September 2, 2013

Rebecca Watson vs. DragonCon: Biting the Hand That Feeds

Gandalf (DragonCon 2007)
Gandalf (DragonCon 2007) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am not familiar with DragonCon, but the pictures I have seen from it online make it look pretty damn cool. It appears to be large and diverse convention that includes a hodgepodge of science fiction, fantasy, comics, gaming, and multi-media. It looks like it would be a good time for those who are into such things. Even though I'm not, I can imagine the appeal.

Scanning the list of "attending professionals," I noticed a familiar name: Rebecca Watson. The cynics among you might predict some sort of drama would likely result, and you would probably point out that drama seems to follow Ms. Watson around almost as if she was creating it herself. Shame on you! And yet, it appears that you would be right in this case. The atheist blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook are buzzing with reports of Ms. Watson's DragonCon drama.

Ms. Watson kicked things off with her Twitter account, reporting that she had been hassled by convention staff and was ultimately prevented from selling some of the merchandise at her table because it violated convention policies. You can find her more polished account on her blog here. Uberfeminist took a close look at the convention policies and catalogued Ms. Watson's relevant tweets. In a follow-up post, Uberfeminist questioned some of Ms. Watson's account.

What, if anything, are we to make of this latest drama? I'm not sure, but I find myself agreeing with much of what Shane Brady wrote in his post Let's Not Accept Whining Entitlement as Leadership. It seems to me that being invited to participate in conventions like this would be a privilege, especially for someone interested in marketing their brand. DragonCon looks like a great platform for reaching new fans. In addition to that, Ms. Watson was provided with a table free of charge where she could profit from selling assorted swag (as long as she complied with the convention policies). That seems awfully generous to me. Is there any question that Ms. Watson benefits from her involvement in Dragon Con?

Some have pointed out the apparent hypocrisy of someone who has championed convention policies so vociferously violating convention policies when it benefits her financially to do so. Assuming that Ms. Watson was aware of the policies and knew she was violating them, I'd agree. However, I'm not sure this was the case. It seems like it could have been unintentional.

At some point, I think it is fair to ask ourselves whether Ms. Watson is the sort of person we want at the forefront of the atheist/skeptic movement. Is she someone we recognize as a leader of sorts? For me, the answer is a clear no. I find that she adds little value to the atheist and/or skeptic movements aside from the drama, which can admittedly be entertaining at times.

At the same time, I think it is important to acknowledge that many of those charged with selecting speakers for atheist/skeptic conventions seem to have reached a different decision. They have apparently decided that Ms. Watson is exactly the sort of figure they want. Perhaps her polarizing nature is even part of her appeal. If so, I imagine that conventions like DragonCon will be perfectly willing to accommodate Ms. Watson and her drama even when she bites them. I may disagree with them, but this is their decision to make and not mine.

Update: Cephus (Bitchspot) provides an opinion from the perspective of someone who has worked at similar conventions, and Sara Mayhew suggests that the description of events provided by Ms. Watson may be quite different from what actually happened.

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