I can see making an art of the sarcastic remark. I can see making an art of the well-deserved put-down, though I would probably not care to remain long in the company of one who practiced this art. I can see making a foolery of lechery -- but -- this is no longer the fifties. It is NOT okay to put your hand places that no-one should be touching without permission (either explicit or implied). And even if Mr. Ellison and Ms. Willis had the sort of understanding that allows his hand to be on that part of her body, the Hugo Awards (the Hugo Awards!) ceremony is neither the time nor the place!
Yes, he's a Big Name Famous Author. Yes, he's gotten away with all kinds of stuff. No, he probably would not have gotten away with all of that if he were Joe Schumuckanelli. Yes, if people can get away with doing something inappropriate Just Because They're Famous, or Just Because They're Just That Way, You'll Get Used To It And We Don't Want Them To Leave Because We've Told Them To Quit It, something does need to change. Somewhere. Somehow. If someone is told that their complaints about someone's legally actionable activities will be brushed off because that person is famous and important and they are not, that (along with dirty restrooms) is a mark of a sick society. Hello, Fandom. Take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself what you've been overlooking due to extenuating circumstances that aren't really. (Hello, World-in-general. How's about you do the same? And harder?)
It would be very easy to blame Connie Willis for making it worse by not making a big public fuss over it. I wasn't there, I didn't see how it happened, but I certainly have heard about it. I heard the position discussed elseblog that really, he was looking for reaction. So a non-reaction from her at the time may have been the best way for her to handle the situation as it happened. But however much any observer or non-observer would have handled the situation differently had they been in Connie's shoes, the way she dealt with it was in response to completely unacceptable behavior. Neither she nor any other guest at that or any other position should have to be put in a position where they are dealing with that level of inappropriate behavior. It is not a situation of "you are hiking in snake country, so you had better be wearing boots." Mr. Ellison, while acting the part of a snake-in-the-grass, is fully human, and ought to be in command of his actions. (There's also been discussion elseblog about the possibility of him having lost abilities and inhibitions as the result of brain damage and age. And if that's so, it's a shame and a tragedy. I also don't think it's just Mr. Ellison who's taking advantage of fandom position to get away with the unacceptable.)
But what should be done, and who should do it? Obviously, most of the people who saw it have an opinion on it, and most of the people with an opinion on it (witness or not) are sounding off in various places, mostly online. Is any of that going to get through to Mr. Ellison? Some of it has, or he would not have posted the sketchy-sounding apology that's making the rounds. Will any of it make any form of impact on him, or at least on his behavior in the future? G-d only knows. I do know one thing from the four years I spent helping rear a small child: you can say "No!" until you're blue in the face (and blue in the language), but unless you have something to back that up with, it's not going to make much of a difference. All the authority in the world saying "This is unacceptable" won't make a difference either with a child or someone who is acting like a child, unless something concrete is done to demonstrate that authority.
At a convention, who is the authority?
The average con-goer is a social force at a convention, but one person saying "Hands off!" will probably not deter a determined party intent on hands-on mischief. The grabby party will simply take their grabby person elsewhere to a crowd more in favor (or less vocally opposed) to said grabbing. The hotel or convention center probably has procedures for 86-ing unruly guests, and the local police might become interested in the cases of blatant assault, but the target of unwanted hands-on action may not wish to cause that much of a ruckus. The intermediate social authority, and the social authority with the power to make real change here, are convention security, and the convention committee.
I'm not so interested in why Connie Willis did not pull a Cordelia Naismith and send Mr. Ellison toppling over with a well-placed foot. I am interested in why he was not politely but firmly approached by the convention authorities and told that if he could not behave himself to half-decent standards in public at the convention, he was not going to be at the convention, and then shown the door. Other unruly members of conventions are asked to leave. If a Guest of Honor dishonors himself, why is he not dis-invited? The convention authorities have a responsibility to their guests to run a good convention, and part of that responsibility is ensuring that things like this do not happen, and if they do happen, that they will not happen again.
I think that immediate or near-immediate ejection from a convention in progress would have more social effect than a quiet non-invitation for the guest's return. It leaves the door open for the guest to return next time should they shape up, and it offers immediate and public feedback for unacceptable behavior. You don't get a kid to behave by scolding them a week after they've caused a huge public scene. You remove them from the situation as quickly and gracefully as possible, you send them to bed if they're overtired and squalling, but in any case, you enact consequences as immediately as feasible. You can follow that up by grounding them for a week, and canceling any extra-curricular activities, but that probably requires a little more thought and consultation.
Should Harlan Ellison be banned for life from WorldCon? That's something the various committees are going to have to hash out at length. But he should never have been allowed to remain at this one after that stunt.