Conventions Fandom News

Hubris and How Not to Run a CON

By now, most of you know the much-hyped Universal FanCon is “postponed” until further notice. It was “postponed” just days before it was meant to kickoff. How it was cancelled was super shady (really? you gave the venue less than a week’s notice?) and there are still tons of looming questions that have yet to be answered.

Many of us are hurt, saddened, and feel betrayed by the organizers. I’m not sure why I’m writing this post, other than to try to make sense of a grimy situation. First, to all of you who have flights that can’t be credited or converted, shipped merch, donated to the Kickstarter (on Twitter, someone revealed they were the 5k backer…ouch), are out any kind of non-recoupable money, I’m so sorry. This whole fiasco is like watching a building implode in slow motion, from inside the damn building.

These aren’t foolproof methods of recompense, and I’m sure they aren’t of any kind of consolation, but hopefully these ideas can help to ease some of the (financial) burden:

  • If you used a credit card for anything related to UniversalFanCon, contact your card issuer and explain to them what happened. Why should you pay for something that doesn’t exist?
  • If you can’t get out of your flight or hotel (although I heard that most folks heard about the Con evaporating through hotels canceling bookings) see if you can rock a pop-up in your hotel room. Let’s get real, most of the fun of Cons is the hotel shenanigans. If the room doesn’t work, try to work with the hotel to rent a conference/meeting room.
  • Refer to NOC’s editor-in-chief, Keith Chow’s and Black Heroes Matter’s Uraeus’s efforts to rock an alternative festival and get your projects boosted.
Once again, my heart out to all of you.
What really irks me is that this is just more ammo for the Alt-white fandom to insist that any move towards diversity is a waste of time and is doomed to fail. The failure of Universal FanCon’s launch wasn’t just a failure for them, but a blow to diversity in in the GeekSpace.

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This entire situation is trash. But how the organizers attempted to “apologize” was like finding out Milli Vanilli lip-synced all their songs: What the shit did we just witness?

Their mea culpa boils down to: We had no idea how to run a Con (or did they?), we weren’t happy with the way it was going, we spent money, you spent money, we’re in a ‘financial deficit’, but you ain’t getting your money back, despite the Con not happening. But come and watch a movie with us.

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Know the limits of your talents and resources:

The thing I truly don’t understand is why the hubris? The organizers tried to dazzle us with graffiti writing and calligraphy, but they didn’t even know how to do basic ass block printing. How’re you trying to attend university when you haven’t even been to KT? We don’t need spectacle, we need follow through.
Start small:
If they would have said: ‘We’re having a Con celebrating Fandom in all its diverse forms. We’ll be representing women, queer folks, Fijians, the MASA community, the African Diaspora, LatinX, the disabled (Con is accessible), everyone is welcome in this hate free space. The thing is, it’s going to take place in four or five rooms’ most of us still would have supported it because we love this stuff. It would have been the first of its kind, and we would have rocked with it.
Transparency:
If Universal FanCon was struggling, they should have been open and honest about it–especially when they collect dough from folks. If they asked for help, many of us would have chipped in more to ensure it happened. When you offer an in-process service that is funded by investors, it is your duty to inform your investors of any and all problems and challenges so they aren’t caught unawares.
Trust and loyalty:
There are very few groups of people more loyal than Fandom. We love each other, we love our things, and if you do right by us, we’ll always do right by you. We’ll cop your merch, we’ll signal boost anything you ask us to, we’ll damn near become evangelists for your thing. And this may be our weakness. There is a naïveté to our trust and loyalty that can open us up to some huge disappointments. In regards to Cons, your only job is to deliver on the advertised experience. If you have to mortgage your house to make good on your promise, you better do so. If you have taken money, you better deliver or refund Every. Single. Penny. If not, your standing in our community should be diminished. You should face a consequence for misleading your public. How dare you expect people just to eat their costs?
Know your team:
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Apparently Thai Pham is the Triwizard champion of conjuring and disappearing Cons. Just search the name on Twitter or Google. The receipts are there, in startling relief. You didn’t vet this person? What kind of due diligence went into creating the operations team? Aren’t super groups your thing? Shouldn’t you know how to Voltron correctly? How’re you going to have four lions and a Go-Bot?
Accountability:
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It doesn’t matter if you like this person, if they have an elevated/exalted position in the fan/geek community, or if they are seen as a celebrity, they should not be let off the hook. If they were involved, they are responsible and should be held accountable. Accountability helps makes thing better. Accountability is about the reestablishing trust. If you make a public mistake that negatively impacts a host of people, you should be held accountable for said mistake in a public forum. An apology is one thing — a poor apology shows an absolute lack of accountability. #AnybodyCanGetIt and should.
To the beautifully diverse and amazing denizens of Fandom. Please let this debacle be a warning to us all. We cannot and will not be taken advantage of. Our time, energy, and dollars are worth something and we demand that this be respected. Because if not, they same we made you is the same way we will break you: together.

6 comments

  1. Running a small, single-track convention in a small hotel for fewer than a hundred people is relatively easy and straightforward – I’ve done it – but when you scale up it becomes a different beast entirely. Keeping a tight rein on the finances is something you really, really have to do for a big event. It’s scarily easy to have them run away from you, so having someone who’s a financial professional in charge of the money is not just a good idea but pretty much essential. Even then you can skirt disaster. F’rinstance, there was a World SF convention a few years back that had an operating budget of a million, very tight financial management and, when the dust had cleared and the bills had been paid, found themselves in the black by less than a grand. That’s a razor thin margin that would’ve easily been wiped out by a minor unforeseen expense. And this from a team was with decades of con-running experience between them who ran one of the most tightly organised cons I’ve ever seen.

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  2. I’ve known Thai Pham personally since around 2005-ish. I have… -history- with him. I’m not terribly surprised to see his name being associated with this con, although I’d never heard of it before this. I can’t say that I think he’s a scam artist? But I’m not surprised at all that he’s associated with a convention that didn’t understand it’s reach, limitations, or progress (or lack thereof).

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