Opinion: Is the furry fandom especially creative or original?
There is a quite widespread idea that the furry fandom is a uniquely creative group of people. We say it in our own documentaries, we say it in our own comment sections and the more senior members of the fandom such as Unci and Uncle Kage say it when they talk about the fandom. This majority opinion can be summarized in a single paragraph from the Furry Writer's Guild:
The furry fandom can be difficult to describe succinctly because, unlike media-based fandoms, furries aren’t fans of any one particular television show, film, or even genre. Many furries do find their way to the fandom through overlap with fandoms of mass media properties like The Lion King and My Little Pony, but for the most part, furries create their own original content to be fans of. It’s an incredibly creative community, and the boundaries between creator and fan are often slim to nonexistent.
But is it really true? Let's be clear, I am not saying that the furry fandom is not creative or original, but I do not think that we are uniquely so and, hopefully, by the end of this, I will have convinced you of that.
The furry fandom is more creative and original than other fandoms
Some people will say things like, "Sure, you wrote a 620 000 word story that combines My Little Pony and Fallout that went on to inspire multiple fan works of that fan work but since My Little Pony and Fallout are franchises it's just not really original."
Superficially, such an argument makes sense. But when you start to look at it more closely, some major cracks begin to show. This view makes claims about the nature of creativity and originality in general. It says that a fan work is inherently less creative and original than the work it is based on and, presumably, a fan-work of a fan-work is even less creative. But does that make sense?
We know that 50 Shades of Grey was originally a fan fiction about Twilight (the young adult vampire novels, not the pony). So even though changes were made and references to the Twilight universe were removed, we know that the novel was originally conceived in that context. Does it then make sense to say that 50 Shades of Grey is less creative or originally than other BDSM stories purely because it was originally fan fiction? If yes, does it make sense to say that the exact same novel, word for word, would've been more creative and original if it had been originally conceived without reference to Twilight? One could also ask the converse question, if 50 Shades of Grey had been written without reference to Twilight and was subsequently converted, before publication, into a fan fiction would that reduce the creativity of the work?
Answering those questions in reverse order, I would not consider converting a completed story into a fan fiction reduces the creativity of that work. Following on that, it must mean that merely being fan fiction does not alter the creativity of a piece of work. So, 50 Shades of Grey is not less creative than other BDSM novels nor is fan fiction less creative than non-fan works.
But, I would agree that direct adaptations are less creative and less original than the works they are based on. So the movie, The Phantom of the Opera is not as creative as Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, The Phantom of the Opera, which is, in turn, not as creative as Gaston Leroux's novel, The Phantom of the Opera. In these cases, unlike with 50 Shades of Grey, it's not only characters or settings that are being reused but entire plot lines. The amount of material that is reused is, of course, important because even "original" stories reuse multiple set pieces (see basic plot types and TV Tropes), even if it is not always obvious.
If we consider works like Twilight, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries and Dracula, they all concern vampires. Despite whatever differences may exist between their specific vampires, the vampire is a concept from folklore and mythology that pre-dates all of them. It's not entirely unreasonable to consider these all to be a form of fan fiction of the original vampire mythology. Certainly, they can not be considered truly original. The same applies to many genres, particularly fantasy where portrayals of elves, orcs and dwarves have become fixed in stereotypical roles.
We can even go further to ask if the origin of the concepts used, natural versus man-made, actually matters. If someone creates art about anthropomorphic Pokémon is that really any less creative or original than someone drawing an anthropomorphic lion? One is based on a human-imagined creature and the other is based on a real existing creature. I do not see why anthropomorphising the one is more original than the other. In fact since one of the oldest known examples of art, the Löwenmensch figurine, is an anthropomorphic lion … congratulations! Our "original and creative" ideas are only 40,000 years old!
Furry is not about commercial and copyrighted franchises
I think this is similar to the original argument about creativity that builds to an anti-commercial sentiment where the furry fandom is seen as doing our own creative thing while in the commercial world drags creative people in to do specific projects.
It's true that while furry is different by not being about a specific franchise, we are about a concept. However, we can't pretend that commercial franchises are fully external and not important inside the furry fandom. Nearly every fur will tell you how they got into the fandom through Disney's Robin Hood or Disney's The Lion King or through various other works which are still a beloved part of the fandom. Furry artists are constantly producing fan works from similar franchises and it's not uncommon to see franchise-based fursuits at conventions. At Eurofurence 21, I saw My Little Pony suiters and a fantastic costume of Toothless from the How To Train Your Dragon movies. Let's not forget that Zootopia received four different reviews on Flayrah, as well as being reviewed on other furry sites, was screened at Nordic Fuzzcon, was the activity for various meets and was specially marketed to furs.
The non-commercial, non-mainstream aspect of the furry fandom is fading fast. The largest furry site, Fur Affinity, was, just last year, bought by a IMVU. Many conventions are registered non-profits that manage thousands of dollars or more and have multi-million dollar impacts on the towns hosting them. The fandom is not separate from the commercial world; we are the commercial world. The fandom has multiple book publishers and distributors. There is a furry sex toy company that sells and distributes globally. (And is cashing in on the Zootopia hype.) We have people who make a living through art and by building fursuits. The fandom is commerical!
We can no longer pretend the fandom is a purely amateur pastime. What is the difference between some teenagers making movies in their garage compared to Hollywood? It's money and facilities. Furry is no longer a flat playing field. We are far more equal than Hollywood but we can't pretend that most furry authors are writing and publishing physical books like Kyell Gold. We can't pretend that most furry musicians will have the opportunities to record a CD at Abbey Road, the same studio The Beatles (not a bad name for a furry band, actually) used, but Fox Amoore did. And most furs can't mobilize the sort of equipment and know-how that EZWolf can. Convention guests of honor are our own version of celebrities. The fandom divisions are smaller than outside the fandom but they are there and they are only going to grow as the fandom grows.
In the furry fandom there is no difference between fan and creator
Some people, based on what we've already talked about, will maintain that there is a divide in most media between fans and creators. Creators produce shows and fans consume. In the furry fandom we are all fans. Except that's creating a completely arbitrary distinction. Firstly, as shown above, there is a distinction between the big furry creators and the average furry consumer. Secondly, mainstream creators are just as much fans as furry creators are. They are motivated to do what they do because they love the franchise or the genre or the medium. Furries are not special in that way.
As a child in school, it was all he ever wrote about, to the point where his teacher had to tell him to stop before she had to fail him. His most treasured possession was the stripy Doctor Who scarf his grandmother knitted him.
But he was a talented kid, even if he channeled all that talent into incessantly ranting about Doctor Who (a teacher still has one of his essays about the Doctor, titled "Intergalactic Overload," in which [Tennant] talked about becoming obsessed with the thought of being the Time Lord himself).
He became a part of the show because he was a fan. The same holds true for the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, who even tried to become secretary of the Doctor Who fanclub!
So, if we aren't special, then why do we keep saying that we are?
Basically, to make us feel better. It was when I was reading Dr Stephen Reyson's contribution to Furries Among Us that I learned something interesting. He started talking about the fandom in terms of social identity theory. There is a lot more to his essay than I can cover here and I highly encourage everyone to read it as there are details that I can not cover here.
Part of social identity theory states that individuals want to be part of groups that are positive and distinct. As described by Dr. Reyson, when a group has a low status (furry has a low status, we're even at the bottom of the geek heirachy), then members will either try to leave the group, if possible, or will, if leaving is not possible and the low status is considered legitimate, try to find a comparison that shows their group in a positive light.
This woulde explain the phenomenon of the "anthro" fandom; anthropomorphic animal fans who claim not to be members of the furry fandom. These people consider furry to be a low-status group with fluid membership and will leave the fandom for a higher status group, regardless of the fact that the "anthro" fandom is exactly the same thing. There are those furries who believe that furry is not a choice but is unfairly seen as low status and so try challenge that perception by emphasizing how creative it is as that is seen as a positive trait. That it isn't any more creative than normal is not an acceptable belief because then they lose a trait that makes the fandom positive and distinct.
Where does that leave us?
I think all this should leave us with a greater sense of self-awareness. We should recognize that furries are not uniquely creative or original. The ideas behind our fandom have been around since human culture began and, although we are smaller than more mainstream interests like rock music or science fiction, we have the same internal groups. We should recognize that content creators and content consumers are not distinct entities but overlap, both in and outside of the furry fandom. And, we should try to understand our own motivations to raise the standing of the furry fandom and recognize when our biases may be leading us to make distinctions that exist to make us feel better and not to reflect the truth.
When you think that in the early 1900's people like HP Lovecraft were writing their stories in small magazines, not completely unlike Rowrbrazzle and Vootie, and today see furries starting companies, incorporating non-profits and see the growing differences in the quality and scope of projects that are undertaken, it becomes hard not to believe that in 20, 30 or 50 years time, furry will be a genre no different to science fiction today.