New York Comic Con is not just about comic books, television programs, cosplayers, and the latest hit in geek culture. It’s also a space to discuss important social issues that plague our society, especially in the geek community. According to recent statistics, over 70 percent of teenagers have seen bullying happen on school grounds and many more experience it online. It’s a constant issue that has led to the creation of many anti-bullying programs, including the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition, founded by panelists Chase Masterson and Carrie Goldman. The “End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in Our Culture” panel on Friday, October 10, helped shed light on the issue and discuss the tools necessary to face bullying.
The panelists contained a mix of celebrities and experts, all leading the way against bullying in various fields, including Her Universe’s Ashley Eckstein, Joe Gatto (Impractical Jokers), founders Adam Hartley and Matt Langdon of The Hero Round Table, Anti-Defamation League Director Eva Vega-Olds, and forensic psychology professor Dr. Travis Langley.
The panel kicked off with introductions and basic questions about bullying. Ashley’s answer, in particular, highlights the importance of Her Universe and the light side to social media.
Carrie Goldman: Ashley, you say that your company, Her Universe, is two parts: 50 percent a merchandise line and 50 percent a community. How do you handle bullying in your own community? How do you prevent bullying from happening in your own community?
Ashley Eckstein: From day one, when we started Her Universe, I said it’s 50 percent a merchandise line, but more importantly, 50 percent a community. I don’t care if you come to Her Universe and never buy a single thing. What’s more important to me is that you join the conversation. To me it’s a place where–especially fangirls, because for so long, fangirls didn’t really feel safe in this community. They felt like it was just a men’s and a boy’s club. I also want to say that we’re not here to say that sci-fi/fantasy, that this world is just for girls. It’s not just for girls, it’s not just for boys–it’s for everyone. It transcends gender. I think we can see this on the floor. It’s almost equal–it’s literally like 50/50, which is amazing.
More importantly, Her Universe I wanted it to be a safe place, where fangirls can step into the spotlight, be rewarded, and celebrated. And what I’ve noticed in the past couple of years is I feel like when we oftentimes read online, we think about all the negative comments and all of the mean things that people say and we hear all of the negative stories and all of the bad things that have happened to people. Something beautiful has happened at Her Universe, and I feel like it’s not just me, it’s the fans as well. We kind of set a tone, where it truly is a safe place that people are not going to be bullied. Of course, it’s going to happen, but I feel like there’s a no tolerance policy, so if there’s somebody new that comes on to our boards and our pages and they say something that is bullying or not appropriate, the rest of the community steps in and says no or they stand up for the person being bullied.
Sometimes, if you have just a friend, somebody that stands up for you and you don’t feel alone–I’ve noticed that online. That you can still be somebody’s friend and stand up online. Sometimes, it can be really scary just to post a comment and you can feel so alone–it’s like you’re the kid sitting by yourself at the lunch table. But, if you see somebody that is trying to strike up a conversation and is just happy to be there, write a comment. Start up a conversation with that person because you don’t know that person could feel very alone and looking for companionship–they’re looking for friendship, they’re looking to be part of the community. And that could be someone that’s being bullied.
You have no idea, the power of just a couple of words. You know, saying, “Wow, that’s a really cool costume. How long did it take you to make it?” That could literally make that person’s day and give them so much more confidence. I’m going to call out somebody right now, but in the front row is a girl named Johnamarie.
Johnamarie–she’s inspired me so much because we do something called Fangirl of the Day and we nominate a different fangirl on our website every single day. And Johnamarie goes on, and oftentimes, she’s the only person who comments, but she comments on every single girl. She reads their blog that day and she makes that girl feel special…I just encourage us all that we can use the power of social media for good and can use it for anti-bullying and quiet the stipulation of “Oh there’s so many mean comments.” Let’s throw out a lot nice comments.
Joe Gatto spoke about his nerdy childhood and how he was picked on at school. One day, he acted out and defended himself, and based on that he went on to say, “It’s very easy for the victim to feel like it’s on them to change or on them to do something. It’s true. It’ll help you, if you take action, but a lot of people are victims because they’re powerless and a lot of people don’t know how to do that. My message to you is when you see bullying, stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.”
Founders Adam Hartly and Matt Langdon of The Hero Round Table actually teach people how to be real heroes. Hartly explained that the word “anti” sounds negative compared to “pro,” a more positive word. Unfortunately, research consistently demonstrates that anti-bullying programs aren’t as effective as believed in the community. Hartly and Langdon promote what’s called “Pro-Heroism,” where students and adults are given the tools and knowledge to be their own heroes and not a bystander.
“When you step out, you take action,” said Hartly in defining Pro-Heroism and its effects.
“The opposite of a hero is not a villain, it’s a bystander,” said Matt Langdon as he went on to explain the bystander effect. When people stand up and do something about bullying, change happens. However, people often fall into what’s called the bystander effect, a phenomenon that involves placing the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders and following the group, “You start making excuses for why you’re not acting.” The practice of reaching outside of yourself and taking risks are vital and necessary parts of heroism.
Anti-Defamation League Director Eva Vega-Olds spoke about how word choices (insults and biased words) have a real effect on the world around them. As an example, she went on to read a letter from her cousins in Puerto Rico, who expressed the bullying they have experienced from others in the cosplaying world, from family, and from the local community.
Forensic psychology professor Dr. Travis Langley uses fiction to safely address real life issues and reach a wider audience. When addressing real life issues during a forensic psychology course, students tend to turn away from or are turned off by the subject. Fiction, however, engages people and starts a dialogue about difficult and rough topics. According to Dr. Langley, “The focus on anti-bullying is like the difference between the authoritative and authoritarian parent. The authoritarian parent focuses on punishing what they don’t want you to do without telling you what to do or reasons why. The authoritative parent focuses more on rewarding the better things and teaching you why on the good and the bad. And these anti-bullying programs [are] making some of these same mistakes.”
Though it came to a swift end, the panel brought up an intriguing conversation surrounding anti-bullying and the positive alternative methods currently being used to make more heroes. Make sure to follow the panelists, engage in the ongoing discussion, and don’t be a bystander–stand up for others and be a hero!
- Carrie Goldman: @CarrieMGoldman, @AntiBullyingCo
- Chase Masterson: @ChaseMasterson
- Ashley Eckstein: @HerUniverse
- Joe Gatto: @Joe_Gatto
- Adam Hartley: @adamhartley2014
- Matt Langdon: @TheHeroCC, @HeroRoundTable
- Eva Vega-Olds: @EvaVegaWorld
- Dr. Travis Langley: @Superherologist