Editorial: Furry fandom and the D-word; a dire warning from Penn State
Drama: it's a complicated little word that with a large negative connotation when used within the furry fandom. There are those who don't always see the best in furry; who point out flaws in what sometimes seem an overbearing manner, and decry some within the fandom from their own corner of the web. These voices may seem pointless at best and harmful at worst to the health and enjoyment of the furry fandom.
However, a recent event in the college football fandom might show why furries who see and speak no wrong in the fandom could be just as harmful as those who see only wrong in it.
An axiom revisited
The Axiom of Fandom Enjoyability was a group of essays written over the course of many years by Xydexx and at this time is about ten years old. It was created in a time where perhaps there was a bit too much negativity in the fandom and is a talking point which I've heard many respected people in the fandom reference in some way whether purposeful or not. You get out of the fandom what you put into it, the fandom is what you make of it. These are words I've heard from many furries who find a great deal of success in the fandom.
I have one issue with the Axiom, and it stems from the second part, which basically separates the fandom into two distinct groups: the "Cool furries" and the "Big complainers". Obviously there are some questions that arise here like "How much does one have to complain to be a big complainer versus just a little one?" or "If you complain a little, does that mean you're less cool then someone who doesn't complain at all?"
These questions are up to the reader to decide for themselves I suppose. What the Axiom illustrates though is that the middle ground is ignored. There are blue people, there are red people, but there are no purple people. People who can attract or repel either group depending on what they are saying at the moment. I guess I'm just someone who like seeing things in their complicated true form rather then simplified diagrams. Hopefully that's a little complaint and not a big one.
However, the main disservice I feel the Axiom does is that it only covers the positive side of being positive towards a fandom and the negative side of being a complainer. It does not delve into the possibility that there is another side to this. That seeing nothing but the good and trying to get others to only see good in a fandom can sometimes have negative consequences. That seeing the bad in and speaking about it to others can never result in anything positive. So the main purpose of this editorial is to explore a little bit on this uncovered side. To show how blind devotion to a fandom, and personal personification of fandom (aka idolization), can lead to mistakes in judgement.
I feel the axiom, while having merits, has also led the fandom down a path that can be concerning if it goes to far. Complaints are dealt with a roll of the eyes, sometimes even if they're legitimate. They may be called drama, which has became a mark of shunning. One doesn't want to be labelled as someone who complains or causes drama, so to avoid it, sometimes good complaints are kicked to the curb or never get said.
Just as furry sometimes gets a bad representation, furries sometimes give drama a bad representation. Any good it does is ignored, and only the bad is highlighted. Not all drama is bad drama; sometimes tension is needed, and changes have to be made to make the fandom more enjoyable for more people. Fortunately for this fandom there are many people who have embraced individual opinion, and we continue to allow that expression even if it causes tension. However what I have noticed in most cases is that while opinions on outside fandom topics are mostly embraced, opinions on how people use their positions within the fandom can still cause contention with those who idolize them.
This is caused when a person feels a member of the fandom has so much influence that the person may feel that the very future of the fandom is tied with that person. If someone feels that way they might get overly defensive of them to the point where it goes beyond reason. Remember these concerns about idolization and "avoiding drama" as we move onto this event outside the fandom.
With drama, though, I need reiterate the Axiom in this regard in that those who focus too much on the bad are harmful or blind in their own ways. A good example of this being the NJ BBQ event. Many furries who spend a good deal of time in drama circles were the first to jump on the wagon that these two were actually real people and not a figment of a politician's imagination. They, in essence, believed a "Big Lie" because they hear so much about the bad, they aren't too surprised and tend to believe even the false negative things they hear. Always believing the negative and never believing it are both harmful in their own ways.
Penn State example
Thankfully it's hard for me to come up with an example in furry fandom where being too positive about your group can lead to extremely bad results. Some might be familiar with a few cases, but I am unfamiliar with any that are as dire an example as the recent Penn State scandal has been to college football fandom.
The gist of the story is that there was a highly revered coach and assistant coach that lead many career wins for the college. With such a high record they became highly respected. However, with that respect came a fear – a fear to speak against them and their backing institutions.
The assistant coach, Sandusky, was caught sexually molesting a young boy. However, instead of reporting it to the police, the main coach, Paterno, tried to take the reigns and hold any external investigation back. The action is almost unimaginable; why would the coach decide not to turn in a child molester? Well, one possible explanation is that he felt that to do so would lead to problems with football's image. That the Penn State football franchise which he had leadership over would be tarnished, picked on, and leave the team demoralized. He had become addicted to winning and putting on a good show to his fans, who he earned by doing so. He couldn't let anything stop that. He couldn't let anything make him or his organization look bad, so he hid the negative.
Even after the crime was revealed, Paterno used his dying breath to defend the image of football he was trying to protect. He urged people to look at the culture of football and the positive impact it has on others; to look at all the good the football culture had done for others, the good things it did. However, the evidence of the bad things this fandom was doing was out in the streets, dressed in "cool people" blue, rioting because someone dared question their fandom's idol. In doing this, Paterno's shame became their shame.
Now, I have taken this position myself many a time in the comments on various scandals that have broken out in the furry fandom, such as the Alan Panda scandal. These problems are not a furry issue; people who do despicable things know no fandom or clique. People who do disgusting things are everywhere. However, the difference between the coach, some furs, and I is that I don't think I need to hide the sins of individuals in the fandom from the general public in order to protect the good things we do as a whole. I believe that the good things and people outweigh the bad and it's best to deal with the bad as quickly as possible. If you avoid the bad, it'll grow. If you hide the bad it'll make outsiders more suspicious of the group as a whole. This is especially true if the bad is in a high and respected position of the fandom in question.
Had the college taken action against Sandusky, the only victims would have been the boys that were molested. By trying to protect their fandom, Paterno and the other staff involved made Penn State a victim as well, and maybe even the whole of the college football culture.
Tragedies are made worse when no one reflects upon them. As our fandom becomes more and more influential and as individuals become popular to more people, it is essential that we remember what happens when you put too much on one person. When a fandom becomes too positive to individuals instead of the group. When fans feel that those in the fandom, particularly those in high regard, can do no wrong. In essence, it is important that one not get too lost in fandom – to be blind that a fandom is but an organization of people, and that all people are capable of great wrongs.
Paterno was right when he said the scandal was not a football scandal; however, his actions lead many to believe otherwise. What people can now see is that Paterno cared so much for his sport that he didn't want it blemished by the ties to himself and Sandusky, so he did all he could to hide this from the people. He was afraid people would attack the institution of football, not see it as an escape from the realities of the outside world, where people didn't have to think of the worst of human behavior. So he swept it under the rug, to avoid drama.
As in most tragedies, the action he took based on these fears were the very thing that led them into fruition. Had he come forth immediately, the scandal would have been not been a football one, or a Penn State one. By trying to hide it, he made it so the group took the fall for the actions of an individual.
So to those who may find themselves in power over a fandom, furry or otherwise, remember this story well. Before you say that those who report about the worst behaviors in the fandom are hurting the fandom's image, think about it for a moment. Isn't this line of thinking only assuring that our fandom repeat Paterno's mistake?