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The Vanity Fair Article: What it Means for Furry Fandom

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Well, the much hated, feared, and anticipated article from Vanity Fair is out. As has become common knowledge, there was a reporter from the magazine at Midwest FurFest 2000, who interviewed several people in the furry fandom and spent some time at the convention.

The reaction, much like the article, was less than positive. If you want to know where you can see the article, either surf alt.fan.furry or go buy a copy of Vanity Fair.

Why has this article turned up such a ruckus? Well, just like most types of journalism these days (Remember, Jerry Springer passes as journalism by most of today's standards), it searches for sensationalism. The more shocking it can be, the better. So, naturally, three-quarters of the article is about everything in the fandom that most of us find distasteful. Maybe one either of it is lightly poking fun, and another eighth shows something other than the "lesser" side of the fandom.

Can we honestly say the article is completely wrong in presenting this side of the fandom? Not really. They've got more than enough evidence out there, from bondage and erotic illustrations involving Disney-esque characters to anatomically correct plushies for sale on FurBid. Perhaps you've noticed people like the Burned Furs harping on the state of the fandom, or others arguing ceaselessly about all the negative aspects of the fandom in alt.fan.furry? Ever wondered why there was always such focus upon the negative aspects of things?

The answer is deceptively simple.

Furry fandom, whether you like it or hate it, is simply a microcosm of today's society. Like today's society, it thrives on the aforementioned sensationalism. If it's dirty, we want to know about it. We want to become familiar with every little aspect of it so we can feel better about ourselves, elevated above it. So of course nobody can STOP pointing at the "undesirable" elements of Furry, just like most people tend to slow down and gawk at car wrecks on the highway.

What's sad is people who claim these aspects of the fandom are destroying it don't realize that they, themselves, are helping keep those negative aspects in the public view. If the Burned Furs weren't constantly believing their own press about the Furry Fandom, and stopped to think for a moment, they'd realize that by ranting about the latest 'perversion' to hit the fur.art.* newsgroups, then most people wouldn't go to those newsgroups to go and stare at it. By claiming to be better than all the people they condem, folk like the Burned Furs simply bring more attention to the very thing they want to stamp out - and make themselves part of the problem in the process.

Not long ago there was an outraged cry about the negative press being generated at Portal of Evil a site that specializes in satirizing other sites on the internet. Burned Fur became so outraged about it they posted several links to the articles to show "just what sort of press was being generated by the undesirables in this fandom." The resulting referals showed up on PoE's logs and got their attention, spawning a review of their own site by PoE:

Burned Fur
10/10/00 10:19:41 AM EST
Category:Society & Culture,General
Because "Anthropomorphics fandom is being overrun by sexually dysfunctional, socially stunted and creatively bankrupt hacks and pervs," the Burned Furs have sought to recover the good name of the fandom - by yelling and screaming about those they don't like, thus publicizing them to those who otherwise would never have heard of the darker side of the fandom. Way to shoot yourself in the foot, guys.

I think this pretty clearly illustrates my point.

Those who have blown up in the last week have clearly forgotten that this isn't the first -- nor will it be the last -- negative press that the public has seen about the fandom. How about the "Daily Show" interview of Rapid T. Rabbit? Or the KMSTP coverage of ConFURence, which did a great job for our image by focusing upon the leather-clad bondage community?

But it's much easier to have a knee-jerk reaction and point fingers than it is to step back and consider for a moment: What precisely happened here?

Well, as I've mentioned before, the article was written for the general public. As such it's written to emphasise the things we find most distressing, and that the public will find (simultaneous) most disturbing and yet intriguing. So before assuming (or believing the rhetoric) that this reporter was only allowed to interview the "least desirable" elements of the fandom, be made aware that there were, in fact, several interviews with people like the Press Liason at MFF, constaff and other "positively contributing" members of the fandom. That material was simply discarded in favor of the more tantalizing and compelling dark material. It isn't solely the fault of the fandom (or these interviewed members) that this article paints such a negative picture. Part of the blame lies with the reporter, who is just trying to ensure his employer stays in business by providing "what the American people want: tantalizing portrayals of the perverts that walk amongst them."

What does this all mean to us? Well, some of it I've explained above. Certain factions in the fandom, as much as they would like to think otherwise, are just as responsible for drawing negative attention to Furry as the author of the Vanity Fair article. Sure, there are people who we wish weren't so flagrant. But it's a free society we live in, and they're welcome to preach what they like, and practice what they like in private. For the most part, I don't care what other people do. Much like annoying commercials, if I don't pay attention to it and buy into the PR it'll go away sooner or later. I try not to have knee-jerk reactions without getting all the facts and taking everything into consideration. I suggest others do the same. I try to contribute to the fandom: Buying books and art by fandom members I find tasteful and respectable. I visit online comics and "furry sites" that have gotten some good press like Kevin & Kell and, of course, Flayrah. I try to introduce friends to the positive aspects of the fandom. And, above all else, I don't tell other people what they "must" think. I let them decide, ultimately, for themselves.

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