Odyssey Con: Still on Fire

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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April 19, 2017

As I write this, is just over a week since Monica Valentinelli withdrew from Odyssey Con.  Since her withdrawal, Tad Williams and Christopher Mihm have also withdrawn from the convention.

On April 12, Valentinelli sent an email to Alex Merrill–one of the co-chairs of this year’s convention–in which she concluded by asking for assurances that the convention would take the lessons learned from this situation to heart:

used with permission of Monica Valentinelli

Here’s the text of the email snippet above:

To close, I want to reiterate that I do want to move forward and put this uncomfortable situation behind us. However, I’m going to need some assurances that the con has taken this as a learning experience, and is revisiting the actions it takes should a situation like this arises in the future for myself or for anyone else who also comes forward.

Valentinelli has yet to receive a response.

Two days later, Fred Bergmann–a member of the concom–posted this to the convention’s Facebook page:

All those people who expect conventions to not allow serial harassers act as Guest Liaison and to take their guests’ safety concerns seriously are just negative. So let’s dismiss that and focus on all the FUN we’re going to have!  (Let us gloss over how poorly written this is; that’s not important.)

At some point today Odyssey Con announced their new guests of honor: Michael Butts and Brent Chumley. Good on both of them for stepping up at this late date, truly. And I’d be stopping there except–there’s always an except–for Butts’s statement prepended to his bio:

I thought long and hard about joining Odyssey Con. I learned that one of the Members had made choices that upset people in the past, and how it was handled was not the best. I believe that the damage that was done has been contained and separated from the convention. I understand many people are still upset by this, and some would like to see Odyssey Con fail. I do not believe that is right. Because of the actions of a few, is all of the labor and love so many fans have put into this event to be discarded? Should the whole barrel of apples be discarded because some were bad? I say no. What happened is horrible but it is not beyond repair. And I want to see this convention raised up to become a shining beacon of decency. I am giving them a second chance, will you? And remember, before you judge all on the actions of a few, I would like to remind you that ‘Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes’ (Obi Wan Kenobi). (source, screencap)

I’m not even sure where to start. At the beginning there’s a lot of meandering words that mostly make sense and which I find troubling in that it centers the person with the 30+ year history of harassing women and not the women who felt unsafe in his presence. Then there is the assumption that people want to see Odyssey Con fail: this is not a true statement. Not a single person I have spoken to about this over the last week has said any such thing. I certainly haven’t–I’ve pointed out that they’ve fucked up and that they have taken actions which are detrimental to success, but that’s on the convention and not on any of the people who spoke out and wrote about this.

Let us skip over the mixed metaphor involving apples and barrels because I really want to focus on what Butts says next:

And I want to see this convention raised up to become a shining beacon of decency.

Oh. He does? Well. I have some opinions about this.

How was it decent for the Odyssey Con concom to allow a known harasser to not only serve on the concom but to be one of their Guest Liaisons? How was it decent for them to blow off Monica Valentinelli’s concerns (I still don’t believe for a hot minute that the concom didn’t know about Rihn’s dismissive email, they only disowned it after Valentinelli went public). How was it decent for them to post a weaselly statement that blamed Valentinelli for the entire situation? How was it decent for them to post private emails to their Facebook page without permission? And finally, how is it decent for them to act as if they didn’t do anything wrong?

If Michael Butts would like Odyssey Con to become a shining beacon of decency, I suggest that he talk to the concom about removing the beam from their eye.

And the less said about the quote for Star Wars Episode III, the better. Okay, I have to say something: Really? Really? In the wake of a convention setting themselves on fire (hey are they like Anakin on the lava planet if they are we have a real big problem, folks), you put forth a fucking platitude that you think is against absolutes that is, in and of itself, an absolute? Nice.

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3 Comments

  1. Steve

    As always, “nice” is for men to promise not to do any more harm this time probably, and for women to fully believe that and not make a fuss if they are harmed.

    So very “decent”.

  2. Wendy

    All it takes is one bad apple to spoil the barrel, so the very minimum that should be done is remove any bad apples as well as those most likely to have been contaminated to try to save the rest.

  3. Carol

    Natalie, thank you for your coverage of this. It is amazing to me that such important valid concerns are being labeled “negativity.” And that wanting 1) a sincere and thorough acknowledgment of wrongdoing and 2) a commitment to concrete, transparent steps to prevent this happening again is just “hoping to see Odyssey Con fail.”
    p.s. Patrick Tomlinson should be recognized as another author that withdrew his appearance at OdCon.

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