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VancouFur adopts cultural theme: "Gateway to the Pacific"

Edited by GreenReaper as of 21:33
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VancouFurCanadian 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".

Under the Same Sky from Furry Night Live at FC 2008

A Canadian blogger from a Métis perspective wrote a year ago:

[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.


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You know, I don't see anyone making a fuss when sexy nuns fight demons in anime, with bare legs and cross-shaped pistols. There's being respectful of somebody's culture, and then there's being more Catholic than the Pope. Want to be certain? Ask somebody from that culture instead of making assumptions. You'll discover that any culture worthy of the name knows how to take itself lightly.

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"VancouFur's organisers have not publicly mentioned what connection they as individuals have with the animal habitats and species they propose to celebrate"

An explosive non-issue in the making, folks!

They'll be watching like hawks to make sure all animal depictions are appropriate. Oops, accidentally stereotyped a hawk! Sorry, i meant avian-canadian.

LOL, not comparing other cultures to animals, just Furries... but isnt it a wee tiny bit absurd to raise issues like racism and stereotyping on a petty pictorial-semiotic level, lacking any context of intent to offend or exclude? Wrong font, oh nooooo!

For such infractions against arbitrarily defined taste, what is the standard of appropriateness? Who are the cultural leaders who decide it? Well, it seems like the standard here is that absolutely nobody in the world can be offended or even be able to distinguish any meaning from it, besides bland nonoffensive ubiquity. Use Helvetica. (What font did they choose, anyways, and why is it better?)

And forget about learning, celebrating, being introduced to, if you arent already a biologically born member... that would be cultural appropriation.

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isnt it a wee tiny bit absurd to raise issues like racism and stereotyping on a petty pictorial-semiotic level, lacking any context of intent to offend or exclude?

Because people should only be told they're doing something wrong if they did it on purpose. Being offensive by accident is totally okay, and said person will feel just great when they realize they've been doing something offensive and no one cared enough to tell them.

As for the font, well, there's a linked article you can read on why it's a problem.

No one is saying anything against learning about or being introduced to other cultures, but as I've said before in other contexts, there's a big difference between someone of a particular culture introducing you to it, and someone from outside that culture introducing you to their idea of it.

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Nope, that won't work after you've been prompted to explain what exactly the standard is for being inoffensive. The expectation that nobody anywhere can be offended ever deserves no respect. The onus is on you to explain what these individuals did wrong by using a font commonly and non-problematically used by restaurants across north america.

Oh yes, i read the linked article and any reasonable person can ignore the linking of a font to a murder (as if a single bar fight in the most messed up part of the country is a bellwether for society, ha.)

This article also fails to give any substance to its criticism by telling us what is the alternate font, was it changed for any particular reason, and why is it better. Making it little more than a petty whine.

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Please quote back where it says in the article or any of the referenced material, "you can't do something if anyone anywhere will be offended by it".

This is very specifically about cultural appropriation so I'm not exactly sure why you're making that leap of logic. Well, I mean, I could guess: perhaps to support an untenable point?

If that was all you got out of the article, well, I suppose there wasn't much point in my asking you to read it, was there? I don't know if the font was changed for any particular reason, nor what the new font is, but I know what it isn't.

One of the points of this is that there ISN'T a very clear standard for wrongness and rightness. You actually have to think about it. I know it's easier to just follow a formula, but this actually requires some analysis and a thoughtful approach.

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No need to quote when actions speak. It's a petty complaint about offensiveness with no subject and no object. No specific person took or did offense to any other person. It leave only one conclusion, this is about not being allowed to offend anyone anywhere.

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Interesting that you write an article without even actually directly contacting the organizers or event, just taking what seems to be out of context twitter quotes.

Much ado about nothing.

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Interesting article.

This is Akonite, chair of Vancoufur. I was never actually approached for any information or fielded any questions in regards to this article.

The font mentioned in the article was actually not on the splash page for 6 hours before being removed (on our own accord, without being asked) as we saw it to portray a stereotype. We are doing all we can to properly research and present only factual information when our site actually goes live (it's actually only a placeholder at the moment, created in a couple hours to hold the address).

My quote from twitter is unfortunately quite out of context, which is both unfortunate and insulting.

I can be available if ever someone wants to have a calm and educated dialogue regarding multiculturalism. I would like our staff to be able to portray the theme in as respectful a manner as possible. To date only one person has done so and the left with 'cautious optimism'.

Shying away from celebrating our cities place as one of the most multicultural places in North America is not something I plan to do. But I do plan to do it as correctly and in good faith as possible.

Thanks, (this is all I will be posting here)


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You should have seen my face when I found out what the theme was; this is bad news for a group of people known for their lack of tact and drama. I am so embarrassed to be part of the fandom right now, I don't think the con staff are dealing with concerns respectfully at all.

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Might be an idea to let the convention actually regroup, restaff and such since its been a mere 2 weeks since their 2013 con ended. When things pick up again I'm fairly certain the information about their plans and purposes and how they want to go about it will be available. Culture is a sensitive thing but if you are a person from one of the cultures they plan to showcase (once that list is out somewhere to know) or know someone who is, why not try to get involved so that the staff have someone to ask questions to instead of researching just on their own accord. Offer to help, instead of call them out, to make their info and practices correct. Be part of the solution! : )

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I'm intending to be involved with the con, myself. But my question about the theme is if it _can_ be done right. I'm just not sure this is appropriate as fodder for con themes. I guess if you want to present your own culture?

This can definitely be done better or worse, but I feel like there are issues that are inherent in the theme.

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Of course, though any and every theme will have problems. Every and any theme has the potential for disaster, for any convention or event. Being involved definitely helps so props to you for wanting to be involved!

Though i do still think this article pretty much jumped the gun. Sure, there could be problems but its not like this article is really doing anything other then pointing fingers. (again, considering its like... 2 weeks after their previous event.) If it was months and months without notice from the con staff about whats going on, then this would most definitely be appropriate to post. But 2 weeks? I'd honestly say let them regroup and then, when they actually have a team and have gone over their basics and have information posted, get in there and start posing important questions that could help point them in the right direction.

That's really all i have to say honestly. There really doesn't seem to be a ground to point fingers at the moment because there's seemingly no solid info on what is going on with the con as its too soon and their website isn't up yet. Culture is a sensitive topic because culture is important (!) but that doesn't automatically make a "potentially" hard to accomplish theme, bad. : )

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**Edit: Hard to accomplish and possibly offensive theme, bad**

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"Of course, though any and every theme will have problems"

Potentially being offensive to minority groups (indeed, there have already been problems with this) is not something "any and every theme will have". This isn't the same thing as not liking the theme, it's kind of a big deal and I'm not confident everyone contributing has the sensitivity and cultural awareness to do it properly. I'm not even sure it CAN be done right, and considering the replies being given to those with concerns I'm expecting a lot second-hand embarrassment for my fandom this year.

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I'm not shrugging off the fact that culture is very important and is a hard thing to accomplish for a theme because there is that possibility of offending people within a culture. I'm saying why not give them a lick of a chance to show what they had in mind? As far as i recall, they were pretty open to input, suggestions, concerns, etc last year. (This to say, I've seen tons of conventions themes over the years, from furry and non furry cons, that I've cringed at in regards to the backlash they -could- receive over it. BUT, just because it had the potential to be offensive if taken the wrong way, or the potential to give off the wrong message, doesn't mean its -going- to turn out that way.)

I would definitely suggest offering your insights and opinions as information comes out. : ) the Chairman did state above that he is more then happy to discus peoples concerns. Why not take him up on it? Give the con a few weeks to get their team back together, then offer your guidance to help them in the right direction. Be part of the solution! : )

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I've added a link to a screenshot of the as of March 10. [Ed: Linked on 'a splash screen for 2014']

mikemmcloy posted to Twitter on March 7 "Splash page provided by yours truly for @VancouFUR is up art is by @WildElements"

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Isn't the font on the splash page a bit of a moot point, since they already stated they changed it on their own?

Seems they agreed with you without your input and have already adjusted it. They recognized a problem on their own and corrected it, in my opinion that's a positive thing.

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Seems that they are as concerned about doing this the right way as you are, but only one side seems to be reaching out while the other is pointing out issues based on possibilities and 'what ifs'.

Maybe it's time to put down the knives and work with them on ways to ensure your concerns are addressed. Seems to me they're open to discussion and open to working with you on solutions.

I guess I don't get arguments where one party is saying 'lets work it out' and he other is saying 'no thanks I'd like to keep arguing.'

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"We're not a bunch of white people."

You see, this is why Kage says when making a public statement don't say what you're NOT, cause now people are going to think that's indeed what you are.

And what would be wrong if you WERE a bunch of white people? Huh? Is there somethin' wroooong with bein' white? Huuuuh?

Yeeeah that's what I thought.

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Let me preface this by noting that I just sat down with a plate of "Szechuan pork". (Personally, I have my doubts . . . but cultural transformation has to start somewhere.)

A large portion of furry material derives from cultures and traditions not shared by those who create it. I imagine this is impossible to avoid if you are an artist who sells commissions. Some - often the better ones - take the time to research. Others don't. The commissioner may demand authenticity, but they won't unless they see value in it.

As such, I feel it is for those concerned to present the case as to why we should bother to create accurate depictions of other cultures – and it has to be better than "not offending people". No matter how just this cause is, it will be less effective than an argument focusing on how such depictions are more entertaining, more educational, and more artistically rewarding than rehashing old stereotypes, of any kind.

You can't guarantee that people won't take the easy route with costuming, or post a shallow depiction of cultural elements in the art show. However, if you take the time to explain the merits of close study, there may be less demand for such material, and in due course less supply.

I reject the position that only those who "are X" can adequately represent "X". If we accepted that, we would have no use for actors.

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You stated "and it has to be better than "not offending people"."

I restate "not offending people" to "not be hurtful to people". And I find not being hurtful to people a compelling reason.

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Let those who are hurt by the material that the convention proposes say so, then, not those who think it might.

So far, I don't think you have made your case that the proposed theming is hurtful to anyone. As for what's been done so far to promote it … at most, I'd call the font choice tacky, and it seems to have been rectified when identified.

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There's plenty of material out there, some of it linked from the original article, on Why Cultural Appropriation Is Bad. You don't need someone to step forward to say it's bad for it to be bad.

Would you rather people who see a problem in the making step forward and say so when they notice it, or would you rather get six months down the road when people have put a lot of work into it, then have someone raise their hand and say, "uh, there's a problem with this"?

The point was always to make people aware that there are issues around cultural appropriation and the con theme has issues from that perspective. Because I want the con to succeed (yes, I've attended both years and volunteered this year), I thought it was a good idea to make people aware of the potential issue as soon as possible, rather than wait for someone else to do so possibly weeks or months down the line.

Besides which, a local furry friend of mine who's Chinese-Canadian has stated his objection to the theme in discussions on Twitter. So if you have to have a person who's publicly stated that they're hurt by it, there y'go. (and before someone decides I'm making him up, a. not the kind of thing I do and b. if I can get his permission, I'll provide a link.)

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I disagree. I like it when we take and adapt elements of other cultures and traditions, incorporating elements of our own. I think it can be inspire new creativity. That is how we get fusion cuisine like Tex-Mex. I'm sure some real Mexicans roll their eyes at San Diego-style burritos, but I don't see them protesting in the streets.

Once a theme is announced, it is for practical purposes too late to change it. Doing so would decrease the reputation of the convention in the eyes of those who think this is a good theme. It is however an appropriate time to state your concerns about how the theme may be interpreted and to develop guidelines for e.g. artwork and stories presented in the conbook, or as at-con theming material.

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I have to say I find "you have to make not being a jerk the more fun option for people" a pretty bleak way of looking at the issue. Shouldn't not being a jerk be its own reward?

The point really isn't to guarantee that people won't do anything - obviously there are always going to be people who are either not aware enough or not empathetic enough to not do things like that - the point is to educate people about the issues around these things.

I think the comment about actors is a little off the mark - this is about should, not can. Generally having actors play other races doesn't come across all that well, and there's plenty of historical badness around that too (see blackface, for example).

Whether they should represent other things that they aren't really isn't the same issue. I don't think too many people get up in arms because some guy plays a photographer in a movie and isn't a photographer in real life.

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Off topic-ish: Kind of just popped in my head...

I wonder if animals had cognitive function if they'd get offended by our costumes?

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Wolves: Why are them humans portraying us as noble 'n shit? We ain't like that!

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Perhaps they wouldn't be any wilder about them than these people are.

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Yes, that'd be a good furry art meme. Have an drawn animal holding holding up a photograph of a fursuiter of their species with that slogan.

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Well, a) I think the original campaign was a perfectly reasonable objection and wouldn't really want to make fun of it and b) it's been done.

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Ah, someone always beats me to the punch ah well.

It's not that I don't find their objections reasonable, it's just that when it comes to humor nothing should really be off limits, and if it draws attention to their campaign by means of parody, that's a good thing not a bad thing.

To me, I believe in balance. If you're going to have black face actors put next to them a white face one. Get a black guy, have them put white on their face, put on a flannel shirt and a farmer's cap and have them start speaking like a redneck. If one is going to caricature cultures do it equally or don't do it at all. Since people are bad at doing things equally, more often than no it's safer to go with the later.

A good example of this done right may be the newer version of Punch Out. Sure the characters they had were stereotypical, but they all were. The American stereotype was Super Macho man, a man full of himself and his fame.

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Mm, when considering something like that I think you have to take into account the relative dominance of cultures. In North America and Europe, white people have a lot more leverage to belittle black culture than vice versa.

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I disagree that those costumes are racist. They're to have with something unusual, not to offend or belittle other people. Taking offence to those things is generally just being very over sensitive.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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If you call someone a jerk when they don't believe they're being a jerk, they'll just think you're a jerk. :-)

Telling people what not to do, on behalf of unspecified others who may or may not care, does not seem productive. I think your time would be better spent showing them how to do it better, or helping them find those who can.

Imagine a media organization wishes to represent furry fandom in one of its programs. Do you: a) demand that all presentations use a 100% authentic furry cast, b) work with the producers to develop an authentic representation with the aid of those who are already part of the program, or c) tell them "it's a bad idea" and then complain about them on Twitter?

[Hint: If you do a), it's up to you to find the cast, else they'll most likely just go off and do it without you.]

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It was to be understood that "being a jerk" there was shorthand for "doing something culturally offensive".

And sorry, no, having a legitimate objection to something in no way obligates you to work to improve it. I agree that sometimes it's nice to be able to do so but it is not required for bringing forth a valid criticism, and sometimes the criticism needs to be made regardless of whether the critic has the desire, ability, or inclination to work to improve it. To suggest otherwise is just another form of good ol' ad hominem.

In this case, if a person feels something is inherently problematic, what would motivate them to help bring it to fruition? They should pitch in to make it less bad and associate their name with the end result in the process?

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If a person is uncomfortable having their name mentioned then why not just ask for their name not to be associated? *not that hard* A person can still try their best to help it succeed and be a good con without having to be afraid of cultural backlash if their efforts didn't go quite as well as they'd hoped.

See, if people just sit around making a fuss about it but people aren't willing to help provide legit info to the staff, then what exactly is happening? (Yes, i realize you are trying to inform people about the possible backlash that could come from it, but in my honest opinion, that's not really trying to help the situation. Just pointing fingers. *Yes I've read you've stated you plan on joining the team but you speak as if there is no way to still help if people have insights, if they are scared to have their name associated* ) I doubt the theme is going to change, so why not take the proactive approach to get involved and if you'd rather your name not be associated I'm sure its not that hard to discuss that with staff before you agree to get involved. *again, its not hard to ask and question about their process once they have a team to have a process with.*

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Yes, i realize you are trying to inform people about the possible backlash that could come from it, but in my honest opinion, that's not really trying to help the situation. Just pointing fingers.

You are welcome to your honest opinion, but I disagree with it. A significant part of the reason I brought this up was because I like my local convention and want it to succeed and be enjoyable and comfortable for everyone.

Bringing up this issue was, I felt, in itself a contribution to that end, and if that was all I chose or was able to do it would still have been worth doing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the validity of criticism is in no way diminished by the critic's willingness or ability to help improve the thing being criticized. If I say the quality of McDonald's food is bad, I'm not obligated to pitch in and help them improve it.

My point was that if people feel that there's an inherent issue with the theme and that even if done better it will still be problematic, what would motivate them to help out in bringing that theme to fruition? Better to put any energy in that direction into trying to convince them to change it.

I feel like people are glossing over the word inherent, as in the theme has issues regardless of how it's executed. I feel like this is a cart-before-the-horse situation, as in "we chose a theme which has issues and we're now trying to find a way to justify it" rather than "we chose a theme which doesn't have any issues and are just trying to do it as well as possible".

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The problem you face is that "it might offend people" is not a good enough reason to change the theme now, especially when other furry conventions have successfully executed a theme along these lines. The organizers would (rightly, in my view) be criticised for bowing to the forces of political correctness.

You need to apply gaming theory: You're not going to get your "best" result, because doing so is worse for the organizers than ignoring you. The Nash equilibrium lies at a result which is better for both of you - helping them to execute an accurate, respectful portrayal of the cultures and traditions of the Pacific Rim.
(This is, of course, a simplification. For example, depending on your weighting it might be be more optimal for you to do nothing at all.)

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Another example of public reaction to having actors play other races is (are?) the Charlie Chan movies. Even though Charlie was clearly supposed to be more intelligent than anyone else, and the other Oriental characters were at least as intelligent as the White Men (with the comic-relief exception of No. 1 Son), the movies came across as extremely racist.

I remember decades ago hearing that Disneyland had a problem about blatant prejudice among the swans in the moat around Cinderella's castle. The white swans and the black swans hated and were always attacking each other. I think that the company solved the problem by getting rid of the less popular black swans. There were some mutters that Disney should force the swans to integrate, but nobody could suggest how. The company pointed out that trying to force the swans to integrate would just result in very obvious vicious swan battles.

Fred Patten

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