You Know That Tumblr Convention That Went to Shit? It Wasn't That Bad

DashCon has already secured its place in history as a nerd catastrophe, but was it really that bad if you were there? We spoke to a vendor to get a play-by-play. In her estimation it was a bumpy but worthwhile ride.

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Jul 15 2014, 7:00am

Via Youtube user thetrolllife

DashCon, a weekend convention organized independently of Tumblr by some enthusiastic fans, has already secured its place in history as a nerd catastrophe. The organizers, who have taken endless amounts of shit online, hit a snag with the venue on Friday night, when the hotel management demanded upfront payment of $17,000 they apparently didn't have. The situation worsened when the money snafu triggered a no-show from the event's most popular speaker. Attendees lost some faith in their hosts' competence, and soon a sad photo of a ball pit that was nothing more than a pretentious kiddie pool (see below) became the context-free symbol for the all-around failure of the event.

But was it really that bad if you were there? I spoke to Sarah Fetter, office manager of Sanshee a branded merchandise retailer that operated two vendor's tables at the event. She experienced the problems firsthand, and yes, they're hilarious, but in her estimation DashCon was a bumpy but worthwhile ride.

VICE: What’s the “dash” part in DashCon about?
Sarah Fetter: I didn’t understand that until this weekend when someone explained it to me. So on the Tumblr homepage, you’re on something called the “dashboard.” So originally the convention was going to be called something like “TumbleUSA” or something, and Tumblr evidently said no because it’s not officially affiliated with Tumblr, and so they changed it to DashCon because you’re on your dashboard on Tumblr.

What was the first major thing that went wrong?
When I arrived, nobody could direct me to where I could get my badge, which was the only way I could enter the exhibit hall, which is the only way I could set up my stuff for the con that opened in two hours. And when I walked in to get my badge, the lovely woman that was working it couldn’t find my company. And that was the first inkling—everything else went wrong that morning, but that was the one thing where I went, “Oh God, just... oh God.”  

And it just got worse from there?
Well, essentially you have some really lovely people, you have some people who are a little more... I’m trying to think of the most polite way to say it... They’re a little rude. I had a person trying to steal from my table. You have people who haven’t really done these kind of things, so they don’t really know how to interact and not be rude.

People were trying to steal from your table?
There was this kid who I guess was pretty sneaky because he started reaching for the Pokémon badges and trying to pocket them, and I was just like, “Dude, dude, no. Don’t do that here.”

What was the average age at this convention?
Probably 15 or 16. I would say I met very few people my age—I’m 24—the people next to me were in their twenties, the people on the other side of me, Novus Magic, they were probably 30s. I’d say that the higher ages came from the exhibitors and then the parents who brought their children.

So what happened when the shit really hit the fan?
We attended Tumblr prom, which is hilarious, as you can probably imagine. We were sitting there and this girl ran in and said, “They’re gonna shut us all down if we don’t get $17,000 right now!” and then ran away. That launched everyone into this mass hysteria like, “Oh no, the con’s gonna be shut down! Why would this happen?” 

What we were told that night was that the hotel was used to a different level of people—that apparently they were used to model train conventions. So originally we were told that the hotel didn’t like us and were looking for a way to boot us out, which is where the $17,000 was from.

Later we were told—this was all the same night—that the hotel had gone back on their problem on accepting payments in short amounts throughout the weekend as they gained more people through gross sales. Then even later on we were told that basically they just wanted their money up front because they weren’t sure if they were gonna get it. 

But the money did materialize, and that issue was resolved?
Well, they had someone start announcing stuff and they had a little paper bag, like the kind you get when you buy candles and stuff, and said, “We’re taking money right now!” People literally ran at them and dumped money into the bag without thinking about it. I had a friend who dumped $400 into it, but there’s no tracking of any of this. The original announcement was around 9 PM, so a little after 10, supposedly the deadline, the con was saved and everything was kosher.

One hour between initial shakedown and actually coughing up the cash? That’s a pretty short period of time.
Yeah, it was pretty insane.

What was the hullabaloo surrounding the ball pit?
It didn't last long. We went to go see the ball pit on Saturday night, and it had apparently died—it was laid to rest on Saturday night because it was no longer there. And there were swimmers talking about things that had happened in it, apparently some people got too rowdy and it began to deflate, and evidently someone else peed in it? I have no idea if that actually happened—I want to believe it didn’t, but a couple of my friends who went into the ball pit said they believe that was true.

Note that the maker of this video wrongly blames Tumblr.

I read about offers of extra time spent in the ball pit if you donated certain amounts of money? Or was that just completely BS?
No. The whole reason the ball pit has become popular was because Welcome to Night Vale was used as a main draw for DashCon. A huge amount of people that I know went specifically because they wanted to see Welcome to Night Vale. I was told later that there were some verbal agreements and poor planning, and the shakedown happened.

Welcome to Night Vale apparently wanted their money at the start of the show, the con claimed they showed up 15 minutes late and then wanted to meet with a specific person from the hotel, and there was this huge delay and everything kind of collapsed from there, and ultimately Welcome to Night Vale decided that because the money wasn’t there—they wanted 3/4 of it in cash and the rest of it in PayPal—right then, they weren’t gonna do it.

After that happened, a swarm of people came into the exhibit hall super mad because Welcome to Night Vale wasn’t performing. And then I saw a notification on Tumblr where DashCon said, “Oh, we’re really sorry this happened, but as a consolation, you too can have an extra hour in the ball pit. And that was supposed to make up for the fact that a lot of people came specifically to see them. But hey, at least there’s a ball pit.

Did anything go wrong after that?
The vendor hours given once I arrived were very different from what I thought I was going into. So Saturday, our hours were 9 AM to 8 PM, which is fine if it’s San Diego Comic-Con or something like that, but in those long vendor hours, your first three hours are dead and your last two hours are dead, so essentially you’re sitting there shooting the shit with other people around you, which is not good for making money.

I’m not gonna say that they lied about who were going to be there—they estimated a much higher number of people were going to be there than what actually happened, I believe. I don’t know if they did a final count yet. But the number of people we were expecting and packed for was greatly higher than the number of people who were actually there. So I think that people were expecting to make a little more money than they did, but it’s a different client base. 

So you took to social media. How'd that go?
I tried to keep it as separate from the company as humanly possible. I started tweeting it and tumblring it for fun, not because I was trying to get attention for the company, so I was surprised by the attention that it got, and it’s been crazy ever since. 

So I noticed on Tumblr, someone at one point called you out for being transphobic? That was you, right?
Yes, that was me.

How come you’re transphobic? What’s your problem?
I was very very careful with pronouns that weekend, but I feel like everybody walked on the edge that weekend, because it’s a Tumblr con, you know? I sat next to someone who preferred she/her/etc., and I sat next to somebody else who had different pronouns, and so like, I’m not transphobic, but I made some comments about how someone threatened to stab someone else for not adhering to their preferred pronouns, and I was like, “That’s a little ridiculous!” I understand wanting to be called your pronouns, but stabbing somebody is not exactly the most valid response. And that didn’t make me any friends. 

But there was another comment, a tweet that I made, about how I overheard someone wanting to talk to the girl at the front desk about how they didn’t have bathrooms for every gender. And my response was, please don’t do that, please please don’t do that. The hotel staff has no control over any of that. 

Screencapped from 4chan

You mentioned “anon-hate.” Was that a topic at the con?
Friday night as everything was going down, I was chatting with a few people at the prom, and someone said 4chan did it. I said, “I don’t think it’s a case of 4Chan, I think it’s a case of DashCon kind of hurting itself.” And then the moderators were like, “No, this is not 4chan,” and explained what happened. 

4chan has been known to do things—I’m trying to think of a recent example; I haven’t been keeping up with shenanigans—I know they did something with Scientology. Basically when they want to band together and do something, funny things usually result. Sometimes it’s less than funny. Sometimes it’s a little more malicious. 

[Ed. Note: The Know Your Meme page about the ongoing 2014 Tumblr-4chan Raids is a good read.]

How did the organizers do after all this went down?
The Q&A with the organizers was pretty funny in a terrible way, just because I don’t think they were ready for some of those questions being asked and they didn’t have answers.

Questions about the con itself?
Yeah, questions like “Are volunteers gonna get reimbursed for this that and the other? What happened with Welcome to Night Vale?” and they kinda tried to explain things, but I think they were also kind of blindsided by all of it. And they have not had an easy time with all this. I think they got blindsided with a lot of what happened, and to have that Q&A afterward was just kind of rubbing salt in the wound, as it were. 

Would you go to another DashCon?
Yeah, I would. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say that, but after everything, I had a blast. Everything that happened was just utterly hilarious. As long as I had a good sense of humor about things, I had a good time

If you had the ear of the organizers of DashCon, what would you tell them?
Be careful of how you deliver bad news. If Friday night had been handled a bit better everything might not have just gotten worse and worse and worse. So how to deliver news would probably be the biggest thing, but I mean overall everyone in it was so nice, but you know, things happen.

Thanks, Sarah!

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

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