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Wednesday, May 22, 2013 

About the Dragoncon scandal and the demagogues who run it

So as I said the other week, I'm going to write my own take on the horror surrounding the Atlanta-based Dragoncon, since it's something that should trouble all sensible fans of comics and sci-fi.

To begin: until earlier this year, I knew very little about this questionable showbiz convention, and next to nothing about its founders. But, as I was shocked to discover, they have quite a sick monstrosity still leeching onto them via stockholdings who goes by the name of Edward Kramer, who could easily be described as the Michael Jackson/Roman Polanski of entertainment conventions. He had a couple of arrests going back as early as 1996 on charges of child-molestation. Yet, thanks to the money he still makes off the convention and thanks to a terrible setup in Georgia's legal system, he's been able to both avoid trial for nearly 13 years while pretending to be sick from any number of illnesses, and also to sue his co-founders to prevent them from dissolving the owning company and starting a new one without him. And even then, said co-founders clearly aren't innocent.

Novelist Nancy Collins, who wrote a few comics in the 90s and is now working as a representative for Kramer's victims, has been calling for a boycott of the convention, and some more folks who are veterans of the comics medium have backed her up as well. I fully agree with Collins that it's the best thing to do. One of the best takes from past experience that sheds more light on the troubling scene at Dragoncon came from Tony Isabella, who told what happened while he was there to promote Justice Machine for one of his publishers around the time it first began in the late 80s:
On my first day at that long-ago Dragon*Con, a young woman offered me sex if I would let her stay in my hotel room. It was the most uncomfortable elevator ride - yes, we were in an elevator and we weren’t the only passengers - of my life. I generally relate this tale in discreet terms and describe the offer far less explicitly than she did. In reality, she didn’t disguise it in the slightest. Making me more uncomfortable was her age, as in underage. Maybe 16 at best. When I declined her offer, she looked at me as if I were a freak.

One evening at the convention, looking for some of the few people I knew or a relatively quiet party, I stumbled into an honest-to-gosh slave auction. With slaves being pretty clearly offered for the sexual entertainment of their buyers. Maybe it was some sort of elaborate role-playing thing, but it creeped me out. It would not be the last thing that creeped out that weekend. I never had the slightest interest in returning.
Good grief. That's what passes for adult fare at this convention? It's definitely offensive if they cheapened the seriousness of slavemongering.

I also found a site on Live Journal where people were relating some nasty experiences they had with sexual harrassment and assault (be advised that the content is not suitable for children), and it sounds like any security staff they had there were embarrassingly incompetent and even disrespectful to the people calling them for help. If this is how the convention is being run at any location around town, then no decent person should bother to attend, even for the best of comics and movie products.

Personally, the conventions I've attended in my lifetime haven't been big ones. The comics and sci-fi conventions I've attended include the ones held every year by the Tel Aviv Cinematheque - the former in August and the latter in October - since the turn of the century, and unlike some comic-cons in the US, they're much smaller, don't require entry fee, and have little or no cosplay (5 years ago, I also once found a RPG convention being held at the ZOA House several blocks away, but have not been able to find out if they've ever had one again), though they certainly do keep good security steps in place. But after a couple years, even they began to bore me, as I found less and less of interest there, so one day out of the 4 they're usually held is enough for me. Not many people I know care to visit these conventions, and I don't think my current girlfriend would either. And maybe I just don't relate well to "convention culture" overall.

The Atlanta Magazine wrote the most detailed account of how Kramer avoided trial for so many years. One of the most disgusting things about him is that his weird grievance tactics have even included alleged adherence to Judaism, and another revelation that makes my blood boil is that:
...his criminal trial was put on hold again for several months in 2006 while he traveled to Israel for ten days in a failed effort to emigrate.
Oh my god. That piece of crap almost tried to evade justice by trying to get asylum here? How DARE he! We have enough excrement like him littering up the country already, and don't need more. Thank goodness he didn't succeed in remaining here. When he was caught by Connecticut authorities in 2011, he even tried proclaiming innocence by saying "it would be against his religion". But history is replete with so-called adherents to Judaism violating the customs and beliefs, the most recent example being a "rabbi" from the isolationist Satmar sect named Nechemya Weberman in New York, who was convicted for molesting a 12-year-old girl for 3 years. And besides, if Kramer really did believe in the religion I seriously doubt he practiced outside of custody, he'd know it also objects to disrespecting the law and the requirements of his release on bond. His violations almost from day one of his releases in 2001 and 2008 proves he wasn't adhering to it.

As for his co-founders of the convention, I'm sure not all of them are happy to have such a slimy vermin leeching onto their money, but that they came this far without ever having made a serious effort to find lawyers as good as Kramer's who could help them out makes their defenses hard to swallow, and the con's for-profit setup is another grave detractor. Pat Henry and company implied it would be hard to dissolve the company too because of brand name value. But Datsun changed its name to Nissan and never lost any buyers over it, so I think Dragoncon can take their lazy arguments and stuff them. The Atlanta Magazine says, interestingly enough:
DragonCon, however, has never released revenue figures, even under Kramer’s watch. This Labor Day weekend, attendees will pay $120 in advance for admission for all four days, or between $30 and $50 for one-day passes. By all accounts, the event has always had a small payroll, instead relying on up to 2,000 volunteers, with first-timers paying $20 a head for the privilege.
I wonder if this could tell something? Could they have committed tax evasion, or would the figures show they spent little or nothing on competent security staff, so they're afraid to let anyone know? However, I do recall Collins saying that they rely on volunteer labor, which is illegal in a for-profit business, and this article certainly does confirm that. (And the volunteers are even willing to pay to work there?!? I thought it was the other way around!)

The scariest thing about Kramer is that he built up a cult following who've been acting as apologists for him (Weberman had plenty of those too), attacking his victims and even raised money for his defense, or more precisely, preventing him from ever going to trial, and as noted by Collins, there were even death threats made against some of the plaintiffs. This is one of the most frightening things ocillating around Dragoncon, and it reflects something that should worry every sensible fan of comics and sci-fi: cult worship that transcends simple fandom into pure idolatry, sort of like what Lyndon LaRouche and Ron Paul were known for. How anyone can act as apologists for a man who commits as serious an offense as child rape just because he was instrumental in launching a big convention is stupefying to the max. His supporters aren't even interested in explaining how, if he's really innocent, that he's doing more to avoid a court session than to prove his innocence, nor why he violated even the simplest conditions for his release from detention. All they seem to care about is the convention, as though they couldn't possibly go to another one. What kind of fandom is that, where they obviously haven't learned any lessons from the sci-fi tales they read about why crime doesn't pay?

So when thinking about all this, including the most disgusting revelation that Kramer tried to take his foul-smelling lubricant to the country I live in, that's why I, too, will cast my support in favor of a boycott of Dragoncon. Thankfully, some comics writers and film/TV performers have also cancelled their appearances at the already sleaze-laden convention, including Steve Niles. The Georgia legal system is also in serious need of repair, and depending on the severity of the charges against a defendant, I believe the state authorities should oversee every medical exam an inmate takes to ensure they aren't faking anything.

Dragoncon is decidedly a stain upon conventions and fandom, and if the co-founders knew years before that Kramer was an off-the-wall whackjob, then it proves their moral compass is very weak. Hence, they don't deserve to get anybody's hard-earned money either.

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This is absolutely disgusting. It really is. It also sounds a lot like the Penn State scandal in a way, with the co-founders being aware that this freak was a pedophile and said nothing about it.

And as an aside, I'm not big on conventions, either. I don't like the whole culture that surrounds them.

Thank you for your support of the DragonCon Boycott, even if it is from half-way around the world!

As for Ed Kramer's attempt to immigrate to Israel, you can apparently thank your government's judicial system and immigration laws. Apparently Mr. Kramer did not pass their "smell test" and his request to claim homeland status was denied.

DragonCon's lies about the depth of their support for Ed Kramer continues to unravel. Hopefully, it will have enough of an impact to keep this year's convention from turning a profit and impact Kramer's dividends.

Yeah, that's DragonCon.

I've never been, though I've lived a couple of hours away for a long time. I had been told about a concert there some time ago where the band threw used condoms into the crowd (among other shenanigans there).

Yeah, not my scene.

Garbage in, garbage out.

The livejournal you link to is about con attendees being harassed by non-con-goers, which is to say the football fans who are also staying in the con hotels.

I attended the con that year, and I can tell you that those LSU fans were disgusting. Every female friend I have, including my wife, was harassed verbally and or physically by men in LSU colors.

Don't see how that's Dragoncon's fault though.

I've been to DragonCon in the past couple years & I've never dealt with any form of rude impropriety or misconduct. Every person I met there was exceptionally generous & helpful from the conventioneers to the staff. There were no "slave auctions" or people requesting to sleep with me to share my room. To be perfectly honest, all Cons have scandalous stories & more than a few drunken morons. Unless you can go to the convention in question yourself or at the very least validate the claims with people you know, you need to take those stories with a grain of salt.

Also, the livejournal link you provided has stories of mostly non-con individuals harassing con people. (It's the equivalent of the jocks bullying the geeky kids.) And as one of those geeky kids, I'm having a hard time trying to understand exactly how DC is responsible for the actions of those not participating in the convention. Although this is a large convention it's not nearly the size & scope of the other Comic-Con events. DC can't have security trailing every person, but they do the best they can. I can tell you from personal experience that Security was exceptionally strict when it came to validating & granting access to conventioneers. No one was allowed in the con areas unless they had their badge clearly visible. And all staff were in constant communication with each other & able to keep things upbeat & moving easily.

I've been to Dragon twice, and I think that unless you're hard core into conventions then this is not a story that's going to get out to enough people to affect profits.

A few years ago a couple friends of mine asked me if I wanted to go and they said that it's a great time. Perhaps I'm just not a responsible con goer, but it never dawned on me to Google up on its founders, possible scandals, etc.

From my experience, it seems like there is some shady stuff that you could get into later at night, but there are thousands of people there with all sorts of panels to attend, booths to visit, etc. If you're not into weird kinky stuff, I'd say the chances of running across slave auctions is pretty slim. Any time you get a gathering of people that large I just assume there will be a sleazy element that makes itself known.

I enjoyed going because I could eat a hamburger while a platoon of storm troopers passed by, followed by Snake Eyes and Spider-Man. The thought never even occurred to me that I'd run across under-aged girls looking to trade sexual favors for a room (I assume because I'm not creepy like that).

A few years ago my buddy said that a bunch of non-Con goers were REALLY mean to the con-goers. Dumb jocks. When I went (last summer) security was super strict about having your badge any time you entered the hotel.

Anyway, thanks again for bringing this to my attention.

I also met there was exceptionally generous & helpful from the conventioneers to surveillance camera installation in nyc the staff. There were no "slave auctions" or people requesting to sleep with me to share my room.

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