Answerman
Why Do Fans Ask Inappropriate Things At Convention Panels?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jake asked:

I enjoy attending conventions once or twice a year and one of my favorite things is attending panels with the Japanese animators, directors, producers, and voice actors. I find it interesting to find out more about there experiences in the industry and their influences. One thing that bothers me is at least once a convention someone will bring up some incredibly inappropriate thing the guest worked on (doujin, ecchi, hentai) or their personal life that doesn't need to be dredged up. Its one thing if they have had a checkered past like Masami Ōbari, but in most cases it was some minor thing they did that doesn't reflect on there overall work. Why do people find it necessary to bring this up? Do they think that they're cool by bringing up some obscure factoid? Do they honestly think they will answer them, or are they just trolling? You don't see people walking up to Sylvester Stallone and harassing him for being in a porno 40 years ago. It's just rude and uncomfortable thing to ask, especially to a guest.

How do you know people don't go up to Sylvester Stallone and go, "HEY, it's the Italian Stallion!" I would bet money that happens every once in a while. People can be REALLY obnoxious to celebrities. In fact, not long ago some friends of mine saw Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim, Sons of Anarchy) at a restaurant. Unfortunately, they happened to be dining with some true lowlives. Said lowlives interrupted his meal to hassle him for a picture (which he was happy to accommodate), then KEPT snapping pictures of him throughout the meal, even as he was leaving the restaurant. Then one of them even called a paparazzi friend to tip him off. I wasn't there, but I was really upset to hear that happened. Nobody deserves that, and Hunnam seems like a genuinely nice guy. But it happens all the time.

To many of us, these convention guests are celebrities, and around celebrities, some people's brains just stop functioning. Most people aren't like those jerkwads my friends were dining with; most people are being genuine. But something in them is intimidated, flustered, or trying too hard to be funny. They want to make a connection or an impression with this important person, and their brain is frantically pulling out every file they have on that person, trying to find some obscure, weird thing to forge a bond over. They forget to think about how their words will sound to other people. Most of them aren't trying to insult them or get them angry, and most of them just come off as nervous or tongue-tied. But occasionally someone will ram their foot so far into their mouths that it comes out their butt.

The stories of this happening, particularly at anime conventions, are endless. Many years ago I was hosting a Q&A with the late, great Satoshi Kon after a screening of Millennium Actress. An audience member told him that they didn't like the ending, and asked if he could make a new one. At a Q&A with Shinichiro Watanabe, an audience member proudly told the man he had just pirated a copy of the Cowboy Bebop movie. Voice actresses have been asked about long-forgotten roles in hentai. And worse. Much, much worse.

Every time it happens, a chill goes through the crowd. People immediately face-palm, and if there's a translator, they tense up, and hesitate before trying to politely explain to the guest what had just happened. Usually the guest just maintains a polite smile and keeps on truckin'. I mean, what else are they going to do?

People's brains are not wired for celebrities. Human brains are not conditioned to react to someone that they can easily identify and respect, but that we have no actual relationship with. Some of us just plain short-circuit.

Most people are quite nice and cordial, and most guests have, on the whole, pleasant experiences at American conventions. But that "OMG IT'S A CELEBRITY" jolt of adrenaline -- it's made fools of so, so many people. All anyone can really do is laugh it off.


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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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