HossGate09: Finding Balance.

I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about all the commotion over Hoss Gifford’s session at FlashBelt 09, and whether or not to chime in on the whole matter. However, as I watched a few understandably upset individuals snowball into a torch wielding mob RT’ing themselves into a frenzy (ex. @hudsonakridge “Hoss Gifford should be set on fire”), I decided I would proffer a few thoughts.

This was a very tough decision for me, because I’m between a rock and a hard place. On one hand I am risking becoming a new target for the frothing mob, and on the other hand I risk damaging my friendship with Hoss, whom I have known for years. At the end though, I am a believer in moderation, truth, and positive action, and I hope that by adding my own thoughts I can help to steer all of this energy in that direction.

I’m also distressed to see all the bad press this is causing for Flashbelt – Dave did an awesome job on the conference, and I would hate to see this become the primary thing it was remembered for.

I’d like to begin by clarifying some of the things that have been stated about Hoss’s presentation:

  1. Yes, his session did open with a photo of him looking up at a (largely obscured) picture of a woman’s groin clad in panties that read “drink me”. No, this was not photoshopped – it is the entrance to a rather well known club in Amsterdam. Was it irrelevant, and needlessly obscene? Probably.

  2. Yes, he did draw a penis on stage (poorly). It was in the context of explaining that any time you give people a blank canvas to be creative on, they will immediately draw penises and swastikas. This is unfortunately true. Did he go beyond what was necessary to make the point, and wring it for frat house comedic effect? Most definitely.

  3. Yes, he did show a “orgasm simulator”, which showed a female face working through 4 or 5 expressions up to orgasm as he moved the mouse up and down. It was crude, and didn’t really have anything much to do with his theme, but it wasn’t explicit. It’s also worth noting that it was originally built for a bar setting at Flash conference in Amsterdam (context matters).

Was Hoss’s session crude, juvenile, and unprofessional? Absolutely. Was it inappropriate for the conference? Probably. Was it poorly described in the session book, and a mistake to run it as an all-call “keynote” session with no warning as to the content? Certainly.

Was the session sexist or misogynistic? I don’t believe so. It was definitely crude and borderline obscene, and I can see how it could be offensive, but I think you’d have to work hard to describe it as sexist. I actually feel strongly (as does my wife, who was in attendance) that the people calling the session sexist are showing themselves to be sexist. To suggest that showing crude sexual material (including genitals of both sexes) to an audience of men is fine, but to show it to women isn’t, demeans women’s sexuality and their intellectual/emotional ability to handle crude material. My wife agreed that the material was not appropriate for a professional conference, but she was at no time offended or felt that it was sexist.


There seems to be a lot of confusion about the definition of sexism and misogyny. People are confusing sexual harassment (unwanted sexual contact or advances) with sexism (discrimination based on gender) and misogyny (a hatred of women). I can understand lumping Hoss’s talk into sexual harassment, but it was not directed at only the women in the audience. The crudeness of the content was targeted at everyone in the session, and was reasonably balanced in terms of gender participation. Likewise, calling it misogyny is just being sensationalist. Hoss at no time indicated or promoted a hatred of women. Let’s get our labels straight so that we can talk about this maturely and reasonably.

I wonder whether the accusation of misogyny was leveled because it carries more weight than crudeness and obscenity.

While none of the following excuses that the session was inappropriate, I think it is worth knowing a little bit about Hoss before you polish your pitchforks and light your torches. Hoss is a marvelously friendly, fun, intelligent, and generally respectful man. He is a good friend, and an excellent father, and from what I know is very good at his job. He has a crude, juvenile streak a mile wide, and definitely jumps over lines of appropriateness without a backward glance. This can be pretty entertaining over some pints with a close group of friends, but doesn’t always translate well into public speaking.

Hoss has been doing crude, frat-humor laden sessions for years now, and I’ve never heard of a complaint in the past. This isn’t to suggest that makes it ok, but it’s worth noting that this is what he’s known for, and what has become expected from him, both by attendees and conference organizers. Recently he confided to me that he would like to do more professional sessions oriented on his work, but has met resistance from conference organizers that want him to entertain, not teach (I’m not at all suggesting Dave is one of these). While I’m not defending his content, it is important to understand that he has been pigeon-holed into it. He chose that path, and he could likely break out of it, but as everyone knows its hard to give up on something that people say you’re great at.

I can also sympathize with him a bit because I had an attendee complain that a session I ran a few years ago (playing with yourself for fun and profit) was full of juvenile humor. I haven’t had a complaint before or since, but it showed me how people’s threshold for appropriateness varies wildly. It only had a few slightly suggestive jokes (none any cruder than the title), but it obviously offended someone.

With all of this in mind, I think we have the opportunity to make a positive change, rather than just lynching Hoss and Dave. I can guarantee that other conference organizers are following this, and revising their plans. Likewise, I’m sure Hoss is trying to reconcile this reaction with his previous experiences of being congratulated for identical behaviour, and pondering his future as a speaker.

I don’t think anyone wants the Flash community to become a dry, corporate, politically-correct group of stuffed shirts. At the same time we definitely want to be sure its inclusive and comfortable for everyone. Let’s look at how we can encourage this environment in a positive manner. Rather than taking the easy road of joining a witch hunt, provide feedback to organizers and speakers, support programs that encourage diversity in tech, and model positive behaviour to your peers. It’s always easier (and hey, more fun) to be sensational than productive, but hopefully some of this energy can be steered into creating real change.



Stacey Mulcahy, a fellow speaker at FlashBelt, has posted a great response everyone should read.

Niqui Merret, another fellow FlashBelt speaker, has posted her thoughts.

Hoss has posted his response. You can read it here.

Grant Skinner

The "g" in gskinner. Also the "skinner".



  1. Good, constructive, post.

  2. Thanks Grant,

    I completely agree with you. I’ve been trying to stand up for Hoss as well. I think it’s unfortunate that so many people that weren’t even there have made mince meat of a really cool guy.

  3. Thanks for bringing us up to speed Grant. Good to see someone thoughtfully taking the time to put things into perspective; hear both sides. It’s unfortunate that Twitter fosters such crude sensationalism. Nice pitchfork Imagery. 😀

  4. Thank you for providing the context to the presentation. I very much wanted to post something like this but I think you covered it pretty well.

    I think it’s unfortunate that the original Geek Girls post misrepresents his presentation by pulling bits of it out of context.

  5. saw him also a couple of times, great comment, thanks for this!!!

  6. The legal definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.” The presentation by your description was verbal/visual, of a sexual nature, and created an environment that at least some women found hostile. These activities in a workplace would constitute sexual harassment. That it was at a conference rather than a workplace makes it okay? I don’t think so.

  7. Thank you thank you thank you… I’ve wasted my entire day feeling uncomfortable about this witch hunt @ Hoss – you’ve said some really great and meaningful words

  8. Karen,

    While I welcome your contribution to the discussion, you may wish to reread my post. I specifically said that the content was inappropriate. I also never made any mention of sexual harassment.

    What I did say was that I didn’t think it was sexist. Due to social biases and the fact that the presenter was a man, it likely offended female attendees more than males, but I don’t think it was intended to do so.

    Again, I’m not condoning the content, I’m merely trying to provide context and steer the discussion away from a sensationalist one about misogyny (which is sensationalist) to a positive one about standards of decency and appropriateness.

  9. Robin Debreuil June 12, 2009 at 3:09pm

    let’s remember with juvenile humor, Flash would be on about 10% of computers world wide. Sounds like the thought police looking for a victim to me.

    “My god, I’ve seen a penis drawn with a mouse, I shall never be the same”.

  10. > Yes, he did draw a penis on stage (poorly). It was in the context of explaining that any time you give people a blank canvas to be creative on, they will immediately draw penises and swastikas. This is unfortunately true.

    it doesn’t matter how well he drew it. and, given many blank canvases, i have never had the urge to draw either of those things. the assertion that it’s human nature is just not true.

    and i don’t, for a second, buy the excuse that the crowd demanded it, that he had to do it for his fans. it’s not the fault of other people that his talk was inappropriate. he made his decisions and should own up it. an “i made some bad choices and i’m sorry” would be a good start.

  11. Earl Hathaway June 12, 2009 at 3:19pm

    Grant, if you don’t see how an “‘orgasm simulator’, which showed a female face working through 4 or 5 expressions up to orgasm as he moved the mouse up and down” is sexist, particularly when presented to a predominantly male audience, then you’re a sexist asshole. Just like your friend Hoss.

    And part of making changes involves publicly shaming sexist assholes, which is what you really object to.

  12. kathryn – likewise, I have never felt the urge to draw a penis in a public forum, but I have put up a few (and seen many) public canvases, and you invariably get a lot of penis drawings. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a valid point, and he made it in the context of talking about constraining inputs to avoid those types of outputs.

    It would appear we agree beyond that. As I said above, Hoss made the decision, he was never forced into it, and apology would be a good start to clearing some of this up.

  13. Earl – that’s crude & inappropriate, certainly. But then, calling people you don’t know an asshole isn’t exactly polite. I strongly believe that anyone that knows me certainly wouldn’t describe me as sexist. Maybe an asshole occasionally, but not sexist.

    He also showed a bad drawing of a erect penis ejaculating. Would you argue that that’s sexist to the women attending as well? That would be hypocritical (and sexist). Or was he being sexist to the men in the room? If he was being sexist to both genders roughly equally, doesn’t that mean he was just being inappropriate (sexism is discrimination based on gender)?

    Again, I’m not arguing that any of this was appropriate, or that people should be comfortable with the content, I just don’t believe that the banner people should be waving is sexism, and calling it misogyny is completely misinformed.

  14. I find it unfortunate how a page that took his presentation out of context, lit the fire to probably the fall of Hoss Gifford’s professional speaking career.

    Let me try to find the proper words on this and see if I can properly convey them. I know this may fall on deaf ears but this is how many of us felt after the Hoss Presentation: It was taken completely out of context!

    OK, it was crude we all know that. But the way Hoss is being hung on a feminism-movement-cross, you would think his presentation took it to an extreme level! A level where you see female’s being displayed as objects and inferior to the male, where Hoss is preaching about how he dictates commands to females and oppresses them. That wasn’t the case at all. Hoss sure did take some portions to an unprofessional level, but nothing to what we are currently reading on blogs, and around the net.

    Many laughed at his presentation (including myself) and I saw many females laughing too. The entire presentation seemed to be based on humor, albeit crude humor. However it seems to me that the individuals who had a good time during the presentation are now looked upon as sexist-perverts who love objectifying the female’s and think nothing of it. That is not the case:

    – We laughed at how true it is that in public domains where users can submit their own designs, there would be an influx of swastikas and penises.

    – We laughed at how obscure a presentation opening can be.

    – We laughed at how the heck Hoss got into the situation where he now has this “claw-like” arm, after his altercation.

    – And many laughed at the poorly elementary drawn penises, I mean come on?

    There were many great spots in his presentation. No where should it be shunned to where it is now, and no way Hoss should be in the situation he is now. Many think that his presentation was taken completely out of context. Especially when it comes to the sexist/harassment side for females. In all he had 2 different female references in the entire keynote, and a lot of male references. Yes, one may be too many but should someone be on the platter as Hoss is now? I will finally say this, I believe that if Hoss knew before hand that the majority would find his presentation as offensive as they did he would not even have displayed it.

  15. Frank Davidson June 12, 2009 at 4:18pm

    Look, if we really believe that we want to have an inclusive community where everyone can feel welcome to contribute constructively, we can not condone this type of blatantly objectifying environment. Being a straight male, I can see the frat boy/hazing nature of this, but we have to realize that however ingrained in our nature, it is wrong and we have to prevent it…

  16. Someone call the wambulance! SEX IS BAD! Sounds like a few women mad cause there aren’t more technical women?

  17. Excellent, well spoken thoughts, Grant. I’ve avoided much of the sensationalism around the issue though I completely empathize with attendees who weren’t comfortable with his content.

    I wholeheartedly agree that it had the potential to make people uncomfortable (as most art can and often does even in formal gallery settings). I also agree that labeling it as sexist or misogynist is just sensationalist bullshit. Obscene? lewd? Potentially offensive? sure. But not spiteful or demeaning.

    Apart from the sensationalist aspects, I just wanted to point out that I was very underwhelmed by the bulk of Hoss’s presentation (both the exhibitionism and his more serious work) and didn’t really feel he was demonstrating necessarily profound or inspiring content to begin with. Most of his pieces seemed very dated and the entire theme of “shared narrative” was tenuous at best. I’m sure he’s a great guy but frankly, offensive or not, I feel there may be much stronger and inspiring presenters to consider next year either way.

    I’m very pleased with the way Dave handled things and agree that people should not focus on this one speaker as the sole basis of judging the Flashbelt experience. I learned a ton from yours and other speakers and have no doubts I’ll consider attending again next year.

  18. Grant – I was in attendance at Flashbelt at both your session and Hoss’. I couldn’t agree more with your statement above. The only thing I would hate the rabid Twitter and blog responses to do would be to harm the future of Flashbelt and the (overall) incredibly beneficial conference it was.

    Well said, and thanks for speaking up.

  19. I think the only way for Hoss to remove the charge of being a sexist asshole is to present at the next conference a version of the orgasmic simulator featuring a man’s face going through the orgasmic expressions. Hm… or would that only make him a bigger sexist asshole?

  20. I tried to cram some of this vibe into a couple tweets yesterday. Once again, I am outdone. Kudos for your honesty and courage whether I or anyone else agree or not. DItto, for that matter, to those who initially raised their voices. The dialog is vital.

  21. You’re all missing the point !

    Hoss is mostly a nazi, as he said if you had a blank canvas, you would draw swastikas !

    Who would draw swatiskas during a session, except a nazi ?

  22. I’m just offended that he’s been giving the same talk for 3 years 😉

  23. Professional speaker June 13, 2009 at 7:26am

    I speak for a living… 30+ years, 40 countries.

    Not one of my clients would tolerate his presentation. All of them would do their best to ensure that he’s never hired again as a speaker. Can’t say that I’d blame them.

    There are mistakes and then there’s WTF! He not only crossed the line, he burned it.

  24. I once attended a session of Hoss in Rotterdam, years and years ago. Great speaker! People should really keep booking him, because he really adds a creative vision to our field.

    So weird that so many people take offense of this kind of juvenile humor. It’s simply childish fun. If you can’t laugh at a poorly drawn cock, then it’s time to find the child again in yourself: me.addChild(null)

    Guess it’s something to do the puritan culture of Americans or something.

    And about that objectification of women: my wife just said that she would be really upset if I didn’t objectify her anymore 😉

  25. I wish that we, as people, weren’t so afraid to talk about sex or ‘NSFW’ topics in public. Sex is wonderful, everything we do is based around it. EVERYTHING! If we cannot joke about things that happen in everyday life on stage, at lunch, or while texting and pooping at the same time, what’s the point of continuing our evloution? I know this response is taking the conversation somewhere way off course, but reading all this nonsense just makes me think about how afraid we, as people, are so afraid to voice opinions due to having a major minority group rising up angry about it. Everyone is a minority and none of us feel the same about 3 different topics. I almost guarantee it.

    Question: Does anyone here like stand up comedy? WTF? I love watching stand up comedians talk SHIT about everything we do. Sex, drugs, politics, sexism, racism, and nerds are just ideas and things that we deal with on a day to day basis. To think that we should sensor ourselves more than we already do is absolutely dis-satisfying. Why does our professional life have to be some quiet mouthed “talk about it at home” environment.

    I think penises are really funny looking. It’s oddly shaped skin that hangs off of a person. LOL(laugh out loud). Just saying those to sentences makes me want to look at the Superbad dick drawings book. Does that make me a sexist? Does that make me have a dick infatuation? Do I use too many swear words for Grant’s website? Oh shit, is he going to delete my post because it is out of context?

    Sorry if I offended anyone. Just voicing an opinion.

  26. Steven Hargrove June 13, 2009 at 8:58pm

    didn’t he present this at flash on tap, as well? I don’t remember anybody fussing about it..

  27. I am female, I attended Hoss’s presentation, and I was not offended by it. Did I feel there were bits that were crude and irrelevant to the rest of the presentation? Yes. But I find it ironic that people are so up in arms about a drawing of a penis. There were many representations of penises in the final keynote of the show, and no one seems upset by that. I appreciate Grant’s and Stacey’s balanced perspectives on this controversy, and agree with others who have stated that it’s a real shame that this has consumed so much of the post-show banter. This was my first Flashbelt, I thought it was an amazing event, and I came away inspired and excited. I hope that we can all focus on the many positives of this event and support Dave in continuing to make this one of the best conferences out there. And if we want to change the representation of women in this industry, let’s get some more female speakers on-board, particularly keynote speakers.

  28. FlashbeltAttendee June 14, 2009 at 7:52pm

    Drawing penises is one thing, making it spray on a woman’s face is undeniably vulgar, offensive and demeaning. Let’s just get that straight.

  29. FlashbeltAttendee, Now that the presentation is posted, do you know what mov file has the content you refer to?

  30. This is not feminism and this is not PC. This crude, cheap, garbage that I wouldn’t spend money to attend. I go to conferences to learn about high tech stuff, not attend some guy’s high tech porn material.

    If you swapped out mouse-driven orgasm with mouse-driven shooting of “jews” and “blacks”, would you be so quick to say its only “crude humor”? I didn’t think so.

  31. Greg, So sex and violence are one and the same? I don’t think your comparison is fair.

  32. FlashbeltAttendee June 15, 2009 at 9:19am

    Curious, I can’t find the video online – but it would have been near the end, right before the orgasmitron segment.

  33. Thanks for looking for the video. I asked because I was there and was trying to figure out what video you were talking about. I remember some stick figures scribbling back and forth over each other but nothing like you described.

  34. Steve McDonald June 15, 2009 at 12:11pm

    A penis in a medical example “might” be contextually appropriate. A penis as a visual to “hey look at this example of inappropriate blank canvas drawings!” is ridiculous, boundary-less and not professional.

    I think it is sad that we are debating equally offending men and woman. Are we talking about publicly inappropriate material and obsessing over whether men could be fairly and equally offended as the women as a defense for the speaker’s content?

    And before someone suggests that I represent a puritan perspective drowning in a post-christian world, I think there is a difference between me attempting to control your behavior at home and all of us agreeing that this material is inappropriate in the public venue.

    I also want to address the objection that suggests that we are stifling the creative spirit by suggesting this is inappropriate. If this is as good as creative gets, then we are defending a downward spiral. I can imagine that there are plenty of people reading this that like comedic films. But is a “comedy” consisting mostly of “poop and fart” jokes really on the same creative par as a much smarter comedy that doesn’t go for cheap laughs? Am I arguing against poop and fart comedy? Of course not. But it does not epitomize the state of comedic art and it being stifled does not mean the end of creative expression as some here have said in defense of this presentation.

    I want to suggest that there is no reason to crucify anyone here. But at the same time these justifications are getting silly and obvious. The content was just simply inappropriate and we should make note and draw a reasonable social line and move on. Good boundaries are the hallmark of a mature culture.

    Those of you who continue to defend it need to being OK with drawing boundary lines. As well, those of us who acknowledge that a reasonable boundary was overlooked, we need to avoid crucifying anyone here. Let’s all learn something about growing up together.

    The response can’t be to just start calling everything “creative” and reasonable boundaries “stifling.” I am thinking people can give creative/ fun/ funny presentations without stepping over easily perceived and obvious lines of inappropriate content.

  35. You prude Americans! With your nipple censoring, sex avoiding and over protective “culture”. It won’t be long before you’ll be needing to lock yourself up in a plain coloured room not talking, not looking and not interacting with each other. Lighten up. Geesh!

  36. Hi the regex tool is great! FYI, the link to the blog at the botton of the page is broken.

  37. Jeesh, what a mess. This would never have happened in the good old days! What is all this political BS….still i’m sure a good scandal will work the pr machines and everyone will walk away quids in…still BS though. FACT.

  38. Did you read Hoss’s response? That was worse than the accusations. If everyone is saying that hoss did nothing wrong, why was his response “yes it was inappropriate, yes it was rude, wait no, i mean, I did nothing wrong, I was on vicodin, I have a wife and two daughters” all the backpedalling makes him look childish which definitely re-affirms the initial post about it.

    If he did nothing wrong other than being crass, why offer a apology?

  39. Jayd – I don’t think many (any?) people have said that Hoss did nothing wrong, including Hoss.

    Hoss’s response is fairly similar to my own. His main points were that he’s sorry for offending people, he admits his content was crude and that it shouldn’t have been presented without warning, but he does not consider himself or his content sexist.

    Why wouldn’t you apologize for being crass and offending someone?

  40. This is a tough one. In the typical workplace environment, I would say this is grounds for immediate dismissal. But the Flash community normally works in an atypical, more creative and expressive, environment. So this type of inappropriate content should not be shocking to most of us, and in fact is just as crude as the Durex Horny Bunnies commercials, which were celebrated and shared the world over.

    I did not attend the conference, but I can tell you right now I would have put on one of those uncomfortably fake smiles all the while thinking in my head… “Is this guy crazy?!?”. Mainly because I am sitting next to 500 strangers and not my friends and close co-workers. Imagine your own work presentation that many of us give after attending these conferences. Do you really think you would bring up the orgasm simulator or 3 foot vagina as an example? Probably not.

    So, I have to side with Grant as he mentioned that “context matters”, and I believe THIS to be the most important issue. In Amsterdam, a photo of a woman’s crotch out in front of a restaurant might be acceptable there, but back here in the good ol’ US of A, it would be set aflame and aired on Nancy Grace in minutes. I agree that the presentation was sexist, because as someone said above, there should have been a male orgasm simulator shown right afterwards, which would have most definitely received a much bigger laugh, and probably would have defused any misogyny or sexist content claims.

    So again, context matters… and one (wo)man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure.


  41. I come to this discussion as a part-time geek, and also as a porn writer, so please do not interpret my anger as prudery.

    This is not about sex. It is about sexism. You may not consider his content sexist. I do. As the person who deals with sexism every day of my life, I think I am better qualified to make that judgement than he or you are.

    “What I did say was that I didn’t think it was sexist. Due to social biases and the fact that the presenter was a man, it likely offended female attendees more than males, but I don’t think it was intended to do so.”

    It speaks volumes that you can defend something offensive, either mildly or blatantly, by saying it “wasn’t intended to be so.” I would like you to think very carefully about why one would *make the assumption* that this kind of humor would not be insulting. Is it perhaps because you yourself are not part of the insulted group?

    We also need to discuss the meaning of the word “misogyny.” Like the term “racist” those who have done something mysogynist and who are called on it, tend to concentrate on the unfairness of the accusation. How could Hoss be a mysogynist? He loves his wife and daughter!

    But his actions, in this moment, did not show love or respect towards women. His presentation *used* women, in a very disrespectful way.

    We women have a never-ending battle for respect. Some of you men may be surprised that we would focus so much attention on this one instance, and you claim that, in a world full of violence and battery, some merely nasty images and ribald humor should be forgivable. But you know– for those of us on the *receiving* side, his humor felt like just a little more of the same.

  42. johnny_generic June 22, 2009 at 11:48pm

    wait…wait..wait.. “porn writer” seriously ?!?… was that for real???


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