Making Sense of the Vic Mignogna Controversy

Allegations of potential sexual harassment from Vic Mignogna are appearing in the Anime Community. To no surprise, Vic has been asked to withdraw from being a guest at a series of conventions (including Anime Milwaukee, Planet Comic Con, etc.) Let’s dissect this.

Voice actors have long been considered B-list, or perhaps even C-list celebrities. While few go into the line of work with the end-goal of achieving fame, it’s beneficial to have a supportive fanbase. While one’s skill is important, after casted in a prominent role or too, the real job comes with maintaining one’s personal brand. Maintaining a personal brand as a voice actor is mainly about building a relationship with your fans. After all, if you are a voice actor, you are a niche celebrity. Sustaining a solid instagram presence and maybe creating your own cosmetics line aren’t going to keep your name alive the way a hug and a handshake with a cosplayer who’s been waiting all day to meet you will. 

Up until Anime News Network’s exposure article, Vic Mignogna was a power player when it came to maintaining his personal brand. Rumors of “only accepting roles as blonde characters” kept his name in the mix for years, but what really helped him stand out as a figure was his active involvement with fans both on and off the convention scene. While most voice actors kept a comfortable distance from fans for fear of harassment from them or fear of being too much in the public eye, Vic marched fearlessly into the gray area of forming bonds with his fans. He’s been known to wander the convention floor and chat with con-goers. He also tends to host more panels than his fellow VA counterparts at conventions, likely to maintain his intimacy with fans.

When Vic interacts with his fans, he treats them like close relatives that have been abroad for an extended period of time, lovingly and interested in what they have to say. He knows that they are in in-part responsible for his success. When licensors and studios cast him in their anime, they know he may pull in fans that may not have been interested in the production prior to his involvement simply due to his devout fanbase.

So, what behavior is Vic being accused of? The ANN article that circulated on Twitter last week featured stories mostly around tween fans whom he was taking pictures with, who were unprepared for the poses Vic was ready to give them for the photo. As you can imagine, a smooch on the cheek from a celebrity in your space can be a flattering experience, but also a terrifying one. 

We have to recall that the Anime Community is marketed as a safe place for just about anyone, no matter how awkward or alone one may feel. Like any community, it has its toxic moments, but largely, as a home to self-described geeks, freaks, weebs, artists and much more, it’s important to understand that there’s going to be a higher percentage of non-neurotypical persons. Vic knows this. Vic knows how to rally this crowd and facilitate an almost church-like atmosphere. He wants to make his fans feel at home, comfortable with him. While he may not actively have bad intentions, he needs to be aware that every move he makes is recorded. Especially among this particular crowd in this particular era.

There are plenty of reasons that other voice actors have not ventured as deeply into forming relationships with their fans and what’s happening to Vic and others right now is a prime example. As a general rule of thumb, if one is a person in any form of spotlight, they have to be aware that they are being watched. They have to be aware that their actions will be interpreted in a variety of ways. In a sense, it’s a gamble. Vic played a high-risk-high-reward game and after years of success, he lost this round. 

Other Voice actors take a more risk-averse strategy. They work in groups. Doing Panel Q&As rather than solo Q&As, which encourages the audience to ask less invasive (dangerous) questions. They hold separate meet n greet events and spend less time on the con floor, more time at their booths. They will happily take pictures with fans, but are generally careful not to intimate hugs/kisses for poses. They are playing it safe, and while this may not put them on the fast-track to niche fame, they are still being invited to conventions, getting roles, and staying out of bad press. Unfortunately, celebrities at this level simply can’t just absorb it.

While I have yet to see evidence of Vic sexually assaulting is fans. After-the-fact queasiness about physical interactions is definitely a valid feeling of violation. What I’m curious about is if conventions or agencies have received any feedback about Vics behavior at conventions in the past. I worry people are failing to ask qualifying questions For instance: 

Has he been asked by event hosts to not give hugs/kisses in his fan photos?

Has he always been accompanied by security/escorts at events?

Has he directly received fan feedback about his behavior and been nonrecextive to it?

In his work, has anyone ever accused him of unprofessionalism?

Of course, part of his job as a niche celebrities to be self-aware and self-preserving. By no means would ‘no’ to all of these questions excuse his lack of self-awareness. However, it could be postulated that if he never received the message that his actions were causing harm to the mental state of his fans; if it never even crossed his mind, would the public’s judgement be different.

Imagine, your best friend doesn’t like hugs, but you give them a hug every time you say goodbye to them. They always hug back because they’re accommodating you. Then one day, a bunch of people are mad at you about hugging your best friend. “Why are you all so mad?” You wonder. Your friend never told you they didn’t want hugs. Can you imagine the guilt, the shame, that comes with the fact that you never bothered to ask? The apologetic feeling that you know will never right the wrong?

The difference is that there is a power difference. There is a social distance between ‘celebrity’ and ‘fan’. While a friend who accommodatingly accepts hugs on a regular basis is on the level of the hugger, they, as a friend, are easily able to say “Hey, man, I’m actually not that big on hugs.” As a fan, in which you may only have one fleeting moment to meet someone, and that someone being on a different social level from you, are you really in a position to say “Hey - can we not hug?” Well, you should be. But in our society, especially in the USA, you’re not. So here you are, desperately trying to enjoy a moment with someone who is maybe event hero-status for you, but afterward you’re left feeling a little strange. You voice this concern privately to a friend perhaps. And then others voice this concern, dramatically & publicly. And suddenly theres a viral career-destroying story out there. Maybe this is good. Maybe you feel bad. Maybe everyone feels like they’re losing in this situation. And they are. We, as a community, are taking a lot of losses to do this learning. 

- Guests are pulling out of conventions, losing opportunities to boost their careers and meet some great people.

- Fans are either boycotting cons because of the guests not being dropped, or they’re deciding to skip cons because the actor they wanted to meet won’t be there.

- If con attendance drops significantly, this can be detrimental to a lot of fan communities, especially ones in cities where there may only be one major con per year.

Overall the community is pretty lost right now. Fans and Voice Actors are desperately trying to sort out their relationships. Where are the lines? When do the lines change? How do they change? What regulation can events take to make sure fan-interaction is facilitated but scandal-free? We have needed to sort this out for a while, and I think Vic is giving us a chance to do this. Whether you're pro or anti Vic, this is a great time to reflect on our community and grow from it.