Arisia’s terms of service

I didn’t attend Arisia, but according to accounts I’ve seen on rec.music.filk, the registration lines were a disaster as a result of a bizarre policy. I’m going by second-hand information here, but I haven’t seen it contradicted, and if it’s correct it’s a good reason for me to keep skipping Arisia.

Arisia draws a few thousand people, so there are going to be lines under the best of circumstances, but they were made worse by requiring each person to sign a “document which looked to want a lawyer’s attention for a week to figure it out.” This document was Arisia’s code of conduct, or perhaps a document incorporating it by reference. That code is about 1800 words long and contains items which people need to think about carefully. People weren’t given a copy to sign until they reached the front of the line. If each person took five minutes to read the document, it’s impressive that everyone got registered by the time the convention was over. I suppose a lot of people felt pressured into signing without reading.

There certainly are points that I’d question. “Insulting behavior” is forbidden, specifically including “discriminatory comments.” Does that mean you can’t say some kinds of literature are junk? One of the panels, on “Writing and Racial Identity,” is described in the program schedule as addressing the following questions: “How much does an author’s race contribute to what they write? Are certain topics forbidden? Obligatory? Should they be?” Answering “yes” to any of the last three questions is a “discriminatory comment” even under a narrow definition; was that program item thrown in to entrap people? I’m not saying I’d support “yes” answers; I think it’s inappropriate for Arisia even to treat those as legitimate questions. But scheduling a program item and then banning open discussion of its topic just makes things worse.

An inconspicuous bombshell: “Program participants, moderators, and event coordinators are responsible for the comfort and safety of convention members in their areas.” I’ve been on panels and moderated filksings at a lot of conventions, but never been charged with responsibility for the comfort and safety of attendees. Traditionally, that responsibility falls partly on the hotel, partly on the con committee, and largely on the attendees themselves. How would panelists know how to deal with a problem? Normally issues in the room are handled by convention ops, which talks to hotel staff; in emergencies, people act according to their qualifications and abilities.

“Any request to leave an area must be complied with immediately.” Any request? No matter who makes it?

There’s going to be bad writing in any complicated document. I just discovered a significant discrepancy between MASSFILC’s by-laws and practices that’s been going on for years, and as the clerk I’m supposed to notice those things. But Arisia’s case brings several problems together: the tendency toward making people agree to complicated, legalistic documents; the incorporation of speech codes into convention codes of conduct; and bad handling of the process. Boskone’s code of conduct does much better; it’s concise and its terms are reasonable, and no one made me agree to it at registration. (Disclaimer: I was on the Boskone committee for many years.)

If I’ve gotten anything wrong or left out important facts, please let me know.

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