It wasn't exactly the crime of the century (or even the crime of the month), but the assault at Comic-Con this past Saturday is notable, if only for its setting. Although the trailers and movie scenes shown at the Con are often very brutal, actual violence at the San Diego nerd gathering has been all but non-existent... until this year.
At Hall H on Saturday, near the end of the Resident Evil: Afterlife panel, an altercation broke out between, reportedly, two friends, both wearing limited edition Comic-Con 2010 Harry Potter T-shirts. The incident reportedly started when a fan suggested his friend leave his seat at the panel because he wasn't into what was being shown, and ended when one stabbed the other near his eye with a pen. After the assault, the suspect was held by attendees of the Convention until security and the police could take him away to jail, where I'm sure he had fun telling other inmates what he was in for. The stabee was taken to a local hospital; His injuries are apparently not life-threatening.
"Basically, inside of Hall H during Comic-Con, prior to one of the showings, two males got into a dispute," Sergeant Gary Mondesir of the San Diego Police Department told Comic Book Resources. "One male attacked the other male, stabbing him on the side of his eye with a pen. Officers were relatively close by. Citizens within the hall detained the person. Officers came and arrested him."
So it was a very, very stupid crime, but was it a random isolated incident, or did the atmosphere of Comic-Con's Hall H contribute to the assault? Of course the ultimate responsibility for the stabbing lies with the stabber, but the sometimes unpleasant Hall H accommodations could be seen as a contributing factor to the violence.
Hall H, for those who have never attended the Con, can be pretty brutal. It's basically a cavernous room where thousands of fans are crushed together to see exclusive trailers and hear the creators and stars of upcoming films and TV shows hawk their entertainment products. It's not a Vietnamese prison or The Stones at Altamont, sure, but the Hall has a reputation as a place for the hardcore for a reason. It's very cool to be among the first people on earth to see trailers, and to get a chance to see your favorite stars and directors up-close, but the attendance at Comic-Con's panels seems to have grown so fast that the Hall isn't as friendly and awesome an enviroment as it could be for fans.
Basically, it's an okay place to hang out with fellow fans during the show -- until it gets overly crowded; then, what had been a chance to see the cool movie and TV stuff can quickly turn unpleasant as small inconveniences build up for thousands of people at once and tempers begin to flair.
The hassles of a typical day in H begins before dawn: That's when you have to line up to get a seat for the earlier panels at the show. After being herded into the hall, it's time to sit, but the crush of people fighting for seats at a popular panel can be intimidating, and the first-come, first seated attendance policy often means fans sit through hours and hours of panels they don't care about in order to see the one panel that matters to them. The seats are too small. The air-conditioning keeps the room bone-chillingly cold. And the mood can turn sour pretty quickly.
There's a kind of masochism about the crowd, with the between-panel announcer continually calling attention to the diehards who have been sitting in the hall all day, without a break. You have to earn attendance at some panels, and in a sense it's a test of how hardcore you are, but when you add to all that a sometimes overly officious, overworked security detail whose main job seems to be to keep people from filming trailers (good luck with that) as opposed to keeping people safe, and it starts to seem surprising that violence in the hall isn't more common. I chalk it up to the inherent goodness of geeks -- if you were to take 6,000 plucked-off-the-street civilians and put them in Hall H, there'd be a full-on riot.
G4's Dana Vinson was in the hall at the time of the panel, and here's how she described it:
"Right before the guy got stabbed, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, with my head in my hands, wanting to both throw up and cry. It was cold. It was packed -- you couldn't move because it was so crowded. I had been there since the morning, and there was a hole in the programming where they they presented an hour of trailers. The panels previous to that hadn't been too great.
"You have to wait in line for food, and to use the bathroom, and you've just been sitting in the same uncomfortable chair for eight hours, after having waited in line for more hours. If you're alone, you can't really get up to do anything, because someone will steal your seat, so It's a constant barrage of people trying to get your chair, especially if you're in the front of the hall. All this taken together would put anyone in a crappy mood, especially if they paid to do it."
"You haven't seen the sun in 10 hours, and the whole experience puts you in a place where the barrier between what's acceptable and what's unacceptable starts to disintegrate. I could see how an argument that, in any other situation might have been a shouting match, could turn worse. When you're elbow to elbow (or stomach to stomach) with a stranger all day, it could escalate where it might turn into something worse. I think those two people would have fought anywhere, because of who they are, but in another situation, it might not have escalated the way it did."
Because we're all about solutions to problems here at G4, Dana and I came up with some ways to make the Hall H experience awesome... or at least tolerable. They're mostly easy to accomplish, too.
- A bigger hall -- Yeah, I know there isn't one at the San Diego Convention Center, and that's not really Comic-Con's organizers' fault, but there are just too many people for the space. It's as simple and complicated as that. Maybe it's time for the show to move to Las Vegas or Anaheim?
- More bathrooms.
- More places to eat -- maybe sell concessions licenses to roving vendors, like a ball game.
- A courtyard: Maybe a pen that's open to the outside air and sunshine would soothe people's frazzled nerves a bit.
- Line organizational system -- Comic-Con could give out a set number of tickets for the Hall in advance, and not force people to wait in line all day for a panel that they might not even get in.
- Clearing the hall between panels -- If the hall was emptied between panels, each panel would be filled with only people who cared about that movie, and no one would be forced to sit through hours of trailers they don't care about to see the one they did.
- Overflow room -- If you're in the back of the Hall, you're basically watching the panels unfold on a video screen any way, so why not give people the option of watching the announcements from a separate hall? They're filming the panels, so why not have a live feed to a lounge for people who want the news, but don't care about seeing people in the flesh.
- Bigger seats --Those Comic-Con people are pretty fat, I'm just saying.
I've left several messages with Comic-Con's press department about Hall H, but haven't heard back as yet. I'll let you know whether they plan to address any Hall H problems when I hear from them. Until then, though, do any of you have any suggestions for Hall H?