Signs of Trouble

A couple years ago, Otakon had announced a “sign” policy that regulates the use and display of signs within the convention by the con-goers. This is particularly amusing if you read about that without any idea how it was at Otakon, and twice more if you do.

And for the most part, it’s something of just trivial, passing interest.

Said trivial, passing interest came to mind when I read that one US Supreme Court oral argument transcript about signs at a school. It’s in the local news this past week, and the long and short of it is that some student held up a 14-foot banner saying “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” during a school assembly to watch the passing of the Olympic torch in Alaska.

During the oral argument, the various Supreme Court Justices pitched hypothetical to illustrate their points about managing kids in schools, First Amendment issues, and to test the possible ruling they are considering. Expectedly, there were some good ones. I think Justice Scalia’s “bong sign” comment wins them all, but it just occured to me that these signs are, depending on context, possibly very, very funny things. It’s like, a non-computer representation of a funny image, printed on something.

yarly

And then Otakon came to mind. Otakon 2004(?) was when the signs went crazy. Walking through the main exhibit hall corridors at the right time of day on Saturday means you probably saw like a hundred signs, many of them small and crude, plastered on walls or held up by random idling people. Most of them are pretty stupid things telling you the nature of fandom and what it means to be a fangirl or fanboy; who needs no pocky or glomping. Whatever. That year Otakon hit 20000+ in attendees, if I recall correctly, so it was a bit out of hands.

But does that infringes free speech? Naturally the BCC (and most other con hosts) are private locations, so at the very least, US laws allow the private organizations to arrange and manage things like sign usage when it’s on private property, as opposed to public schools.

Nonetheless free speech is an issue. Perhaps not so serious, but most anime cons in the US still screen fansubs; panelists and attendees exhort all kinds of crazy opinions that do not reflect the organizations that host these panels. The expression of people with signs are mostly harmless, but can be a public nuance if they become fire hazards or create litter. Still, if you really want to be glomped, there’s no reason to not let other people know about it, I think. I guess as much as I might regret saying it, signs (when responsibly used) exhibits individuality and personality and adds a lot more to cons, in the same ways cosplayers and live performances in the halls do, and gives it flavor. Perhaps it’s another story as to if signs can be responsibly used, and what that means.

To me anime cons are valuable as a exhibition and expression of fandom. On top of being a consumerist orgy of niche retail products and a giant networking opportunity, it’s a precious expression of freedom of speech and the freedom of people being who they want to be. Retarded kids need be policed by con management, yes, but what’s lost is not insignificant.


6 Responses to “Signs of Trouble”

  • kransom

    Most of them are pretty stupid things telling you the nature of fandom and what it means to be a fangirl or fanboy; who needs no pocky or glomping.

    Really? In my own experience, any time I’ve bothered to even look at a sign at a con, it’s far more likely than not to be solicitation or panhandling. (KITTY-BOY NEEDS GLOMPING, WILL YURI FOR POCKY, etc) Personally, I couldn’t care less about those signs as long as they’re not clogging up the hallways, but it looks like the cons think that the cost to their reputation, as well as the potential cost of any sort of legal or police action taken on them or their members because of the signs outweighs the cost of disallowing one specific form of expression. Sure, it’d be great if they could deal with signs on a case-by-case basis, but, well… I think Otakon 2006 showed us that they have staffing problems as-is. Now of course, if I had to choose between signs and 75 kids playing marco polo in hotel lobbies, yelling at the top of their lungs while 30% of the con is still trying to sleep, I’d keep the signs. But that’s another gripe from this fun-and-freedom-hating con staff.

  • lolikit

    Hmm… at Fanime last year, I had a sign that read “<3 ME I’M LOLICON” and everyone who got it seemed immensely amused/pleased. I like signs :3

  • Seth

    IIRC, the weird Otakon sign policy was related to Baltimore solicitation laws.

  • dreamshade

    But there’s a difference between stifling free speech and an attempt to keep order in a situation. The Bong Hits thing was a mild protest, which was not even on school grounds when it occurred. If it had happened directly on school grounds, the administration would have had more rights to call it off, since it would have more directly affected the atmosphere and activity of the school. The issue there was whether the school had the right to discipline someone for something that was not directly related to the school. Speech can still be regulated in more closed situations when it affects a community as a whole.

  • DrmChsr0

    Well, living in Singapore, y’don’t see handmade signs, as it would be considered protesting, and thus considered illegal. Also there are no such things as animé cons here, just cosplay cons :V

    Well, assuming all goes well this year, we might have something resembling an animé con. Assuming nothing wrong.

    …Yes, I do live in a messed-up place.

  • omo

    DS: But there’s a difference between stifling free speech and an attempt to keep order in a situation. The Bong Hits thing was a mild protest, which was not even on school grounds when it occurred. If it had happened directly on school grounds, the administration would have had more rights to call it off, since it would have more directly affected the atmosphere and activity of the school. The issue there was whether the school had the right to discipline someone for something that was not directly related to the school. Speech can still be regulated in more closed situations when it affects a community as a whole.

    Did you read the oral argument or briefs by the parties or the lower court ruling? Because what you say is a half-truthful representation of the issue of law in question. Location is just one factor. The type of “community” is just another. The “related to school” bit has nothing to do with the type of speech in question, but it has to do with the limits of this first-amendment exception.

    but it looks like the cons think that the cost to their reputation, as well as the potential cost of any sort of legal or police action taken on them or their members because of the signs outweighs the cost of disallowing one specific form of expression.

    Insurance is expensive.

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