When bullying masquerades as a news story

A Miami, FL news station has caused quite a flap in the sci-fi community this week by posting a slideshow of photos taken at Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando with what many fans considered blatantly derogatory, sexist and even racist captions, including several cruel comments directed at the children pictured in it.

It’s hard to imagine in this day and age that such bullying behavior would be deemed acceptable  by any professional organization, but sadly WPLG Local 10 seemed unaware of its insensitivity until complaints started pouring in to their website and Facebook page. Although I didn’t see the actual slideshow myself while it was live, there were more than enough screen captures made by outraged fans to document exactly what had happened, and just why people so upset by the rude captions.

Almost every fan of sci-fi, and especially those who enjoy cosplay, have endured some kind of teasing or taunting during their lives. Most develop the necessary thicker skin and are perfectly aware of the line between playful comments and outright ridicule. The comments that I read in the original slideshow certainly went well beyond “poking a little fun” at convention attendees and their families, and were most certainly not “news.”

After a multitude of complaints, the photos ridiculing children were removed, but the remaining slideshow was left up for several more hours. As of this morning the slideshow has been removed and a dialogue is now going on between the news station and fans, with the hope of some sort of eventual sincere apology.

Ashley Eckstein

Even Ashley Eckstein, actress and voice of Ahsoka Tano in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and co-founder of Her Universe, a company which creates and sells merchandise for female sci-fi fans, got involved in efforts to try to help to get the offensive slideshow pulled. The following quote is from her blog yesterday.

“My heart sunk this morning when I went to my Facebook page and found a message from one of my fellow fangirls telling me about this post on Local10.com. I immediately went through all of the natural emotions; disgust, anger, outrage, confusion, sadness, panic, ect. In today’s society where bullying is such a sensitive topic and anti-bullying efforts are being made by most, I am shocked that a post as disgraceful as this would be approved, allowed and posted to a professional website. This is the EPITOME of bullying and it’s being done by adults, even at the expense of children! Kids have it rough now a days, especially due to social media, and bullying is at an all time high. However, how do we ever expect our kids to learn that bullying is wrong when many adults around them, especially those posting stories like these, are setting such poor examples?”

The 501st Legion gather at Star Wars Celebration VI. Photo credit: Bradley White

The sad news is that WPLG Local 10 seemed to completely forget the amount of public service, volunteer hospital work and fundraising that Star Wars costuming groups like the 501st Legion and the Rebel Legion do annually, both nationally and internationally. Members of these groups were well represented at the convention, and were some of those pictured in the offending slideshow.

The 501st Legion is a not-for-profit organization whose members devote a huge chunk of personal time to giving sick children and adults a reason to smile, and has helped raise over $12 million dollars for charities worldwide last year. The Rebel Legion endeavors to follow the lead of Lucasfilm Ltd. by also giving back to the community through works of charity and volunteerism. Both of these and all other costuming groups who devote their time to promoting goodwill be applauded for their selfless efforts.

I think that the management of WPLG Local 10 should be heartily ASHAMED of themselves, and made to watch the following video repeatedly until they “get it.”


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