Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Not as simple as good vs. evil: Geeks take on bullying at Comic-Con

By Carrie Goldman, Special to CNN
updated 9:14 PM EDT, Tue July 23, 2013
Attendees gather outside the Samsung Galaxy Experience on the final day of Comic-Con International in San Diego on Sunday, July 21. The convention is the largest comics and entertainment convention in North America and hosts celebrity panels, artist workshops, television and movie premieres as well as a trade show with booths from a variety of entertainment genres. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/19/us/gallery/comic-con-celebs-2013/index.html' target='_blank'>See coverage of celebrity appearances at Comic-Con 2013</a>. Attendees gather outside the Samsung Galaxy Experience on the final day of Comic-Con International in San Diego on Sunday, July 21. The convention is the largest comics and entertainment convention in North America and hosts celebrity panels, artist workshops, television and movie premieres as well as a trade show with booths from a variety of entertainment genres. See coverage of celebrity appearances at Comic-Con 2013.
HIDE CAPTION
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Photos: Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
Sights from the 2013 Comic-Con
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Author Carrie Goldman moderated the first anti-bullying panel at San Diego Comic-Con
  • Goldman: "Even within geek culture, there is still a vast amount of peer victimization"
  • More pop culture cons need to start conversations about bullying, Goldman says
  • "There is space for fun and games as well as tackling the more serious issues," she says

Editor's note: Carrie Goldman is the author of "Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear." Follow Carrie on Facebook and Twitter.

(CNN) -- I can pinpoint the exact moment that put me on a path to moderate San Diego Comic-Con's first anti-bullying panel last weekend. It happened 32 months ago, when I published a blog post about my first-grade daughter Katie, who was taunted for carrying a "Star Wars" water bottle and backpack.

It was the post that launched a thousand geeks, and then 5,000 tweets. Over the next weeks and months, I read a near-constant stream of e-mails, letters and messages from people around the world who wanted to share their own stories of bullying and peer victimization. The story touched the collective nerve of a very motivated and tech-savvy group of people, who took my daughter in as one of their own. My husband and I like to say that we were the first ones to adopt Katie, and the self-proclaimed geeks and nerds adopted her six years later.

The kindness of strangers to our family served as the catalyst for my transition to full-time work as an anti-bullying advocate. After interviewing hundreds of people, including parents, teachers, kids, bullies, victims, bystanders, researchers, psychologists, lawmakers, celebrities and social workers, I wrote a book about why bullying persists in our culture and how we can end the cycle of fear.

Carrie Goldman, center, moderated an anti-bullying panel at San Diego Comic-Con.
Carrie Goldman, center, moderated an anti-bullying panel at San Diego Comic-Con.

But even within geek culture, there is still a vast amount of peer victimization, harassment and bullying. The gaming industry has been plagued by a hotbed of vicious attacks -- male gamers versus female gamers and hardcore gamers versus casual gamers, with issues of misogyny and homophobia and discrimination coming to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Within cosplay, people attack each other over myriad issues: Is the costume authentic? Does the person have the right body shape or ethnicity for the chosen costume?

The roles of bullies and victims can sometimes be blurry, especially when someone who was bullied as a child grows up to be the aggressor. In a world that likes to simplify goodies versus baddies, bullying dynamics are not always so simple to deconstruct.

Comic-Con is widely revered as the mecca of pop culture conventions, but it had never hosted a conversation directly about bullying. Just as parents, kids and communities are talking about social cruelty in schools and online, I wanted to keep the discussion going among geeks and nerds. We need an opportunity to reach the content creators and ask: How can we respond to messages of bullying perpetuated by entertainment media while retaining dynamic narratives in music, movies, video games and comics?

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Two years ago at the first GeekGirlCon, I met Chase Masterson, who played Leeta during the final five seasons of "Star Trek: Deep Space 9." Masterson has mentored kids in gangs for many years, and she views bullying prevention as a passion project. "There's strength in the knowledge that countless bullied kids, who have felt so hopeless, have overcome that pain and have rich, fulfilling lives and relationships. And people who have been bullied have a unique ability to become compassionate voices, leaders and champions over oppression; the potential for healing to conquer injustice is huge," she explained.

A bite-size tour of Comic-Con

At Comic-Con, Masterson and I debuted the newly formed Anti-Bullying Coalition to lead conversations about a wide range of bullying issues. How can we get society to stop blaming the victim? How can we create safer spaces for GLBT kids? How do we empower kids to speak up for others who are being victimized? How do we raise children who are neither bullies nor victims?

The questions flew back and forth, bandied about by Coalition members such as No H8 Campaign, the United Nations Association, Cartoon Network's Stop Bullying: Speak Up, the Anti-Defamation League and GLSEN. At one point I stood back and looked around, equal parts grateful and amazed to be part of the discussion. Surrounded by people in elaborate costumes, listening to the noise and excitement, I recalled the moment 32 months ago when I was just another worried mom, wondering how to help my kid. That moment led me here.

Comic-Con: Jennifer Lawrence

Comic-Con is serving as a model for other conventions by addressing the issue of bullying. There is space for fun and games as well as tackling the more serious issues that affect convention-goers. Comic conventions provide a common forum for those with passionate -- even obsessive -- interests, and the same people who were once taunted for dressing as Superman in school are now celebrated as cosplayers at a con.

Comic-Con: Stan Lee

Indeed, some of the strongest voices of support for Katie came from the 501st Legion, an international charitable organization dedicated to creating exact costume replications of characters from Star Wars. When Katie mentioned that she would like to be a Stormtrooper for Halloween last year, the 501st Legion put out a call to action, and members worldwide donated parts for a miniature set of armor. The Midwest Garrison assembled the costume and presented it to Katie in a ceremony that ended with her hugging Darth Vader. After Katie outgrows the armor, we'll donate it back to the 501st so it can be passed to another child, most likely through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Katie, who is off at sleep-away camp, was unable to attend Comic-Con. But she was with me every step of the way.

Late Sunday afternoon, in the final hour of the final day of the con, the first-ever anti-bullying panel took place. From the moment I posed the first question to writer Jane Espenson of "Once Upon a Time" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," to the very last comments by Masterson, the room was full. Every person stayed. Within hours of the panel ending, tweets were already coming in from people asking us to bring anti-bullying panels to other pop culture conventions. Leaders in the geek community are spreading the word.

I think back to the first moments of the panel, when I said to the room, "Raise your hand if you still remember a specific incidence of being taunted from more than a decade ago." The sheer number of hands in the air served as testimony to the power of hurt feelings to linger. From now on, Comic-Con convention-goers will come for cosplay, entertainment, freebies, autographs -- and healing.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
updated 7:43 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
While most children wait and hope Santa visits them at home on Christmas Eve, this year dozens of Denver-area children went directly to the big man's arctic home turf.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Almost 300 students who had been rejected by Johns Hopkins University received a joyous shock over the weekend when the prestigious Baltimore school said they'd been admitted after all -- but they hadn't.
updated 5:09 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
There is no way around the topic of nakedness in front of your children without getting personal and slightly uncomfortable.
updated 6:55 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Teens might be shedding their rebellious reputations: A survey says they're doing fewer drugs, drinking and smoking less. But E-cigarette use is up.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Carol Costello asks whether American culture sends a message to girls that it's not cool to study math and science fields.
updated 12:44 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
It's that special time of year, when Christmas and Hanukkah toy sellers try to put children in a box.
updated 7:59 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Foodies and travelers: They're adventurous, they have discerning tastes and they love to discover a little-known jewel. Here's how to shop for them.
CNN iReport asked families with children with developmental and physical disabilities to share what their lives are like.
updated 7:00 AM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
Don't know what to get parents who are always on the move or kids who seem to have everything? This is just the list for you.
updated 11:45 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
You probably know LOL and OMG -- but what about IWSN, CU46 or IPN. It's all about KPC -- "keeping parents clueless."
updated 9:17 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Out of control parties, sex and alcohol are some of the dangers kids might get into when left alone overnight. But some are mature enough to handle it. How do you know?
updated 11:58 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Across the country and around the world, synthetic drugs are tearing holes in families.
updated 11:42 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
There's no place like home for the holidays -- and for one little girl in Cleveland, it's the only place.
Girl Scout cookie sales are entering the 21st century. For the first time ever, Girl Scout cookies will be sold online through a national platform called Digital Cookie. This breaks the organization's ban on e-sales of Thin Mints and Samoas.
updated 9:19 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Author/actor B.J. Novak
B.J. Novak is catering to kids. His first children's book tops the New York Times list of best selling children's picture books. But here's the catch: it actually doesn't have any pictures.
updated 7:20 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Hundreds of students walked out of their Oklahoma high school Monday to protest the school's response to the alleged bullying of three classmates who say they were raped by the same person.
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 4:12 PM EST, Sat November 22, 2014
Students unhappy with school meals are taking it out on the first lady by sharing images on social media of lunches sarcastically tagged #ThanksMichelleObama.
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
It began for Nickolay Lamm as a question: What would Barbie look like if she had the dimensions of an average woman?
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT