but Celebration V, also held in Orlando, drew about 32,000.

 As an example, one of the photos was of a woman dressed as Obi-Wan, complete with fake beard. The caption said something about the abundance of women at the convention with facial hair. Another photo was of a woman dressed as an alien, wearing blue body paint. The caption said something about her going a little too heavy on the makeup. Now imagine these photos and captions referred to a gay pride parade instead of a Star Wars convention. Can you imagine the public outcry then? Can you imagine a newspaper or television news station ridiculing attendees at say, a Pheasants Forever convention? Or maybe a car show? What a slap in the face to people who are, presumably, spending gobs of money in your city.

 So, I should have taken this more seriously from the beginning. I guess the multitude of anonymous, nasty forum posts, Facebook posts, etc., has just led me to accept incivility as part of the Internet landscape.

 I still have more to say, but this has gotten too long, so look for part 2, Geek-on-Geek bullying, tomorrow.