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Man Banter, Big Cans, and Harassment at New York Comic Con

It seems like no con can go past these days without a big post on the giant jerks who went there not to have fun but to find women and make them uncomfortable for someone’s entertainment. Expected? Yes. Disappointing? Yes. Disappointing that it’s so expected? That too.

For a good masterpost on reports of organized skeevy behavior at the con, I recommend reading The Beat’s article on it, but to go in chronological order, we start with Arizona Ice Tea’s I Heart Big Cans ad campaign, which, since the company was sponsoring the biggest room of the con, was featured at the beginning of the con’s biggest panels. If you’re guessing what they mean by “cans” in their slogan, well, you’re probably right. A well-endowed spokeswoman in short-shorts came on stage to introduce a “special” video that proved to be (from Leaky News)

a two-minute PSA about how “big cans” were just awesome…

The shot that really got me, though, was the one in which [the video's female host] attempted to drink a can of Arizona Tea. I say attempted because she did that terrible thing we’ve all done while extremely drunk and playing competitive drinking games, where you really aren’t drinking at all, but are in fact just opening the back of your throat and forcing the liquid down…

Plenty of the classiest of attendees in the audience summed [the scene] up by yelling the classiest of epithets at the screens.

Luckily, I would say most of the audience reacted like I did, with groans and a lot of “WHAT”s and a fair amount of facepalms.

The ads were no longer appearing before panels by Friday night.

On Saturday, however, a film crew for a NYC local cable access show Man Banter made quite a name for themselves (they have since deleted their YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts) by politely asking female cosplayers for interviews and then peppering them with come ons and deliberately lewd, racist questions and comments. Once one cosplayer agreed to an interview, the “reporter” simply stared silently at her chest until she placed her arms over it and challenged him, at which point he asked “So, does your costume help you get laid?” Another cosplayer was treated this scintillating conversation, where the interviewer stated he was interested in buying an “umbrella with an Asian girl” (that is, buying an Asian girl to hold an umbrella), and that “in my experience, girls who stand next to me longer than 20 seconds get a cream pie.” The group was initially reported to con security around 3:30 Saturday afternoon, but was not removed/banned from the con until Sunday.

Since then it has come out that they were using false credentials: they had applied for press passes as employees of Sirius Radio despite being completely unaffiliated with the well known company. Our Jill Pantozzi reached out to Lance Fensterman, global VP of ReedPop, for his comments on the resolution of the incident:

Jill: could you confirm what outlet the “Man Banter” individuals put down for their press passes? Was it Sirius XM, their own YouTube channel or something else?

Lance:  It was Sirius.  Since this has all broke, there is a sudden bought of honesty as the perpetrators have been very careful to stress to all involved the Sirius was not involved in any way.

J: When were you first personally made aware there was an issue? Did one of the con goers come to you directly or did another staff member bring the information to you?

Lance:  Saturday night, late.  My PR manager was trying to ascertain just who these people were.  I then spoke with Diana Pho on Monday who helped to piece things together.  We banned them on Sunday.

J: What action did you take at that time? Was the group spoken to directly by you or other staff at all?

Lance:  Saturday night we attempted to ascertain who these people were, Sunday we communicated to the person who’s contact info we had that they were banned from returning to NYCC and all ReedPOP events and let them know they could speak with our attorneys if they had any further questions.

J: Convention harassment has been a big issue in the geek community over the last year. We did a post centering around Comic-Con International’s policy, which is only posted in their 200+ page guide given to attendees at the show. We started a list of conventions that have a clear and easily found harassment policy on their websites, and did not list NYCC because yours is hidden in an FAQ. While the statement is a good one, do you feel it might be time to move an expanded harassment policy to a more prominent, specific, and easily found spot on your site? Or perhaps an additional statement in the press section, considering recent events?

Lance: More important than where the policy lives is if it exists and the staff lives the policy – and I believe mine does.  Now, that said I think we absolutely will post it multiple places, but in particular the press page.  What really caught us off guard on this was it being accredited members of the press perpetrating this.  I think you’ve been covering NYCC for years for various outlets and you know that in the last couple of years and this one in particular we have gotten very strict about press credentials.  That was most shocking and unnerving to us.

Once this was brought to our attention we immediately began working to rectify the situation.  And we now have a better sense of what these guys did to be deceitful and slip through some of the checks we have in place, thus it will allow us to do a better job in the future of stopping behaviors like this even more immediately. We demand that NYCC to be safe for all in attendance. We do have an anti harassment policy. Our team does live it and believe it. It’s frustrating that in spite of all of that fans, and our favorite fans – passionate cosplayers – were harassed. That is not the kind of event I want to run – and won’t.

Man Banter has since apologized to at least one of the cosplayers who took their harassment to social media, but personally I find it difficult to accept such a fast and easy retraction. The amount of deliberate planning and duplicitousness that Man Banter apparently underwent to circumvent the policies in place to accredit press badges, for the express purpose of verbally attacking and embarrassing women on film so that they could share that footage with their audience, speaks to a firm assumption that women are “less than.” I think it’s more likely that Man Banter was so short-sighted in their misogyny and low opinion of the geek community that they did not expect anyone to care that they were harassing women, and also that they are now terrified that Sirius Radio will, rightfully, sue them for impersonating their employees.

But lets return to the situation as a whole. As anybody who’s been to a few New York Comic Cons can attest: the con is already big, but it’s also near to bursting the Javits Center’s seams. Maneuvering anywhere, using any form of wireless communication, or trying to find a specific person in a crowd (or even a spot where you can turn in a circle with your arms akimbo without touching anyone) is slow, difficult, dicey, and sometimes simply impossible. Convention staff are just as often friendly as they are disdainful to attendees (as in the security person who referred to folks trying to get into The Mary Sue’s own panel as “hopeless idiots” loudly within earshot of them), and are routinely awful at line management. This has been the case for years. It was hoped that perhaps this year’s focus on limiting the number of badges, strictly enforcing exits and entrances, and eliminating common paths to forgery or scalping would cut down on some of those problems, but the best I could say about the crowds this year was that they seemed “not worse than last year.”

At a certain point these elements (overcrowding, difficulty in communication, etc.) stop seeming like roadblocks in the way of ReedPop’s ability to make sure that attendees can feel safe interacting with their fellow fans, and more like the basic facts of New York Comic Con that ReedPop, as the people who are throwing this party, should have measures in place to operate around.

Javits employees, particularly the Citadel Security employees who I saw tasked to regulating lines, need to be better educated about the nature of fan-based cons. It is frankly embarrassing for staff to be looking down their noses at people willing to stand on line a few minutes longer for a very small chance at getting into a panel at one of the country’s largest fan conventions. (Admittedly, I love the irony of hearing a guard complain that they’d been asked if they were in costume three times that day when their company shares a name with a prominent police force in a massively popular video game franchise.) A system should have been in place that made it possible to confirm the behavior of Man Banter’s interview team and make even a high level decision to escort them from the premises within a few hours of the first complaint, not an overnight operation, regardless of how crowded the space was. And the Arizona Tea ads should have been previewed and shot down before the show ever began.

I’m a little disappointed that NYCC was caught off guard by harassment from someone with a press badge, since ReedPop also runs PAX East, where a member of the press was booted from the con for behaving inappropriately to underage Lara Croft cosplayers only this spring, but I’m glad to hear that ReedPop will be making NYCC’s anti-harassment policy more visible. It would be impossible for any con to be able to completely prevent harassment in its halls, but there is certainly room for improvement at many events around the country.

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  • Kristy Puchko

    They may have decided to pull the ads on Friday night, but Big Cans played before the 7:45PM Bob’s Burgers panel, where they where met with a mix of boos and cheers. Then, one male audience member yelled out “That was terrible and you should feel terrible,” quoting Futurama.

  • Erica Friedman

    I genuinely believe we’re on the up side of this. Reports out of cons are less “everything was horrible” and more “here is this thing that was bad and that thing that can be improved.”

  • Andy Bentley

    I was there as a reporter 8 hours all four days. With the amount of humanity that was packed in there, I think a tasteless ad and some low class faux film crew is about as good as clean a con as you’re going to get.

  • Amber

    I believe you’re dead on about this group (and the others like at PAX) that they simply do not expect geeks to have each other’s backs. Once the outrage hits social media, people help each other root out the causes and get the proper channels involved. It’s not about public shaming. It’s working the way our comic book role models work — we dig and sift through the internet for morsels of data until the truth comes out and turn it over to the organizers. It hurts every little indie journo/blogger who wants a press pass and gets denied. I covered Wizard Philly for six years and was denied this year. One of these groups of harassers (the Mandy/Black Cat incident) was allegedly part of some Stan Lee channel. And these NYCC asshats were completely disingenuous. So perhaps if the powers that be reviewing Press applications would actually take the time to look into the quality of work by the applicants instead of how famous they are, their attendees being interviewed would get better experiences and the cons would have positive coverage.

  • John Keegan

    Yeah, when that played in front of the Haven panel on Thursday, the vast majority of comments were disdainful. I recall talking to the young women sitting next to me about it.

    I would disagree about the crowds, though. I thought it was easier to get around, especially on Saturday and Sunday, than it was the past couple years. But it might have varied location to location.

  • John Keegan

    The lengths to which these degenerates went to circumvent the process, just to harass people on camera, is insane.

    And yeah, I know a lot of indie press that didn’t get passes and so couldn’t be there. I caved and got the full 4-day pass, but that’s not something everyone can do, and if you waited until your press pass was approved or denied, it was too late…:/

  • Adrian

    I think it’s more likely that Man Banter was so short-sighted in their misogyny and low opinion of the geek community that they did not expect anyone to care that they were harassing women

    That is precisely the reason why the anti-harassment policy should have already been front and center. I’m glad they are addressing it now but if they had been more receptive to the community’s demands to get the policy more prominence, this might have all been avoided.

  • Anonymous

    Well that’s depressing.

  • John Keegan

    Would it, though? I mean, this group went pretty far out of bounds just to do all that deliberately. They knew what they were doing, and I don’t know that a more prominent policy would have given them pause. They certainly didn’t consider the consequences of their actions when claiming to be representing Sirius…

  • Jen Rock

    Not to mention, the Big Cans banner was flying high in the hall outside the main floor where the Arizona stand was for all to see. I rolled my eyes so hard every time I passed, I’m suprised they didn’t get stuck that way.

  • John Keegan

    The more we stand together, the harder it will be for asshats to harass people. And as for the ads and such, we all have to be firm about our opinions about it. I think it’s getting better, but it’s still a battle to fight.

  • Adrian

    Well, that’s why I said “might.” But yes, while they had the gumption to impersonate Sirius employees, a more visible policy might have made them think twice. It might have made them realize they could be discovered by attendees and event staff as fraudulent if they drew attention to themselves. The policy is just one more safeguard that might make a difference; there’s no reason to discount it, IMO.

  • Pamela

    Wow. It’s pretty bad when your crowd control and security personnel are worse than that at SDCC. I wasn’t at NYCC, but it sounds like they really need to pull it together, particularly if the con is growing in attendance. The sexual harassment aside, if employees are jerks to con-goers and that gets around enough, the bad publicity might hurt NYCC, or at least the management should run on the assumption that it could/will and work hard to improve things.

  • John Keegan

    Fair enough. And if it stops even a few idiots from getting bold, then all the better.

  • John Keegan

    Staff/volunteer quality was extremely variable across the board. At one point, I asked three different people the same very simple question (which line is the one I should be in?) and got three different answers. In fact, it was the kind of question that could have been avoided if they thought to put up a sign to clarify!

    On the whole, I talked to a lot of very nice and even enthusiastically geeky support folks, but sometimes it takes just one to ruin the rest of your day…

  • Katrina

    I thought line management wasn’t terrible, but I did try to get into your panel 30 mins before and was turned away from even waiting to see if a seat opened up. I was disappointed but that was the only rude employee I personally encountered. We ended up going to the East of West panel instead so it turned out okay. It’s a disappointment that press credentials weren’t better checked before granting passes because had they been, perhaps more scrutiny would have been given to these people’s intentions. I also can see how crowding could make it difficult to quickly find those offenders and that they found them at all is to NYCC’s credit. The Arizona Tea thing should never have been allowed to happen. That was completely within NYCC’s control before the situation occurred and they should know their audience is men, women, and children. This could be foreseen to be offensive to any number of these people and was sexist and inappropriate.

  • Trask

    I was at Dragon*Con this year (which is not without its own faults) and the line control was pretty top notch. The staffers were patient, though by Monday they just wanted everyone to gtfo so that day was kind of a free for all. As far as sexual harassment went, I may just not be on top of any reports that were made, but the times that I witnessed harassment, the person was quickly escorted out of the building.

  • electrasteph

    “More important than where the policy lives is if it exists and the staff lives the policy” – nope. It’s important that it be upfront in the materials to deter people like Man Banter from engaging in the behavior in the first place.

  • Margaret

    Before I get through the whole article, I have to say how disappointed I am in Arizona. I really really enjoy Arnold Palmers and now I’m going to feel icky even looking at them. Damnit, marketing guys, way to ruin one of my favorite products.

  • Hailey Ferraro

    I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with how people interacted with the Cosplayers. I was fully prepared to see or hear something slimy and it never happened. I came away from NYCC kinda of proud of how far Cons and the fans have come.

  • Anonymous

    This was my first con, and my fellow congoers were way more respectful and friendly than I had feared. I cosplayed a character in a skintight unitard and the vast majority of people who commented on my appearance did so in an excited or complimentary way (i.e. “You look just like the actress!” instead of “Nice tits!”) I only had one weird encounter, and that was something icky but not lewd whispered at me in passing — can’t even be 100% sure it was directed at me because it was over so fast and I didn’t hear it all. Overall it was way better than I thought it would be. There will always be creeps in every crowd, but I think people are getting with the program.

  • Beverly Ann Nelms


    Last week at New York Comic Con, Mike Babchik and his friends snuck in with SiriusXM credentials (where Babchik is producer and on-air personality on the Mad Dog Sports Radio show) to racially and sexually harass other attendees.”

    If this is accurate, he still works at SiriusXM. It’s worth contacting them about his behavior and letting them know he was representing them.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    All those in my social circle growing up were socially awkward and yet managed not to harass me and others in our group. Being socially awkward has nothing to do with not being a jackhole.

  • Cy

    I’ll be attending my first ever con in February. I’ve been tracking the Pensacon website to see if there’s anything about harassment on it. I know their Facebook page had a post about zero tolerance and then another a couple of weeks later after a troll ended up making a lot of people angry. So far I haven’t seen anything official.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed about the signage. I encountered three extremely rude Con employees, griping about the crowd and taunting people who were in the wrong (unmarked) line. This was my first NYCC, although not my first con by a long shot, and I was unimpressed with the management of the convention.

  • Anonymous

    I had some serious issues with the actual running of the convention, mostly involving unhelpful or missing instructions. That the harassment policy was similarly obscure is not surprising. I used the NYCC app and got almost scarily consistent misinformation from it. Ugh. All in all, yes, I had a good time, but there was room for a lot of improvement, including the anti-harassment policy.

  • Saraquill

    It’s just as well. The company that owns Arizona’s also rather racist, so many people I know boycott it.

  • Vian Lawson

    Really? “Oh well, only one set of douchebros falsified their press credentials so they could creep on unsuspecting con-goers, and women were only objectified by posters plastered all over the place a bit and you really think that’s as good as it gets?

    May you be a father to many daughters.

  • hoopla

    The convention has been disorganized in past years, and as they squeeze more and more people into that convention center, it’s just getting worse. I’m really not surprised that something like this would happen and that it would take so long to get fixed. So many things NYCC did were totally messy. A lot of their accessibility issues were annoying as hell. I don’t think my wheelchair was put in the same place during any of the panels I was in, even when I was in the exact same room. I had volunteers tell me to stay in one place while they conferred with their bosses–and then never come back! Repeatedly! And all the broken elevators…

    I think one of the biggest problems they had this year was communication breakdowns among volunteers/security. No one knew what they were doing, and no one knew who to talk to about it. I’m actually kind of surprised that they EVER got the harassers thrown out of the con. It’s at the point where it really is a safety concern.

  • Travis

    Do you think it’s a reasonable expectation that 100% of humanity is always excellent to one another?

    Assholes crossed the line and got booted.
    The ad was ill conceived and taken down.

    The system worked.

  • Anonymous

    People are, thankfully, getting louder in demanding cons be safe spaces and, in fact, demanding all areas of nerd-dom be safe and con organizers seem to have been, at least, very open to making good changes to the organizing and running of conventions to make sure everyone is comfortable and having a good time safely. I find it super encouraging because, yeah, terrible stuff still does happen, but there’s being a concentrated effort to decrease the frequency and level of terribleness from all corners of the con-going community and, in general, it seems that those who protest not only get called out by the benefactors of these changes, but also by the white men they’re more likely to consider their peers.

  • Anonymous

    Seriously. Even the most socially awkward person knows to cut it out after the second no. If they don’t, they’re not socially awkward, they’re an a%$.

  • Anonymous

    In the case of the film crew, the system worked, but I think it’s fair to demand more of all corporations to be less terrible, since they want me to spend money on them. I also think it’s fair to expect more of the nerd community when it comes to issues of bigotry, bullying, and harassment. Sure, we’ve got a long way to go, especially on the internet and in gaming, but cons at least have shown that persistence and dialogue can improve spaces for every nerd, not just straight, white male nerds.

  • Joanna

    Socially awkward comes in many forms.

  • Mordicai

    Ugh I skipped it this year & hadn’t even heard about the “big cans” stupidity. Misogyny sucks. Here we got to see both the big dumb institutional kind & the up close personal kind, “hooray.”

  • Mordicai

    I don’t think a more visible policy would have done anything, but I DO think that publicly ENFORCING it might.

  • Mordicai

    Just make your own out of iced tea & lemonade; it won’t be “the same,” that is true, but it might just be better.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Of course it does, but it has nothing to do with harassment. Yes some socially awkward people are also harassers. Just as some socially smooth people are harassers. Being socially awkward would not be an excuse or even an explanation for harassing someone.

  • Joanna

    Well I’ll agree there are some that harass for the fun, but others harass or say offensive things without realising the harm that they’re doing. Some people don’t understand this kind of language/behaviour from another person’s perspective. I’d file that under socially awkward.

  • FiniteAnarchy

    True. Many times over the the ad was met with boos from the crowd. I was in Empire all weekend pretty much. The ad was not aired at all Saturday or Sunday. It was absolutely terrible.

  • Anonymous

    Do we know that these guys were actually the ones at NYCC, and that the Man banter guys didn’t just use their names?

  • Michael Giannii Calvert

    Sigh, cons are about having fun not picking up women.

  • Cani Lupine

    Furry conventions are better. We don’t judge. :)

  • ErynRoberts

    I think we’ve unfortunately reached a point in convention-ism that we the geek community are going to have to start taking the NYC approach to things and “If you see something, say something.” We’re going to have to start looking out for each other a little more and holding those guilty accountable. If you or someone you know is being harassed, make a scene, get the attention of others, cry bloody murder. Don’t let the perp leave until the proper authorities arrive. Take pictures/video of the act in question. We need to make it known that this behavior will not be tolerated by anyone at these events and those who behave like this will be publicly shamed. Convention organizers can only do so much and much of their actions are taken after an incident has occurred. Yes, they can post all the anti-harassment policies they want, but that doesn’t necessarily stop the behavior. We as a community need to band together and “take back the night” if you will. The fact that these guys actually thought they were going to get away with this is and this was something that would be “funny” is absolutely absurd to me. We the fans need to stand together and make it perfectly clear that douchbaggery of any kind will not be tolerated at these events.

  • Anonymous

    I’m wondering how much vetting was done on the convention’s part; I mean, did they honestly think a crew like ManFapper was going to bring something positive to our communities?

    ETA: Just about every time I’ve boosted the signal on these stories online I’ve cc’ed SDCC’s account. Maybe we can stop these guys from even trying to go there next year.

  • Vian Lawson

    The ill-conceived ad was permitted in the first place by the NYCC organisers. We shouldn’t have to complain to get it removed – as a piece of obviously sexist, objectifying trash it should never have been approved in the first place.

    And yes, assholes were eventually booted. After numerous incidents. Once security was found. But the said assholes managed to get in with false credentials; that should have raised a few flags. Who was responsible for due diligence?

    I expect (require, demand, what have you) a safe and harrassment free environment when I attend a Con. I expect that the organisers will be proactive, given the very public history of douchbaggery at Cons. And yes, that is a reasonable expectation. 100% of humanity and unremitting excellence would be nice, but I’m talking about a minimum standard here, not a maximum.

  • Beverly Ann Nelms

    Yes. They have been in contact with several of the women they harassed saying they were sorry and asking them to remove their posts about the incidents.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, okay, thanks for the reply. I had to ask because I was wondering how these guys supposedly fooled NYCC with fake press credentials — didn’t NYCC call Sirius to confirm their employment? — and then I thought they must have taken the names of actual employees. So I wanted to make sure someone wasn’t being framed.

    Now I see that there doesn’t seem to be so much subterfuge as I thought. I guess it’s more like one guy actually does work for Sirius, but they didn’t have permission to do this….

  • TokenOfficeGoth

    Popularity has nothing to do with it–there are plenty of GEEKS who are misogynist harassers, and many (if not most) of the ones I’ve met are NOT socially awkward either. It may be hard to believe but there are geeks who deliberately try to make you feel uncomfortable, the difference is usually very easy to spot because “socially awkward/shy” people tend to be still polite, they don’t tend to wolf whistle or grab at you. We can’t pretend that misogynists only come from without, there are plenty of them within.

  • Anonymous

    But when a person’s idea of having fun is picking up / picking on women…