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Worldwide Ace » A Cut Below

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A Cut Below

2 July, 2009 (18:43) | New Media

Tonight marks Ignite Boulder V, an event so enormously popular that they’ve moved to the Boulder Theater and begun charging for tickets. Despite purchasing my ticket well in advance, I’m not attending in protest to the way in which my presentation was treated.

Several weeks ago, when submission and voting began, I was confident I would end up having enough of the popular vote to present. I began growing a thick beard and Jew fro to coincide with my presentation and even ordered a Hasidim-style wide-brimmed hat. My excitement was palpable.

Countdown, Ignition, Failure…

Not two weeks ago, as I crawled into bed after getting a speeding ticket, exhausted from an early morning, a long day, and unfortunate turn of events, I received a text from Andrew Hyde, the primary organizer of Ignite Boulder. Voting had closed and, despite finishing somewhere in the top 10 (I had been 5th or 6th when I had checked earlier in the day), I was disqualified. Andrew cited 3 reasons:

  • 50% of my votes came from the same IP address.
  • I had 19 votes for inappropriate content.
  • I was the only presentation to be marked inappropriate.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the idea of circumcision makes some people uncomfortable. Despite having researched circumcision on multiple occasions, even I’m not exactly sure of its value. Those people for or opposed are as vehement about the topic as the pro-life and pro-choice camps with regards to abortion. The fact that the topic deals directly with male genitalia, a visual image still considered profane in many camps,

With this in mind, I knew there would likely be controversy. I simple never imagined how much.

In general, Andrew seems like a stand-up guy. In the aftermath which followed, he seemed generally sympathetic and kind despite being avoidant of any of my attempts to parlay. Still, the statistics he quoted didn’t seem to make sense to me, and given how quickly my presentation was deleted after voting, I never had the chance to contest. If there were 19 inappropriate votes from 19 separate individuals, I could certainly understand the hesitation.

A Modest Proposal

Though my first instinct is to argue hard any time censorship rears its ugly head, there were too many points of contention with regards to this topic.

That night, I DMed Andrew Hyde and proposed completing a rough draft of my presentation for vetting by the end of the weekend. While he didn’t express support for this option, he didn’t deter me. Rather than spend intervals of 140 characters arguing in futility, I spent the next three days slapping together a rag tag first draft.

Overall I was pleased with how it came out. There were no explicit images or language. It was reasonably well cited and designed despite the utter wealth of information.

On Friday, Mr. Hyde responded, once again denying me entry. His email was showed sympathy to my plight, but I couldn’t help but have doubts that everything was above board.

Victimized

There are plenty of factors in why a presentation might not make it: lack of popularity, withdrawal by the presenter, and inappropriate content or topic are the big three. The third is the reason I was under such scrutiny and I was well-aware that my denial was a possibility. All I wanted was the semblance of a fair trial, especially given the length to which I had gone to allay fears and worries.

At Ignite Boulder III, Jo Seymour (@mediamum) did an excellent presentation on breast feeding under the guise of a presentation on boobs. Pandering to a mostly male tech crowd certainly helps in that regard, but the fact remains that her presentation was the best of the night and remains perhaps the best Ignite Boulder presentation so far.

So why is circumcision such a taboo topic if breast feeding isn’t considered inappropriate? After all, they’re both medical discussions. They both have heavily perpetrated myths and opinions muddying them. And they’re both centered on the treatment of genitalia.

It’s hard for me not to feel as though elements of sexism weren’t at the root of this decision.

When I pointed these arguments out to Andrew, he said, “I ran it by the planning group, which thought a ‘above the waist’ rule should be in effect for presentations.” In another email, he explained in simple mathematics: “Boobs = legal to show in boulder. Below the waist of both sexes = sex offender list.”

That last statement utterly confuses me, as my presentation contained no imagery of genitalia. When I reminded him of that, he told me it was irrelevant to the argument, a point which has left me fuming for the last week.

No Recourse

I can’t help but feel disheartened and dejected to miss out on this Ignite. I can’t, however, in good conscience, participate given my current state of mind. I’ve given away my ticket to go along with my hope and respect, and though I know many of my friends will be in attendance, I simply don’t feel I belong there.

I had originally planned to post my presentation along with this retelling, but upon hearing of my plight, a friend suggested I might submit it to Ignite Denver. It’s possible I’ll try that, but for now, it’ll sit on the back burner.

I can only hope that the presentation at Ignite Boulder V go well and that the cabal behind such a fascinating event can learn from this ordeal. Hopefully, they’ll never need to censor a presentation, and perhaps even more, never needlessly censor one as well.

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  • jennyjenjen

    It would help Ignite Denver, though, that's for sure!

  • TheOldBear

    Sounds like an editorial (a/k/a executive fiat) decision by Andrew and the Ignite Boulder organizers. It's unfortunate that they set up a voting process and then changed it mid-stream. Echoes of the recent elections in Iran where the results were “enhanced” by the established power structure. Or, of the City of New Haven which was just slapped by the US Supreme Court for changing the rules of a civil service exam process when the results of the exam did not produce the desired outcome.

    On the one hand, I am sympathetic to Andrew who sounds like he has a vision for what Ignite Boulder should be. He is attempting to steward it in that direction. I'm sure that there's a learning process here, both for Andrew and his compatriots, and for the Ignite Boulder participants.

    On the other hand, you took a calculated risk in choosing a topic which you knew would push the envelope. You put a lot of time and effort into preparing an interesting and intelligent presentation which you knew would be controversial. And, it says a lot about your willingness to try something provocative rather than aim for the safety of the mundane.

    It may be little consolation to you, but I suspect that you learned a lot from your preparation and from the process. While it is frustrating, in the great scheme of things, this is a minor setback which will make you more skilled in navigating the political and inter-personal processes of the real world — as messy, ambiguous and unfair as they may be.

  • AceHarmon

    I'm likely going to submit it, if I can remember where.

  • AceHarmon

    Sadly, while it certainly increases my understanding of the system, my scruples don't allow me to bend to its will. If you truly want to simplify my moral and ethical code it comes down to three things:

    1. Do No Harm
    2. Honesty in Everything
    3. Freedom of Speech/Choice

    Had I not pushed for my presentation, I have fear that a system which contradicts my third code would become firmly entrenched. Had I not chosen a controversial topic for which I hold great value, I personally would've violated my second and third codes. And were I to change my course of action next time–while it may not be direct harm–allowing such a system to continue unchallenged would be a violation of my primary code.

  • TheOldBear

    While I appreciate your idealism, I an reminded of the words of Voltaire: “Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.”

    From Voltaire's Dictionnaire Philosophique (1764), this is literally translated as “The best is the enemy of good” or, more commonly, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

    In other words, pursuing the perfect solution may end up doing less actual good than accepting a solution that, while not perfect, is achievable and effective.

  • TheOldBear

    While I appreciate your idealism, I am reminded of the words of Voltaire: “Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.”

    From Voltaire's Dictionnaire Philosophique (1764), this is literally translated as “The best is the enemy of good” or, more commonly, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

    In other words, pursuing the perfect solution may end up doing less actual good than accepting a solution that, while not perfect, is achievable and effective.

  • mediamum

    I had no idea this was going on and I truly feel sorry that a presentation with real value, that needs to be openly presented was not included. I'd be more than happy to sit down with you and look at your presentation, the issues you would like it to raise, and offer any tips or advice that might make the topic more palatable. Eg: While my presentation's point was obvious as the presentation evolved, that point wasn't the focus. Perhaps there are greater issues in play for you than the topic of 'circumcision', just as my presentation focused on mainstream media and its obsession with breasts rather than simply breastfeeding. Perhaps your presentation reflects a greater societal issue than purely mutilating penises 🙂
    In any case, this can be seen as purely a speed bump. Ignite 6 will be even better than any before it, and I'm sure the Boulder Theatre will sell out again. Let's have a coffee, and see what you can turn this into that gets a green light from the powers that be!
    Cheers,
    Jo White
    @Mediamum

  • AceHarmon

    Thanks for the support, Jo. I'd be happy to sit down with you and take a look, but I think I'm going to change my direction with Ignite Boulder and see if I can't get circumcision on the docket at Ignite Denver 5 instead. I'd hate to wear out my welcome up this way.

  • AceHarmon

    Thanks for the support, Jo. I'd be happy to sit down with you and take a look, but I think I'm going to change my direction with Ignite Boulder and see if I can't get circumcision on the docket at Ignite Denver 5 instead. I'd hate to wear out my welcome up this way.