About Hugo Jackson

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

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.

This is where most people consider the toxicity to really burst from under the surface, and 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. But when 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, and the other, which is a much greater cross-section of creators and fans, but may be smaller overall, 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’re most likely to see aggressive Tweet wars, threats of muting and blocking, subtweets, screenshots, accusations of ‘SJW’, content policing, abusers, enablers, apologists, it all gets horiffically 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?

My answer would be 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, the vast majority of conflict comes from how we communicate, and much of this boils down to what we feel is acceptable levels of criticism for our own persona within the fandom. 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, moving to new creators likely wouldn’t affect the consumers much anyway, except reducing their future art folder, possibly. 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. Although sometimes the two are sadly synonymous. However, if a statement like “Pedophiles/Nazis/rapists should not be allowed in our fandom spaces” makes you angry, that’s likely 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.

BUT, we are definitely conditioned to reacting negatively and explosively, partly because we are now accustomed to preempting aggressive defence of problematic behaviours. The tone is unavoidably affected by the instantaneous nature of social media communication. Once it’s shared, it’s out of our hands, and often with 280 or fewer characters to try and extrapolate. Retractions and appendices never get as much of a share as the sensational first take, which, on Twitter at least, is often criminally simplified for the limitations of the platform.

Adding to this, furry is a paradoxical fandom with an infinite memory and 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 cut people off from the onset of a new discourse episode because we’ve experienced concerns being met with shrugs, apologism, or outright abuse whenever they’re brought up.

This becomes hurtful and exhausting, so it’s natural to vent and walk off/block when it next shows its head. The fear of that 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!”

So anyway, 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 one 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.
  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 keep at something because you always have or because your friend group pressures you to stay. 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. Don’t force yourself to stay in a situation you don’t feel comfortable in. 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, fetting 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, just FYI. It might not feel like it, but it is. 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, child/animal abuse or 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 an underage 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 the content to be more important than the people behind it, or place your comfort in ignoring drama over the people you meet at conventions who are living through it, then don’t be surprised if nobody wants to stick around you for long.

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. Just as you find your identity in content you enjoy, others may do so in a very different, darker way. Always, always be mindful.

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My readers, 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.

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Why Furry Is Better Than Cosplay

This past weekend I went to Anthro Crossroads East, the first of its name, explosive successor to Raleigh’s Tarpaw Furmeet, and it was incredible. It felt like everything I had hoped a big furcon would be, having only managed to experience single-day meets and multi fandom events so far. It had a bright atmosphere, brilliant energy, and a solid identity that made it an experience beyond many I’ve had so far. And one thing it really drove home in no uncertain terms is how progressive the furry fandom is, especially in comparison to many others. Arguably, the closest it’s currently to right now is cosplay, but it is still worlds away from even the best anime convention I’ve been to.

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 with him began a long, meandering trail between two fandoms and their crossover points, and observing stark differences between the communities. The first formative experience that delayed me from admitting my furriness was the running masked duo screaming down the halls towards me at the London MCM Expo “YIFF IN HELL, FURFAG” and telling me that I should die. Then afterwards seeing one of them again in the main hall and him telling me we should ‘put aside our differences’ and insisted on a hug. It was creepy as hell. And even though I wanted to be a furry even then, the experience made the very very timid post-teenage me withdraw further away from it.

furry jail

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

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). A guy offering to sketch me at the MCM Expo Steampunk booth admired my weapon, made out of a bike fork and a Van Helsing prop replica, and told me with great relish how awesome it would be for ‘hunting furries’. So it was not a good feeling all round. I didn’t know how to be myself in the world I felt was most accessible and that I hoped would be most welcoming of unique creativities. You can’t get much more outlandish than anime. 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 still found myself very 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 a few times along the way to anyone who asked, however.

OwO, What’s The Difference?

There’s much greater crossover now than there was when I was going to the London Expo. Furries are more widespread and communicating more efficiently. I barely had Facebook when I started out, and I 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 now to see the influences anime and furry have on each other, from kemono artwork to anime YCHs. And 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 of 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 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 costume. That’s a level of immersion cosplay won’t ever quite reach.

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 everyone is trying to be the 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 cosplay critics 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. And often 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’.

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 more or less 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 try to 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 you are expected to enjoy the show as it is presented to you, and your indulgence in it is ultimately 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.

I have seen original characters get asked to leave group shots at anime conventions and have people tell 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. They don’t 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, almost 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. Everything you create builds up your fandom identity, and 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 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. It’s more introspective.

If you read through the stories attached to Joaquin’s tweet, 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. 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?

And the sad 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 much more of a minefield. Body positivity and racial diversity are huge obstacles the cosplay community has yet to overcome, and even though it’s still a work in progress in furry, overall the ability for people to be themselves even outside of a suit is celebrated far more.

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, 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 I 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.

classroom-crisis-182

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 media; you 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.

Archantael: Story of My Fursona

I’m trying to be better at filling this blog with things that are relevant to my writing, but I realise in my previous extended absence from it I completely missed two things: the ENTIRE RELEASE OF MY SECOND DAMN NOVEL and the development of my fursona. One of these is arguably far more important to my career, so I’m going to ignore that one and talk about something much more personal. This stems from a conversation I was having with someone on twitter recently – TheYogurtThief.

For people who aren’t in the know (which I’m assuming is approximately 0% of this blog’s regular visitors), a fursona is an original character someone creates, based of an anthropomorphic animal, mythical creature, sometimes plants (although there may be a more technical name for this), or combination of any of these things. It may or may not be a representation of that person’s emotional facets, spiritual self, inner desires, or sometimes is just a funky creature they have a strong attachment to. People can have just one, or many, or cycle through them using only one main at a time depending on their mood or life cycle.

For me, my journey into furry was a little protracted because even though the characters I was most inspired by, and ones I imagined, were always anthropomorphic animals, I spent ages dancing around the edges of the fandom and refusing to call myself furry because I was afraid of the preconceptions that arrived with that particular label. Even if you look back a few blog posts ago to my TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 1: Furries ramble (it’s old enough that I really don’t remember when I wrote it) I was struggling to come to terms with the fact that my FURRY NOVEL might at some point have to subject itself to ACTUAL FURRIES.

Needless to say, I feel kind of dumb now. I can alternately point and laugh or cringe at myself for it, but at the time joining a group that I knew inherently little about despite looking up in awe at it for such a long time was a very intimidating process. I think, in hindsight, one of the biggest things that was holding me back was my lack of a fursona, because it seemed so much easier for people to find their place when they knew what they were supposed to be. I did not. And I needed to. I wanted to, more importantly, even if I wasn’t fully aware of it.

Ancient History

So my love of foxes goes way back.

robinhood

Thanks to this guy. I also took up fencing and archery because of him.

I remember conversations and elements all throughout my childhood where I’d pick foxes over anything else. My favourite Visionaries character was Ectar, who could turn into a fox; I insisted on Mum making me a fox mask for Book Week at school because something something foxes I was into at the time. I embarrassingly declared that I wanted my nickname to be ‘Fox’ at a summer camp I went to, before ceremoniously knocking a saucepan of beans out of the hands of a lunch lady with a wild flail of enthusiastic clumsiness. (Spoiler, the nickname did not stick). In French class I’d make any excuse to pick ‘renard’ as an animal, and I can’t remember if I mentioned my dissociative episode during high school when being severely bullied and depressed where I actually believed I was Fox McCloud stuck in some alternate coma world just waiting to wake up and escape my puny pubescent flesh cage.

But, as much as I loved foxes, I never believed I could live up to them. They were clever and svelte and colourful, and I was a pudgy kid with typically transient friend groups who became more distinctly average in school grades as time went on. I’d be a terrible fox, I decided, subconsciously. I thought, and eventually wrote, about them the whole time, but knew it would be some unachieveable ambition to actually be one, or even consider myself one.

Then along comes this other creature…

pangolin-ARTICLE-PAGE

LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT AAAAAAAH SO FREAKING GORGEOUS

What the heck is that thing?

It’s a pangolin. If you haven’t heard of it by now, then be prepared for my wildest eyes and a slew of almost unintelligible ramblings about how awesome they are and how you should TOTALLY GO AND SAVE THEM RIGHT NOW because they’re supremely endangered. And beautiful. If I ever got the chance to meet one of these in person, I would break down into uncontrollable sobs. And I’m not kidding; I think of this pretty much every day and it hits me the same way every time.

I don’t remember where I first saw these guys. I spent a lot of my time out of school due to illness, hospital trips, and through breaking various limbs, so I would sit for hours reading through the DK reference books we had on the bookshelf at the end of the landing. It was a nice spot were I could hide behind the laundry rack and bask in the sunlight while examining science and nature books. It was probably in there, but their relevance didn’t hit till much later.

(As I type the next paragraph, I remember my inspiration)

armadillomon

Grossly underused, Armadillomon will always be one of my top Digimon. I’m sorry I ever let you slip from my consciousness.

(And yes, I know he’s an armadillo, but when I was writing my post-apocalyptic Digimon fanfiction, I imagined an upgraded version called MetalArmadillomon, who I have YET TO COMMISSION ART OF HOLY CRAP I SHOULD DO THAT, and in my research for armadillos, rediscovered pangolins because people always get them confused)

I have body confidence issues, still, after being bullied. In my head I’m still a dumpy, inactive fourteen year-old, except now I have a receding hairline. It’s weird how easy it can be to add together all of the negative things you see in yourself while ignoring the good work you’ve done or the positive changes you’ve been through. Objectively, I know I’m not fat. I’m not athletic. I don’t even have a problem with others being fat and always, always encourage people to love themselves no matter what stage of their personal journey they’re on. But the stigma I have with my personal progress means I can rarely find satisfaction with how I look regardless of how much I believe in body positivity for everyone. It probably sounds very contrarian and hypocritical, and I have no answer for that. I love others more than I love myself.

But anyway, this amazing scaly creature, the pangolin, is hugely defensible. It can curl into a lion-proof ball, is incredible at jumping, can climb trees with minimal effort, and looks like the badassiest artichoke you ever didn’t eat. It embodied so much of what I felt I actually was- awkward, beautifully inelegant in a weird way, protective, defensible, unable to attack, and above all else, unique. I knew I didn’t fit in anywhere else and this was a symbol of that to me. But even for smothering myself in pangolin search results and incorporating a major character into my book series, my own identity still didn’t quite mesh with it.

Fracture Front Cover

You know what this naturally heavily-armoured and virtually impenetrable creature needs? MORE ARMOUR (Art by Katie Hofgard)

You know, what a lot of furries do is-

Yes, I realise that now. But the thing is, it wasn’t as simple as putting the two animals together- I needed to know who I was and what I wanted before I could make any decision of what I felt would be a fairly permanent iconography of myself. Biting the bullet, I finally decided that, yes, I was actually a furry, and began going to meets and connecting with people in the Furry Writers’ Guild on Twitter. And what seems like a simple step was actually a huge, huge one for me, because immediately I found people to talk with who understood how I felt about having an animal self, social anxieties, the weirdest things you need to research online to develop furry worlds, the fears that every time you meet someone new, you’re going to be told ‘so you, want to fuck animals, right’ and losing the respect of all your friends as soon as you try to share anything close to you. Having that outlet, those connections, and having encouragement from amazing friends I met in person through my wife, principally CatScratch and the owner of Mr. Freeze Pony. All of that encouragement and acceptance gave me a much stronger idea of who i was, who I wanted to be, and how I could help others do the same.

So with that in mind, it took me almost TWO YEARS to discover that, if I were defining myself as ME, and not as a single thing that I would have second thoughts over every time I looked at another kind of creature, that I could make a hybrid. It’s not that hard. I EVEN HAVE ONE IN MY OWN FRICKING BOOKS. When that revelation hit I was in equal parts amazed and cursing myself for not having that penny drop sooner.

But I like what I ended up with, in a very big way.

foxpan

It me. Art is by WitchZilla

This is Archantael, my spiritual self, in effect. His name is one I looked into before I started writing Legacy, although I worry now it looks like I’m trying to be self-insertive (people who’ve read the books will know why) so I’m considering permanently shortening it to Arc, but I’m not sure yet. I misread or took the name meaning from an incorrectly-listed site, because where I thought Arc’hantael meant ‘man born of fire’, it actually means ‘silver’ and is pronounced completely differently than I expected (proper phonetics is Ar-XHAN-tel instead of my presumed Ark-an-TAY-el), so I’m not sure what to do with that at the moment.

Anyway, I am a pangolin-fox, or fangolin, or pangofox, or whatever else you’d like to call it- I have no copyright claim to hybrids so it doesn’t really make a difference to me. I’m just incredibly happy to have something that incorporates both elements of myself- the part of me that I accept, and have grown to love more than I used to, and the part of me that I want to always be, that drives me forward and improves the me that I am right now. I’m even accepting the idea that I can be seen as physically attractive, which I would have always dismissed before. But If I can see something in me that’s desirable, or cute, or elegant, and know it’s connected to something so intrinsically important to me, I can start to make that change in myself too.

The Denouement 

I was still worried it’d be seen as weird or trying too hard to be different. When making my reference I asked the artist (Folfelit) what she thought about having black sclera, and she said it’d make him hard to draw and would likely inhibit the visibility of his eyes. I very much appreciated that input, and I haven’t regretted it. And I’ve been very lucky that people have seen him as unique and well-designed; I’m pretty sure that comes from Folfelit’s gorgeous work more than my concept to be honest. But it made me consider how other people saw new furries’ fursonas. I’m going to get blunt.

When I first edged into the furry community on Tumblr I took part in a survey someone was doing for their thesis, and at the end of it we all entered into a big Skype conversation. One of the final group questions was about abuse. Over fifty percent had suffered abuse, sexual or physical.

Over. Fifty. Percent.

I went very quiet. I knew people understood my anxiety, but I had no idea furries in particular suffered so extensively from trauma like that. It’s not necessarily an indication of the entire fandom, but for a sample, even just for Tumblr users, it was staggering. And it put the emotional projection of fursonas in a very new light for me. They may not always be representative of a product of hurt and anguish, but I never make assumptions about fursonas any more and what they mean.

That character you ‘cringe’ at could literally save someone’s life.

So fuck you for calling someone’s fursona ‘basic’. You don’t know what they’re going through. You don’t know what they need to see in themselves when they create a character. You don’t know why they need six fursonas. Some parts of themselves, or the things they draw/write/etc, may be too fragile to hurt, but they need a new avatar for their frustrations because they have no other way of surviving. The ability to personify an ideal version of myself has been such a safety net for my confidence and means of working through anxiety, and I don’t even draw; I can’t even imagine what others may have to go through every day. There are times I see Arc with wings, or having the power to manipulate gravity using purple energy, or transforming into an enormous black-shaded demon version of himself. It’s what I need at that time to find a way forward, a catharsis for feelings that I can’t otherwise escape. For some people, the ability to focus on these characters may be the only thing that keeps them surviving, gives them the strength to pull themselves up. “I need wings tonight. I’m going to be a purple cat with wings and six tails and work on this till I fall asleep because I can’t bear to think about anything else right now and maybe, if I can just get to the point of falling asleep without something else terrible happening, tomorrow can be better”.

I would hope I’m wrong about the actual statistic, but I’m not going to pretend that everyone I know must be okay just because I am, self-reflection aside. And given the much higher proportion of LGBTQ representation in the community, it wouldn’t surprise me if the abuse and anxiety levels actually were disproportionately high as a population sample goes.

A fursona can change your life. Mine has had a profound effect on me. I have something incredibly precious to me that I can call completely and totally mine, that gives me the freedom to express what I want when I need to. Consider everyone’s the same as yours, or at least with the same respect that they treat you. And despite what everyone else might try to tell you, it’s okay to be yourself, unapologetically.

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Talk of Fame – The Problem with Furry Populism

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

L never wrong

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

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

And that can be a real problem.

HOW DARE! DON’T TOUCH MY FAVES!

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

Kakashi

You know who I mean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

EdCB

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

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

LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME

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

But…

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

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

me3_garrus_vakarian_3_by_chicksaw2002-d57v12b

AND HE IS BEAUTIFUL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persona 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

paper tear

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

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

But that’s just you, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

smileoptimism

Yeah. I’m going to bed.

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