About Hugo Jackson

Author of young adult fantasy series The Resonance Tetralogy, avid cosplayer/fursuiter, voice actor/narrator, and Steven Universe fan.

Lost Archive: Legacy – Review by Fred Patten

When I first joined the Furry Writers’ Guild, one of the first people I took note of was Fred Patten. Many younger furries won;t know him, but he was instrumental in bringing both anime AND furry to the US, and as a result, even further afield. There would be so much less of everything we enjoy around us, if not for him. He is absolute undeniable proof that you can contribute to the fandom without a fursuit, or even a fursona. What he gave us is immeasurable.

Fred sadly passed away last year, but when he was alive, one of the things he enjoyed most was to review furry literature. I was honoured to have sent him my first two books, in exchange for a review of each.

The reviews had been lost previously, but in the spirit of Furry Book Month, to archive for my own purposes, and in honour of the approaching anniversary of his passing, I’m reposting the reviews in their entirety here.


Legacy, by Hugo Jackson. Map.719oQQeUPIL
Derby, England, UK, Inspired Quill Publishing, September 2013, trade PB $12.99 (v + 371 pages), Kindle $3.90.

The map of Eeres on pages iv and v shows only a few land masses amidst many oceans and seas; the result of a prehistoric cataclysm 2,500 years earlier. Millions were killed, the whole world was reshaped, and the few survivors were too desperately trying to survive to keep any civilization or record of the past. All that remained, when a new civilization began to come together centuries later, were legends of a glorious, hardly believable past, and of the unknown disaster that had destroyed it. And a name – Nazreal – of the only city from that forgotten past known (or believed) to have existed for sure.

As Legacy begins, all Eeres (or Cadon, its largest continent and the location of the more important independent city-states) is abuzz with the news that the latest discovery from pre-cataclysmic times may lead to the lost city of Nazreal itself. This sets off a hurricane of hopes and fears; hopes that some of the legendary benefits may be reintroduced to civilization, and fears that what destroyed the past world will also be found again. More troubling is that Dhraka, a city far to the southwest of Cadon, is where the ancient artifact has been found. Dhraka is also dominated by aggressive dragons led by the militant Fulkore Crawn. (The other city-states are inhabited by various furry mammals.) There are worries that Dhraka may follow up its discovery to find something that will allow it to take over all Eeres. Even if the discovery is useless, Dhraka could use its search for Nazreal as a cover for militaristic expansion.

Sinédrion, the most sophisticated city of Cadon and the social leader, is the venue of Eeres’ Senate where representatives of the different city-kingdoms debate. The usual boring debates are turned into a turmoil when Fulkore comes to ask (a thinly veiled demand) that the other cities help Dhraka in its search. He especially wants access to the archives of Xayall, the fox-led city that has been researching the legends of the past for centuries. But Fulkore refuses to describe just what Dhraka has found; also, Xayall is the closest city to Dhraka, and it has suspected Dhraka of wanting to annex it for a long time. Aidan Phiraco, the Emperor of Xayall, refuses to let any of the dragons inside Xayall.

Chapter 1 is misleading, because the protagonist of Legacy is Faria Phiraco, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Emperor Aidan. She is the child of a red fox father and a fennec mother, and a blend of both. She is the representative in Xayall of Aidan in his absence, and a student of science/magic, both of what has been rediscovered and of new developments; specializing in the use of crystals for resonance manipulation. Both Faria and her father suspect that, with Xayall’s formal refusal to help Dhraka, the dragons will begin unofficial warfare against them. Aidan is reluctant to let her leave the walled city any more for fear of assassination.

When Dhraka strikes sooner and more ruthlessly than expected, Faria must escape from the city, find allies, warn the other cities, and discover the secret of Nazreal.

In addition to Faria, major characters in Legacy include Tierenan Cloud, a cyborg raccoon whom Faria frees from Dhrakan mind control; Aeryn and Kyru, two wolf mercenaries; and their adversary, Vionaika, Dhraka’s sadistic commander; a hyena/feline/dragon hybrid. Tierenan, Kyru, and Aeryn are shown with Faria on the wraparound cover by Minna Sundberg (Finnish author/artist of the completed online anthro comic strip A Redtail’s Dream). The adventures of these four, and their pursuer, take them by land and sea across Eeres, from humble carts and boats to fantastic airships, meeting anthros from mundane mammals and reptiles (“An iguana and a sailfin lizard deftly scaled the sterncastle to attend to the three-pronged mast on top.” – p. 185) to Osiris, a gryphon.

Legacy ends with a lengthy, exhausting conclusion, but there is a happy ending. However, don’t relax yet, because this is only Book One of the Resonance Tetralogy. Books Two through Four will be Fracture, Ruin’s Dawn, and Resonance End.

Legacy is very satisfying. Jackson brings a complex and colorful anthro world to life. His descriptions are full of lush detail:

“They rounded a corner and descended a set of large, sweeping stairs; this was one of the main entrances to the building. Aidan could hear the bustling of the citizens in the streets outside.

When they reached the large iron door at the base, two bulky guards hauled it open, revealing the eminent city of Sinédrion laid out before them, colours ablaze in the late evening’s low vermillion sun. A large river curved majestically around the Senate chamber, wearing luxurious bridges like a uniform of office.

Their carriage awaited them: an elegant design in dark wood with green and gold trim. Tall, horse-like dinosaur creatures with long tails, Theriasaurs, stood proudly at its head awaiting their command to move. The Xayall emblem, a white fox on a shield of blue flame, had been carved into the vehicle’s doors. A troop of mounted soldiers were stood to attention behind it; a silent, respectful welcome to their Emperor.” (p. 13)

Jackson’s worst fault is an overuse of emotionally-charged adjectives and adverbs such as “proud bridges” (p. 15). They become pejorative when describing the antagonists, such as “[…] Fulkore, who, although keeping his body absolutely still behind the plinth, had a vicious fire in his eyes” (p. 9) and “the vile hyena” (p. 326). These make it overly clear that the antagonists are not merely antagonists, they are black-hearted villains. Some of the descriptions go on too long, such as the first overview of Xayall which covers a page and a half. A few words are misused; the losing side in a fight is constantly being “decimated”. A full-page About the Author identifies Jackson as living in Raleigh, North Carolina, yet Legacy is full of British spellings and from an English publisher. There are occasional very old-fashioned constructions, like “were stood to attention” that most authors haven’t used in a century.

These are minor nitpicks, however. Basically, this is a fast-moving, richly-detailed adventure set in a colorful anthropomorphic world. Legacy is worth reading.

– Fred Patten

Legacy is available worldwide here

UPDATED: Too Furry To Fail – Toxic Popularity

(This blog has been updated to reflect Timburrs’ statement; jump to the end for the addendum)

It’s been a while, and damn, it’s a shame that so much of my post history is filled with criticism of the community I feel most part of. But sometimes it has to happen that way, and, well… this is better for writing long-form posts than Twitter.

I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to read about more furry drama meta, because to be honest I’m tired of it myself. The idea of ‘can’t we all just get along?’, while simplistic, is definitely pervasive. But what’s more important than idle pleasantries that literally don’t solve anything except to those who prefer to just put new newspapers over old puppy turds, is actually stopping behaviours that cause such contention and rifts in the first place.

anime thats enough

Don’t underestimate me, I will double chibi punch your ass. Or your face, whichever I reach first

Ugh, what happened now?

Well, it’s less ‘now’ than a culmination of stuff since my last blog post, which was about the dangers of toxicity in furry self-identification in defence of abusers. Having been both adjacent to and within various conflicts since then… I have some feelings.

Let’s recap some of the severe (and ongoing/recurring) stuff (CW for pretty much all of this stuff given the contexts):

-KerotheWolf and many others are ousted as a part of a big zoosadist ring.
-Viro, co-host of the Feral Attraction podcast, is uncovered as a serial abuser.
-PKrussl, YouTuber, is discovered to curated a list of cub porn artists on his InkBunny. This is after his defense of using the n-word ‘as a meme’ and temporarily defending Kero.
-2 Gryphon is still a bitter, unapologetic racist.
-Growly, convicted sex offender, is under fire for being allowed to run kids’ events at conventions.
-TheCoffeeSnolf makes several transphobic tweets, initially doubles down.
-AlbinoKitsune is named as a horrific abuser.
-Dojo the Dingo, apparently incensed by Furry’s ‘authoritarian leftism’, quits the fandom.
-Timburrs, a red panda cosplayer, is found to have commissioned explicit cub art.
-DogPatch Press dismisses the severity of Timburrs’ taste, reposts an article in defense of ‘problematic kinks’, blocks a ton of furries, vows to quit exposure/serious pieces, makes veiled threats against a trans woman in a male prison, and assorted other things.

It’s been fun times.

I know there’s more. Not only are you not likely to want to read it, I don’t have the energy to look it all up.

Yang shakehead

Disappointing the shit out of me on a weekly basis

(Also, the image content here from this point will be entirely Yang gifs, fight me if you dare)

So, uh, that’s a lot of tea there, you gonna drink it all by yourself?

I am not. My bladder won’t take it. I’m not even going to extrapolate on all of these, mainly because a good few of them have already come to a sort of of conclusion even if, distressingly, most the people are still around. CoffeeSnolf made some kind of apology, Kero and Dojo quit Twitter, Viro seems to have absconded, AlbinoKitsune is being exposed but there’s a nasty legal situation about to unfold, and nobody except alt-right trolls take 2 seriously anymore.

The problem comes, and I’ve talked about this previously, where someone’s egregious behaviour blows up for a week or two, then they seem to shift right back into their position of popularity, or somehow become even more overblown than they were before. And the ways in which this happens is an interaction between a phenomenon of social media and the consumer mentality of a silent majority of furries, which can be very insidious when taken advantage of by people who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions.

How does this dynamic work?

It’s a running joke that problematic popufurs will have a controversy pop up, take a two-week break and reappear with a new video or whatever, and everything goes back to how it was without the resolution of any of the behaviours they were initially called out on. Part of this relies on social media’s inherent mechanics. It’s designed, first and foremost, to keep you addicted. It’s also designed to bring you a maximum amount of content as efficiently as possible. For a fandom which, by and large, has a very short attention span, this creates an opportunity for stuff to slip by in numerous ways, notwithstanding people’s ability to curate their feeds in the first place.

So even from the very beginning, you’ll have people who:
-don’t see the information
-are far enough removed to not know how to act either way (“not my business”)
-see it later, when the outrage isn’t as palpable, and the impetus to act isn’t as urgent
-don’t care, or just enjoy watching the firefight

This is part of the reason why controversies can seem so vehement at the time they break, because getting people to act on anything that doesn’t directly benefit them or offer a quick return of investment is often extraordinarily difficult and requires a lot of energy. Try selling a book to see what I mean.

Yang Face change

Haha, ugh

This puts whistleblowers/survivors/critics at an immediate disadvantage. Where close friends and those familiar with detrimental circumstances will see a need for empathy and support, there is a big enough crowd who are there just to be furries to obscure them, like a fog, and your boring or uncomfortable-to-read real world problems are not for consideration when there’s so much delicious fursuit ass to scroll through.

And that brings about the bigger issue at large, one that probably overrides all of these: when fans are so invested in a content creator or friend that defending their indulgence is the absolute top priority. You’ll come across threads of immediate apologism and logically incoherent justifications: “they couldn’t have hurt you because I like the content they produce and they seem nice”, and “where’s the proof, innocent until proven guilty”, down to outright baseless ad hominem attacks on the person speaking out. Because to some, bringing down fandom content is the worst thing you can do.

“These comments aren’t really about the issues themselves. They’re protecting the art, or creator. It’s a protest against the need for greater awareness in relation to the fandom, and a reluctance to give up a portion of the fan’s self-designation of what they consider makes them, or the creator, a furry. Especially where a prominent figure may have been crucial to some young fur’s awakening and fandom identity, the grip can be incredibly tight. In this view, the understanding is that furry creators cannot be bad people, but speaking out against other furries makes you a bad furry.”
Toxic Avengers- The Double-Edged Sword of Fandom Self-Identification

Yang guns gif

Can’t shoot the messenger if I’m already dead inside

Some creators know this and take advantage of it with sickening precision. The more they distance themselves from issues people don’t like talking about, the greater their appeal to the consumer-driven fandom members who just want their fix. As a bonus, the longer they go without talking, the more negatively the people who perpetuate the callouts appear, because to all intents and purposes it looks like the ones being most disruptive to people’s fandom experience are those trying to get rid of the problem, and not the ones causing it in the first place. There’ll even be conflation between the problem (such as abuse) and those calling them out for this very reason, because people don’t want to be subjected to things that make them uncomfortable. For those who actually need the support (Newsflash: that does NOT include your favourite bigoted YouTuber), this is heartbreaking.

This code-switching/tacit manipulation is evident after these controversies time and again. Most recently, for example, in the overt tactics by Patch, who no longer does serious fandom exposé pieces, but despite losing over a thousand followers, has gone back to placating weird news posts and meme sharing, so is slowly regaining ground on what he lost. Which would be fine, if he (or anyone else in a similar situation) actually gave any indication of changing the attitude that forced him to this constructed superficiality in the first place.

If the fickle nature of the fandom is demonstrated anywhere, it’s here, where two people embroiled in the same controversy were treated with very different responses. This is, in part, due to the media each created, and hence the audiences they gathered. Timburrs bought the art, but is absolved or ignored because of his predominant content and who that appeals to. I’ll just paste my Tweet thread in here because I’m hungry and my back hurts.

So you see the underhanded interplay between the privilege of audience separation and the advantage of a platform that allows the overwhelming majority of followers to keep sharing content and amassing a greater voice. It can make legitimate and necessary callouts seem like pissing in the wind, and drive conscientious people into smaller circles away from atmospheres they’re continually disappointed by. The reason Kero ended up leaving is because new evidence of the zoosadism leaks kept coming out, keeping the situation in recent memory so he couldn’t escape it. With Dojo, the issue was literally his own behaviour, so he was always creating content that lead to his own downfall. If, like Timburrs or other furries with reprehensible habits such as racism, transphobia, arrogance, or harrassment/doxxing tendencies, there’s enough neutral-positive fandom relevant content to outweigh your bullshit, you’ll always edge on the side of growth. And that… really sucks.

Yang red eyes

TFW you’re tagged into a thread alongside someone you have deep issues with

OwO *notices your value*

Analysing the differences in fandom portrayal is important in assessing the impact controversies have. Artists can still make a living if enough people give their behaviour a free pass, and fursuiters can still sop up a great deal of attention. When someone who has neither of these (in a way- despite what we often encourage, there is a marked difference in appreciation based on fursuit appearance) faces scrutiny, they’re often perceived as less valuable even at the beginning. But the severity of what they do has an effect too, even if it’s mitigated by bappy wappy fluffy noseboops and puff paw crotch shots.

In general terms, the more superficial your content, the less you stand to lose, if you play your cards right.

This is not an instruction manual.

So a big part of the context of the Timburrs/DogPatch debacle was Patch’s reference to Timburrs as a ‘low value target’ with regards to his cub porn. This was after Patch had greatly magnified the exposure of PKrussl as a cp hoarder, and appeared incredibly disingenuous. Why was one target with a platform more significant than another target with a (albeit slightly different) platform?

Honestly, I don’t see a difference. There is no ‘low-value target’ when it comes to purchasing pornographic material of an underage character. This metric is bullshit, especially where even a single piece by a prominent furry puts a cute, ‘appealing’ face on child pornography portrayal. It’s deeply irresponsible.

As if it should matter less because it’s somehow just one person.

Tell that to a CSA survivor.

One abuser, in whatever form, is always too many.

Allegations came later that Patch would pick battles and articles based on what would advantage him and not disrupt his own personal circle and… that’s something I’ve seen a lot of furries do, and it’s especially more prevalent the higher their metrics.

(Disclosure: I was blocked by Patch and lumped in with people he described as ‘trolls and harassers’, if that gives you any indication of the response he’s given so far. And yes, I am disappointed.)

I’ve seen one defence of the ‘low-value target’ attribution that, while not explicitly defending the act or Patch’s words, stated ‘it was better to focus on sites that host the content instead of individual consumers, otherwise there would be thousands of callouts’. And that… didn’t sit right. Because not only did it negate the need for specific examples to be made when something could, and actually did, appear, it also infers that these thousands of cub porn supporters are somehow passive in it all, that they’d disperse or stop as soon as their content was no longer easily hosted. That’s not how internet media, learning, or community rehabilitation work.

Even if you meet this entire debate with doubts about the significance of cub porn, you should understand it is absolutely considered illegal, regardless of your sensibilities.

Yang Nevermore

Me, forcing my followers to read another irate Twitter rant

True, yes, going through a cub artists’ entire follower list to find every single furry and making individual tags is not practical, but when you have specific evidence of someone who attracts an audience of a (potentially) similarly vulnerable age group, there’s still a duty of care to take as much action as you would anywhere else. Arguably, that takes far less energy as it comes up than trying to build a grassroots campaign to unseat entire websites with artists who are already financially and/or through exposure assisting them.

But this brings us back to the comfortable apathy most furries wallow in like a chicken in a dust bath. Some common threads:

“If it doesn’t affect me, why should I care?” The most self-involved and insular take. Because perhaps if you want to stop this ‘drama’ shit you claim to hate so much, you should be choosier about who you extol the virtues of so they don’t become such a contentious figurehead. If you put as much effort into caring as you did into not caring, everything would be several magnitudes more enjoyable for everyone.
“I follow them, but I don’t support them.” Supposedly appeasing, but ultimately apathetic, and usually covering up a Fear Of Missing Out. Hate to break it to you, but to anyone except yourself, this makes absolutely zero fucking difference. To the person you supposedly ‘don’t support’, you add to their numbers and boost confidence in their voice that they likely don’t deserve. To your followers, who have an issue with whoever it is, you look like a supporter. Seriously, it is better for your own well-being and that of those around you not to hate-follow or keep tabs on ‘drama’.
“I separate art from artist.” Good job on your privilege. You’ve outright stated that: none of what they do effects you; you don’t care that it effects anyone else; and you’re willing to contribute to them as long as you get something out of it. All of these attitudes are selfish, but this is the one that tries to keep your foot in both camps to appease everyone but really only benefits you and the person in power. It does nothing to reset the status quo and just makes you look insincere.
“I’m not making any decisions until I see proof.” Apathy isn’t a good look on you, and you have no idea of the damage you do by making such demands. You are declaring that someone’s personal story isn’t enough for you to believe. Granted, if this is a stranger online you’ve never seen before, there’s no trust dynamic, buta significant proportion of the time (where furry is concerned at least) you also haven’t met the person you’re defending. Even when fans of various figures above were presented with direct evidence they still denied it, and you’re just adding to the circlejerk of wilful ignorance by not making an informed judgement based on your own disposition.

Yang Rage

Guess how I feel about these responses

Okay, fine, whatever, people suck. What do we do?

The draw of popularity can be as corrosive as it is seductive, but it doesn’t have to be. A lot of it depends on the personality of the… personality, I guess. Someone who is afraid to ever be wrong won’t want to correct their behaviour, or will issue a performative apology (‘sorry IF you MAY HAVE BEEN offended’ is not a real apology, FYI) and go back to whatever they were doing behind the scenes. But people who are legitimately invested in the good of the community and themselves should be willing to take a long, hard look into their follow-me fursuit eyes and try to improve. These are the people worth celebrating and communicating with.

A lot of furry idolatry comes from preconceptions about the people who make and share our content. We’re not used to furry being accessible in the outside world, so we project things we want to see in others onto them, sometimes before we even know them. I’m guilty of this, and it can be dangerous when we get too far into that habit of assuming everyone is a friend or above reproach just because they’re furry. A little bit of distance and rationalisation goes a long way, without going so far as to mistrust everyone until they prove themselves to you in some way. I’m lucky to be followed by some awesome people but I can’t assume they’re my friends just for that alone and, more importantly, nobody in this community should be treated as a jumping off point for your own career if you do find yourself with someone awesome underneath your follower list. You are not entitled to someone else’s time, friendship, or investment. The moment you think of this more as a community and less like a hierarchy of networking opportunities, the easier it becomes to actually enjoy yourself and simultaneously see where we need to patch things up.

Despite the amount of callouts I read, share, support, and sometimes generate, I am more invested in the fandom than I ever have been, and have some incredible friendships that I hope never to lose. If I considered this either casually or as a mercenary means of furthering only myself, everyone would be seen as competition, and overall it’d just be a miserable experience led by jealousy and opportunism.

As part of this, as much as genuine callouts are bona fide warnings, they should equally be considered opportunities for the targets to change. While evidence of a long history of abuse isn’t likely to manifest a sudden renaissance, there are times it should be viable to impel a change first, and then strike them out if there’s no sign of that happening.

To that end…

If you’re fortunate enough to be popular already, please remember that we are all fallible, that taking a learning opportunity and sincerely apologising only makes you better overall, even if it takes a while to come to terms with what happens.

Remember that there’s a difference between someone who talks, and someone who communicates. A talker is someone focused on themselves, their conversation, their story alone. A communicator is exchanging ideas. It’s about the group, the space, and the parity of those around you. If you find yourself in a lot of arguments, you may discover that what you’re putting across may be less about everyone than you think. It’s important to remember you are only one of many millions of people, despite how many names are on your social media list.

We are all in a position to be examples of what we want to see in our own spaces, and in the wider world around us.

Why wouldn’t you choose, above everything else, to be better?

Yang Ruby

It takes time, but it’s so much more worth it. Trust me.

UPDATE: I know I’m not a news site, so I don’t necessarily need retractions or anything like that, but I felt this was important to add (Caution if you click through to the comments, as there’s a lot of cub art apologia here)

This is actually a very good statement and a relief to see Timburrs taking accountability where his platform could afford him not to and still enjoy a place of relative security and appreciation within the fandom. The fact that he felt strongly enough to say anything and denounce the art itself as from coming from a place of ignorance and/or self-exploration is hopeful.

What’s slightly less hopeful is the amount of people denying there should have been a need for him to apologise. This sadly ties back into the issue of idolatry where fans have this image of you and only want to be nice to and about you, even if you yourself admit you did wrong. Timburrs put himself out there to explain his feelings and I have bolstered respect to him for doing that given the initial reaction and continuing ripples of controversy that still spread over the pages every now and again. But to have someone, even an idol, open up and explain a mistake or make a heartfelt apology, there are still too many people obsessed with making sure their pedestal isn’t unbalanced, when communicating honesty in the first place actually effects it very little in the long-term.

Don’t shame someone for apologising, especially if you admire them. It makes them less likely to apologise in future.

Here’s hoping some of the younger furries (fuck it, even the older ones) will learn by Timburrs’ example.

Yang shrug

Nobody’s perfect, but each of us is the best places to start.

Thanks, mate.

Toxic Avengers- The Double-Edged Sword of Fandom Self-Identification

I had started this blog post about something entirely different, but given this weekend’s bitter and vehemently-divisive furry fandom events, it renewed things in a fairly big way. I am typically very patient, and value communication greatly, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted by the brutal back and forth that erupted on Friday night. I’ll start it as I intended, but cohesion may not be great because my energy is limited.

anime-sigh-gif-10

oh pls god what now

The recent explosion in publicity for Ready Player One has brought a lot of feelings to mind, and many are not great. Much of that has to do with the book and/or movie itself, but it’s an interesting analysis of geek culture as a whole, and how social media has formed it into distinct (but not always diverse) communities. The biggest issue, or perhaps what makes me most uncomfortable about RPO, is that the main character’s existence is based entirely around what he consumes, which means the human elements and meaning behind each is completely disregarded. I have made long Tweet storms about this before:

We all enter into the relationships we have with our fandoms with different intents. Some are just casual observers, perusing but not really engaging or reciprocating much. Others throw themselves right into the fray with contributions of content, memes, opinions, and get all of these back in great supply. And while there’s a whole sliding scale of immersion between these extremes, there’s a whole other scale of expectations about how the fandom ‘should be’, what it means to call yourself a fan, and how individuals should behave.

gentlemen-you-cant-fight-in-here

Hahaha… *sigh*

What’s interesting as part of that is the dynamics of individuality and preconceived behaviour when people join those communities. Ostensibly this has greatest relevance right this moment to furry, as that’s where I have the greatest amount of observed experience and oh lord I hope this weekend doesn’t last all week.

Fan in the Flames

Trolls notwithstanding, the general idea when you enter a fandom is that you expect to make friends with people who share your interests. On the surface, that should mean potentially anyone in the fandom is a future friend. Subconsciously, we hope for that. The biggest issues with that is we’re (sadly) human, and an aesthetic appreciation doesn’t at all equate to a shared mentality across all facets of our individualities. But we still project our tastes and ideas onto the avatars of the friends we want to have, like gluing faces onto mirrors, because we want to belong and identify. We connect with people over art, memes, fursuits, fursonas, etc, and start to assume that because we have entered into this one-sided relationship with a fandom, that it should reciprocate in kind with the expectations we fuel our immersion with.

anime love weird

You KNOW this has happened. Just replace the pillow with your Twitter profile

Undeniably, we are all furries.

But everyone has a different idea of what that means, and rarely talks about it until there’s a conflict.

“Furry is where anyone can be themselves.”
“Furry is an escape.”
“Furry is a safe space.”
“Furry is a place for creative expression.”
“Furry is for self-exploration.”
“Furry has no restrictions.”

It’s like a horoscope. Statements we all agree with for an infinite list of reasons. We follow people based off their species, fursuit, stories, or artwork, usually paired on social media with some kind of statement, or no statement at all, and our hopes and presumptions fill in the gaps. If you asked me how much I knew about the friends that I followed, I could say very little, but presume that I’d get on okay with them if we were all in the same room. I have no guarantee that’d be the case. We’re all tiny universes with endless differences. But we are so eager to connect and belong that we rarely extend ourselves beyond a cosmetic level because the further down you go, the greater the differences seem, and the thinner the ice you stand on.

But sometimes these general statements aren’t enough. Awful hot takes have pervaded the fandom for some time, each of these based off a flawed assumption that furry adapts to the needs of the identifier:

“Furry is a fetish.”
“Furries over 30 should GTFO the fandom.”
“You’re not a furry if you don’t have a fursona.”
“Fursuiters only.”
“Fat people shouldn’t fursuit.”
“Female furries are gross.”

These are easy to debunk, but are prime examples of how fans adapt their view of what ‘true’ fandom is and how it should be curated. To people who consider ‘furry’ to be their primary designation above all else, these preconceptions, or any other, become a big problem for everyone else. Because the discovery that someone is one of these ‘undesirable’ elements can either open someone’s mind to future discoveries, or lower the individual in a fan’s estimation. This prejudice demonstrates that any given fan is only as important as their furry facade, and those who think this way isolate themselves from a fandom more likely to accept them for whoever they happen to be UNDER the fursuit or profile pic. The only people who stick around are others who don’t care, in the same dismissive way.

A big conundrum lies in trying to resolve this when the nicer, broader statements aren’t technically mutually exclusive, but can be so widely applicable that they’re almost redundant. Creative expression can be anything from the cleanest saccharin Lisa Frank-esque sona cuteness to the hardest-core porn you ever needed a stiff drink after seeing. A ‘safe place’ can mean for protection from hurtful ideas or somewhere to express them without reprisal. And while every single furry may tell you each of the above statements was true superficially, we all have a different interpretation of what they mean, and embody them in how we treat each other. And so, every one of us has a different view of what Furry should be, and our experiences vary wildly. When the people around you don’t live up to those invisible expectations, things start to break down.

anime slut

Slidin out of your DMs like

Pandora’s Box Is Not A Bad Dragon Product

The biggest conflicts lately have arisen from social issues, but the most telling arguments about fandom self-identification aren’t about whether the existence of real-world abuse is bad, but is in statements like these:

“Why shouldn’t I like (x)? This person could be lying.”
“Furry art isn’t real, you can’t say it’s abusive.”
“Forget those SJWs, I’m just here for your art.”

These comments aren’t really about the issues themselves. They’re protecting the art, or creator. It’s a protest against the need for greater awareness in relation to the fandom, and a reluctance to give up a portion of the fan’s self-designation of what they consider makes them, or the creator, a furry. Especially where a prominent figure may have been crucial to some young fur’s awakening and fandom identity, the grip can be incredibly tight. In this view, the understanding is that furry creators cannot be bad people, but speaking out against other furries makes you a bad furry.

Hence, the worst thing a furry can do is malign another fandom member, by which point their identity is removed to something else, like ‘SJW’. This gatekeeping is how consumer-identity fans prevent real-world issues from tainting their fandom: they turn critics into something else entirely, thus removing the conflict of arguing with other furries, because in their mind, this person is no longer considered a furry. They’re the problems, the people who won’t just shut up and enjoy the dancing carpets. And some creators capitalise on this relentlessly.

Furry is inextricably a form of escapism, and to these furs, that should hence mitigate them from applying any limitations on what should be portrayed, or that no content can be inappropriate as long as it falls within the genre. Except, it seems, where that content is inherently critical of the fandom.

Moreover, when we construct our identities around what we consume, the image of what we devote ourselves to becomes irretrievably difficult to pin down or live up to, an ever-evolving fantasy of idealism, and the rules are often made up spontaneously when it comes into question. Everything should be accepted, because the medium is sacred. This is paraphrased from the progression of a real Twitter conversation about porn based off a well-known dog:

“It’s a drawing- it’s not real.”
“Well, just because it might have been based off a real dog doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate.”
The owners: “We did not give permission for this.”

The constant need to step back from encroaching responsibility even when directly faced with an advocate for rationalisation is a means of protecting this amorphous definition of what ‘furry’ is. Even if it can’t be defined in specific terms, what is clear is that being critical of it is perceived to be an assault on a ‘rightful place’ in the fandom, which is purely constructed from personal expectations of what we want it to be, not what it actually is. It’s the same kind of reaction you get when debating religious issues (and religions are the OG fandoms, if you think about it) because everyone interprets their actions as different devotionals to the same message while living extraordinarily distinct lives. It’s self-fulfilling confirmation bias.

When someone’s primary existence is based around being a consumer, criticising one prominent fandom member’s actions, whether or not they’re directly connected, becomes an attack on the idea of being a furry itself, in the same way the criticising a religious figure or practitioner is often seen to be an attack on that religion (especially so in recent times with people who call themselves Christian but act in a very un-Christian way, being defended by other Christians simply for solidarity). Those who have solid identities outside of fandom, particularly those in marginalised groups simply because they have had to struggle with the right to exist in the first place, recognise the fallibility of such power structures because of how real-world problems get ignored for the sake of protecting an artificial status quo.

Those who have built platforms on this furry-status-quo-bubble have to conduct the delicate (or oblivious) balancing act of wanting to seem inclusive while not making any grand statements either way for fear of losing the identity that they are celebrated for; i.e. a furry. Or, they speak out against criticism as being unnecessary and malicious because it robs them of ego when they lose followers who finally realise what a tool they’re being. So we can see how toxic nonchalance perpetuates itself, where the pillars of the community are either:
-so inoffensively vanilla that they may as well be owned by The Hallmark Channel, or;
-completely embrace the lack of consequences and do whatever they want.

Both of these get rewarded by a majority audience that accepts either as the ‘proper’ way to be furry because the rules are open to such interpretation, if there even are any. Judging by the examples of the greatest content people consume (particularly YouTubers), you are a furry if: you never acknowledge drama except to tell everyone how bothersome it is, or to make fun of it, and do whatever you want otherwise, even if that includes brigading other, critical furries. And, granted, that makes it very accessible, but dangerously so when it fails to respond to any identity outside of that.

anime furries

How to be a furry: Step 1

Fursona of Interest

While many of us likely enter a fandom with trepidation that we won’t be accepted, coming across conflict can nevertheless be more of a shock than we anticipate. And the further you go before you encounter it, the more dramatic the impact, and often the more combative we get, because it feels like it sabotages the positive experience we’ve had so far. We perceive it to be an attempt at undoing our security, consciously or otherwise. This seems to be particularly bothersome for casual fans who are literally here just for the artwork, or devotees who absorb every aspect of the subculture as part of their very existence. Because as long as it feeds their need for more content, extraneous behaviour doesn’t have an effect on what they get to enjoy- they merely reject unwanted content or backstory as irrelevant. This is the ‘I hate drama’ crowd, who want to get on with appreciating and sharing what they feel vilified for by the public for doing. Even though there are a lot of recognisable figureheads who get shared in our feeds every day, there are more passive consumers in furry than there are creators, even though the crossover is greater than (probably) any other fandom in existence.

It can be a huge problem when furry creators are that much closer to their fans, and are part of the community that not only pays for their content, but also plays the accompanying parts of audience and critic as well. The network becomes tighter, and a web-disrupting controversy immediately has repercussions elsewhere. In a previous blog, I gave a cursory summary of the divisions that happen when a prominent fandom member slips up:

Being Right Because I’m Popular is a shitty hill to try and die on simply because you want to save face. More than making you look bad, it further divides your community between people who apologise for any kind of bad or mistaken behaviour just because they like you; people who will forever be offended by whatever you said; those who liked you but are frustrated with you and your fans because neither will hold you accountable, and people who are caught up in the drama of vicious crap-slinging.

Most people consider this to be the epicentre of toxicity, where the greatest battles for furry identity take place. The crucial factor here is the tendency for consumers to oversimplify the fandom to ‘furry is furry art’, regardless of the content, instead of ‘furry is a community’. If you consider furry as anything with a soft texture and an animal face, then any criticism is technically inappropriate and the people behind it are null, because the genre literally encompasses everything superficial and those who create it are welcome regardless, even the egregiously awful. If instead you look at furry as a group of real actual people creating content, then yes, expulsion of toxicity is absolutely viable, and necessary to keep it going. These are the two groups in a big fandom dust-up:
-One, the consumer-led group and those who exploit it, compartmentalises the community network as secondary to the content and its creators
-The other, which is a much greater cross-section of creators and fans, that accepts furry as an expression by that fandom, or an ideal alternate, and holds everyone equally accountable for how they treat others within it.

This is where you see aggressive Tweet wars, threats of muting and blocking, subtweets, screenshots, accusations of ‘SJW’, content policing, abusers, enablers, apologists, it all gets horrifically messy. The ones who lose out in these warzones are the good faith furries who want the fandom to do better but are met with resistance and hostility for trying to find a genuine balance, because sensational blanket statements and screenshot-receipts get highest viral share, and nuance is fatiguing to maintain when everyone’s shouting at once, especially if these other voices have more clout than they do.

But in truth, aren’t they just as toxic as each other?

In a word: no. Being resistant to change out of convenience to you is much more harmful in the long-term than asking someone to examine their behaviours and alter their course. Terms like ‘SJW’, ‘witch hunt’, and ‘fandom police’ are ad-hominem put-downs used to diminish critics instead of addressing the issues themselves. It reduces people to the level of that bossy Marge Simpson squirrel caricature to discourage onlookers from attaching merit to their views. Unironic users of such language are either very jaded with society in general or have no concept of the seriousness of these issues, and both of these are sad situations to be in. Either way, it’s an apathetic view that takes security in ignorance rather than extend any effort to make things better, even if there’s an acknowledgement that they are legitimately bad in a real world context.

However, even a good argument can be portrayed aggressively, and this doesn’t help negate the image of valid criticisms as being paraded by a group of kinkshaming crusaders.

So, how do we avoid this earthquake of consequences whenever a bad fandom take or unscrupulous action falls from orbit to murder us all? Considering most of our interaction is online, some of the conflict comes from how we communicate, although honestly the greater proportion is due to a wilful negligence to take responsibility bashing against people wanting, and desperately needing, change. Privilege is a poison and the people who are hurt by it are injured doubly so when others fail to act.

This is where corkscrew-in-the-ear terms like ‘callout culture’ and ‘drama’ start to twist their way in to conflate legitimate problems with bad faith arguments or professional/social sabotage, because consumer-identifiers see debate as criticism of overall fandom existence instead of a single undesirable behaviour or depiction to be excluded. The irony is, ditching crusty old bigoted creators in favour of new ones wouldn’t affect the consumers in any way at all. But the collector mentality is hard to break.

An important thing to remember is when people say “I want (x) out of the fandom”, it’s usually a means of encouraging people to eliminate abusive behaviours instead of a push for specific people to leave. Sometimes, when someone is unrepentant about their past or makes no effort to change at all, the two become synonymous through their own poor behaviour. However, if a statement like “Pedophiles/Nazis/rapists/racists/transphobes/etc should not be allowed in our fandom” makes you angry, that’s very much a YOU problem and you should definitely think about what you’re trying to defend, and why.

no idols

Good fandom praxis anyway, to be honest.

If we are (and I believe we are) conditioned to reacting negatively and explosively, it is because we’re accustomed to preempting aggressive defence of problematic behaviours. It has happened far too much and ignoring it is no longer acceptable. If you’re met with what seems like unreasonable hostility for what you feel is your first offense, remember that there are people who’ve been around a lot longer than you and have seen this bullshit play out time and again not only in fandom spaces, but in real life too. The instantaneous nature of social media communication likely makes it a shock, and it can spread very very quickly. 280 or fewer characters is not a great medium for extrapolation and nuance, so sure, things will appear blunt. But when a softly softly please approach has not worked for years, you will get fire and fangs, and veterans of such methods ready to go.

Adding to this, furry is a paradoxical fandom with an infinite memory through select groups, and a simultaneously terrible attention span, like if Wikipedia had no search function and relied on clicking keywords to find what you needed. Large-scale trending conflicts seem to last for ages, but resurges with new individuals as the furore spreads wider and new (or old) stuff gets added to the fire. It becomes a learned response to immediately cut people off from the onset of a new discourse episode because concerns are too often met with shrugs, apologism, or outright abuse whenever they’re brought up.

This is hurtful and exhausting, so it’s natural to vent and walk off/block when it next shows its head. The fear of what is actually a very normal and healthy response (you don’t keep shit festering in the toilet because you like to remember the food you ate, do you?), because of this absolute mortal fear of losing anything relevant to the fandom, makes people react vehemently when it’s their turn to defend. And, when it feels like nothing changes, your world becomes smaller as you turn to the people you can trust and away from a wider world that keeps denying your validity. That’s a very big problem for a self-reliant fandom. None of the subgroups is large enough to sustain itself completely. But, as long as there are new voices coming through, it will keep its equilibrium. That’s why they must be supported.

FMA run

“Wait, are we running towards the fandom or away from it?” “Don’t care, need space!”

Okay, So… What Can I Actually DO?

If you find yourself in a debate but are worried about what that means for you as a furry, or the fandom as a whole, some things to consider:

  1. The fandom will still exist. It has for years, even when it was much smaller and divisions ran much deeper, and social media didn’t even exist as it does today.
  2. The fandom may never be perfect, but as long as we keep listening to each other, we will try.
  3. Putting creators on a pedestal where they can do no wrong isn’t sensible, helpful, or healthy. We, as a whole, and you, as an individual, need to recognise that.
  4. If you’re fed up of furries being misconceived as sexual predators, maybe don’t apologise for ones who actually are, or ones who encourage those behaviours, because you’re undermining your own reputation.
  5. There are many diverse creators around. Losing respect for or unfollowing someone that you held previous appreciation for won’t stop new, better content being created. In fact, you can help the fandom grow by finding these new voices when another shifts out of favour, or just generally. You can be a change that helps the fandom flourish, so that everyone really can have a place here. Consider yourself a voyager.
  6. The biggest influencers are not necessarily the ones of greatest value. Don’t follow someone because they’re popular. Follow them because you genuinely want to.
  7. Find your own value, and don’t be caught up in the need to be big. You will find longer-lasting acceptance from authenticity than you will from popularity. If you get popular from being authentic, then awesome. But focus on honesty first, always.
  8. ‘Honest’ does not mean ‘brutal’. Honesty is truth, brutality is force.
  9. Things naturally change. From individuals to the world at large, things will change. Whether you want to be a part of that or not, it is inescapable. If you want to be involved in the fandom instead of complaining about how awful it is, take time to watch, and consider changing with it. If the change is too much, then it’s not the place for you any more.
  10. You can take a break if you need it.
  11. A negative experience does not have to erase positive ones. Ground yourself in your passions, and keep good people around you.
  12. More people talking about a problem doesn’t mean it didn’t already exist. You’re just noticing the extent of it, and that means you need to pay it consideration. It may involve having to face up to some embarrassing truths, but you and the people around you will be better for confronting something with honesty instead of ignoring it.
  13. Some people act in bad faith, some just phrase things badly. It’s up to you how to respond to finding out which is accurate.
  14. Some are naturally anxious to commit to a new idea. Let them form their opinions on their own, and let them ask questions. Being oppressive pushes quieter, but equally valid, voices away.
  15. Don’t assume criticism of an aspect of content you enjoy is an attack on you personally, even if it frustrates you. You exist outside of what you consume and remember that others do too.
  16. You can enjoy something while recognising its flaws, but, like furry as a whole, you will likely be under scrutiny for it, especially if a lot of people are telling you why those problems matter. Don’t just excuse them outright.
  17. However, as much as representing yourself, you are also representing the subgroup of the fandom in question. Who or what you defend, what you say, and how you say it will reflect on you and your peers. That is your responsibility. If people break away from you for it, and that hurts you, you may want to consider what part of you they are turning away from.
  18. Just because you love someone or their work doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing bad things. It’s a horrible thing to come to terms with, and I’m sorry.
  19. Recognise when people are upset and listen to them. This is not an obligation to agree, but dismissing their concerns as stupid or performative without acknowledging their truth and feelings is as damaging as problematic content itself, and creates even deeper resentment for those who support it. Acknowledging that someone may have incredibly valid reasons for being hurt is the very least you can do to make communication more constructive.
  20. Changing your mind doesn’t make you weak. Adaptability is an advantage. We all find new information every day. Use it, and do better.
  21. Don’t force yourself to stay in a situation you don’t feel comfortable in. There are many different furries- you don’t have to stick with local ones, or even the ones you first met. If those around you are forcing you to appreciate or do something that you have doubts about, they’re not doing it for you, they’re doing it for them. Be honest with yourself.
  22. The threat of being cut off from people you’re familiar with because you disagree with their views can be scary, especially if you’re new. Trust that there can be a new place in the fandom for you, and ask for help if you need it.
  23. It is entirely your call to choose what you get exposed to. Respect yourself in that, always. If you dislike someone, whether for their behaviour or art style, don’t force yourself to be in contact with them just because they’re furry. This goes for creators and general fans.
  24. Even if your opinions are different, you cannot deny someone else’s experience. Everyone has a unique story, and that includes their own past, and interactions with people you may idolise.
  25. Despite the ‘slippery slope’ argument anti-critics peddle, getting rid of abuse won’t purge the internet of your porn. Good people can be (and absolutely are) kinky. We’re not going to turn into a fandom of Puritanical crusaders. There will be plenty of bara dads, twinky softness, gorgeous lesbians, impossible breasts, guro, candygore, inflation, anything else you can wave a Bad Dragon toy at. Sex and sexual expression is awesome. But it has to be awesome for everyone involved, not just you.

An Important Reminder

As much as furry is a particularly maligned fandom, any position where you can ignore someone else’s abuse to enjoy what you want because it doesn’t effect you is privilege. No matter how much you protest, it is. Full stop. Choosing to support people who refuse to acknowledge their transgressions actively rewards them for continuing, and believe it or not, much like you with furry ‘persecution’ within geek spaces, continually ignoring toxic problems like rape, transphobia, child/animal abuse or general bigotry makes people more upset and more likely to be even more reactive when it comes round in future.

I have mentioned this before, but when I was active on Tumblr I took part in a furry’s thesis project where he was identifying psychological trends within the community. The final session was a big group Skype chat where we talked openly about our experiences. 50% of the group had suffered some form of abuse in youth. That may not be indicative of furry as a whole, but even so, if you don’t see why the fandom has such an issue with this, then lucky you, you likely weren’t in that group. But also, you have no right to tell people what they should not object to. The better thing to do is treat them with decency and understanding. Sorry that you might feel guilty whacking off to your favourite underage (oh sorry, they’re canonically 4,000 just in the body of a 10-year-old) character now, but that speaks volumes about how you objectify the subject of the art, and what you think of your peers. If you find content to be more important than the people behind it,OR place your comfort in ignoring drama over the safety of the people who are living through it, then don’t be surprised if nobody wants to stick around.

The bottom line is, if you recognise the significance of having your own fursona in an art piece as increasing its importance to you, then you can recognise the implications of drawing underage characters in sexual situations and how it hurts or disgusts others. Or how making painfully ancient transphobia/gender jokes is crass and insulting to the maker and the victims, even unspecified. Just as you find your identity in content you enjoy, others may do so in a very different, darker way. Always, always be mindful.

anime stop posting

You, at me, right now

Okay, I’m about done for now. The upshot of this should be, enjoy the fandom and your part in it, but don’t hold it as sacrosanct. That does not mean it’s bad. It is fallible, its creators and fans infinitely moreso. The sooner we can all recognise that, the better we can become.

IMG_20171215_144701710

And please, if you need it, take a rest.

(Continued, tragically, in another post)

The Uniqueness of Furry

(NOTE: This post was originally published as ‘Why Furry Is Better Than Cosplay’, but after a long time deliberating, and some life experience, I wanted to go back and change it, because everyone’s self-expression and needs are different. Just because my experience in one community didn’t work out in the long-term doesn’t mean it isn’t as rewarding, or perhaps even moreso, for others. There’s no competition for enjoyment and self-reflection. Being critical of someone else’s creativity isn’t clever or correct, so I’ve changed this article to reflect that.)

Logging into my Twitter is always an experience; sometimes good, sometimes anxiety-inducing. But the feeling I am left with every time is how much this community means to me. The more furries I meet, the more people I get to chat to or read over their experiences, the more it drives home in no uncertain terms is how progressive the fandom is, especially in comparison to many others. Arguably, the closest it’s currently to right now is cosplay, but to me it still feels worlds away from even the best cosplay groups I’ve been part of. The good thing for me is that more often than not, I get to enjoy being a furry at anime conventions anyway, and entwine two of my biggest interests together at the same time.

Although my love for furry characters runs deeper than my passion for anime, I was cosplaying before I could dream about attempting anything furry. Kind of. One of the first cosplays I took to a con was Tony Tony Chopper. At that point I hadn’t even realised that furry had its own distinct costumed fandom, and had to take what little I could find in the programming I devoured.

Noble

Some things, sadly, will forever be out of reach, both in their future continuity and my ability to convey them.

My Chopper cosplay was not what I wanted him to be, nor were my first few anime conventions. But my experience wearing him began a long, meandering trail between two fandoms and their crossover points, and observing stark differences between the communities. Ironically that same cosplay gave me my first first formative experience that delayed me admitting my furriness.

London Expo 2008 009

I call this transformation ‘Goober Point’

This run-in involved a masked duo running down the main hall of the ExCeL Centre towards me, screaming “YIFF IN HELL, FURFAG”, also adding afterwards that I should die. For someone in their very first attempt at a furry costume and being irretrievably nervous about it, this left me pretty shaken. And looking back I know it isn’t nearly as bad as what other people have suffered at the hands of trolls and abusers, but it affected me all the same. The weird and insidious icing on the cake afterwards was when one of them found me again in the main hall told me we should ‘put aside our differences’ and insisted on a hug while singing ‘WAR, WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR’. It was creepy as hell, but such is the life of as troll, I guess. I knew then that I wanted to be a furry, even though I would deny it outwardly and inwardly as often as it came into my mind, but had no idea how. This didn’t help; the experience made the very very timid post-teenage me withdraw further even away from it.

furry jail

When you’re unsure of being a furry, it’s because this is what you think they think

The next thing that happened was while I was in my ‘award-winning’ Steampunk cosplay which inspired my Twitter handle (I got best men’s cosplay in Neo Magazine, but some fucker impersonated me to steal the prize, so I never got anything and the photographer didn’t want to speak to me so eh).

A guy offering to sketch me at the MCM Expo Steampunk booth admired my weapon, made out of a (ridiculously heavy) bike fork and a Van Helsing prop replica. He told me, with great relish, how awesome it was, and that it would be perfect for ‘hunting furries’. I left in silence, and scrapped the sketch when I got home.

I didn’t know how to be myself in the world I felt most drawn to, one that I hoped would also be most welcoming of my major passion: my stories, and the characters I wanted to immortalise. The weird thing is, you can’t get much more outlandish than anime, so at this point I felt this was my canvas to explore being creative and find what meant most to me. But any anthro influence past a cute mascot character or That One Supplemental Character You See For One Episode painted a target on your back for ridicule.

Despite this, I found myself firmly planted in the anime fandom for a long time afterwards, and even though I’m thousands of episodes behind in every damn season of everything, I still consider myself an anime fan.

But I’ll always be a furry first and foremost.

anime denial

I may have said this to anyone who asked, however.

OwO, What’s The Difference?

There’s much greater crossover now than there was when I first braved the London Expo. Furries are more widespread and communicating more efficiently. I barely had Facebook when I started out, and joined the UK Furs messageboard at a time when I was unrelentingly anxious about making new friends and couldn’t break into what I saw as a big, thinly-spread clique that I didn’t deserve to be part of anyway. Today I only have to spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook to see the influences anime and furry have on each other, from kemono artwork to anime YCHs. On the surface, they are very similar communities. Costumes are created in similar fashions, audiences are built almost entirely on social media, they have their own vernaculars, subcultures, memes, idols, contentious figureheads, conventions, merchandise, and other nitty gritty parallels that you’d think there’d be so much camaraderie between them.

From a plain old ‘where does the material come from’ standpoint, there’s already a stark contrast. Cosplay has all its inspiration fed to it from anime, video games, manga, comics, movies, TV, books (occasionally)- anything that can be consumed as media is already available to be adapted to cosplay. It’s easily accessible, and any given thing you’re into is likely merchandised in mainstream stores or targeted outlets.

Furry, though, creates it own media, from writing to drawings to video games to full-blown animations. The person whose art you love may only be two degrees of separation from you. You’re part of the community that creates the media you celebrate in turn, and some day you may even be giving art back to the person who inspired you. That’s a level of immersion difficult for cosplay to surmount, unless you count cosplayers themselves, which is now as independent a community as the anime fans they started out as.

From everything I have seen, however, the biggest factor that separates furry from cosplay is the celebration of individuality. You can be different. Not only different, but yourself.

Cosplay is a weird phenomenon because, at least professionally, everyone is trying to be their distinct, definitive example of something they literally don’t own, and many are vying to be the best representation of that character among dozens of others all doing exactly the same thing. I’ve seen people tearing themselves apart because someone else is cosplaying the same character at a con, or generally, and bitchfests targeting fans in store-bought costumes over one that’s been handcrafted. You get knowledge battles. Who’s the bigger fan? Who’s made more effort? Who’s the ‘first’ to portray an outfit that debuted two nights ago? Who wears it better?

anime elitism

I guarantee this is what some people believe of themselves when they argue at you

People have different levels of participation and that’s okay, but the idea of always being held against a picture-perfect standard creates a weird dynamic of elitism that extends past any level of skill and into your ‘suitability’ for the character. You can be criticised for your cosplay portrayal by, through no fault of your own, being inherently different to them. Where you spend months building your wearable tribute to this character you absolutely love, and for many this is a means of emotional armament against insecurities and loneliness, it can be bypassed in a second by someone determined to tell you how you can never be what you most admire. That objection has no bearing on your intent, confidence, personality, or skill levels. Things that make you who you are become negligible when your image isn’t exactly what the fan you’ve never met wants.

Some people still succeed, and in this case you stand out either on your skill, prolificacy, or figure. In this way, because of the way any given media glorifies certain body types and ethnicities, you will see much less diversity in the upper levels of cosplay celebrity. Taking creative liabilities mark you as a potential target for nitpicking, from needlessly pedantic to horrifically aggressive. Whether you can cosplay against race is always a hugely contentious and bloody argument. Your identity is formed by the library of characters you’ve done, the stylistic features of your work, your material specialisation, and/or (especially for women), your body.

male-fanservice

Imagine being told this every time you cosplayed a character you ‘don’t look like’.

(NOTE: Since I first wrote this article, things have become a lot better, with more prominent cosplayers promoting body positivity, gender, and racial inclusion, and most of the elitism comes from self-titled ‘fans’, and less from cosplayers themselves)

UwU-de Awakening

It’s understandable why cosplayers have to be so cutthroat to stand above the rest, because everything they make and wear is based off others’ work, using techniques available to just about anyone, in a crowd of people doing exactly the same stuff. The pressure people put on themselves trying to be cosfamous is insane, and often destructive if you’re not really dedicated, patient, and mature. So much can be destroyed by a single ego and enough people unwilling to keep it in check.

Heaven forbid you make yourself an Original Character based on an existing show, by the way. Everyone will ask who you’re supposed to be but most of the time people will stop listening as soon as you mention the term ‘OC’, and more than likely you won’t get included in any group shots (or if you do, it’s right at the end when everyone else has left). As with your personal image, as a cosplayer, a good proportion of your audience will expect you to enjoy the show as it is presented, and your indulgence is restricted to the boundaries set by the production, be it in image or characterisation. You can mash-up, or switch out a theme, or if you’re lucky, get to cosplay a group of AU fanart, but are still operating within a generally-acceptable set of parameters. Audiences are ruthlessly picky.

I’ve seen original characters get asked to leave group shots at anime conventions, and friends have told me they can’t create the character they most want to experiment with because people have mocked them for it. Fan adoration in such a way is considered dumb and trashy, despite it being a massive compliment to the work at hand that someone loves it enough to immerse themselves in it as something entirely new, without taking away from the substance of the original media. They don’t want to change the story, they want to be right there alongside it as it happens, in their own adventure. That’s amazing, and it’s heartbreaking that cosplayers content to just replicate the designs of the show don’t give them the same regard that they do to their peers.

By contrast, as a furry, everyone is an OC. Furry cosplayers (as in, people who make Pokemon/Digimon/other fandom fursuits) are in the minority, but are just as celebrated as anyone’s own design, and more often than not have some degree of originality woven into them to make them stand out. Everything you create in furry builds up your fandom identity; not just as a library of characters picked from a franchise anyone else could potentially steal your limelight with, but as each of them being a facet of yourself as a unique creation. Your characters are one of a kind, based on your portrayal, and you are celebrated (bigotry and elitism aside, because yeah, sadly that also exists here) for your rarity and creativity. You can have skill, or you can support someone else’s by commissioning a suit. But always, you are your own universe, amongst a world of other universes which all coincide.

They have backstories (or not), deep meanings, emotional resonance. Some are triumphs over loss or trauma. That’s not to say cosplayers can’t be inspired by stories or characters they see and embrace that passion, but furry is an outward expression of something deeply personal, as opposed to a relation to something external. As someone who struggled to fit in, feeling like I was lost among a sea of people who already had media that catered to them that I should somehow be content with, the introspection it allowed me was both a relief, and unexpectedly necessary.

If you read through the stories attached to Joaquin’s tweet above, you’ll see what I mean. The subtle but concrete differences in how we see ourselves as the characters we make and those we’re given to portray are very poignant. We can indulge fantasies of ourselves without creative or physical constraints. Some fursonas may still be considered outlandish, or insane examples of godmodding, but honestly what person, if they’d been through anything similar or beyond the stories above, wouldn’t want the chance to show the world what it means to walk forward in a representation of your survival, or passion? When you have the ability to express in a very tangible way what your soul feels it looks like, and be embraced for being something utterly YOU, how can that not be rewarding to the highest degree?

The thing is that cosplay does exactly this for fans who need to be these characters to find strength, or peace, or a connection with others who feel the same, but the very different perceptions people have over the same character, and the entitlement by narrow-minded fans that any portrayals should be completely homogenous, makes expressing yourself without criticism much more of a minefield. And it’s not as if furry itself isn’t the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel of internet mockery, from within and without. But very quickly, the ability to be yourself far outweighs the bludgeoning ignorance people try to hit you with. I never got to that stage with my cosplay, because I was able to branch into something better for me, but I hope those who do find every piece of themselves that they were meant to, in whichever characters give them the most kinship.

*notices your individuality*

You don’t know who’s under a suit or behind a furry avatar. The stories, both real and fictional, can be overwhelming. I don’t judge people’s need to show their fursona having as many different attributes as a DnD glossary. Those are the heroes we need, that we create for ourselves. The difference is, these heroes aren’t always off saving the world from some great evil. Some may be, if that’s what we need to see in ourselves. But more often they’re just living an ideal life. They exist in ways we can’t. They’re the heroes we know and love and see around us every day. Because a hero isn’t always someone who makes grand gestures and huge statements. There are heroes who smile at us, cry with or for us, make us laugh, tell us a story, remind us what good there is in the world. Because bravery and kindness have no prerequisites. And people deserve to be celebrated for everything that they are, not just because they fit a predetermined set of guidelines.

We may always be misfits, but why not celebrate something that comes so naturally, instead of spending energy ‘correcting’ ourselves?

Furry gets it.

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I love YOU. Generally, and specifically.

 

 

A Return to Furry Populism

Some months back I wrote this big long post about the potential toxicity of online popularity, especially within the furry community. A couple of hundred extra followers and a couple of sort-of-viral Tweets later, I wanted to revisit the article and see if my feelings had changed any.

Hopefully this post will contain much lower levels of sour grapes.

Cool Your Jets, Hot Shot

First off, I have no misconceptions about what a sudden burst in followers means. It has meant the world to me to meet so many new and amazing people, all of whom have been immensely encouraging and supportive. I will not ever, ever, scorn that. But you have to be realistic: one viral tweet does not make you a success. The right or wrong one, however, will demonstrate in a very big way what kind of person you are and whether people will want to include you in their life or network, in whatever capacity they see fit. Several heavy-hitters in a row can start to turn collective heads toward or away from you (or both, depending how divisive your hot take is). So it’s always best to keep that in mind when you say anything, especially if you’re trying to build a brand for yourself. The old legal adage “anything you say will be held against you” is no truer than in the realms of online interaction and its recurring, infinitely-archived pages. I feel incredibly lucky that the posts of mine that people have taken to heart have been encouraging to the better parts of our fandom and working to promote positivity and ousting abusers, but it doesn’t always work out that well. And it can take a very long time to find something that resonates with such a big part of the community.

If you want to be professional; or even if you don’t, but just want to be an integral part of your peer group/fandom, looking ahead is very, very important. And despite what you might think, a very important part of getting your voice heard and shared is shutting the hell up and listening.  You have to know how people feel and what they care about. You have to be sensitive to the voices, issues, problems, humour, trends, people, everything. You cannot make a community all about you, which was essentially the biggest message I had in my original blog.

What’s New, Pussycat? OwO OwO

Since my last post I’ve been somewhat braver about speaking out in furry circles. I make no bones about what I think about the Furry Raiders, NaziFurs, and altfurry (they’re all the same, just FYI).

 

I’ve also been in a couple of arguments. This was a particularly heated one, set around the controversy of Furpocalypse’s insensitive choice of theme. Admittedly, this was when I was in the height of being outraged at things and feeling like I could do very little to stop them.

 

It resulted in me blocking/muting some fairly, well… I don’t really know if they’re ‘prominent’ furries, but I guess anyone with a YouTube channel has more reach than I do, so at the time I considered them to be a lot more influential than me, and I was scared about what that could mean for my position in the fandom. It doesn’t take much for a furry with a lot of followers to condemn someone with very few, and potentially destroy their ability to build themselves back up again. The defenders of Dojo, and many other YouTubers that I’ve seen, can be vehemently aggressive in their defense. The most stressful conflict (for me) that I got into was actually trying to defend someone who retracted their (admittedly brash and ignorant) opinion but people, particularly big name furries, were still attacking him for it over a week after he apologised and I found it really uncomfortable. I won’t link to that one, but I did write a quiet, unshared blog about how unsettled it made me feel, and why I had to take a break from social media as a result.

This is why listening and understanding is paramount to making a platform in the community, as well as being an all-round good person. Especially if you’re not an artist or a producer of content yourself, you are literally building yourself as a name, something comic artist Ted Closson mentioned to me, and I didn’t fully understand what that meant until after I took that break. Where your social media profile is concerned, you are your brand. Where an artist becomes their visual style or a YouTuber becomes their videos, what you say will be both you as a product and a review of yourself. Coming into a place with a bunch of preconceptions and shouting them very loudly because you want to establish your presence is the Twitter equivalent of a starting a bar fight by pissing on the piano.

furry drama

Don’t do this. Meme by me.

We Didn’t Start the Fire, But We’ll Sure As Hell Throw Some Shit On It

To that end, being ‘just’ a furry who doesn’t have an alternate art portfolio, site, or product to share can be very risky, especially if you talk politics, because politics is a divisive topic and, even if you’re not saying anything radical, can shovel you into the ‘I like these guys but I don’t want to share them because I’m worried about dividing my audience’. And you can start to find yourself cut off from people without having any intent to cause harm. I can almost guarantee the biggest issue YouTubers are talking about is Net Neutrality, but for the most part you won’t see condemnations of political factions because It Makes Waves. And it’s a shame, because they have the perfect opportunity and potentially widest reach to help quash people who are thinking maybe radical discrimination was something worth getting into (SPOILER ALERT: it isn’t.) I am more than happy to be wrong if they are speaking out against abusive political factions and I just haven’t seen it, FYI.

But on the flip side, many people are tired of the debate not necessarily because they don’t care, but because they’ve exhausted their ability to be angry for such a long time, or they have genuine conflicts on an issue based on their experiences. And that goes for fandom drama too. Contentious topics wear out their welcome very quickly and can be met by the stormy waters of critics, trolls, memes, whatabout-isms, apologists, crusaders, and martyrs to the point where, unless you either hone your voice to be banally inoffensive or ascetically fandom-only; or know/can control your audience very well, you’re liable to fall foul of being pigeonholed into certain demographics and unable to move from that slot without considerable effort. It’s even worse when the fandom is so interconnected that furs with friends in rival camps find themselves battling to censor one group of friends from the other, or themselves.

Do not ever get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being happy and encouraging. In fact, we should be doing it more, but directly TO people, and not just generally. I set my life on that. Given that the fandom is to many an escape from banalities, boredom, loneliness and abuse, it’s no surprise that a majority of Furry Twitter accounts focus solely on sharing art, bappy placations, fighting for justice, protection of their loved ones, and motivational fursuit photos, because oftentimes you need something frivolous to ground you as a reminder of what you enjoyed coming here in the first place. This is important for literally everyone: greymuzzles feeling they’re being ousted by younger generations, first-time suiters and artists who find their efforts blasted all over a hateful ‘cringe’ page, lonely/anxious furs who don’t have the confidence to talk to those they most want to, furries who do not have a fursuit, fursona, or art, who are just as valid a part of the community as anyone else but feel left out for having no way to engage with people.

That’s what the fandom needs, and that’s more what I’m trying to focus on, if for no other reason than got tired and I was beginning to see friends start to decry the fandom that had given them such a great place to be. Mostly.

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PICTURED: The entirety of Furry Facebook. Don’t do it. Not even once.

I AM THE LAW

We can’t help but develop some kind of hierarchy when it comes to seeing social media profiles. Facebook less so, because you don’t necessarily ‘choose’ to follow someone; you can just kind of get stuck there. But furry as a subculture has its own subcultures. YouTubers have their immensely popular communities. Suiters from certain makers have their dedicated groups and afficionados. Suiters generally. Artists, fetish groups, fursona groupings; political furs, left, centre, neutral; writers; photographers and videographers; musicians; and the group whose ideals completely undermine many of the protected identities or difficult circumstances which lead many to become furries in the first place, so why they’re even considered ‘furry’ at this point is still a mystery to me. Within these groups and labels come expectations which can either endear or repel someone as a member worth connecting with. I’ve recently, and unexpectedly,  become a fan of Sergals after meeting some stand-up ones on Twitter, having never interacted with one before except when he asked for my photo at IchibanCon 2015/16.

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Despite his decapitation, the evil was not defeated. (Photo by Zabu The Sergal)

Preconceptions have a big effect on our willingness to interact and grow as a community. And given the problems of being a furry in the real world, an online furry is in a much better place to curate their immediate surroundings. One of those preconceptions that perhaps has a bigger effect on someone’s network is the precious currency everyone is fishing for: followers. As furry is not a mainstream media outlet, almost everyone in the community is reliant on consuming the content of their peers. It’s why art trades are so popular (and an artist has as much right to enter another artist’s free raffle as anyone else, just so you know). But inevitably we rank and evaluate people by their follower counts in some way or another. Usually it becomes a means of determining the caliber of their opinion or whether they’re worth including in your network.

But if you’re one of those people who deliberately skips over someone just because they have a low follower count when everything else they do ticks the right boxes, you’re being destructively ignorant. If you only dedicate your attention to people ‘higher up the food chain’, that’s even worse, and generally people around you can tell when you’re kowtowing to others for attention just to say you sit on the same rung of the social ladder with them. The future of furry is dependent on members supporting content creators even if they could be considered rivals  because otherwise, it prevents people from distributing what they’re given back into the fandom. If you ever feel that people with low follower counts don’t matter, I have news for you: you don’t deserve to be popular. New people help the fandom grow, and you tread on them when you do this.

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Sorry to break it to you. Imagine this face when I rant, if that makes it easier (art by ChocolateRaisinFury)

That isn’t to say you should follow everyone who follows you. It’s their choice to follow you, it’s your choice to follow them, and content creators will typically have a much higher follower-following ratio than normal fandom members. Like I said in the last article, you can’t follow literally everyone. It’s impossible to be all things to all people, and it would destroy the quality of your work. But I feel like the least you can do is be courteous and encouraging to those who look up to you and invest time in listening to and sharing what you have to say. And that means, in turn listening to them. Because for one thing, they literally put you where you are. If there’s a single thing I learnt from my hot take on Dojo’s comments above, not everyone with a ton of followers is going to:
-have great opinions
-accept criticism/correction/redirection
-be courteous
-apologise

And, more than likely, they’ll have followers who’ll behave the same way. I had two come at me aggressively, one a prominent photographer who many of my other friends like, and a fan who told me the only way he gets to see other furries is through YouTube.

I’m going to say something that should be obvious to most people: There will be times that I am wrong and will need to be called out on. Hell, it happened when I first started interacting with Xydexx because I made a dumb and casually ableist lyric in my reply to his pinned Tweet. I even wrote a long apology for it later (which I currently can’t find, but wanted to link to). Being Right Because I’m Popular is a shitty hill to try and die on simply because you want to save face. More than making you look bad, it further divides your community between people who apologise for any kind of bad or mistaken behaviour just because they like you; people who will forever be offended by whatever you said; those who liked you but are frustrated with you and your fans because neither will hold you accountable, and people who are caught up in the drama of vicious crap-slinging.

One myth we need to eliminate whenever someone tries to make a change is that an apology is shameful. It isn’t. But because arguments are inherently conflicts, our defenses go up and we often portray apologies as admissions of defeat, a weakness to be exploited, or a bargaining chip in future conflicts. People will do everything they can to make it look like they’re at least equal or superior to the conversation, which is where you get messy, desperate ad hominem and slippery slope tactics. It doesn’t help when people gloat over their perceived victories to add shame to something that should only be beneficial to all parties. A sincere apology is a commitment to alter our patterns for the better. I have infinitely more respect for someone who did a wrong, admits a mistake, and makes a genuine push to improve themselves than someone who sanctimoniously insists they were never wrong.

Apology Robot

I feel like there’s a whole other article to be written in this image alone.

Online, especially YouTubers and Twitter ‘personalities’, people hang their reputation on their opinions (see above: it’s a brand) and are terrified that changing them or admitting a misstep will completely tear their legs off. Apologising takes sincerity. There’s nothing shameful about that. Sure, finding out we did something wrong can be hugely embarrassing, humbling, and maybe even what we initially did is cause for shame. The complexity of those feelings is compounded by the size of the potential audience watching us, and the divisive reactions as I mentioned above. Part of wanting to avoid those emotions in the first place is likely a throwback to being condescended to when we’re young, either by adults or other kids. We’re not those kids any more. Some people get it right first time, but others don’t. That’s what learning is for, right? We’re all learning, all the time, even if we don’t want to admit it.

I guess, just to reiterate, whether you consider yourself popular or not , please listen to what people are telling you, and do your best to respond kindly when people ask something of you, and especially when you ask something of them. So I guess my conclusion from my first post still stands, albeit with a little more experience and having unblocked a few people I took off my list initially when I was angry or upset.

And anyway, I’ll get to experience a whole other side of it when I eventually start my own YouTube channel. Stay tuned.

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I’m terrified.

 

RWBY: The Stirring Un-feminism of Season 4

So this is a contentious issue. I’ll state first of all that Rooster Teeth is one of my all-time favourite production companies for the huge amount of engagement they have with their community and the sheer amount of hard work they dedicate to building up their name and talent. RWBY particularly has a place forever in my heart and mind for the inspiring story behind its creation and the authentic, infinitely generous passion of its creator, Monty Oum. Trying to critique it at this stage feels like kicking a service dog, especially when it has such a dedicated, creative, and prolific fanbase, and considering the heartfelt efforts Kerry and Miles have put in to carry on what can only be a hugely daunting legacy.

But…

RWBY Oh dear

YOU WERE SAYING?

This is another feminist rant again, right?

Essentially… yeah. I mean particularly with Season 4, it’s easy to see where the dynamic has shifted. And that’s not necessarily as a result of it passing out of Monty’s hands, although two different directors being given the same content will inevitably make things that are very different. You only need to look at how the Harry Potter movies changed from director to director to see the atmosphere shift, even ignoring the darkening plot.

(WARNING: RWBY SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW)

But RWBY does so much right! It’s awesome!

It IS an awesome concept, yes. And it DOES do a lot right, or at least it did. It is the show that started making men want to crossplay in my local cosplay group, and had them talking about gender representation in media generally. The highlight of one particular exchange:

“You know, I really wanna cosplay someone from RWBY, but the main guy is Jaune, and he’s kinda weak. But… well, I guess that’s how girls feel when they watch literally any other show.”

That a show can be performing quality subliminal education on its audience to any degree is great. AND, in the first few seasons at least, there’s little-to-no sexualisation of any of the characters (even Yang’s, erm, endowments aren’t given any particular focus). For volumes 1-3 Ruby herself has no skin showing except her face and her hands, and that is SO AWESOME, especially in a combat/magical girl genre for a teenage audience where panty shots are pretty much an inevitable punchline in any given twenty-minute span.

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Mavis is VERY upset by the positions her Guild members are frequently put into.

So the foundation is rock-solid. If you’re going into specifics like the Bechdel test, or even just a qualitative analysis of how the girls interact and who drives the plot, the first seasons are fricking gold standard. The very first scene is Ruby kicking arse, directing the flow of combat with incredible prowess. She drives the story and, being so excellent in front of Glynda, is the reason she’s accepted into Beacon Academy. Throughout this series, she and her team are the driving focus and very few scenes are stolen by any of the guys.

Granted, there are only two male deuteragonists at this stage; Jaune and Ren, but even then, Jaune and Pyrrha have equal footing on their interactions, as do Ren and Nora. There’s never a point where the impetus is handed completely to a guy to keep the scenes or story going, and none of the characters are held hostage in their progression by anything a guy does.  This is a frequent problem with many stories, especially ones that proclaim to have strong women, because often they’re left helplessly strung along by the guy’s actions or intentions. Please check out how many issues I had with Wonder Women for these same reasons if you haven’t had enough of my voice yet.

Nora oh no

“Rant about MY FAVES, will you?”

Alright Buster, what did RWBY actually do, then?

Aside from distorting the characters’ body proportions (see Blake’s section), the main criticism I have with the series at this point is the degredation and inconsistencies with its characters, specifically the reduction of the girls’ strength and increasing emotional dependence on the men.

Season 4 opens with Cinder sitting at a table with some of Salem’s henchmen that we’ve never met before; Hazel, Arthur, and Tyrian. Cinder is reduced to a whisper and sports a severely damaged (or missing) eye after her encounter with Ruby on the tower. The guys in the room spend their time belittling her for being weak, until Salem comes in and shuts them up.

Cinder up to this point has been a near unstoppable force in the show. Having her reduced to a struggling mute is definitely indicative of a shift in power, if for no other reason than nothing like this has ever happened before in the world of Vale, but this has some troubling undertones. We get that the guys are arrogant and conceited, but there is never an acknowledgement that Cinder was ever strong, except by Salem. Given that she had already nearly slain one of the maidens (seen in Season 3) and they have all obviously known of each other for some time, it’s a little contrarian for opportunistic malefactors like them to comment on what they see as an inherent weakness than her inflicted weakness caused by the battle at Beacon.

Salem srs

Really? Seriously? We were supposed to be past this.

The irony is that this is arguably the strongest and most independent we see any woman for the first five-six episodes in the show, because Salem shoots down her henchmen’s crappy (and rather confusingly-constructed) arguments and takes control of the room where Cinder can’t. We don’t even know who Salem is, but if she has Cinder quaking in her boots, she must mean business.

But herein lies the foundation for the tones seeping into RWBY, and it’s a sadly common occurrence for women in media, especially sci-fi action, and a largely-criticised trope of Joss Whedon fiction in particular: a woman cannot be powerful without also suffering directly as a result of that power. This begins to become apparent in Season 3, where Yang, Blake, Ruby, Penny, Pyrrha and Cinder all suffer something horrible as a result of their increasing abilities and positions.

While an escalation of danger is often necessary for furthering the plot, in Season 4 it happens in a more insidious and subconscious way than actual bodily harm. It’s about removing agency, lack of control, and having situations consistently dominated by the male characters. Kind of exactly like the Wonder Woman movie, even after it was saved from Joss Whedon’s terrible faux-feminist fingers.

ren worried

You and me both, matey.

Not a single one of the main four characters has agency in their given scenes or episodes, with the exception of Weiss, the only one of the four who stays any degree above it.

Red Like Roses Fills my Dreams (but just in the background)

Ruby fighting in team RNJR gives us unique snapshots at her increasing capabilities, but sadly she’s relegated to mostly taking directions from Jaune. Ruby was a masterful strategist in her own right by the second season, understanding her team’s abilities innately to take down pretty much anything they faced. In the Season 4 skirmishes, she doesn’t contribute anything except raw power, martial arts prowess, and in the case of Qrow’s fight with Tyrian, actually causes Qrow to be injured by way of her intervention. This takes on the Whedon-esque visions of punishing a girl for becoming stronger by making her choose between two scenarios, both of which weaken her- she chooses to fight when warned not to, and almost loses her uncle as a result. While raw power is definitely something to aspire to, it also reduces Ruby to a tool to be exploited; Nora suffers from this even moreso, whether as a bruiser for dramatic effects shots or a relatively-blank vessel to see Ren’s character development.

NoraHammer2

If you want to be the one to tell her that, be my guest. I’ll inform your loved ones.

The irony is as soon as we enter the series, Nora and Ren have a dialogue that’s more prophetic than it should have been, debating whether the team should be called JNRR or RNJR because they’re not sure if the original team majority dictates the focus of the mission. That’s how the story progresses, with unsteady footing due to the organic chemistry of the principal characters being left in the previous season when they were all in the same place.

It’s not only in battle where Ruby is forced back for the sake of others. Jaune leads them with the map; Ruby watches or follows. When they enter a village, Ren takes charge. It’s almost as if each scene has to be either serious, sad or comedic- if it’s serious, the lead is given to Ren. Sad, it’s Jaune. If it’s comedic, it’s split between Jaune and Ruby, or Ren and Nora. There’s no nuance. The plot dictates the character’s emotions, and not the reverse. This season was intended as Ruby’s journey, and she is very much in the back seat.

So Jaune and Ruby are sort of at odds, because she has both the power and the knowledge, but seems to be functionally redundant to give Jaune and Ren some interaction. And yes, Jaune needs development. But he gets that. He has the most touching moment of the entire season, following directions from Pyrrha recorded on his scroll. I think him being less active in the initial fight would have made both him and Ruby stronger in the long run by showcasing their dedication to the journey as a whole, and the contrast in their individual paths. Your characters aren’t deep or varied if they can essentially all do exactly the same stuff in different colours.

Ruby shatter

Presented without comment.

Crushing Rose

Before we get to the brilliant poignancy of that night-time training scene, we suffer the most egregious betrayal of Ruby’s character, and perhaps the show as a whole. After the battle with the Geist, we discover The Scene Had To Be Written This Way To Give Jaune Something To Do because Jaune’s equipment is currently being reforged from Pyrrha’s old weapons.

This potentially touching moment, however, is ruined by Ruby’s uncharacteristically mean-spirited mocking of Jaune’s bunny hoodie. It’s out of character at best, especially as (aside from Pyrrha) she’s always been the most emotionally receptive of anyone, particularly to Jaune when they were both found to be the leaders of their teams, AND she herself has shown affinity for animal-themed clothing. Ruby and Jaune were (from our perspective) both hit hardest by the loss of Pyrrha, so to have her break into such a raucous fit at a pivotal moment for Jaune’s reconciliation is unfair to him as a guy, and her as a sympathetic leader. This comes at a point where we ourselves are still reeling from Pyrrha’s loss, so even if this HAD to happen, it would have been better suited to something entirely separate from Pyrrha’s memories.

Pyrrha scary face

DO NOT

To add to the inconsideration for Jaune’s mourning, Ruby is also preying on a character we know to be emotionally vulnerable from the very beginning. Placing this scene in which the lead girl openly and brutally mocks her male friend for showing ‘immasculating’ interests is blindingly punishing, and an insult to any guy who enjoys a show about girls with frilly skirts and awesome weapons. It furthers the damaging stereotypes of hegemonic masculinity that guys can’t like soft things or be emotionally open in the first place, by making fun of a character that was mercilessly bullied by larger guys for being weak in Season 1. Jaune knows his weaknesses already, and, like many male fans, he’s introverted, nerdy, and clumsy. Ruby’s cajoling is in bad taste, and destroys many of the sincere moments that have come before.

To feed my ego and read how I’d have taken the scene differently while retaining most of the original dialogue, check out a revised version of the Episode 1 script here.

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Wanted for destruction of positive anti-stereotypes

 

Mirror, Mirror, who are these people?

Weiss is a tricky one because she’s always struggled to free herself from her father’s omnipresence, financially or personally. The instant we see her in Season 4, she’s summoned to her father’s study, and every move she makes from this point is dictated by an interaction with another guy, except the single moment she accidentally summons a Boarbatusk to deal with a terrible privileged women who says disasters are the victim’s own fault (and seriously, Screw Her). Her brother creeps her out, her butler makes her smile again, her father coerces her into singing, another guy creeps her out at the ball, and Ironwood saves her from a very expensive lawsuit. Every turn she takes is completely dictated by the flow of other people, all men, and it’s aggressively diminishing to her character. Maybe that’s the point, the series making a subconscious but salient observation that she’s a prisoner now that she’s back in Atlas. But it doesn’t quite ring that way.

Her dialogue, with the actual words in the scripts, at least, is solid. She’s skeptical and steadfast. Despite her reputation as the Ice Queen, and despite the stringent limits to her surroundings, she actually shows incredible depth of character in the conversations she does have, a considerable amount more than her teammates. She shows genuine warmth to her butler and contempt for those who’d mock Vale, but at no point in the story does she make her own choice that drives her story until the very end, and the cinematography is focused much mroe on the characters around her than on her, which diminishes her power in the show itself, even though what she actually says gives her presence. When she had such independence in the first seasons and motivated other characters (like Ruby) to new places and have difficult conversations and learn more herself, it’s sad to see her become nothing but a passenger.

When she works on summoning the knight towards the season’s third act, we see her finally taking some volition and displaying a power completely independent of the world around her and makes the decision to escape. But not without another uncharacteristic, stereotypically-girly breakdown and cry on the bed. Weiss is the girl with the tantrums and dramatic stormy exits. If she’d just kicked around the furniture and gone straight to her summoning, it would have been an excellent turnaround. The crying, sadly, dilutes it.

And even her escape isn’t under her own steam. She asks Klein for help, and he pretty much does all of the work for her. Weiss, for all her verbal fortitude, barely escapes this dependency on others for the entire season.

weiss head roll

Sass, not sobs.

 

Black The Beast Disdains from Shadow

I’m going to start with an image comparison here.

On the left is Season 2 Blake, and on the right is Season 3. If you didn’t immediately notice the siphoning of her waist into her breasts, there’s kind of a problem. The stylisation, if that’s all it is, adds an unnecessary emphasis to her chest, which in my view upsets the boundary-pushing standard that women, especially teenage girls, don’t need to be busty or revealing to be powerful or popular. This is another damaging trope exuded by many Whedon productions: that women are entirely dependent on men for their strength, either sexually, or emotionally, and therefore have to cater to them in such a manner.

Before you cry out that I’m only picking on Blake because boobs, she isn’t the only one. Look at her stalker partner Sun:

On the left is Season 2, the right, the most recent season. Sun either worked out a bunch in the months preceding Season 4, or he makes a cushy side living smuggling shoulder pads to Menagerie. I’m not a fan of the open-shirt look, but I can at least appreciate that he had realistic proportions before The Buffening.

Sun, I Am Disappoint

I never particularly liked Sun. He looked better before he was trying to cosplay Spring Break Prince Adam. But his renewed portrayal is another example of how the show discredits young guys’ physical and mental images. Let’s also look at his shared journey with Blake.

Blake left Vale. Alone. Sun admits that he stalked her because, in his words, he knew she didn’t want to be alone. If you’ve ever spoken to a rape/harassment/stalking victim, or even a child of an aggressively protective parent, you should know why gestures like that are severely problematic. While we know on the surface this is coming from a place of protection, it’s still legitimately creepy as heck for a girl to be followed without her knowledge and against her wishes. Not only does it demonstrate a complete disregard for her and show he has no faith in her combat abilities (extra insulting given that she was An Actual Member of the White Fang and Adam Bitchpant-Taurus’s Girlfriend), it removes her from being in charge of her own story, much like every other girl this season. Sun’s grand protector role comes off as arrogant (which, granted, he always has been), unwelcome, and forces Blake into playing pithy reluctance and, despite having held her own in combat many, MANY times before, Sun’s encroachment into her battles actually forced her to need rescuing.

Perhaps the worst part of this is that it paints Blake as a perpetual stalking victim, because her violent and abusive ex-boyfriend literally stalked her for three seasons. Sun’s behaviour is unacceptable mimicry even if his motivations are different. The ‘counteract’ to this, the point which is allegedly supposed to justify his idiocy in the audience’s eyes, is Blake physically slapping him multiple times for his crass and invasive behaviour. It’s a poor justification not only because it highlights terrible communication between the two, but it also reduces Blake to being unable to verbalise or control her emotions. Just FYI, slapping a guy does not make you a strong character when you are also entirely dependent on that same guy for your emotional journey (the final admission that she did, in fact, feel guilty for leaving).

rwby-volume-2-screenshot-03

What do you mean, we hang out with GUYS? Aren’t those things contagious?

While we’re talking about guys being creepy around Blake, we can’t ignore the overbearing and way-too-familiar nameless captain that was all but working his way up to a full-blown proposition for her. Even if that was never the intention (and I doubt it was, given knowledge of the writers’ own good sense of mind), the pervasiveness of that language makes the loss of the girls’ agency and the shadow of subconscious rape culture harder to escape. If you’ve been following the ‘MeToo’ hashtag on social media lately, you’ll likely have seen a lot of instances of creepy behaviours to avoid, and this is one of them. For a show that made such a huge impact by showcasing girls with dazzling choreography and having outfits specifically designed to be practical for girls to cosplay in, it’s disappointing to not keep broadcasting that progressive attitude.

And it’s such an easy trap to fall into with writing, especially by men. I may well have done it in my own books, although I’m trying to change that. If you start incorporating traditional gender observations/tropes into your fiction without subverting them or demonstrating their fallacies, you will encounter sexism within your own creations.

And inherently problematic is the idea of the Watcher, a predominantly male presence that is the male gaze made manifest – a source of constant looking that is an explicit form of control. – Natasha Simons, The Mary Sue

Both Sun and Qrow do this. We understand the world of Remnant is more dangerous now, so there is a justifiable need for characters to band together, but the new season is rife with elements where the girls aren’t even being given the chance to fight. Qrow is literally killing ALL of the Grimm while also stalking Ruby, even though single or teams of Grimm have never been an issue for the group. He also forbids her from fighting. There’s no justification for either his or Sun’s lack of faith or reason to keep stoic distance other than persistence of overbearing and arrogant masculinity.

Fumblebee

While we’re here, let’s briefly touch on Blake’s reunion with her father, a cavalcade of awkwardness that didn’t even get to explain the reason she returned home. She insisted to Sun that she wanted to ‘get home and relax’. Relax? After a battle that almost killed you and lost your best friend her arm? After your abusive ex showed up in the middle of a battle that destroyed your sanctuary? What about “I can’t face my team. I hurt them too much. So much of this is my fault. I wasn’t strong enough. I need to make things right and I don’t know how, so I’m starting at the beginning.” Not a single iota of that or even how she was affected by Yang’s injury is conveyed even when she confesses to Sun that she feels guilty, so all we get is irritated evasion and exasperated protests against company. It backtracks her character by several seasons, not even organically.

Blake pissed

Even she will tell you it’s not a good look.

Yellow Beauty Burns Cold

Of all of them, Yang is the one with the greatest reason to actually be disparate and in need of help, given she:
-lost an arm
-failed to protect her best friend, whom she lost the arm for
-had that same friend ABANDON HER before she even regained consciousness
-is unable to follow or protect her little sister while she’s on a great and perilous journey

Aside from the traumatic flashbacks and noncommittal responses to her father’s kind gestures, the focus isn’t so much on what happened to her, but who did it. Granted, Adam is a big part of her battle, but it’s his visage that looms in every of her nightmares. Yang has never been afraid of a guy before. Losing her strength or something valuable, like when she loses a few hairs, those are big trigger points for her rage. One of her dreams almost gets it when she’s shown to have her Ember Celicas vanish in the midst of a fight, but it’s still Adam at the centre of it, and not the traumatic loss of her arm and the friend she sacrificed it for. Yang is a fighter; bold, proud, and flamboyant, and has been from the very first moment we saw her in the Yellow trailer. And she isn’t anymore.

Losing her arm isn’t an unrealistic transition for her depressive state. But the mentality of trauma and its recovery is such a balance to strike, and it didn’t ring true, if for no other reason than it’s portrayed as the fear of Adam that’s holding her back and that never gets resolved. The apparent cure isn’t even to remind her of her friends. In some weird, nondescript way, Taiyang inviting his professor buddies over and making a really incisive insult to Yang about her arm… changes her mind? Yang might have always been one for puns, but taking a jab at her recent and severely-affecting trauma is not how PTSD therapy works. It’s almost reminiscent of the terrifyingly-dense Andrew Tate’s refusal to acknowledge that depression exists (he also claimed that anyone above 15 who watched cartoons was a loser and no woman would want you). This is something that is almost universally portrayed incorrectly in mediayou cannot brute-force depression or trauma into remission.

It wasn’t even a reminder of the friends Yang could be protecting that urged her into action. What would have made more sense is Taiyang asking her how she felt about Blake, and Yang getting upset about that and recovering to either smack Blake into shape for running off, AGAIN (see season 2), or ask her if she ran because of guilt and to smack her into shape regardless, because Yang’d gladly lose the other one if it meant Blake would survive to tear Adam to pieces. That’s the kind of solidarity and resolve the series needs, and would have been nicely mirrored if Blake had any of the same feelings, but the show has none of that. Instead it implied Yang was guilted into recovery for overhearing how bad things were in Vale, and then undergoes Magical Fighting Therapy Session and Vague Emotional Placation with her father and everything is okay again. It glosses over the severity of her emotions and implies she’s ‘just kinda bummed’ and not ‘suffering from severe PTSD that nobody’s adequately addressed’.

Yang smug cat

“I don’t do trauma, but when I do, it’d better be serious. No time for half measures.”

Oh, and by the way, Taiyang also suffered from a case of The Buffening:

LOOK AT HIS SHOULDERS. Arms really don’t work like that. Season 3’s Tai looked so much more natural, especially in his face. I hope Season 5 will be a step back in the right direction.

So, what now?

I’ve no idea. I’ve seen the Weiss and Blake character shorts for Season 5, and it’s not filling me with confidence so far, but they’re not really meant to give anything away. Yang’s looked pretty good, though.

There’s a lot more I can say. I will, but this is epic enough already. I’m actually starting up a project of revising scripts from Season 4 to make them more balanced towards the women, erase some of the elements I raised above, and bring them more cohesion. You can read the first episode here.

The thing is, despite what I’ve said, I still love RWBY. The concept of it, the characters, the absolute dedication by the creators and fans, are all beyond anything I’ve ever seen. And I’ll still watch it. So I want it to be good. It deserves to be good. I wouldn’t be as passionately worried about it if I didn’t care about the characters and direction I feel they’re being taken. The new opening already looks like this season has a better sense of focus *crosses fingers* But it’s always important to remember that we can still love something dearly while being critical of where it may fall down, or change, and enough discussion can safeguard an audience from ever being disappointed.

The Things Nobody Says

Sometimes, it is hard to do anything.

That is why, right now, instead of doing the things I cannot, I am writing about them. I hope that this may act as a small impetus to moving ahead on those things.

I took Twitter off my phone the other day because I was getting too obsessed over constantly checking my notifications and trying to take part in an argument that I didn’t technically need to get involved with. It’s part of getting wrapped up in social media. Seeing voices from people you don’t like, people you tried hard to like, and even people you do like, contributing to what I felt was a character assassination, wasn’t easy. And the thing is, the statement the guy made was dumb, ignorant, rude, and combative. There’s no defending that. Apparently an apology isn’t enough, though, because people feed into the outrage culture so quickly to get likes and confirmation of their voice that it snowballed so quickly. Trying to act in a way I thought was rational, after making my own objections, didn’t really work.

And in a way I can’t really blame people for reacting as they did, because nobody wants to be told they don’t belong in a place they finally call home after being shown their whole lives nobody else wants them. It’s a swing to the face in everyone who ever felt disheartened at society’s oppressive harshness that ‘being an adult’ means you’re supposed to lose passion for anything fun, nerdy, or that isn’t what corporations tell you to. I still feel self-conscious going through toy aisles in supermarkets by myself, even though they will always, always be my favourite parts of any store.

But it didn’t stop, and turned into a huge, animous tirade that virtually sent someone into hiding. I’ve never seen everyone go after someone relatively young and vulnerable who was actually trying to make up for his mistake at the end. I’ve seen attacks against big names, and while they aren’t invalid just for their size, they have scores of people lining up to defend them. This guy had none, and that felt very dangerous to me, especially where he wasn’t objectively malicious (like altfurry) or doubling down to save pride (like 2). Nobody seemed to care about the reparations, but gleefully joined everyone else’s jokes and used as much as they could to keep stirring up the popular argument for their favour. It was kind of disgusting, truth be told. And even knowing the original Tweet was dumb as fuck, I was still pissed. So much of the furry community had been calling out actual abusers of late and building a better, more positive community, and while outrage at the statement isn’t a bad thing, the continual, attention-seeking aggravation was more akin to the wild scavengers people make bappyfluffycute fursuits out of than the character of the suits themselves.

I don’t know. I’m not in a good place right now, I guess. I burnt out on my own outrage and attempts at resolution. That’s why I’ve spent almost three hours not moving, listening to music, or sat at my computer cycling between the same three windows with nothing new in any of the feeds. I have a big list of stuff to do, and it seems very futile right now. I checked off one, whoo: cancelling my old internet service a whole two weeks after I should have, meaning for my procrastination I still get billed the full amount at a time when I have literally no earnings coming in. That’s how depression spirals.

I was supposed to start Inktober. I’m supposed to write this book. Several books. I have articles, songs, comics, that I want to do, and seeing everyone else passing by with successes they’ve already created, or quick-share viral posts that storm feeds in the thousands, while a picture of me holding my book sits at a mere fifteen shares over two weeks. And even complaining about that feels disgustingly ungrateful, because without the amazing people generous enough to share even that, I’d have nothing at all. I just… the thought of having to work even harder after this week taking its toll just makes me want to curl up and forget about everything.

I’m sure it’ll be temporary. I’m sure I’ll forget about it and feel embarrassed about this post later. But right now I need to say something. I feel like people expect you to be constantly on, constantly positive, or risk having even the tiny pile of building blocks you’re standing on knocked out from under you. I can’t do that, not yet. I want to come back stronger and better, but it’ll be a while before I feel that way. Not until I have something to show for having taken a step back in the first place. And maybe a new set of boundaries for what I need to invest myself in.