Many, perhaps most, of the people attending Comic-Con have been the victims of bullying at one time in their life or another. iSafe Foundation reports that 52 percent of teens have been bullied on-line. 95-percent of teens who witness the behavior ignore it. Over the past several years Chase Masterson has been raising awareness about bullying online and in the physical world by hosting panels at Comic-Cons and other conventions to discuss the topic and offer practical advice for how to stand-up to bullies, and how to be heroes by standing up for those being bullied.
Comic-con 2015 saw the launch of the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, a group founded by Masterson, along with “Bullied” author Carrie Goldman, and Hero Creation Company, “ Hero Creator,” Matt Langdon. Other partners include NOH8 Campaign, The United Nations Association, Anti-Defamation League. Cartoon Network: Stop Bullying, Speak Up, Team Husbands, GLSEN, International Bullying Prevention Association, Brave Girls Alliance, The Hero Construction Company and Hero Roundtable.
The San Diego Comic-Con 2015 panel included Masterson, Goldman and Langdon, along with The United Nations Association President Bettina Hausmann, NO H8 Campaign founders Adam Bouska & Jeff Parshley, and activists like actors Doctor Who and Torchwood actor John Barrowman, Jokers Wild & Impractical Jokers’ Joe Gatto and Entertainment Weekly Senior Writer Anthony Breznican, the author of Brutal Youth.
Coalition Founder Chase Masterson hands out Krispy Kreme in the Hall H line
Masterson unabashedly states that “the world needs more heroes. We have a huge fascination with them in pop culture, but most people miss opportunities for heroism every day. Heroic acts don’t need to be extraordinary in order to be important. I want to shine a light on that fact and encourage heroic behavior on all scales.”
Ultimately, this is about behavior, as Goldman asserts: “You will notice that I never refer to people as bullies. I only talk about the bullying behaviors in which they engage. By focusing on behaviors, you have a growth mindset and you leave room for people to change in a positive way. Every time we catch ourselves making sweeping generalizations, we need to stop and question these stereotypes.”
Comic-con, in many ways, however, is about the anti-stereotype. NO8’s Bouska says that “By being ourselves we open up the spectrum of what becomes “normal”.” Co-founder Parshley continues: “When we talk about who we are in a positive way, we educate people about what makes us different.”
NoBullying.com makes the statement on their website that “Unfortunately, victims of cyber bullying sometimes, in an attempt to fight back, can shift roles, becoming the aggressor. Often, this happens as a sort of back-and-forth between victim and aggressor which tends to continue the behavior.”
This makes bullying a lightning rod issue at Cons because it brings people together who not only share a passion for science fiction, fantasy or comics, but also with a shared experience when it comes to being different. Langdon observes: “I think bullying happens to lots of people passionate about any element of pop culture. When your passion makes you different, it can make you a target.”
Comedian Gatto points out, Cons offer an unique opportunity to engage in constructive dialog. “The reason for me is that the people that come to Con are a people of passion. They believe in something and fanboy/girl about it. They get behind something. That’s what the issue needs. It needs heroes. It needs people to make it happen. And also needs people to educate others to feel like they are alone in the world realize they are not.”
The first step is awareness of behaviors that exist, even at a Con, a place considered by many to be a very inclusive and accepting. Masterson shares that “I’ve experienced and seen the intense pain that comes from bullying. One major way we can all be heroes is to stand up for people who are being bullied, both online and IRL (in-real-life). We need to create a culture where the norm is inclusivity, kindness, and the cherishing of each others’ differences.”
Langdon put the action clearly on individuals: “Help them realize that they have the power to stop negative behavior. It isn’t up to someone else to stop it.”
“The little things that you dream of. The injustices you want to fight. These things can happen over night.” shares The United Nations Organization’s Hausmann. “I grew up in East Germany. No one anticipated that the wall would fall. And then overnight, it fell. The signs were there, but we didn’t really see them. What I’m saying is if you don’t see the signs, just keep moving forward, keep doing the right thing. It will take time and take some costs, but doing the right thing is really how we bring change about.”
Much of the healing and insight in these panels come from stories being told by the celebrities and organizers on the panel. This year the Coalition welcome John Barrowman, who shared the following story:
“When I moved from Glasgow, Scotland to the United States. That was the first. I was picked on because of the accent. But also, I knew at a very young age I was gay. I didn’t know how to process it. I’m just going to say the words. I was called queer, fag. I started asking how I could avoid being picked on. So I started talking with an American accent. But there was this other part of me I couldn’t change. I could lie, but my parents taught me not to lie. To be who you are.
“I never stood-up to that point. I tried to avoid, to avoid situations. I will never forget this. Coming out of the cafeteria. I was in sixth grade, walking next to Amy Chester. A friend of mine. A guy came up to me. I was at my locker. He called me fag and punched me in the face and shut the door. I am inside my locker. What do you do? You are mortified. You are embarrassed. The first thing in my head was what do I tell my Mom and Dad, my family. But in all of this I heard this voice. It was Amy Chester: “What is the combination?” That is a real friend. Inside the locker, I’m like, “Don’t cry. Don’t cry. 42….7” I’m thinking in my head, please get it right so I’m not stuck in here. I’m out, everybody’s gone to class. Not only that but I got in trouble for being late. So my teacher was like, sit down, do your math. So I had no one to talk to.”
Eventually John confronted his tormentor, the same boy who would also sit on him on the bus and flick his face on the way to swim meets. Although the childhood details aren’t clear, Barrowman said in essence, that “you can hit me. You can hit me. You can bully me. You can hit me in the face, but I will always stand back up. I’m not going anywhere.”
Masterson followed that story with: “And that’s our panel ladies and gentlemen.”
While Comic-Con celebrates our shared pop culture, we need to be reminded that not everyone is accepting, and even at the Con, as Langdon states, “I think there is also bullying within the groups that make up a Comic-Con audience. Fans who haven’t loved a TV series for “long enough”, or like the wrong version of Batman, for example, can be ridiculed.”
This panel reminds us that we can all fall victim, but we can also find ourselves susceptible to the traps of bigotry, ignorance and hate. There is no fix but vigilance, and that is a real super hero trait. Very often, the best of the super hero characters must face a flaw that, when overcome, makes them both empathetic, and more powerful. The Pop Culture Hero Coalition shines a light on a flaw that many of us fall victim to, even more pay no heed when they see it in action, and unfortunately, many still ignore in themselves. If you want to attend a panel that will enlighten and bolster your courage, I know of none better than the ones organized by Masterson and her band of pop culture heroes.
For more on the Pop Culture Hero Coalition visit http://www.popcultureherocoalition.com.
Facebook: Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition
Twitter & Instagram: @SuperheroIRL