VancouFur adopts cultural theme: "Gateway to the Pacific"
Canadian convention VancouFur has a theme for 2014: "Gateway to the Pacific", described by staff as a "celebration of Pacific Rim multiculturalism in Vancouver."
An announcement on VancouFur's official Twitter account stated: "We will be celebrating a country on the Pacific Rim and its cultural influence on our city each month leading up to #VF2014!" On March 7, when a member asked about wearing a kimono, VancouFur replied: "You most definitely can! :D Themed costumes are always such fun! :D"
On March 8, the VancouFur website was updated with a splash screen for 2014, shown as of March 10 with a "chop suey"-style font. (Wall Street Journal blogger Jeff Yang called a similar font "a cliche fake-brushstroke “oriental” typeface" when used in a grocer's flyer last year.)
By March 12, the VancouFur website had been quietly updated to use a different font.
Human cultures and geographies are far from new themes in furry. Further Confusion 2008 had the theme "The Fur East". In a co-incidence of timing, Rare 2013 is "A Cultural Anthro Calendar" that "explores some of the colours, flavours and traditions of the world" with anthropomorphic animal art. But as a recent article on student parties cautioned, such themes raise questions of stereotyping and cultural appropriation:
The high prevalence of college parties that draw themes from cultural identities or gender stereotypes is indicative of a culture lacking insight into the problematic and unethical messages that these themes perpetuate.
In a 2010 discussion of future themes for Anthrocon, staff member dester'edra replied to the suggestion of a Native American theme with:
It has a lot of possibilities in terms of interesting costuming and art...but it also has a lot of possibilities for major faux pas.
My experience is that we caucasians in the fandom (yes, i include myself in that number) are often not as careful as we should be around stereotyping and cultural appropriation
Cultural appropriation, racism, and story-telling choices have also been discussed in Science Fiction fandom. WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention, has held panels on cultural appropriation since at least 2006 (notes from 2007). In 2009 the WisCon convention committee announced "WisCon 33 will host the first Cultural Appropriation 101 class that we're aware of in the science fiction world".
[Wearing a sari] is a minefield, because thoughtless cultural appropriation of meaningful symbols is still very much the status quo in settler cultures. Thus it is still more reasonable to assume someone has little real understanding of the culture from the symbol originates from, than to assume they have a meaningful connection to that culture.
VancouFur's organisers have not publicly mentioned what connection they as individuals have with the Pacific Rim countries and cultures they propose to celebrate, although convention chair Akonite said on Twitter:
Our staff isn't 'a bunch of white people'. [...] We have staff from various cultures and religions.