Talk of Fame – The Problem with Furry Populism

Furry is an odd fandom. Aside from recent blockbuster animations like Zootopia and the Kung Fu Panda series, franchises like Starfox, and one-shot-shows and token characters in various other media, it is almost completely self-reliant for the content on which it feeds and grows. It all comes from within. Books, artwork, animation, even music (which arguably must be one of the hardest things to advertise as being specifically furry given that music itself doesn’t have a visual aspect and doesn’t always have words to denote the stylistic distinction). So it’s no surprise that, in an online community much like any other, there are also YouTubers, and, more recently, video game developers. Sometimes both at once.

L never wrong

So if you’re inclined to subscribe to any, prepare to hear this… a lot.

The whole fandom is kind of a franchising anomaly; you’d think that a community with a very finite pool of mainstream media content would have difficulty remaining cohesive and finding new things to do with itself, but I’m not sure anyone estimates the sheer creativity of this particular group. Aside from Steampunk, which has a far greater outside influence given its back-and-forth in literature, fashion, and media, furry is one of the few places where someone can be an entirely original creation and not be scoffed at. Anime or video game OCs don’t have that distinction, because the expectation is that you are always defined by the characters that already exist, and anything that diverts from the canon is pretty poorly considered, often dismissed as inferior. In furry fandom, everyone literally IS their own fanfiction creation, complete with everything that would guarantee a failing grade on any given Mary-Sue test. Furry is a living, breathing community of people’s uninhibited feelings and desires.

And that can be a real problem.

HOW DARE! DON’T TOUCH MY FAVES!

When I say ‘problem’, it’s less in the sense of ‘people shouldn’t be allowed to do that’ and more that ‘when there are no limits to the content we create for ourselves, we see the truest extent of people’s capabilities and psyche’. As anyone who’s looked through a YouTube comments section knows, the internet is a scary place, and it can get even scarier when you have a giant glittery wolf face grinning seductively at you from the other side of the screen with a million equally sparkly minions barking to the same tune. Or, if you don’t like canines, there are a few other figureheads you could grapple with, some without nearly as much head hair or moral scruples.

Kakashi

You know who I mean.

The hierarchy of infamy in Furry is typically dominated at the top level by fursuiters and artists/animators, because, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a hugely visual fandom. Writers, prominent Twitter users/bloggers, musicians, and most others tend to fall into an undulating mass underneath, with con organisers and web admins the free radicals that can be absolutely anywhere in that they do a heck of a lot and everyone seems to know who they are, but they generally maintain low visibility in photos or art. Except Dragoneer.

So when you have a fandom that essentially creates its own characters, when one starts to become more well-known and popular than others, usually via YouTube videos, memes, or insanely prolific social media accounts, they start to don the mantle of ‘popufur’, whether they want it or not. (You would assume, if they’re a YouTuber, that they do.) They become their own product to sell to the community.

And thanks to YouTube’s ad revenue, that’s totally a thing you can do now: market yourself. Whether it’s advice, goofing around, playing games, making ridiculously offensive remarks under the guise of comedy, commentary on current events in or out of fandom, or just a furry twist on anything else that hasn’t yet been ‘ruined’ enough, you can Do That Thing.

IMG_20170706_195423

And look, there they Do Those Things! (Image made by RhyeRhythm on Twitter)

Now, any celebrity, YouTuber or not, will know the double edged sword of popularity; your mere presence can be hugely polarising, and the more you do, the more intense the polarisation can become. Sticking to the thing you’re good or comfortable at is usually a safe bet, but there’s always a push to get more views, subscriptions, and money by extension. I get that. I consider every Tweet I make to be some kind of investment to selling my own books. You have to start thinking that way when your social media becomes your major marketing tool, and even moreso if it’s actually a source of income. There will likely come points where the character and person inside it become inseparable; anyone who is giving their very presence or personality as a selling point needs to have a sustainable way of doing so. When a person becomes the product they’re selling and their own means of production, unless they’re incredibly resilient, focused, open-minded, flexible, or determined, they will come up against conflict. And not everyone handles that well.

People need to remember that fame and success are very different things, and that both of these terms have very different interpretations depending on your perspective. Sadly most of this article so far is kind of a preamble to my main story, a personal case study of how a fandom with a community network that’s very intrinsic to its own sustainability starts to fall down when populism doesn’t reciprocate.

EdCB

Yep, sorry. Please take a break if you need it, it gets a little hot from here.

“Fame has only the span of a day, they say. But to live in the hearts of people- that is worth something.” – Ouida.

LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME

There’s no denying that, if you have a fursuit, it’s nice to be both noticed and appreciated. If you have a creation that you’re proud of, be it a book or piece of art, or video game, or music, it feels great to have it shared. And if you make a YouTube video or write a long post, having people laugh or console or engage with you (where appropriate) is great. There’s no reason you shouldn’t feel good for being able to engage with your passion in a constructive way. But you also have to understand that every path comes with obstacles, that you can never be all things to all people, and there will come times when your work will be criticised. I wrote a long post about my first bad review.

But…

Okay, here’s the context. This is not intended to be a hit piece, I promise. But it is a sincere attempt at an objective assessment of character and judgements as part of the furry fandom. And to be honest, it’s not unique to furries. There are Facebook pages you likely see every day that do exactly the same thing.

There’s a popufur who began his furry journey on Second Life, by the name of Klace Vakarian. As I’m sure most of the people who will be drawn to my blog will recognise, Vakarian is the last name of a character from Mass Effect.

me3_garrus_vakarian_3_by_chicksaw2002-d57v12b

AND HE IS BEAUTIFUL

I can’t really criticise here too harshly, because my fursona’s surname is Clow, a la CardCaptor Sakura. But Vakarian is a very obvious name to choose given the franchise’s popularity. It shows, on the surface, a potential for appropriation. And it’s not necessarily an unfounded observation when we see what happens later.

Klace Kickstarted a furry video game on Steam, called Major/Minor, presumably a reference to music given the prominent self-insertion of Klace’s popstar fursona and not a lift from a 2013 acoustic punk rock band from Ontario of the same name. Cool, furry video game! It was made with RPG Maker, so in the end it becomes more like a choose-your-own-adventure game, or slightly branching visual novel. I’ve never made a video game, but from what I hear this engine is pretty simple to get to grips with.

The gaming community is very particular about certain things; firstly, the presence of furries; secondly, quality of the game; thirdly, evidence of changes and information manipulation. The sheer mention of furries meant that it stuck out like a sore thumb (for both furries and its critics) in an indie market which had not yet been sufficiently tapped outside of flash games and Dust: An Elysian Tale. Trolls aside, at the time, furries were eager to take more or less anything they could consume.

But it wasn’t without its faults. It (and Klace) received a good amount of criticism for the game, which, for a first-time attempt, isn’t unexpected. I used to browse Kotaku and IGN a lot and I’ve seen even just from those brief minefield excursions that criticism often blurs the lines between creator and project; sometimes subconsciously, sometimes not. “What the hell was the writer/dev smoking?” would be one example of a sideways criticism that isn’t necessarily a direct attack, but definitely isn’t a great thing to read. But open criticism should be a fair process and any creator needs to take this into account. Even I grudgingly admit in the dissection of the negative review of Legacy that I should at least pay attention to the review’s points, even if they could be invalidated or dismissed later. I did not request the review to be removed, though. It’s not fair.

Klace did, however. He did it a lot. The biggest conspiracy around this game (oh, aside from the weird DMCA claim) was his continual flagging of negative reviews, much to the concern of many users and community members, and the bizarre decision to re-release the exact same game as a ‘complete’ version in order to create a completely new review standard, despite his assertions that people should ‘carry their reviews over’. If it’s not a different version of the game, why bother?

And that was even ignoring the content of the more constructive reviews, that foretold of similarities between his story and the Persona series, a hugely popular Japanese RPG series which has dialogue in a very similar format. Given the similarity of the language used between the two, I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been some kind of eye cast this way by Atlus.

We all want our work to succeed effortlessly, but criticism, if given properly, is not a personal attack. It can be embarrassing to know something you did has a flaw, or needs improvement, or has a plot hole, or whatever, but these are aimed at making These Things You Do better. Removing any form of negative remarks to try and instill an air of perfection is misleading and arrogant. And lots of people do this, not just Klace.

I’m not going to pass judgement on his game because I haven’t played it. I don’t intend to. There were rumours floating about that his version of RPG Maker was bootlegged, which may create some weird legal ramifications if  true, but I don’t know if they’re substantiated.

Persona 3

To be fair, the same thing happens to me when I see furry media almost anywhere.

But anyway, when I first discovered Klace it was on Facebook. Klace is a person who constructed his social media platform and spread word about his game by making memes of himself and sharing them ad infinitum, and adding literally anyone with a furry avatar that he could find. I was one of them. I figured with his enormous friends list (of FIVE THOUSAND, literally the maximum Facebook will allow) that he must be super popular or super important. For some emotional background, this was at a sensitive time for me when I was trying to become a sort-of-semi-professional cosplayer but had run into fairly debilitating drama.

This next part is my personal experience/beef with Klace that he likely has no idea about, but affected me in a pretty big way. I apologise that this will be a less objective section of the article. But I hope it will at least appear relevant as a demonstration of poor community interaction.

It’s here that I may have to admit to being the one who inspired him to make a Facebook page for his game, possibly. I glanced through his gargantuan friend list and his feed, to see everything on it was basically direct from him. Not necessarily unusual in and of itself. Or there was stuff from others, about him. Or fanart of him. Fan memes. Or the same thing of his I just saw, shared again two days later for more hits. It’s like he ate a Facebook ad service and was slowly puking it out in the form of selfies.

But anyway, I thought he at least seemed active and had a lot of people willing to interact with him and who took his approval very seriously. Feeling disheartened about my own lack of success in both cosplay and my dwindling book sales, I thought I’d try appealing to him for a share of my stuff. I’d already accepted his friend request by this point, and I was pretty new to the community so I perhaps pre-emptively expected too much from any interaction that wasn’t solely about him. I had my own facebook page for my books (you can see it here) and I thought, wow, if he has a reach of 5000 and a good load of engagement, maybe he’d be willing to share my page and give me a hand. And fuck, I needed the boost then. Over a year later, I still haven’t broken 200 likes.

I sent him an invite to my page before going to sleep, eagerly anticipating what interactions I might wake up to.

The next morning I log on to see no new likes on my page, no response to my invite, but my own invite to a BRAND NEW MAJOR/MINOR PAGE which already had over 500 likes. In a matter of HOURS.

Klace took a big, sparkly, pink-and-rainbow shit all over my face.

He and I are walking the same line, at different paces. We both want shares, financial stability, and appreciation for our work. But we’re worlds apart. Here’s me, an author who’s been pouring my soul into these books since 2006, desperate for even one more like or sale or share, trying to sell it on its own merits and not become someone who has to post about it every few minutes and irritate the community I’m trying to sell it to. Here’s him, using a crowd he’s built using suggestive artwork and cute selfies in a fursuit head by a very talented maker, whose video game endeavours may as well have already been funded for life.

How many people on your friends list right now use Patreons, or Ko-Fi, or have a pinned Tweet that says ‘commissions always open’? How many times a day on your feed do you see ‘If you can’t commission, please RT/share?’. When your platform literally has the ability to fund an entire video game’s worth of development in less than a week, imagine what you could do for the community.

So I can’t lie, I was pretty fucking crushed to see that kind of selfishness from a substantial bulwark of the community that I had only recently felt confident enough to open my heart to. It put me off trying to write or engage with people for quite a long time, and as you can tell, I’m still pretty bitter about it given he has over 30 times the amount of followers I do on Twitter and frequently boasts about how his haters can’t understand how he got $30,000 worth of funding in under a day. That’s over twice what I make in a damn year. And if you’re still here reading this, it’s got to sound like I’m sitting on and slowly absorbing, through one end or another, a huge bunch of sour grapes. You wouldn’t be wrong.

paper tear

So… yeah. I have felt like doing this to my books a few times over this.

Sorry, I said this wouldn’t be a hit piece. I got distracted. Because it fucking hurt. But you see the effect negligence can have if you’re deemed unimportant by someone. That’s a big problem when you’re part of a very inter-connected and generally insular community, and especially if you’re trying to make yourself a figurehead of it.

But that’s just you, right?

Well, yes, and no. Because this attitude isn’t a one-time opportunity snub. It happens a lot online, and especially in the cosplay/fursuit community. I see people frequently complain about fursuit and artist elitism. Klace isn’t unique in that regard, sadly. On the other hand, you can’t expect everyone to share everything just because they have reach. It would be legitimately overwhelming. So there has to be a balance. But using him as an example again, you can read between the lines in his feed that everything he shares is to do with him, or a meme that he’s taken from somewhere else instead of retweeting it from the source.  Because if you take it for yourself, you get all of the exposure for the share. You see where this appropriation habit sneaks in? There are entire bootleg empires on Facebook set up that do ONLY this, and are sickeningly effective at it. Klace didn’t take anything directly from me except the concept of owning a Facebook page for a project. But it’s simple common courtesy: if you ask people to like your page, you typically like theirs back. That’s how a community works and grows organically. Asking someone for a share without the offer of anything in return is a poor show, and, if you put it in the more tangible context of an art trade, which I see a lot on Facebook, damn inexcusable.

Maybe it was coincidence that he happened to make his page at the same instance that I sent him my invite. I’m sure he’ll say that’s what it was, but the timing was fucking shit, to be blunt.

The problem with an attitude like this in a community that is absolutely, fundamentally reliant on itself for the creation of its content is that your platform starts to become higher and thinner the further you climb, to a point where getting toppled is remarkably easy. The less you give, the less inclined people will be to support you when you absolutely need it, and the quicker you’ll fall into obscurity at the end of it. If all you have to fall back on is:
a) a suit someone else made for you
b) art someone else draws for you
c) memes of yourself

and you give nothing back except the SHEER GIFT THAT IS YOUR VERY PRESENCE BECAUSE OMG IT’S *INSERT FURSONA HERE* SQUEE, your magical shell of saleability starts to look mighty thin.

And more importantly, when you steal memes (or art, more drastically) and take credit away from the source, you’re actively damaging the community by shitting on the little guy and taking away their fair share of a voice. I have always felt that you should be judged by your own merits, and the content you create yourself in earnest, and the way you treat others, are a big part of that. Mara Wilson is great at calling out people who steal others’ Tweets, and she is fortunate enough to be in a position where she could choose not to care entirely. But that level of understanding breeds a better, stronger community at the base of it and encourages everyone to try for their own achievements. If they’re always being overshadowed by the popular guy who steals all their quotes and memes to try and further solidify their platform, they’ll very quickly get discouraged, and may leave the community entirely.

This point is paramount: your popularity or success should never come at the sacrifice of others. Be honest, and if you support others, you’d be surprised what you would get in return.

I may begrudge my Twitter numbers by comparison to others, but damn if those I know and talk to on a regular basis aren’t some of the most supportive and encouraging people I’ve ever met. And I don’t have to keep mentioning myself and looking cute for them to talk to me, which is an absolute blessing. I feel proud to share art and creations by others; shock horror, even books that could potentially directly compete with mine! Because we’re in the same boat, ultimately. Their success becomes a gateway for mine, and vice versa. It makes sense to bring everyone up alongside you because that’s how a community becomes stronger and opens new pathways for wider success further down the line.

When all you have to sell is yourself, give nothing back, and show no support to your fellow creators, you’re not part of the community, you’re just a product. And products expire.

Major/Minor did not push any boundaries in my view. One of his major talking points and favourite self-memes is that Major/Minor is ‘clean’ furry material, i.e., no adult content, as if that was somehow a new concept. Legacy and Fracture are non-adult. Klace would have known that if he had bothered to take time to look at my book. I’m not even the only clean author/creator around, not by a long shot. And Klace will frame Tweets of his own clean-media praise with pictures of himself in underwear straddling another fursuiter, in obscenely tight underwear, or coyly tell people *giggle* “don’t search for me on this porn site, you’ll burn your eyes” as if he was some black-and-white movie harlot trying to seduce Clark Gable. It comes off as insincere and opportunistic when juxtaposed in this way.

For one final demonstration of this attitude of appropriation, we’ll look at the Furry YouTubers image I posted earlier. Klace took hold of it and announced that he’d be there as well, but he altered it.

 

See the difference? Top right. Instead of putting himself in, say, the black space in the lower-right center, he pastes himself directly over a user called ZennieTweets. That may denote a history I’m not aware of, but regardless, it’s blatantly tactless.

Oh, and no credit to the original user who likely spent a considerable amount of time and effort to put these guys into this image in the first place: RhyeRhythm. But at this point, did you expect anything different?

smileoptimism

Yeah. I’m going to bed.

ADDENDUM: Because I’m an anxious twerp, I want to stress this point: I believe ‘popufur’ is a state of mind or particular subset of behaviours, the idea that popularity is the end goal over success of creative content. YouTubers and fursuiters are not automatically popufurs. Any community member or creator could easily fall into these traps, and I almost did when I was trying to become a popular cosplayer. If you’re conscientious, kind, humble, and actually boost the community that supports you instead of seeing yourself as separate, above, or removed from it to take advantage of its generosity and excitability, then you’re already way out of danger.

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3 thoughts on “Talk of Fame – The Problem with Furry Populism

  1. Pingback: Talk of Fame – The Problem with Furry Populism on Writesaber – Furry Times

  2. An interesting assessment of the Furry commercial culture.

    It really does seem, now that I think about it, that this sort of thing is much more prevalent in the Fandom than is the norm (sorry to hear that your incident with him hampered your own creative process, I’m currently rereading Legacy and cant wait for Ruin’s Dawn!) As someone who promotes their own creative endeavors (to rather mediocre results), it can definitely be disheartening when other peoples’ selfishness/competitiveness undermines the support that we try to cultivate, whether it’s for exposure or constructive criticism.

    • I definitely agree. It’s hard to have to keep selling yourself when you need to focus on creating the work you’re trying to share. Especially when you’re starting out, getting the energy and recognition you want and need to become successful can be dishearteningly slow. But I feel that the more you give to others, the more you get back in return, even if progress is slow. I hope people will start to recognise that building platforms by standing on others’ heads only works until those people walk away.

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