MarsCon is a fan-run science fiction convention for all ages held every March in the Twin Cities area. This year's theme was Robots, Rayguns, & Rockets: The 3 R's of Sci-Fi. Each year that I have gone, I have had a wonderful time - unfortunately, there have been a number of events over the years that have made me decide to not go back in the future unless substantial changes are made. Rae Black of Twin Cities Geeks wrote a fantastic article about how MarsCon has a potential to be better; this post will be about my perspective of recent events and why it is I am not going back.
MarsCon has qualities to it that I find to be very enjoyable. Every year that I am there, I get to see friends whom I rarely get to see and be able to spend time with them. Some friends live far away and we are only able to get together at conventions, while others have busy lives that don’t line up with mine. I also get to make new friends, either through interactions in parties or by being co-panelists. Conventions such as MarsCon are wonderful gatherings of community, a place where like-minded people can come together and share in our enjoyment of science fiction and fantasy without having to explain our interests to people who find our fandoms to be silly.
This year, I had the added bonus of seeing one of my professors from when I went to MCTC, Parke Kunkle. He was the Featured Astronomer Guest from the Bell Museum of Natural History for this year - he watched our panel, How to Fail Gracefully, which also had Michelle Chmura (who did the Planetarium Star Show for the Bell Museum). Science and science fiction meet at MarsCon, making it one few places where a person can get away from the stresses of the world and explore their interests that are rooted in reality and fantasy.
For me, the best part of conventions is being on panels. I love being able to share my knowledge and experiences with people, and enjoy being able to collaborate with others to discuss topics and tell stories. It is very energizing.
There were a number of issues that were bothersome. Nothing is perfect, and MarsCon is no different. The first thing that I noticed was that the panel schedules were not finalized until the day of (and even then, it was possible that the panels would still be changed during the convention). Panel finalization was the day of the convention, meaning that I was unable to adequately prepare for some of my panels - one of the panels was added just a couple of days beforehand, and I had to keep checking back to make certain that it wasn’t removed or that times were again changed.
Also, once again parking was an issue. The Hilton Minneapolis/St Paul Airport - Mall of America is the location of MarsCon, and it has a small parking lot. On top of that, the hotel has a “stay, park, and ride” package that lets people who are flying out to park there, and the first March nor’easter (at the time of this writing, there now have been 4) have delayed people’s returns to retrieve their vehicles. A further complication to the parking situation was another conference happening on the same Friday (it was a one-day business convention, from what I was told), and snow piles blocking a number of spaces.
The worst of the bad in my opinion was the lack of “Costumes are not Consent” signage. CONvergence, for example, has a strong policy on harassment and puts up signage every year. This helps show that the convention that there is an active stance on harassment and that the convention is serious about it.
However, though there is a lack of signage, there is a “problem attendees and hotel guests” policy. It is vague and is hosted on a new page each year - while it shouldn’t needed to be spelled out what is acceptable behavior at a convention, it is still necessary to be clear about what is and is not allowed. Having clear policies in place makes it so that liabilities can be easily handled and there is known consequences for actions ahead of time.
Speaking of consequences, there have been a number of incidents at MarsCon that do not seem to have been resolved. In 2015, there was an incident where a security member grabbed a con-goer from behind - when it was brought up on public forums, victim-blaming occurred and a ConCom staff member responded in a fashion that looked like he had more sympathy for the victim-blamer instead of the victim. There was no further public statement about the incident that I have been able to find; as far as I can tell, not even better training or screening for security volunteers has been presented.
The following year, the masquerade emcee was incredibly problematic, making inappropriate remarks towards and talking over the entrants - it turns out that he was a last-minute replacement for the person who was lined up to be the emcee. Instead of being removed after his first comments to and about Steampunk Lady Thor, he was allowed to go on until more people complained to ConCom for making rude and lude jokes. There was a written apology by ConCom, reading:
On Saturday there was an unacceptable incident involving the Marscon Masquerade MC and we apologize for this. Due to other circumstances the planned MC was unable to perform that evening. An individual was chosen to take his place and the choice of this person was unfortunate. During the competition he made multiple inappropriate and offensive comments while they were performing. He did not follow the introduction scripts as given to him as well as talking during the performances which caused multiple people to miss their musical queues so their performance wasn’t what they desired. This type of behavior is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We do everything we can think of to make this a fun, family oriented convention that is a safe place to attend. The actions of this person in no way reflect the attitudes and policy of Marscon. We will work with the Masquerade community to make sure that there is a qualified individual in this role in the future as well as verify our policies and procedures to reflect how this type of behavior is unacceptable. There will be further actions taken in regards to this and we welcome any input.
Please accept our sincere and heartfelt apologies. Especially to all of the hard working performers, you are an inspiration to all of us. We were wrong and it will not happen again.
However, we have not been informed about how this will be prevented in the future, and to my knowledge, no information about further actions have been presented.
Again in 2016, there was an incident that resulted in someone having their convention badge revoked. ConCom’s public handling of it appeared to ignore certain witnesses, involve the Bloomington Police Department after-the-fact, have the said police department called on the person who claimed to have been hit, and left a number of convention members feeling unsafe.
Which leads to this year. I’m unable to go into detail, but this year, a friend of mine discovered that the board was allowing someone to host a sponsored room party. My friend has an Harassment Restraining Order against the person hosting the room party, and MarsCon ConCom wanted them to just avoid each other (it is a small convention, with fewer than 1,000 members). ConCom did not take into the consideration the safety of others, especially victims. Word of this incident brought forth more friends recounting similar experiences from ConCom where their harassers were welcomed over victim safety.
MarsCon, as I said, has lost me as a member. I will not be going back unless they make some major changes. I have my eye on some other conventions in the future, however:
MiniCon (March 30–April 1, 2018) - Minicon is an annual gathering of science fiction and fantasy fans sponsored by the Minnesota Science Fiction Society (Minn-StF). I will not be attending this year, as I am already very busy that weekend and didn’t have enough time to plan around it.
WisCon (May 25-28, 2018) - WisCon has been a feminist science fiction convention since its founding in 1977. The focus of the convention has been the intersection between feminism and science fiction. This focus distinguishes WisCon from many other science fiction conventions, and has been a major reason why WisCon has grown, developed, and flourished for so long, while some other conventions have had trouble staying vibrant. I will not be attending this year, as it is occurring the same time as MantiCon.
Diversicon (July 27-29, 2018) - Diversicon is an annual speculative fiction convention that provides programming and social opportunities to encourage the multicultural, multimedia exploration, and celebration of science fiction & fantasy. I don’t yet know if I can attend this year, but I would love to go! Time will tell.
I don’t see MarsCon making any changes in the near future, and so they do not need my membership. Attendees keep experiencing the same issues over and again, and I cannot support that. There are other places to go and things to do, and so I will support events that are more equitable.
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