Monday, September 14, 2020

The Agent Of Change Is You: Fighting Sexual Predation in Theme Park Fandom

Topic Warning: As suggested by our webmaster Joe, it is fair to warn you in advance that this piece will discuss sexual assault, molestation, predatory sexual behavior, physical and psychological abuse.

What you got ain't nothin' new. This country's hard on people. You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity.

At the end of No Country for Old Men, Sheriff Bell goes to visit his uncle Ellis seeking some sort of comfort and understanding from a fellow lawman after engaging in one of the more maddening and violent pursuits of his career. In doing so, Bell winds up having his illusions about his career path and about the world largely shattered as Ellis tells him the uncomfortable truth: the violence and seeming chance nature of it in this world today is not a blip but the nature of our existence. The battles aren't infrequent but daily, regular occurrences. 

Earlier this week, I was informed of the news that someone who I know to some degree was alleged to have attempted to obtain images of a sexual nature from a minor. Certainly it was very disheartening to hear that this was the case, but at this point, "surprising" seems like the wrong word to use to describe it. I can't tell you that I've been on the road with Chad Miller of Ohio Valley Coasters. We've always been very cordial in passing since I met him for the first time years ago during a visit to Stricker's Grove. We have mutual friends whom we know very well, and that friend has never given me any reason to believe that things may not be on the up-and-up with him. I've also never dug to find out if there was anything "weird" there because, to be frank with you, doing that is in and of itself creepy activity. High school drama/gossip shit. But why not "surprising" as a word choice?


I first entered the coaster enthusiast scene in the late 90s, and as a teenager was introduced to all sorts of characters, many adults, who it was suggested to me by others had their shit together and were functional, decent human beings. There are plenty of people who I encountered back then who basically were that. There's also many people I encountered who, with the power of retrospection, I know or realize now probably were not. Among the most glaring examples of this was Larry Scott, who I met while on the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) coach trip across Europe in 2002. He was a Northern Ohio regional representative for the the club, and people who I believed were decent believed him to be decent. We hung out and chatted a decent amount, and I learned about his work for a Toledo television station, about his perception of ACE's inner workings, about other people who were cool or not cool or whatever. When I had issues with my roommate, he offered to let me come crash with him. A year later, I was in a hotel room of ACE members after the 2003 NoCoasterCon when Larry had a heart attack. I visited him in the hospital after his surgery. We rarely crossed paths in subsequent years, but I did run into him at Cedar Point somewhere around 2008/2009 in the arcade. He was mentoring youth from Toledo and taking them on an excursion. That was pretty quality activity for anyone to be involved in, and I respected him.

A few months later, I was informed by my friend Sean that he had the most shocking call of his life, and it was about Larry Scott. He had been informed by an adult who had traveled with Larry extensively as an adolescent to coaster events that Larry had molested him for years. Larry was going to be brought up on charges, and there were other boys coming forwards. Today, Larry Scott is inmate # A658709 in the Madison Correctional Institution. He was sentenced to 16 years prison time for multiple counts of sexual battery. Should he ever emerge, he will likely be tried in other jurisdictions as he transported minors across state lines. Sadly, Larry was not even the first Regional Rep of ACE that I was introduced to by friends as a "good person" who went to prison for sexual crimes. That was Brian Plencher. I've heard stories that there were and are others who had been arrested or convicted even before either of them. I can't confirm them and they largely fall into the pile of urban mythology.

Learning more about Larry's actions in the years before I met him, there were numerous signs and suggestions that things were not right. He was even confronted at one stage by a mutual friend as to whether or not he was doing anything illicit with boys. But it was only once, and the topic was dropped forever after. No one had ever mentioned to me that he had a history of traveling with boys he "mentored" when I was introduced to him or even later on. He never referred to it himself. And why then would I have asked about such a thing not having seen it or being informed of it? I was shocked because I had no way of knowing. And that's precisely the issue at hand.


In recent months, other people from various YouTube channels and Instagram who had made their name appealing to younger audiences (and often were fairly young themselves) ranging from The Coaster Network and Theme Park Worldwide have been accused of and generally admitted to a range of antisocial behavior towards women, many of whom were underage. Chad Miller of Ohio Valley Coasters joined them this weekend for such dubious honors, admitting to having tried to obtain sexual photographs from a 16 year old girl after the accusations went public on Instagram. Going to various social media sites (Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, etc), you'll find a whole mountain of posts and memes dedicated to this and people talking big about trying to figure out what to do about it. As an older person who will be summarily ignored and dismissed for what I say by anyone not old enough to remember the Gulf War, I know that I'm probably yelling into the void, but I want to throw in my two cents because I'm a little sick and tired of this constantly happening.

Let's begin with the first and I think more important reality: Coaster/theme park channels appeal to kids. Kids, regardless of how smart they are, do not have a lot of important information or experience dealing with adults (especially sociopathic ones). If you are an adult in this space - a real adult trying to make really mature decisions - it is incumbent upon you to guard kids against adults looking to potentially exploit them. That exploitation may be sexual, that exploitation may be financial, it may be purely emotional, it may be a combination of those things. No one else is going to protect kids for us. There is no "Build a safe list of content creators." Even if you know these people in real life, you may not have the lived experience of who they are and what their true motivations are. 

But also, we need to recognize as adults that we will likely have limited influence on kids, teens, or adolescents that don't already know us or seek our counsel. People in general - anyone with a halfway developed frontal lobe - don't generally give a shit about "drama" that doesn't involve them with the exception of those who use other people's lives as entertainment. Accusations, even valid ones, may be "drama" to them because it does not directly affect them in any way except that it slows the flow of sweet, sweet content to their Youtube notifications. Still, as adults, there are things we can do: elevate people who have been exploited or escaped exploitation to provide warnings and provide them emotional support if they request it. That doesn't mean you should rush to send a podcast interview invites to underage girls on Instagram about how they felt to receive nudes from an adult man. 

Further drilling down on that: This situation should not be treated as an opportunity to get clout. You should absolutely call out people who are scene tourists or totally unknown and who have no obvious emotional stake, but have shown up to this moment seeking to use these predatory acts to run up their subscriber and follower numbers. Those people are not any different than anyone else in that they too might be a down-low scumbag. Plenty of "woke scolds" who traveled from outrage to outrage to build a following wound up canceled themselves. It does you and the people in the theme park communities you travel in no good if you attach yourself to the next Devin Faraci. Look for respected voices in the scene with a track record you can verify. Look for consistency in those voices.

We as a community also need to exercise some degree of common sense. Yes, I've detailed that I've been introduced to two convicted sex offenders. You probably have too, whether you recognize it or not. This is a core thing the members of the community need to acknowledge as a shortcoming and do our best to communicate to people. We must be vigiliant when it comes to those adults who are spending the most energy attempting to actively attract minors with their content.  We should want the theme park/coaster community to be a safe place. It's undoubtedly one of the safest communities I can think of when it comes to varying male sexualities, at the very least. That probably makes the community incrementally less threatening to women who often have to concern themselves disproportionately with being assaulted or abused by straight men. But we are not a safe space yet. Not even close. Not for boys or girls. 

Whether it was a family member who molested other family members, whether its a co-worker, whether its someone within the hobbies you transit, you've been in contact with people who did foul things in their lives. These are people with whom you will have complex relationships regardless of the nature of their crimes; sexual, violent, white collar, even just moral lapses that aren't illegal. Knowing someone who committed a crime doesn't make you an accomplise. Nor is it reasonable that a stranger can make demands about how two free adults can or should interact. I am comfortable with never talking to Larry Scott again because I find his actions to be reprehensible. I would also never demand his family absolutely never talk to him again lest they be "canceled." 

The community needs not to be more afraid to ask questions and point out questionable behavior than we are of being deemed confrontational for having done so. That doesn't mean that it is right to allege anyone you don't like to be a pedophile. That doesn't mean it is right to discourage people from entering the hobby by threatening them with stranger-caused sexual abuse if they engage. What it does mean is that we should be honest with parents who's kids come to events and meetups that this isn't just a part of the park's story but "real life," and that they still are the first and best line of defense against predators. We need to recognize our own capacity to influence. You and I and the next guy didn't necessarily sign up to be influential to children by posting on a Facebook group or making coaster videos, but you might be anyways. Lots of young people gravitate towards this at the hobbyist level because it gives them a sense of community, and you might be the cool older kid to them. Encourage younger enthusiasts to associate with other younger enthusiasts. Build up their own communities with peers rather than try and incorporate them into yours. It's better for everyone.

As a community, we should all demand clubs like ACE disclose if and when allegations are made towards people in the club which lead to their banning or demotion. We should also demand that there be a clear way in which these concerns can be brought to these organizations for investigation as well as a transparent method for review of these claims for members. In the meantime, without any good alternatives, public revelation and shaming is likely the sole way in which this struggle will play out. The world of theme park fandom is a decentralized one, and for what we can ask of a European Coaster Club, they cannot and will not police Disney Parks fandom, for example. That puts the onus all of us as individuals, especially in real life, to make difficult decisions and ask difficult questions. Maybe that's not part of the escapism you want, but it's the reality you've got to learn to live with on a daily basis. Until we are all willing to shoulder that burden, nothing will fundamentally change and we will recycle these stories time and time again.

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