First of all, I’d like to admit something. I am wrong a lot. I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t often wrong. Nobody likes to be wrong, but it’s a totally natural part of being human. As a computer programmer, some days, it seems like computers are just machines that were designed to prove me wrong beyond any doubt, over and over again, and make me have to deal with it and repeatedly rework things. This is the reality I deal with every day.
A lot of the discourse you find on the internet is completely ridiculous. Lines are drawn in the sand. Everything is black and white. Few people seem to have any intention of debating anything in earnest. Whenever a person starts to get dangerously close to actually having made a good point, threads are deleted, social media accounts are blocked, and mobs of snarling confederates are called to the rescue, wielding their best ad-hominems and non-sequiturs, preventing any real debate from happening.
On the cold, anonymous, internet, admitting you’re wrong is treated as a sign of weakness. In fact, nothing but the opposite is true. Admitting one’s own opinions, assumptions, or mental models is incredibly difficult. It is actually a sign of strength. Most of the time, it takes an incredible amount of self-awareness, and constant fighting against normal human cognitive biases in order to even recognize you are wrong in the first place, and that’s only the first part. In order to actually admit you’re wrong, you have to swallow your pride, go against everything your instincts are telling you, and grant your (probably somewhat hated) opponent a win.
On Saturday, September 19th, I attended the Saskatoon Expo. In many ways, I was predisposed to not enjoy that event, because that would confirm my bias against its association with the Calgary Expo. This goes back to the incident in Calgary, where I felt a vendor had been removed from the convention, I felt, unfairly, and picked on by the mainstream media, I also felt, unfairly. Take a look at this loaded headline from the Calgary Herald (April 17, 2015):
After looking at both sides of the issue, it was apparent that most of the hand wringing and outrage about the groups actual intentions was based on a fairly obviously satirical post at face value. There were a lot of breathless comments about panels being disrupted, but to those claims weren’t really supported by the group’s audio recording of the actual panel. Really. I listened to the entire thing. I don’t want to re-hash the entire debate, but I want it to be known that despite having been an uncurable geek my entire life, this was the incident that got me interested in actually attending an Expo or Con in the first place, just so I could see what all that fuss had been about. My family went to “Fan Expo Regina” shortly after that for our first convention, and had a great time.
The night before Saskatoon Expo, though my frustration with the events of April were enough of a distant memory for me to have bought advance tickets, it occurred to me that I serendipitously happened to own a “Jayne Cobb” crochet hat, and very similar t-shirt, pants and boots in my closet to what the “Firefly” character wore. To me, this was not only a half-decent last-minute cosplay, but also a little bit of completely undetectable subversive fun. To the uninitiated: Jayne Cobb was played by Adam Baldwin who is one of the celebrity voices often associated with GamerGate. So it’s safe to say my predisposition to view that event somewhat negatively wasn’t completely gone.
We arrived at Saskatoon Expo somewhat later than anticipated, having been delayed by construction, children with motion-sickness, and being unacquainted with the fact that ‘wristband-exchange’ is Expo for ‘place where you have to take your advance tickets to get into the things’. I had been looking forward to attending the Billy Boyd panel, but all of the delays meant that we finally arrived where we needed to be a few minutes after the panel had started. In front of us was a sign reading “ROOM FULL: NO ADMITTANCE.” Obviously I was disappointed, because that panel had been one of the main reasons I had decided I wanted to attend; but three things were immediately apparent to me:
Next, we went to get some lunch. The lineups were long. The food choices were boring and overpriced. There were no tables, so we had to sit on the floor. Not what we had been lead to expect after attending Fan Expo in Regina, but still very much within the realm of reasonable expectation. Notably, a fellow attendee in the food lineup mentioned that it would be worthwhile leaving feedback for the Expo on their Facebook page, because they do take that feedback seriously. In the end, none of that really mattered, because we eventually found other things to do. I had fun. My kids had fun; even eating on the floor.
In the end, I left some feedback on Saskatoon Expo’s page about wanting more food selection. I didn’t mention anything else because it really wasn’t worth mentioning.
Because raising two girls these days seems to involve a healthy mix of R2-D2, racecars, and yes, princesses, we had purchased tickets to this Sunday event months in advance. We had every reason to think this would be a fantastic event, the planner even having had a good recommendation from friends on social media. We arrived at close to 1:30, somewhat after the ‘ball’ portion of the event was intended to start. On the short walk into the Saskatoon Inn from our parking lot, I saw my first ‘red-flag’. A single young princess was already leaving the building. Then on the way in, I noticed several more who rather than being at the grand entrance at the ballroom event, were eating brunch at the hotel buffet. “Strange timing,” I thought, but being a little hungry myself, I couldn’t blame them.
When we entered the event, through ballroom B, it appeared that an obscene number of people had packed themselves into ballroom C. I wasn’t sure we’d actually get a chance to go into that room. Again, though, we made the most of it, bought the girls some trinkets and signed up to get some information about RESPs at the trade-show tables. Eventually, the ballroom did clear out a bit, so we went in for a peek.
In the ballroom, we weaved single file through people and tables looking for some space for our girls to dance in their princess dresses. We found what looked like a nice spot, and my normally energetic, active girls just stood there. They didn’t appear to be having any fun, they appeared to just be totally overstimulated. I decided to look for cupcakes. I squeezed my way from one side of the room to the other to no avail. Both tables had been completely cleaned out. At the same time, my wife was trying to encourage the girls to take a step or so away from her and have a little fun. They took a step away, and immediately were immediately surrounded. When I returned empty-handed we decided it was high time to cut our losses and go find something fun to do. About simultaneously, there was an announcement that another room was opening up. At that point, opening up an empty, undecorated room with no promise of anything actualy happening in it seemed a lot like too little too late.
We had every intention, at this point, of just letting it go. Buyer beware.
We did, however, check the event’s Facebook page to see other people’s reaction to the event, and there were a lot of unhappy campers. Reports of people talking to the event organizer having their concerns flippantly dismissed were a common theme. We snarkily took pictures of our daughters enjoying themselves dancing in the grocery store and added them to the online melee with the caption “My kids had more fun grocery shopping.” After we arrived home from an evening at the park, we continued to contribute to the discussion on the thread, but it was disheartening. People who appeared to be expressing valid concerns were being called “bullies” among other things by friends and supporters of the event organizer, and belittled, basically, for providing their negative feedback for an event that had obvious problems.
Even then, one can’t always control what one’s friends do, so I was willing to let the organizer, Jennifer King, speak for herself. It was only then, when she too decided to minimize the very valid concerns of many parents, while simultaneously trumpeting the overwhelming success of her event was it really on.
I started digging for information, and other parents were happy to provide me with the same: actual room capacities, number of tickets sold, and every new piece of information I came across appeared to suggest the worst possible scenario: This had been deliberately overbooked with reckless disregard for children’s safety as a publicity stunt. Of course, once you’re on the trail of the worst possible scenario, confirmation bias makes everything suggest the worst possible scenario.
I may have been wrong.
My wife only really became the face of this issue by chance. Sheila Coles (CBC) had tweeted me asking if I had broken a leg (referring to when I had told her I’d hadn’t jumped on a bandwagon so fast since ’93 in respect to the current Blue Jays season.) I had confusedly thought she was referring to the imgur summary of what I knew that I had compiled. We weren’t really looking to be the public face of some long drawn-out “princess ball” controversy, we just knew that someone should be, and that was just what luck happened to have in store for us that day.
In any case, I may have been wrong. It really is a leap to believe that a woman with her own kids would intentionally treat the safety of hundreds of other children with such apparent reckless disregard.
Fine. I’ll get to a point.
The common thread between my initial hesitance to support Saskatoon Expo, and my current quest to make people aware that King’s Castle is apparently only concerned about your experience with her services if they happen to be positive is that both organizations failed to handle a PR disaster in an appropriate manner. (The fact that the media happened to pile-on on Calgary Expo’s side in that instance is a separate issue.)
So, for the sake of argument, I’ll assume that our Enchanted Ball host really did have the best of intentions, but perhaps an irrational fear of being seen to be wrong on the internet.
This is the initial response I might have sent (using her actual response as a template) in order to try to make things right for unhappy customers today, instead of just trying to do a better job next year.
I’ve had the chance to read everyone’s posts and wanted to comment on everything that’s been said. First of all, I wanted to thank each and every one of you who attended the event. When we started planning this event, we definitely did not expect this level of turn out. It went over and above anything we have ever hosted before.
It was suggested many times to me to simply delete the event to remove the gross toxicity of the posts. I understand, though, that these posts are simply borne of frustration, and most of you have valid concerns. It saddens me that so many families were disappointed with the event. Please respect that I can’t control how others’ have reacted to your feedback, but know that I am taking your complaints seriously.
I want to thank whomever took the time to contact the fire department, because as a mother myself, I take all of our childrens’ safety seriously. I would not be able to live with myself had any of your precious princesses or princes had been hurt. The Saskatoon Inn went above and beyond, opening another ballroom so that many children could continue to enjoy the ball safely.
Due to the overwhelming demand for this event, I do intend to evaluate what specific steps need to be taken in order to ensure a more positive experience for everyone, including, but not limited to:
- Selling advance tickets only
- Selling adult tickets at a nominal cost, so I have a more accurate estimate of exactly the number of people committed to attending
- Ensuring there is enough food and drink for everyone, and:
- Re-evaluating the ticket price. Please understand that if I am unable to recouperate my costs that it will not be possible to run these events in the future.
I invite anyone who had a less than stellar experience to contact me privately at <email> so I can attempt to make things right. Thank you for supporting local small businesses and King’s Castle Design. I look forward to seeing your princes and princesses at future events!
With a response like this I guarantee that I, and probably most others would have dropped the issue immediately. I still would have been unlikely to consider attending again at this point, but you got me to shut up. Now, if you were to take things a step further, you might even be able to win me over.
As soon as you’re done dealing with the really unhappy customers who contacted you, you go into winning over repeat customers mode.
Find all of the people who posted negative feedback on your event thread, and send them a simple proposition. “Hi, I notice you had an unhappy experience at my ball. I’d love to try to make it up to you.” Offer to send their kids a card from a prince or princess thanking them for coming to the ball.
Oh, imaginary Jennifer King, my kids love getting mail as much as they love princesses! You just won my loyalty for YEARS to come!
Note: Because virtually nobody anywhere is going to agree with anywhere near half of the content of this post, and I’m probably wrong about 3/4 of it. I’ve disabled comments. Feel free to send your rants to me over Twitter @mootinator 140 characters at a time, at which time I will promptly toss my phone across the room because the constant vibrating is getting on my nerves. If you want to use a hashtag and not bother me, try #disenchantedball, but for the love of God, please don’t use #PrincessBallGate. It’s not original. Nobody wants to hear it. I know it’s apparent from this post I at least somewhat sympthize with GamerGate people, but it certainly isn’t because of the horrible name they decided to rally behind. Seriously. Ridiculous. What ever happened to, I don’t know. Anything else?!