Dave and Hoss sent us the following letters this morning. We hope that everyone who has been involved takes the time to read them.
There is one important note that we feel compelled to add to the discussion at this point: We do not condone or endorse the negative, vitriolic and, in some cases, violent direction that many of the tweets and comments in this discussion have taken. Our intention was to start a public conversation, not to threaten anyone or make them fearful.
There has been lots of ugliness in this conversation. We don’t support that, but we can’t control the conversation. We’ve tried to do what we can to keep it productive and positive. The good news is that a vocal discussion is taking place that indicates that there may be a positive impact beyond just the Minneapolis community. Thanks to everyone who has contributed constructively to the discussion.
Read Dave’s letter >
I feel compelled to say something that may not make sense to some people. In my heart I know I have to say this. I suppose it’s PR suicide.
I try to be a person of integrity, and accept responsibility for my actions. I can’t live with myself if I don’t act accountably to everyone involved in this situation. And that means some accountability to Hoss as well. I’m very distressed by the degree of demonization being aimed at Hoss as a result of his presentation at Flashbelt. Again, I do not condone offensive content and I don’t want it presented to my attendees. The content was inappropriate. I knew enough about his presentation style to be held accountable for booking him. I take full responsibility for this. I exercised poor judgment. I admit to my mistakes. read more >
Read Hoss’s Letter >
On Tuesday 9th June I gave a presentation at the Flashbelt conference that contained some content that some of the audience found offensive. It was wrong for those people to have been exposed to this content without their consent. For this, I take full responsibility and offer my sincere apologies to the audience members that were affected. read more >
Dave Schroeder: A continuation of my comments and apology regarding Hoss Gifford’s talk at Flashbelt.
I feel compelled to say something that may not make sense to some people. In my heart I know I have to say this. I suppose it’s PR suicide.
I try to be a person of integrity, and accept responsibility for my actions. I can’t live with myself if I don’t act accountably to everyone involved in this situation. And that means some accountability to Hoss as well. I’m very distressed by the degree of demonization being aimed at Hoss as a result of his presentation at Flashbelt. Again, I do not condone offensive content and I don’t want it presented to my attendees. The content was inappropriate. I knew enough about his presentation style to be held accountable for booking him. I take full responsibility for this. I exercised poor judgment. I admit to my mistakes.
However, I can’t in good conscience just leave him out to there to burn at the stake as he currently is. It would be easy to let him be the sacrificial lamb and for me to try and save my reputation. Perhaps all I’ll do is end up on the stake with him, I can handle that, I deserve that, but I can’t live with myself if I don’t put all of my cards on the table here and represent my complete feelings on this matter to everyone, about everyone. My reputation should be tarnished, I made serious errors and I accept the repercussions.
I’ve known Hoss for a few years. I’ve had good, respectable fun with him. I like him as a person. He has a sharp mind. He has a good heart. I’ve included comments about his person from the beginning. For those who find that unimaginable, I suspect you don’t know him personally, or outside for the buzz around his presentation at Flashbelt. I believe that whether you know him or not, everyone’s opinion on the content of his presentation is valid. REPEAT, all opinions are valid whether you were there or not. But certainly some opinions are more informed, and are more aware of the actual content than others, and it makes sense to give different degrees of consideration to these opinions. Several people who were in attendance have posted their views on the session. I encourage you to find and read their posts, simply to be as informed as possible.
Finally, the calls to incite hatred and cause physical harm to him are simply absurd to me, and to a real degree dangerous. Comments and calls to action of that sort are unsophisticated and unproductive. Imagine if people had access to social media during the Salem witch hunts or the era of McCarthyism. Would we have burned more witches because of Twitter, or would we have stopped it sooner because of Twitter? I’m not talking about the cause of the mob here; being a witch or a communist is not equatable to Hoss’ presentation. The offense was committed for sure. But the way in which the public carries itself in response to any controversy is worth reflection.
*One amendment to my first response and apology; I referred to Hoss’ content as offensive and misogynistic in my apology. Now that I’ve had the chance to talk with more people who attended the session. I believe that it was offensive, but misogynistic (hatred of women) is not correct. I know Hoss well enough to know he’s not a misogynist. If I thought that about him I would never have booked him. Accurate language is very important.
Hoss contacted me Saturday. We spoke Sunday. I can assure you his taking this seriously as well and feels badly about the effect of his presentation.
Letter from Hoss:
On Tuesday 9th June I gave a presentation at the Flashbelt conference that contained some content that some of the audience found offensive. It was wrong for those people to have been exposed to this content without their consent. For this, I take full responsibility and offer my sincere apologies to the audience members that were affected.
In order for people that were not present at the presentation to develop a more informed opinion, I have posted the content of my slides and sites I linked out to at http://hossgifford.com/2009/flashbelt/.
I would like to point out that, at the time of writing this, I have received considerably more positive feedback on my Flashbelt presentation than negative – if you exclude those who did not attend the presentation. This affirmation includes female attendees going out their way to stop me at the conference and thank me openly for my presentation. I have received no emails, phone calls or any other form of direct contact with any negative comments.
It’s also worth noting that in the couple of days I spent at the conference venue after my presentation, not a single person approached me to express any concern about any part of my presentation. I attended presentations and the organised evening events making myself very visible, and yet nobody complained to me.
I can be crude and my presentations can be risqué but I am neither sexist nor a misogynist. I am concerned that my presentation is being described as being loaded with both. Not guilty. I have a strong willed wife and two young daughters – I wouldn’t last two minutes with the merest hint of misogyny. That said, my presentation could definitely cause offence to some people in society, and I have never tried to be to everyone’s taste.
To quote Courtney Remes, “It’s all about context. This was not the right context for Hoss.” She’s absolutely right. It was a mistake for my presentation to feature as a keynote presentation at Flashbelt – even if it had been labelled as having adult content as some have suggested. With the benefit of hindsight I should have suggested a less prominent spot, or even an evening appearance at a bar venue. Either way, there will always be people that feel there is no place for a presentation like mine, as there will always be people that would like to ban lewd comedians and violent video games.
I do, however, owe one further apology. But first some context. I spent the the morning leading up to my presentation in Fairview hospital ER being treated for a broken hand, which was splinted (still is, as I type this), and I was given a strong pain killer called Vicodin. I gave my talk while heavily under the influence of Vicodin, and as a result of this poor judgement I was looser with my language than I would normally have been, but the content of my presentation went ahead as planned. One statement I made, that if you are easily offended then f*** you, was wrong, and out of character, and I apologise to everyone that attended my presentation for this. If you get the opportunity to listen to a recording of the talk you will hear me stumbling for something to say as I resort to the profanity. I would not have made this offensive statement if I hadn’t been non compos mentis.
My conference presentation has evolved over the last 8 years based on both the direction my work, and crucially, the feedback I get from my talks – and I get a lot. Prior to this talk I received zero complaints regarding offending any members of the audience. I accept this is no guarantee that nobody was offended, but I can only work with the feedback I receive. The irreverent side to my presentations historically received the most praise and I reacted accordingly by increasing the level of banter.
The more raucous my presentation became, the better the feedback I received and in turn the more conference organisers invited me to speak. When a conference invites me to speak they know my talk will be as risqué and entertaining as it is informative. Flashbelt is no exception in this.
Indeed, I performed the exact same presentation two weeks earlier at the Flash on Tap conference in Boston, with a great deal of positive feedback, and more than three quarters of the presentation was made at conferences in Brighton, Belgium, and Germany last year – again with universally positive feedback. Now I have feedback of another nature and I will absolutely take this on board.
But try for a second, if you will, to put yourself in my shoes.
You’ve been making conference presentations that have brought positive feedback for many years and Flashbelt initially seems no different. But all of a sudden there is a massive backlash against your appearance, a backlash full of inaccuracies and exaggerations – what we call tabloid journalism in the UK – a type of journalism where facts needn’t be checked if they can bring in readers. Do you start posting a defence, pointing out the inaccuracies, and try to get people to see sense? Or do you do what I did, and read everything that’s written on the subject and wait for the dust to settle and tempers to cool.
The problem with waiting is that the mob gets restless – they are out for blood. Consider reading the cry for you to be set on fire, the cry for you to be waterboarded. Consider, as I had to yesterday morning, what to tell your wife when she doesn’t want to open the blinds in your house for fear that someone is waiting out there to cause you harm.
If Flashbelt had booked an adult comedian for the conference who had caused offence would you be set on destroying their career as a comedian, and work on a witch hunt to destroy their day job while you were at it? All because they did what they do, but in the wrong context.
It may seem perverse, but I am delighted at the quantity (if not the quality) of dialogue that this has initiated around the subject of equality in the developer community. I would love to see more female speakers at conferences, as I know of so many phenomenally talented women in influential positions (just look at the Flash Player dev team for example). But don’t forget how many fabulous female speakers there already are. In the Flash community I have yet to see Veronique Brossier, Niqui Merret, or Stacey Mulcahy give a bad talk, and Flashbelt this year was no exception. But until now I’ve never really thought anything of them being girls, they were always just talented peers.
Where do we go from here? I suspect this isn’t the lie-down-and-kick-me apology that the lynch mob is looking for and some will continue their mission for blood. These are the people that wrote tweets and comments with the line “I wasn’t there but…” in them. We all know the ignorance of people who use the lines “I’m not racist but…” and “I’m not sexist but…”.
There is nothing I can do to stop these people from putting their energy into destroying my career. If that’s what you feel would be most productive in achieving your goals then there’s nothing me or anyone else is going to say to slow you down.
To those of you who are using this eruption of attention to address the real issue of gender equality within our industry, I salute you. I encourage everyone to take part in the dialogue and to help make a tangible difference in the future. If you feel there is anything I can do to help, then post a comment – I read them all.
In addition to my apologies I have some thanks to give. First and foremost I’d like to thank Courney Remes for making a stand and going out on a limb to initiate this whole dialogue. Hopefully in the future, this won’t be considered ‘going out on a limb’. I’d also like to thank Dave Schroeder for being the utmost professional by being both supportive and accountable. Flashbelt really is one of the best conferences in the world and it’s all down to Dave – don’t let this incident put you off. Thanks also go out to Nancy and Meghan for providing a home f
or this discourse, and helping keeping things on topic when the lynch mob started to get out of control.
Perhaps my biggest thanks, however, go out to the people that also went out on a limb and posted a more rounded account of what went down. In the heat of the moment when the accusation is misogyny, it could be construed that to ask people to rationally consider the situation is to condone such behaviour. Thankfully there are enough level headed people out there to realise there is usually more than one side to a story. You know who you are – I am in your debt.
Once again, to Courtney and the other men and women in the audience that took offence to my presentation, I apologise unreservedly. I really do hope we can now turn this into a debate that creates a positive outcome.
Glasgow, June 15th 2009.