San Diego Comic Con is known for many things, among them comics themselves, toys, models, superheroes, cosplay, genre author signings, artist exhibits, big and small screen talent on panels and fans clamoring for all of the above in a generous 4 and half day extravaganza. But one thing that lies underneath the façade of happy, satisfied and usually tired faces is a darkness that persists and never seems to be addressed at such a large genre gathering: Bullying.
I know, calling it a darkness might seem hyperbole but if you stop to think about it, that’s just what it is. A darkness, a cloud of ill will that sits under the surface but affects everyone, like the invisible carcinogens from cigarette smoke: You may not always be aware it’s there, but it is. And if you really think about, a big genre convention like SDCC is just the place where it surfaces easily, be it by an aside to a friend of how that girl isn’t thin enough to be wearing that costume, to a direct roll of the eyes or smirk at a DIY costume that doesn’t meet your ideal of perfection. These are forms of bullying. Bullying isn’t just a big kid pushing a little kid down in the playground. Adults and kids bully alike, and often adult bullying can be more insipid and cutting, since adults know what can get under the skin of others in often subtle ways. Bullying by children has typically been perceived as just kids playing around or building character, but nothing can be further from the truth.
This is why it’s so impressive and important that through the efforts of actress Chase Masterson (Star Trek) and author Carrie Goldman (Harper Collins’ Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear, 2012) they’ve brought the discussion of bullying to SDCC for the first time in an official capacity. I was fortunate to be able to attend the Red Carpet Mixer & Press Summit and later that day the 1st ever panel on anti-bullying at SDCC. The coalition was supported by an impressive array of organizations that have, mostly through volunteers, worked tirelessly to expose the dangers of bullying and continue to educate on how to address the topic: United Nations Association, Anti-Defamation League, NoH8 Campaign, Cartoon Network’s Stop Bullying: Speak Up, Girl Scouts of America, IBPA & GLSEN.
At the mixer I was able to speak with other supporters of the Anti-Bullying campaign, notably author and online journalist Bonnie Burton (Girls Against Girls: Why We Are Mean to Each Other and How We Can Change) and web host and writer Jenna Busch, who created social media awareness with her article for the Huffington Post about Carrie Goldman’s daughter, Katie, who nearly 3 years ago was teased for bringing a Star Wars water bottle to school. These ladies, along with the likes of iconic writer and producer Jane Espensen and actor-producer Brad Bell (Husbands), attended the kick off to show their support of Chase and Carrie’s coalition. Bonnie and Jenna have exclusive, honest advice for bullies of any age:
In the afternoon, Carrie was the moderator for the 1st anti-bullying panel at SDCC — and really, any large scale genre convention — called “End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in Our Culture.” On her panel were NOH8’s Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley, Jane Espensen, Alice Cahn (VP Cartoon Network Social Responsibility), Brad Bell, Chase Masterson, Bonnie Burton, Jenna Busch and Ashley Eckstein (Her Universe blog and apparel). After introductions, Carrie asked the audience to raise our hands if we’ve ever been the target of bullying at any point in our lives. Every hand was raised. Then she followed up asking if we still vividly recall the details of that bullying, and again all hands remained raised. She used that drill the point home that bullying isn’t a fleeting action of the moment, but that it affects us and stays with us and can impact who we are as adults, which is why it’s so critical to address bullying as early as possible with kids. As the panelists all took their turns speaking out against bullying and emphasizing how important it is for everyone to recognize the signs of bullying and address it with education and positive alternatives, Carrie noted we were running out of time so opened it up for audience questions. To my amazement there was a considerable line of folks waiting to speak to the panel, but they had to stop the panel after only the 3rd question.
It was obvious that the topic was relevant to the attendees and the panelists alike. I’d love to see them have this panel at other cons and I’d recommend to the SDCC organizers that they book these folks in a bigger room and at a more opportune time slot next year. And Whedonopolis will be sure to support it!!