27th Apr2018

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 4/27/18

by Will

So I skipped last week because I didn’t think anything major had happened in pop culture. On the Facebook page for the site, I wrote “Try harder next week, America!” Well, America did not disappoint, as this week was a doozy. What am I talking about? Well, the Universal FanCon implosion, of course! If you’re a White reader, this might be the first you’re hearing of FanCon, so sit back and get comfortable, because you’re about to go on a wild ride.

Universal FanCon was envisioned as a pop culture convention that would embrace the ideals of inclusion and diversity. It catered to marginalized fans who didn’t feel like the major cons took them into consideration. This primarily included fans of color, the LGBTQ community, as well as the disabled audience. It popped onto the scene as a Kickstarter back in 2016, which had a goal of $25,000, but went on to make over $56,000. Remember that number. There are essentially three “founders” of the show, but the most prominent of them is Jamie Broadnax, the blogger behind the Black Girl Nerds brand, which is essentially a community of like-minded, Black female geeks. In Black geek circles, Jamie’s kind of a big deal, so her association with the show is what convinced a lot of people to buy into its mission.

The show was originally supposed to start today at the Baltimore Convention Center, but last Friday things started to get weird when area hotels started sending out reservation cancellations to planned attendees. Apparently the convention hadn’t put down the money to secure the rooms. Immediately, Twitter lit up with “What’s happening with FanCon?” tweets. As folks started trading stories of their cancelled reservations, the actual convention planners weren’t addressing the situation at all. Now, this was one week out from the planned start of the con, so it was too late for many to recoup travel costs they’d incurred when making arrangements to attend the show. Some exhibitors had already shipped their wares to the hotels, and would now need to get those shipments returned.

Later Friday afternoon, FanCon issued a brief statement where they said 1) that the show was “postponed” and not “cancelled” and 2) that it was basically all the hotels’ fault. Oh, and since the show wasn’t cancelled, there wouldn’t be any refunds because all sales were final, and ticket holders would be given passes to the rescheduled show. Well, Twitter wasn’t having it, as they were demanding answers – primarily to the question of “Where did the money go?” Of the three co-founders, one went radio silent, while the other had a bit of a breakdown before locking his tweets. That left Broadnax to take the brunt of the blame, as she was the most public face associated with the show. The show promised to issue an FAQ later that day, but that’s when things went from bad to worse, as the poorly written FAQ was a live document that saw revisions over the course of the day, with folks comparing screenshots just to have a record of FanCon going back and forth on promises made. While blame kept shifting, they remained pretty unwavering on the No Refunds thing. Oh, and I forgot to mention that when FanCon DID start emailing Kickstarter backers about the status of the show, they didn’t BCC the addresses, so they ended up revealing the email addresses of 500-1,000 people. Yeah, folks were NOT happy.

Meanwhile, Twitter was on fire with folks revealing what they’d lost from the situation: travel fees, booth fees, Kickstarter pledges, the works. Apparently, out of the $56,000 raised, only a fraction of those backers had qualified for admission to the show. This was a problem. You see, FanCon was a first year show with lofty goals. Instead of taking the sensible route of starting small, maybe at a Best Western ballroom, they set their sights on the Baltimore Convention Center and expected the kind of attendance numbers that an established show like Awesome Con pulls in. If only a small percentage of Kickstarter backers were guaranteed attendees, where were they going to make up the numbers? And THAT was the problem. Apparently they were DEEP in the hole, and didn’t have the funds to pull off the show as it had been promoted. There had been talks of scaling it down and, according to reports, that was the plan going forward. The show was still going to happen until those pesky Baltimore hotels started actually wanting money for the reservations they’d been holding. How dare they?!

As the truth became something that folks couldn’t get, folks started making their own assumptions. The weekend was rife with accusations that Jamie and the crew had stolen all the money and screwed over a heartbroken fandom that had invested their hopes and dreams and money into the vision of the convention. Jamie, meanwhile, wasn’t helping her case as she did a poor job of trying to distance herself from any sort of power role in the planning of the show. While most materials had billed her as “co-founder”, in her statement she merely referred to herself as a “member” who had volunteered her time and services to the con. This downgrade to “member” was equally suspicious when it came out that, while she had “volunteered” her time, she still stood to make a cut of any profits the show made – not something one tends to get in a volunteer capacity. Also, her original statement said she found out about the lack of funds “48 hours ago”, but later reports said she knew as early as April 3rd, so why did they wait so long to pull the plug? Her other two partners were still silent as she continued to dig her hole deeper and deeper.

Next, it was discovered that a man by the name of Thai Pham was associated with the planning of the show, and he’d had experience planning conventions in the past. The problem here, however, is that he had a track record of raising money for conventions that were, then, cancelled at the last minute, offering no refunds – much like FanCon. The most notable example of this was Pride Con, and his involvement was basically confirmed when jilted FanCon guests received a questionnaire that had been recycled from the Pride Con debacle. With Pham’s involvement, what had originally looked like gross negligence with funds was now beginning to look like a con job to many.

Monday hit, people were still angry, and there were no real answers to anything that had happened. A few Tweeters with hotel experience chimed in that the hotels wouldn’t have breached contract if they didn’t have a reason, so it was most likely a case of the convention not paying them what they owed. Meanwhile, a bunch of Twitter detectives were on the case, piecing things together. For a GREAT takedown of the timeline and folks involved, you should check out this investigative post at Women Write About Comics. Still, Jamie was the main one taking the hits and, realizing her brand was pretty much irrevocably tarnished, she announced that she was stepping down as EIC of Black Girl Nerds. This did little to calm folks, as they simply wanted the truth and they wanted their money back.

In any case, around Tuesday, people surprisingly started reporting that they were getting refunds for the passes they’d purchased. While the show doesn’t seem to have made things right for exhibitors, the planned attendees appear to be getting some sort of compensation. Many of those who couldn’t get their travel arrangements refunded decided to just come to Baltimore anyway, and wondered if there might be a way to scrape something together from the ashes of FanCon. That’s when folks with Black Heroes Matter and The Nerds of Color joined forces to throw together Wicomicon, which is a pop-up con that will take place tomorrow at the Wicomico Building in Baltimore. Instead of FanCon’s weekend-long affair, Wicomicon will try to provide a worthwhile experience in one day.

Whew! That’s a lot, right? Well, that’s just the reporting aspect. Then there’s MY take on the whole situation.

I never had any faith in Universal FanCon. I know, I know. A lot of folks brand me as a “hater”, and that’s not without reason. That said, I first heard about it about a year ago. It was after the Kickstarter had passed, but at the start of the real marketing push. After the success of Awesome Con, a whole lot of shows have popped up in this area in recent years. There’s BlerdCon, there’s the upcoming (and also unproven, first-year) All-Star Comic-Con, as well as some smaller cons. At the end of the day, though, Awesome Con and Baltimore Comic Con pretty much rule the roost in the DMV.

It’s hard to put on a show, and it’s even harder for a first year show. The folks behind FanCon never really filled me with any kind of confidence that they had experience in this realm. Sure, Jamie is a known quantity, but I never really “got” Jamie Broadnax. Like, anybody could livetweet shit and come up with cute hashtags for shows. I never quite understood how that was her claim to fame. I’d see her on panels, and just think “And?” I mean, she was on a few panels for the DC in D.C. event I went to a few weeks back, and I just never understood how a mere blogger shared the stage with actors and producers. But whatever. That’s just me being a “hater” again, I suppose.

I didn’t know the other 2 guys from Adam. They weren’t coming from event planning backgrounds, and they seemed to be motivated by the fact that they were hardcore fans. That’s cute, but this is a BUSINESS at this point. No time for you to start fanboying when you’re handling folks’ money. Anyway, I don’t do first year cons. You’ve got to work out the kinks and figure out your shit. Going to a first year con is like buying a gaming console on release day, knowing it’s gonna have some sort of defect like the Red Ring of Death or something that they won’t rectify till the next batch are shipped. I didn’t go to Awesome Con til, like, Year 3. I don’t have time or money for your dress rehearsals.

Here’s the real kicker for me: the show had a weak mission statement. Yes, inclusion and diversity are good things, and they should be the aims of more conventions that are being planned. That said, it was never really pronounced as to how they were going to achieve this. The show was marketed to marginalized communities as basically, “You know how other conventions don’t treat us fairly? Well, here’s a convention for us!” And that, I feel, was its biggest problem. I’ve heard that a lot of shows don’t take into account the challenges of the disabled. Some shows aren’t safe spaces for Black cosplayers. Some shows don’t consider diversity when programming their panels. I get all of that. So, here’s a show that basically came along and said, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and those communities jumped at it and supported it. Some folks are desperate for community and they should have that. What you end up with, however, is a show comprised of racial minorities, the LGBTQ community, and the disabled community banding together. This is not inclusion. This is actually exclusion.

Inclusion is defined as “the act or state of including or of being included within a group or structure”. If inclusion were the true goal of this show, it would’ve actually been a convention for EVERYONE. Instead, it was a case of “line up with your favorite brand of oppression”. It was a separatist movement. It was a convention For Us, By Us. I guess Daymond John wouldn’t let them use the name FUBUCon, but that’s what this was.

Now, some folks will say “Well, why can’t we have spaces of our own?” You can, but that ain’t inclusion. That’s pretty much the opposite. There’s this underlying bass note to the whole thing that somewhat implies that straight, White congoers are the problem with conventions. They’re harassing the Black cosplayers, they’re not making accommodations for the disabled. They’ve done things their way, for them, so now it’s time for us to do them our way, for us. On the flip side, the show makes another assumption: that if the marginalized are grouped together, without the “oppressor” present, then everything will be copacetic. I got news for you, though: the members of marginalized groups can be just as bad as those outside of them. Being in a wheelchair does not mean a person is incapable of being an asshole. When I was in college, there was this mean little girl (little person? I never knew if she was a young prodigy or just a little person), who wouldn’t give a shit about mowing you down in her motorized wheelchair. The show seemed like it didn’t want a certain element there, while refusing to acknowledge that those problems come in all shapes and size. This is the part where some folks would love to call me a “coon” or say I’m “caping” for the White man or in the “sunken place”, but these are just facts. The show was built on the shaky assumption that White fans are the worst part of the con-going experience and, while history books (and the nightly news) deliver a plethora of examples where White folks have been the devil, their influence over pop culture conventions is not a hill upon which I plan to die.

Let me point out: they never said that any particular group *couldn’t* come to the show, but they treated some groups basically like “I guess they can come if they want” – with the same sincerity that you have when you ask someone “How are you?” and you pray they honor the social contract by not giving you an honest, detailed answer.

So, for the Black cosplayers seeking a safe space, what was it about this show that was going to protect them that didn’t exist at more established cons? Was FanCon going to have a stringent anti-harassment policy? If so, how were they going to enforce it? I’ve been to uncomfortable conventions before, so I know they exist. Still, I feel like the established pop culture cons are already some of the most inclusive experiences you can have. Nobody cares about who you date, or who you voted for. For that day, you’re all united by your love of the same shit.

For the folks who think they got “scammed” by Jamie and her cohorts, I don’t think that’s exactly the case, either. I think it was gross mismanagement of funds, but I don’t think this was initially an attempt to cheat folks out of their money. Keep in mind I said “initially”. Yes, a lot of people are out of money, BUT that’s primarily because their travel and accommodations got fucked over by the timeline. It’s hard to believe the organizers “scammed” anyone when they didn’t have the $$$ to put on the show. If we’re just talking about the Kickstarter, that’s about $56,000. If they fucked folks over for the price of a midsized SUV, that’s got to be one of the saddest cons in the history of con jobs. Now, let’s look at the other money. Table fees and whatnot. That could add up to, what, another $50,000? Max? So, you want me to believe that the three founders and these shadow members, like Thai Pham, went through all this to split roughly $100,000 between them? Are times THAT hard out in these streets?

At the end of the day, this was just mismanagement. You’ve got folks who can’t even balance their checkbooks handling other folks’ money. While Pham’s involvement is shady, the three founders that folks keep mentioning don’t seem slick OR smart enough to pull this off. Jamie didn’t scam anyone. The other two didn’t scam anyone. That Pham fucker? Yeah, he totally scammed folks, but he’s the smartest of them all because he’s been quiet, he let others take the fall, and still nobody really even seems to know who he is. I think, had the show happened, he still would’ve found some way to make off with a considerably large sum of money, and he’d be in the wind to do it again at a later date with some other show.

Meanwhile, Jamie ruined her brand, which will forever go down in history. She took a chance, just like the affiliates did. If it had been a success, we wouldn’t be here, and errbody would be taking credit for it. She took a gamble, and she lost. A cautionary tale, but not unusual.

Let’s talk about Jamie for a minute. A lot of “tea has been spilled”, as the young folks say, about how she ran BGN and supposedly blacklisted certain folks in the online nerd space. Since the shit hit the fan, BGN writers have been leaving in droves, while former members are starting to speak up about their negative experiences. It’s almost like a Blerd Weinstein situation, as she no longer has the clout to keep them afraid, so it’s a mini #MeToo movement. And while a lot of them have legitimate claims (she wasn’t really paying writers, BGN was a vanity project meant to promote her over everyone else), the timing of it all seems almost as petty as the Comey book. There are tons of tweets like “I been told y’all Jamie ain’t shit, but nobody wanted to listen.” And it’s true. In Black Twitter, there are cliques and cool kids, and you don’t want to get on their bad sides until you find out they’re serial sexual harassers or they seemingly make off with thousands of dollars of other people’s money, and suddenly everyone wants to talk. I’m seeing a lot of people trying to build themselves off Jamie’s misfortune right now, and they’re coming off like opportunistic vampires. I watched a video of one who was basically like “Yeah, I wasn’t really involved in this particular matter, but I knew something was up with Jamie. Anyway, I’ve got a pilot coming out soon.” It’s the social media equivalent of “Check out my mixtape” at the cost of someone else’s misfortune. Sure, I was never her biggest fan, but I feel like Jamie’s got enough to worry about (hopefully lawyering up) than to have to worry about all these folks trying to make a name for themselves off something that didn’t even directly affect them.

As for the entire situation, I’ve made jokes. A lot of them. I think I’m just astounded by what a colossal implosion occurred in such a short amount of time. It’s impressive, in its own morbid way. I wasn’t one of the people who lost anything. Sure, I had a ticket to the show, but it was given to me by a friend. I didn’t invest money in any way because, frankly, I didn’t really see the point (I also hate Kickstarter, which is a rant for another day). I do, however, feel one can laugh at the situation while feeling bad for those who lost something. After all, I’m not laughing AT them. I feel sorry for them. They truly believed in this – some of them to an extreme that I can’t entirely fathom. They feel hurt and betrayed, and for good reason. There were signs, though. People see what they want to see, so a lot of folks missed those signs. Take this bio from the website, for instance:

Or this poorly written blurb from the official FanCon blog:

Or this explanation of their mission, which somehow manages to say both everything AND nothing about who and what they are:

There are so many things wrong here, and this was on a supposedly professional site. People love to be offended by “Grammar Nazis”, but presentation matters. How you put yourself out into the world matters. One look at this, and I immediately go, “That’s a ‘no’ for me, dawg.”

I don’t think we’ll ever get the whole story of what went down, as the situation just seems to get crazier and crazier as time passes (One of the members of the planning board is a Twitter bot and not a real person!). And this failure has tremendously set back the progress of this geekspace. BGN is in shambles, and I really don’t see how a new managing editor is going to right that ship. Anyone else planning a convention for the marginalized is going to be at a disadvantage until folks get the taste of this betrayal out of their mouths. I don’t know how Jamie comes back from this. This is the Empire Strikes Back ending for Black fandom. It’s like the Blerd space has been trapped in carbonite, and we’re gonna have to wait a bit to see how it manages to get free.

HarassmentWatch

Bill Cosby – “Paging Dr. Huxtable! Your jail cell is ready!” Yeah, the Cos was found guilty of 3 counts of aggravated indecent assault yesterday, which I’ve got to say was somewhat surprising. When “world’s first supermodel”, and alleged Cosby victim, Janice Dickinson revealed she lied about the details of her assault in her book, I thought that had pretty much torpedoed this retrial. She said that her accounts differed because Cosby pressured her to remove details from the book, and she really needed the money. Still, in the end, I guess those conflicting accounts didn’t really matter.

I’ll say this, though: Bill Cosby will never see the inside of a jail cell. The man is 80 years old, and I think this is just gonna be another Roger Ailes situation. If you remember, the Fox News exec was so taken aback by his own sexual abuse investigation that it took its toll on him. He resigned from Fox, and less than a year later, fell at his home and died from subdural hematoma. I see the same thing happening in this situation, and folks will be conflicted about how they’re supposed to mourn him. Meanwhile, the Bounce TV network has, once again, removed The Cosby Show from its lineup in the wake of the verdict.

Tom Brokaw – No, not Uncle Tom! A former NBC News correspondent is accusing Brokaw of sexual harassment stemming from some stuff that happened back in the 90s. I’m not surprised, really. He comes from the old school, Mad Men days, when women were merely “broads” and “dames”. Anyway, I don’t see NBC making a big stink about this, as he’s pretty much only used in an elder statesman capacity these days. They really only call on him now when someone important dies, or maybe impeachment hearings (wink, wink!). Anyway, Brokaw denies the allegations, of course.

Charlie Rose Update – When life gives you dick pics, make dick pic-ade. That makes no sense, but you see where I was going. Trying to make something out of a bad situation, Charlie Rose is currently pitching a show where he will interview other men who were caught up in the #MeToo movement. I guess there are two sides to every story, so he wants to get the men’s take on what happened in each of their situations.

Allison Mack – Not exactly harassment, but I think being the #2 in a sex cult earns you a spot in this segment. Previously arrested for alleged involvement in sex trafficking, the former Smallville actress was released this week on a $5 million bond. Who in her life had $500,000 just lying around, yet didn’t care enough to keep her out of the sex cult in the first place?! Anyway, she’s been released to live with her parents, yet was ordered to stay off the internet and to not contact anyone involved with the cult. Stay off the internet? They do realize it’s 2018, right? The Internet’s connected to everything but our toilet paper, and I’m sure there’s a Brookstone catalog out there just waiting to prove I’m even wrong about that.

Two of my favorite flavors are now one, as The Chap Report Podcast has joined the Nerd Lunch Network. Go check out the first episode of the reboot now!

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Nikki Bella has joined the rest of the human race, as she can no longer see John Cena.
  • Straight Outta Compton‘s F. Gary Gray has been tapped to direct the live action M.A.S.K. film, based on the 80s Hasbro toy series. I’ll put this in the I’ll Believe It When I See it file…
  • Despite having a pilot in consideration at ABC, and not having an official signed deal, Lauren Cohan ended speculation by announcing that she will return to The Walking Dead for season 9.
  • Apparently, there will be a sequel to A Quiet Place. I hope it has an all Black cast, and is called Bitch, I SAID “Be Quiet!”
  • There were quite a few TV cancellations this week: Ash vs. Evil Dead (after 3 seasons on Starz); Seven Seconds (after 1 season on Netflix); Ghost Wars (after 1 season on Syfy); Here & Now (after 1 season on HBO); and The Path (after 3 seasons on Hulu). Meanwhile, Living Biblically (CBS) and Taken (NBC) have been taken off the schedule, and planned for a summer burn-off, which is pretty much a cancellation.
  • Meanwhile, Fox’s Lethal Weapon is reportedly on the brink of cancellation due to reports of erratic behavior from costar Clayne Crawford. He and costar Damon Wayans are reportedly no longer speaking to each other, and there are talks of recasting Crawford’s Riggs with a female character next season.
  • It wasn’t all bad TV news, as there were also some renewals: The Last OG (after 1 season on TBS); Search Party (after 2 seasons on TBS); Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (season 1 hasn’t even debuted on Amazon yet); Grey’s Anatomy (after 14 (!) seasons on ABC).
  • *NSYNC’s Lance Bass has signed on to be an executive producer on The Lou Pearlman Project documentary for YouTube Red.
  • Netflix has ordered a Fast and the Furious animated series, which will focus on Dom Toretto’s teenage cousin, Tony.
  • Kanye West returned to Twitter, only to lose his damn mind.
  • In the “Huh?!” file, Travel Channel has ordered 4 episodes of Mysteries and Myths with Megan Fox. Yes, that Megan Fox. She’ll be “debunking the myths around some of our greatest historical mysteries”. Um, OK.
  • That spinoff of The Goldbergs just won’t die. While scrapped, the Nia Long-starring backdoor pilot aired as a regular episode of The Goldbergs earlier this season. For some reason, ABC won’t let this go, so the show is being retooled to focus on Barry’s ex-girlfriend, Lainey, as she becomes a teacher at William Penn Academy. Just like the other pilot, this show will be set in the 90s, and will still feature Tim Meadows and Brian Callen as costars.

  • Speaking of The Goldbergs, it was announced that Adam Goldberg himself, Sean Giambrone will costar with Game Shakers‘ Sadie Stanley in the Disney Channel Kim Possible movie. Several things about this make me sad: 1) Why does Sean’s agent hate him? I mean, a TV movie? 2) How demeaning must it have been for original Kim Possible voice actors Will Friedle and Christy Carlson Romano to get that call that said “Hey, we want you guys to come film a skit to introduce the kids taking your jobs”? 3) I’m old enough to remember when Kim Possible was planned as a theatrical live action film.
  • Double Dare is coming back to Nickelodeon with 40 new episodes this summer. Knowing what we know now about original host Marc Summers and his OCD, I kinda want them to bring him back just to see if he could cope.

  • We got this Venom trailer. What the Hell is with Tom Hardy’s accent? This thing looks like something from Cannon Films in the 80s. Hard pass.
  • Hot off the Hari Kondabolu/Apu controversy, Hank Azaria now says he’d be willing to step away from the role, which would be a nice gesture if The Simpsons had more than about 2 seasons left in the tank.
  • S.J. Clarkson has been tapped to direct the untitled fourth Star Trek film set in the rebooted, J.J. Abrams “Kelvin Universe”, making her the first female director in the Star Trek film franchise. The film is rumored to feature Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk interacting with his father, portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, who would be reprising his role from the 2009 film.
  • Cathy Yan has been hired to direct the Margot Robbie Harley Quinn film that nobody (including Robbie herself) really seems to want.

Last weekend, partially naked Travis Reinking walked up to a Nashville area Waffle House, brandishing an AR-15, and proceeded to kill 4 people before he was stopped by customer James Shaw Jr. Shaw hid near the bathroom and rushed Reinking, grabbing the gun and throwing it over the counter before Reinking escaped. I’m not here to talk about Reinking because, well, fuck that guy. They found him 34 hours later, and took him alive, ’cause of course they did. I’m surprised they didn’t give him the Dylan Roof treatment, and swing by and get him some Burger King. No, let’s talk about Shaw.

Hours after the shooting, Shaw set up a GoFundMe to raise money for the families of the shooting victims. He ended up raising more than $165,000 in just a few days – all this while nursing the injuries he sustained during the scuffle, including burns on his hands from handling the hot gun muzzle, and a wound on his elbow while he was grazed by a bullet. He said, “I figured if I was going to die, he was going to have to work for it.” A fucking hero.

Shaw has since been recognized for his heroism, as a New York man set up an online fundraiser that has raised more than $175,000 to benefit him. Meanwhile, his bravery was also recognized by the Tennessee state General Assembly. One political figure who has been noticeably quiet, however, is the president himself (Gee, I wonder why…)- though he did have time to call into Fox & Friends and let us all know that he forgot to get his wife a birthday present. Ooh, he’s such a stinker!

Anyway, West Week Ever is usually given to someone/thing that had a pretty good week. I wouldn’t say that about James Shaw Jr. I’d say his week started off in one of the worst ways possible. He’s still dealing with injuries, not to mention the psychological impact, from what happened last weekend. He did, however do a lot of good for a lot of people – both the customers whose lives he was able to save, as well as the families for those who weren’t as fortunate. I have no more appropriate honor to bestow upon him, but his bravery was the best thing that happened this week, so James Shaw Jr had the West Week Ever.

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