Well, it’s been a couple of weeks now, since the story broke about a sexual harassment incident that reportedly occurred between author Richard Paul Evans (RPE) and an unnamed female author at last fall’s Salt Lake Comic Con (now FanX Salt Lake ) event.
While there have been postings saying a report outlining a FanX-performed confidential investigation was circulated, I have not seen said report, and so cannot comment on its contents.
What I can comment on is the fallout that has proceeded this entire affair, especially the email exchange between FanX co-founder Bryan Brandenburg and author Shannon Hale, who was one of several authors communicating with the FanX executives about this and other incidents concerning RPE.
But where to begin?
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: everyone can agree that unwanted sexual advances, not to mention actual physical assault, is 100% unacceptable. In the age of the #metoo movement, it is incumbent upon us to take every complaint seriously, regardless of the status (actual or perceived) of the accused.
It should also go without saying, of course, that this is stil the United States of America, and as such, the accused is entitled to the presumption of guilt in a court of law.
But we’re not in a court of law here, are we? Here, we are in the court of public opinion and business consequence.
Therefore, in order to more look at this in a more orderly fashion, we are going to proceed from the position that any and all sexual harassment/abuse allegations made in this case are true, at least to the point of organizer satisfaction, whether or not criminal liability can be confirmed.
Clearly, assuming this, it is clear the failure of FanX to immediately ban RPE from any and all future FanX events was wrong. The organizers of any event such as this one have a responsibility to protect anyone participating in their event–attendee, celebrity, author, panelist, etc.–to the best of their ability, both before and after any such event occurs.
There is a question of whether or not such banning needs to be made publicly, however, especially if the truth of such allegations cannot be proved criminally, as doing so might possibly open up the organizers to legal claims against them. Clearly, the original complainants should have been notified of any banning determination, in order to protect their identities.
Instead, FanX announced that they and RPE had “agreed” he would not appear at the next event, but that his future participation was up in the air.
As a result, author Shannon Hale (and others) exchanged emails with Bryan Brandenburg, leading to the now-infamous “sit this one out” remark. While this phrase could easily be interpreted many ways, the inevitable public relations fallout was easily foreseeable, and just as easily avoidable.
The (presumed inadvertent) doxxing of Shannon Hale by Bryan Brandenburg as he attempted to explain and/or apologize only added to the impending conflagration.
The continued social missteps by Bryan Brandenburg , along with the bizarre comments by RPE, only continued the downward spiral, forcing Bryan to step away completely from the current event preparation.
So, since everyone expects an opinion, here’s mine:
RPE should be publicly disavowed. After the public spectacle of his follow-up commentary equating white males to Jews in Nazi Germany, why would you want him there, anyway?
Bryan should have immediately offered a simple apology for his statement and stepped back from FanX once the offending email surfaced. Period. Not because he was clearly guilty or evil or cold or unfeeling or whatever other negative spin one would like to put on it, but because it was the right thing to do to show genuine sincerity.
But he didn’t.
He waited, attempting to defend the intent of his remarks (which any PR person should tell you is ALWAYS a bad idea), but in the current social environment, any such attempt is ill-advised and will never be accepted in this day and age of uber-grievance, no matter how sincere an apology might be.
What was the fallout in terms of the event? Several authors involved in the communication with Bryan, along with those supporting them, have withdrawn from September’s event. Voice actors from RWBY have pulled out, and a Salt Lake City-based podcast has announced it is severing ties with FanX, as well.
Thus far, that seems to be the end of it, guest-wise.
In the end, how do I feel about all this? Well, aside from the opinions expressed above, I guess I’ll say I’m disappointed. I have covered all the Salt Lake events, and Dan and Bryan have been very supportive of My Own Little Shadow, despite my sometimes blunt (read: harsh) coverage of the events. That is to say, they know me, for good or ill (and it varies depending on the day and my coverage, I think).
Therefore, let me say I’m sad to see Bryan pushed away from something I know he clearly loves, but I understand the need for it to be this way. FanX is bigger than one man or his commentary. If it is going to survive, things need to change, which was one of the points Shannon Hale and the others have been making.
I did not, and still don’t, agree that Bryan needs to be fired or otherwise permanently separated from FanX, as some have demanded.
[Editor’s note: I hate when people demand things. The world is not a perfect place, subject to each of our individual desires. “Demanding” is an exercise in petulant self-importance. Don’t do it.]
I expect, over time, the unrest to decrease now that Bryan and FanX seem to have finally settled on his level of involvement. Whether that will translate into them dealing more efficiently, clearly, and effectively with the overarching harassment issue in the future remains to be seen.
Regardless, I expect to enjoy my time at FanX 2018, as I have done (for the most part) over the last 5 years of Salt Lake events.
See you in September.
[Editor’s note 2: I’m fairly certain someone, somewhere will find something to be offended about in this post. This is the way of things in the world today. I’d apologize in advance, but they wouldn’t accept it, and would attempt to chastise me further for its inadequacies should I do so, so why bother?]