I have wandered into Anime Iowa’s panel, “Why Your Fandom Sucks,” hosted by Greg Ayres. The room is packed with attendees. Many are in cosplay (costume). Looking around, I think I am the oldest person in the room and being late to the panel, I am regulated to sitting on the floor. I have not sat on the floor since grade school.
A young man sees my plight and invites me over to take a seat that he has open. I am so grateful. With this simple act of generosity, the tone for this panel is set. Scanning the crowd, it is standing room only. And, this is a big room.
Ayres comes to the stage admit loud applause. In the anime world, he is a popular voice actor. His hair is dyed blue. I suspect he is in his forties, but younger than me. We are now the two oldest people in the room. Ayres wants to talk this crowd about fandom behavior. Apparently, in the world of anime fandom, there are those who are going too far with their enthusiasm for anime and allowing irrational behavior to overtake their common sense.
Ayres recounts his experiences with fans harassing him. It is very easy with social media. It starts with a fan disagreeing with your favorite character’s role, or how you have portrayed your character in public. Suddenly, the fan(s) launches a social media campaign against you.
In Ayres case, he could not simply ignore the pestilent fans; their harassment was growing out of control and far beyond normalcy. The words that were being used against him could easily prevent his being hired for future work or lead to an investigation against him. He had to take action. He had to seek legal help against his bullies.
Bullies in conventions ?
Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and fandoms. Professional sports have long been plagued with bullies. Schools have their bullies. Now, the anime world is beginning to experience an influx of bullies at the convention level. For those who organize anime conventions this is a great concern, which is what has led Ayres to this talk.
Recently a group of anime convention goers upset over the scheduling of certain guest descended upon an anime convention and at appointed times blocked elevators, escalators and panel rooms. They were intentionally disrupting the convention in order to protest the selection of guests. An enjoyable convention experience for many was disrupted by the by the behavior of a few.
Fans have reported being attacking by other fans while at conventions over their loyalties to one anime, character, or even the actors who portray their favorite characters.
“It’s scary when someone suddenly comes up and hits you for being in character,” Willow and Page tell me. Two young girls dressed as their favorite characters who have been victims in the past.
In the 2010 Boston Anime incident, fans came dressed in Nazi uniforms and then decided to pose near the Boston Holocaust Museum. This drew immediate outrage by the citizens of Boston and the possibility of an outbreak of violence. For convention organizers, it was embarrassing behavior, but symptomatic of a growing problem.
Ayres is cautioning restraint to this crowd. Think about your actions and the effects they will have on those around you. “Run your ideas by an adult,” he laughs.
In order to avoid trouble, anime organizers are now beginning to alter their programming to avoid troublemakers. This means reduced opportunities for fan goers to get a diverse anime experience. Other measures include increased security, more public awareness, and an aggressive campaign to report bad behavior to the convention staff and volunteers.
Wandering around the convention, I see an ever-vigilant security force and many signs telling me to report bad behavior. However, my experience has been nothing but wonderful. This could be because I am not dressed in costume and twice the age (and size) of the average attendee. Speaking to others the sentiment is likewise. “We’re here to have fun,” Ayres reiterates.
And from all accounts, everyone at Anime Iowa is doing just that.
Eric J. Wynn is the author of the “Chronicles of Connor: Zombie Rising,” and encourages you to connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.