A Return to Furry Populism

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

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

Cool Your Jets, Hot Shot

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

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

What’s New, Pussycat? OwO OwO

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

 

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

 

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

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

furry drama

Don’t do this. Meme by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I AM THE LAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apology Robot

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

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

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

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

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I’m terrified.

 

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