Supanova: Not the Trendsetter We Were Looking For

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Cosplay Sauron with her slurpee
Image by Evil Genius Mum
Cosplay: Sam Coleman

Supanova Sydney 2016 was both fun and not– Worst, Review, Sentence. Ever! And yet, the most accurate description of what is usually a huge geek/pop-culture event on the Australian calendar. If you want the fairy-floss and unicorn edition, then head over to my parallel piece “Supanova Lite: A Happy Place for Geeks to Meet.” However, if you want to know what I thought of the Supanova Diversity Panel, and how other Conventions fare with the same moral issues…

Well, grab yourself a drink, and let’s pick over the bones of Supanova Sydney 2016.

Almost every convention around the world is facing their own sexist demons: be it sexual harassment claims with cosplay and volunteers; individual organisers perpetuating rape and misogyny through ill-conceived comics and art; censoring independent transgender comics; or simply encouraging fan-art that is most definitely outside the apparent “Code of Conduct.” Anytime you bring together a large number of people who are supposed to be connecting over their very passionate obsessions, you will have conflict. Of course, we cannot account for the level of stupidity and complete moronic behaviour within that conflict – but we all know it’s there. Like a boil. Waiting to pop…

Supanova is definitely not immune to this. Third year in a row for controversy guys – Maybe an Australian record?

If you want a quick rundown, check out my previous GeekMom post. Short story: Head Honcho publicly linked to some contentious issues against the Australian Safe School program (a program to support anti-bullying behaviour, and support transgender issues within public schools). Understandably, the transgender community said WTH, dude? And called for a boycott. Supanova (as a separate entity) apologised, tried to reiterate its “open to diversity approach,” and included a diversity panel in its June line-up.

I attended the Diversity Panel. And I was seriously underwhelmed.

Again, Supanova is not the only Convention to suffer from some level of internal arrogance. However, they were definitely one of the first to have the opportunity to address it head on with an open discussion for all. And they missed it, like the stumbling Storm Troopers they are.

Let’s start with the positives:

  • Excellent display of diversity in the panel – transgender; autism; mental health professionals; cross-players;
  • Directly addressed the importance of inclusivism.

Yeah. That’s pretty much it.

The panel only went for an hour, and the first half of that was filled with a lot of background for the panellists. Like they were spilling out every qualification they had to be on a “Diversity Panel.” Given they all may have been nervous about being there, or even just speaking about the topic, I am going to note this down to inexperience and simply disappointing.

But here are the topics they didn’t discuss:

  • They mentioned “Passive Inclusivity v. Proactive Inclusivity”, but they did not discuss how it affected Supanova this year and last; they did not discuss ideas how to improve it; they did not even discuss why this comparison is so important.

Let me do that for them succinctly: Passive Inclusivity is “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” Proactive Inclusivity is allowing independent artists to boldly advertise “Our Comic Is About Transgender Issues;” or having an easily accessible and clearly advertised “time out room” for anyone who need a safe space; or visible support to any group at Supanova who is actively supporting Diversity through comics or fundraising or the like.

  • They mentioned how they really appreciated conventions as safe places, with opportunities to meet like-minded people and learn how to manage bullying and harassment. And yet they did not mention the Safe Schools Program – which is all about setting up safe places in public schools and teaching kids how to manage bullying and harassment.
  • They mentioned the difference between the views of the individual v. the views of the organisation. Given, the latest controversy was over the personal views of one Chief Organiser, it was pretty much a high priority for Supanova to distance itself from the man who has claimed Supanova as being his “family.” And since the apology came from him directly, it might have also been a good idea to attend the diversity panel himself.

The whole Diversity Panel was meant to be an attempt by Supanova to address the multitude of social issues at conventions like this. To have an open conversation about how to improve ‘That Diversity Thing’. The choice of panelists was good, the effort was commendable. But the lack of guidance, the lack of direction during the discussion – it made the effort feel tokenistic.

It is not enough to mention diversity and talk about personal experiences. If you truly want to show you are setting the trend for improving diversity at pop-culture events, then you, as an organisation, have to allow your panellists to discuss ALL options. Even the ones you may not agree with. This is how a discussion works. You set clear guidelines for the topics to be addressed and then address them, with the freedom to talk about both sides (so long as the discussion doesn’t personally attack anyone or lead to pitchforks). This is where Supanova Sydney missed what was supposed to be a fantastic opportunity. Instead of setting a standard and showing active measures, it felt like they were parading a bunch of ‘diverse’ panellists to show-off their friends.

To be frank, I attended the whole weekend for Supanova Sydney. I attended as both media for GeekMom (for one day) and privately with the rest of the Evil Genius Family. I spoke to friends, panellists, and vendors. And even without ‘That Diversity Thing’ hanging over their heads, everyone agreed – the vibe was definitely … diluted.

Fewer people were willing to talk about it. Most people were seeing it more as a commercial transaction rather than a social event. There was an awesome group of indie writers who had put together a great little comic on transgender issues (with all proceeds going to Minus 18 – Australia’s largest youth-led network for LGBTQI+) – but even they seemed to be relegated to the shadows.

Again, I’m not singling out Supanova on this issue – it is an ongoing issue from Comic-Con to PAX to anywhere really. Supanova had a fantastic opportunity to be at the forefront of change. But putting on a panel which spends most of the panel time comparing how diverse they are is not going to change anything, let alone the views of a Chief Organiser.

Yes, I want my Comic Cons to be about comics; my pop-culture social calendar filled with all the geekery. But I really want all my fellow geeks to be there too. I want them to feel safe, to feel welcome. I want them to be with me spending money and geeking out at the artwork. But most of all, I don’t want them to be paraded in front of a diversity panel for the sake of looking good in social media.

Supanova promised better. The Geeks deserved better.

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