On Some Stuff That Happened at Chicago TARDIS

(23 comments)

We don't usually do breaking news at Eruditorum Press, but the initial reports I saw on this one were disturbing enough that I dug into it. The result, thankfully, appeared considerably less disturbing than first glance, but I'm going ahead and running the story anyway, if only as a reminder of the constant sexist background noise that pervades fandom.

Sunday afternoon, at a panel at the Chicago TARDIS convention, moderator Elliot Serrano made an extended joke about how Kingston's "characters always seemed to have a thing for doctors" before presenting her with a fictitious doctoral certificate and asking "if Elizabeth Corday would like to have a cup of coffee some time." Kingston, with the look of apparent disgust documented in the photo (posted to the Chicago TARDIS Facebook account with the caption "Alex Kingston reviews Elliot Serrano's doctorate"), replied "what am I supposed to do with this?" Serrano went on to note that Kingston had been wearing Necomimi Brainwave Cat Ears, which nominally reflect the wearer's mood, and said "I wonder what they'd be doing if you were wearing them today." Kingston's response: "Probably running away."

Chicago TARDIS's anti-harassment policy proclaims that they are "dedicated to providing a harassment-free convention experience for everyone" and "do not tolerate harassment of convention participants in any form," specifying that "harassment includes verbal comments that reinforce social structures of domination related to gender" as well as "unwelcome sexual attention." 

Contacted via Twitter, Serrano stressed that the exchange was "meant to be a comedic bit to liven the panel," and noted that, upon being told backstage that people had taken exception to the joke, he approached Kingston to apologize, and that she took no offense and did not even realize what he might be apologizing for. He also stated, "I can see how some would find that type of bit inappropriate, and I won't be doing that again out of respect for Chicago TARDIS and the fans."

I am certainly heartened by the fact that Serrano clearly grasps the seriousness of what happened, and that the convention acted quickly in talking to him after the panel. All the same, things like this shouldn't be happening, not least because of the message they send to convention-goers both about what behavior is considered acceptable and about how complaints of harassment might be treated by staff. To his credit, when I put this to Serrano he agreed that it set a bad tone. But I wish he'd realized that before sticking his foot in his mouth in front of an audience of fans. And more than that, I wish fandom weren't a place where reports of Alex Kingston being sexually harassed at a convention sounded more like business as usual than like a shocking and appalling abberation. 

Comments

Matt M 1 year, 5 months ago

I have never known a convention host to do comedy and not come off as horribly cringeworthy.

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Max Curtis 1 year, 5 months ago

At the Festival a few weeks ago, Toby Hadoke asked a young kid in the front row if he's a Doctor Who fan, then gestured at himself and said something like, "Take note, because in about thirty years, this is your future."

Can't think of any other non-cringeworthy example, though.

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C R 1 year, 5 months ago

If this weren't the 10th (or 20th or 30th) time that Serrano has done pretty much exactly the SAME EXACT THING, I'd be heartened. But this is hardly his first time making a woman feel uncomfortable, and despite his apologies I doubt it will be the last.

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AndyRobot 1 year, 5 months ago

That puts things in a very different light. I'm sad to hear that.

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AndyRobot 1 year, 5 months ago

I was at the con, but wasn't in the room. This is the first I heard about it, but I'll try to offer any insight I can...:

1) The most troubling thing to me is the "your characters seem to have a thing for doctors" line. And - sure - she's played opposite Matt Smith and Eric LaSalle, both of whom were playing doctors on TV. Thing is, on both Doctor Who *and* ER, her character *also* held a doctorate. So, y'know, that's a thing. It's 2015 and we're still falling for the old "I can't operate on this patient because he's my son" riddle.

2) Having said that, I did see the host do a couple of other interviews this weekend, and I'd describe his persona as more "amiable goofball" than "leering creep." I'm almost 100% sure it was an attempt at friendly humor that just plain backfired.

3) Having said *that*... I wonder what, exactly, was going through his head when he came up with this gag. "so, her characters have a thing for doctors, and I'm a doctor, so... here's my doctorate, let's grab coffee, ha ha..." Even if sexism wasn't at play here, that's just a lame joke. It's always going to provoke an awkward response.

4) Having said *that*... Alex didn't seem bothered by it - possibly because she's heard worse and must have experience dealing with this kind of thing. I thought the awkward "what am I supposed to do with this?" said it all, really. That makes this joke okay.

4a) I'm being sarcastic about that last part. Of course it doesn't make it okay. We live in a horrible, cynical world full of idiots, and I'm angry about that. And one of the things I am angry about, is that because of the horrible idiots, we have to go around saying things like "that doesn't make it okay," so people know we're not the idiots. And I'm just done with humanity. All of it. But mostly people who think "it" is "okay."

5) Regarding harassment policies at conventions - they're always a good thing. Always. I'm incredibly proud of TARDIS for having one. Some conventions don't. I'm not naming names, but if your convention doesn't have a clear harassment policy on your website or in your brochures, and you're the kind of convention whose con-runners might conceivably be reading this website, you should pretty much get right on that immediately.

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AndyRobot 1 year, 5 months ago

5a) I am *not* being sarcastic about that last part. I am, in fact, being very serious about that last part.

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C R 1 year, 5 months ago

If you go take a quick gander at his Twitter feed, you'll see him 'flirting' with any woman he comes in contact to, completely unsolicited. He knows how to creep out women without triggering alarm bells in most of the men around him, so people find it surprising when women talk about how gross he is. He treats women pretty much interchangeably, playing a numbers game by hoping if he flirts with every woman, he'll eventually get someone to say yes. It's too close to pick up artist tactics to not be gross.

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Phil Sandifer 1 year, 5 months ago

/flips through his Twitter feed a bit.

Yuck.

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Elliott Serrano 1 year, 5 months ago

Just needed to clarify something here: any interactions I may have with people - especially women - on my Twitter feed that could be construed as flirtatious are with friends who know me IRL and with whom I have fairly close relationships. If there's evidence of my being untoward with anyone other than someone like that, please point it out to me.

Also, this is the first and the last time I'm ever going to try that kind of stunt. It was poorly conceived and executed. It was most certainly poorly received. I truly regret that I spoiled what was otherwise an excellent panel with Ms. Kingston for her fans.

Believe me when I say that no one feels worse about this than I do. I am a fan of Doctor Who and Ms. Kingston. To have represented myself in what turned out to be a dishonorable fashion is something I'm going to have a hard time living down.

My apologies to all

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Andrew B 1 year, 4 months ago

At the risk of stating the obvious...

You might want to reconsider performing private in-jokes in public, especially in the genre of “things that look creepy to outsiders.”

Otherwise you're running the risk of people coming to the entirely reasonable conclusion (based on the evidence available to them) that there's a good chance you are creepy, and acting accordingly.

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AndyRobot 1 year, 4 months ago

You know, I have a lot of respect for you for saying this, and not chalking it up to "oh those oversensitive blah blahs" or whatever. A thing happened. Some people were bothered. You listened. You seem to get it.

That's what we ask of people, isn't it?

I don't know much else about you, but I respect the part of you that apologized.

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Max Curtis 1 year, 5 months ago

At worst, this is a perfect example of casual sexism in fandom, turning an extremely good and professional actress into "the one who's defined by her character's crushes". At best, it's just terrible improv. Just because you're onstage with a good actor doesn't mean you're an actor too. And people go to conventions because they take actors like Alex Kingston seriously, so I feel like his "livening the panel" excuse is totally unjustified.

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Sage 1 year, 5 months ago

It was only right for the moderator to apologize immediately to Alex, and I'm sure she accepted graciously. But a pardon from one person - even if that person WAS the butt of the joke - isn't an absolution. Especially in this case, with all the fans (some young, many female) who were also forced to endure the casual ha-ha reinforcement of gross gender politics over which daily battles are being waged in geek culture. And it really grinds my gears when people who've been called out on their behavior try to weasel their way out of responsibility by pointing at the people who weren't offended instead of listening to those who were, and especially those who might have been, but are conditioned to accept this kind of nonsense and thus don't speak out. TL;DR: I hope for the sake of a gifted and kind guest that Alex truly wasn't made uncomfortable. But her experience also doesn't negate mine, or anyone else's.

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Phil Sandifer 1 year, 5 months ago

In case it's in any way unclear from my account, I agree wholeheartedly with this.

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Sage 1 year, 5 months ago

That came through! :)

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plutoniumboss 1 year, 5 months ago

Serrano sounds Italian-American. They flirt with everyone, it's part of the culture. Remember how Leno used to hit on all his guests, regardless of how dumb it looked?

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Phil Sandifer 1 year, 5 months ago

...

Really? You're going with that?

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JB Anderton 1 year, 5 months ago

I wasn't at the con on Sunday and it's the first I've heard of this. I'm shocked but not surprised. I've met Elliot in person a few years ago at Chicago TARDIS, and he seems to be a nice enough fella, but yeah, he definitely gives off a very creepy-guy-who-can't-get-a-date-and-will-now-whine-all-about-it vibe, especially on his Twitter feed. It's a bad stereotype of male nerds/geeks that he continues to perpetuate.

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Daru 1 year, 4 months ago

Such as shame to hear about this. I wouldn't see that there is ever a reason to make an actor who is giving time to come to a con, to be made to feel uncomfortable even slightly. The pic says it all.

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JT 1 year, 4 months ago

Hmm... This may be a case of people calling out something inappropriate, but I would also like to see how flirtation is treated with other panelists, male guests, and on the convention floor. Bearing in mind Kingston's own lack of attention to the matter, it may also be a case of the hypersensitivity of her vocal fanbase.

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Holly 1 year, 4 months ago

Willing to write this off as someone's attempt at comedy-flirting that WAY overestimated the funniness of the joke and his personal charm - I've seen non-embarrassing flirting at panels (the Classic Doctors flirting with the sign language interpreter at the 50th Anniversary comes to mind). I agree that it says a lot about geek culture that he thought the skit was appropriate in the first place, though.

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sn, so far in the right 1 year, 4 months ago

I thought it was cute...

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Comment deleted 1 month, 4 weeks ago

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