The Fandom Documentary: Review
The Fandom is certainly not the first documentary to be done by furries about our own fandom. Over the past decade a handful have been made. Sometimes they focus on a particular incident surrounding an individual such as Rukus. Or perhaps they talk about the group in a way that may be more useful for political discussion within the community rather than introducing us and where we came from such as Fursonas.
I can say that if you were to want to introduce someone to the concept of what the foundations of the community are and its growth in the modern era, then this would be the one you would want to show. It covers our history in the same vein that Joe Strike’s Furry Nation did in book form.
Its release comes at a very appropriate time as the world has been set on pause, so it is a great time to reflect on where we came from and where we are going. This certainly appears to be the goal of this film as it explores the growth of our communal spaces in the world from the 70s to today. You can help support their efforts by buying a copy here.
This strong suit of the film is that it has good footage from times long forgotten. It also uses animation to support the story telling that had no supporting footage, such as from some of Mark and Rod’s childhood memories. It does tell a cohesive story of furry’s growth from its early days to its modern iterations, though at times it can get a bit jumpy in its attempts to include others. There’s a lot of ground to cover and the fandom is quite chaotic after all.
Given this is a trip from the origin to the present there isn’t a strong book-ending to the film. It’s more a journey that moves forward without reflecting too much at the end. Other films, such as Rukus had a good strong finish with an unexpected bookend that showed excellent animation production value and left a lasting impression, for example. The ending for this film, in contrast, just kind of sneaks up and pounces on a sentimental note of furs proposing to one another, followed by an end card. Because of this, I would say the start is stronger with a hook and animation in the beginning that inspires curiosity, but the rapid closure did not stick in my head a day after viewing.
The main throughline of the presentation is Mark and Rodney’s experience with starting Confurence, the issues along the way, to its ultimate closure. There are some subplots regarding other gatherings and leaders such as Kage and Anthrocon, along with Denfur which is led by Bubbles.
While there is some time given to art and fursuit designers, the convention gatherings and their trials in dealing with maintaining their operations in a volatile world seems to hold most of the screen time. Since these gatherings try to bring in all these diverse elements it’s not a terrible thread to walk down, but know that’s what the main focus ended up being. I note that artistic and individual expression is placed at the center of the piece, and held more of an intermission quality to me than a main theme.
One of the biggest triumphs over the full length feature rather than the prior YouTube series is the fact that most participants lacked a fursuit. Fursuiting and creation was covered but it didn’t take up an unreasonable percentage. Because of this it has helped alleviate one of the modern media stereotypes that the fandom completely revolved around the costuming aspect. Not sure if the producer took the critique on my review of their YouTube mini-series to heart, or if that was just the direction that was taken, but showing the humans discussing our history in this group in fact humanizes us.
When it comes to the performance of fursuiting, without the written word or the pictures used to stimulate the imagination used to craft the costumes, those costumes could not exist. They’re a fun and major part of the community, but they are certainly not the foundation. The film shows that this foundation grew from the soil of the realm of fiction making furry an offshoot of the fandoms of imagination presented at the start of the film.
Not to diminish that fursuiting in any degree, the leaves and fruits of the tree are important in sustaining the roots as much as the roots are for sustaining the fruits and leaves. The only way the tree keeps healthy is if those parts work in symbiosis.
A Canned Confurence
This documentary was able to have the leaders of the first furry convention discuss how this gathering, Confurence, had ended up being liquidated. While rumors about its deviant behavior were thrown about as the underlying issue, Rod and Mark state that it was more due to an uneasy transition of power of one chair to another.
The lesson here is an important one to those that currently run some of our largest conventions. You cannot subject one person to run an organization and have them over-extended and expect said organization to last past their tenure. The resignation of the founding chair caused a system shock and the person who replaced them was not prepared for at best, or maliciously wanted to bury the gathering at worst. The prior leadership seems to present that it was the latter, and the one they gave the power to had ulterior motives.
As leadership grows older and more strained, they need to ensure that they have done their best to teach their descendents so they are mentally and physically ready. Not only is it important to do this to help replace the current event organizers, but to ensure that those individuals replacing them have the attendee’s interests at heart and not their own.
This is why we need a non-fiction guide on convention running written by those who have taken the efforts to learn the lessons the hard way. Otherwise what happened at Confurence can happen again easily, even to some of our largest gatherings.
The need for further non-fiction to ensure a more stable future
The fact that Kage spoke of the issues that Anthrocon had with budgeting in its founding years in this film is a good start. If that message had gotten out there sooner and the data of the fiscal pitfalls of opening a convention had been written down for observation, then perhaps Capital City Fur Con could have avoided having leadership that dealt with the sticker shock in such a crass and deceitful way. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
On a side note, this goes for leadership in human government as well. While the United States is dealing with social unrest at the moment over the lack of leadership from our government in these trying times, it will bring forth those that will step in and mend the issues people care about. Authoritarian style leadership such as is found in Russia and China at this time, while hiding their own people’s grievances well from the world at large utilizing the public’s fear and cult of personalities, will find that when their own “leaders for life” pass on that the power vacuum created will more than likely consume their country in a much more brazen fashion than what is in the United States today. As the followers of Xi and Putin claw for the seats of power those leaders held with an iron fist, the empires they spent a lifetime maintaining could easily start to unravel.
It’s why I think Midwest Furfest with its chair round table will stand the test of time, while Anthrocon may be in long term trouble if steps are not taken. Given that MFF had lost their co-founder in 2017, and despite this their gathering has continued to grow without too much of a hitch, is a testament to this. As far as Anthrocon goes, twenty years is a long time to run something and their leadership should probably get someone to have a run at the helm while the captain is still alive to give pointers.
At the very least take the time afforded to us by COVID-19 to write up documentation that our future leaders could utilize. Sure, not everyone will read it, but it will make it easier when someone contacts Kage or another convention runner for advice to have a manual that a person could read for themselves. And if they can’t be bothered to do reading or research, then they will get out of their gathering what they put into it.
Certainly writing up these guidelines couldn’t make things worse.
This is why documentaries like this are important. When you know where things have been, you can more actively put more focus on how to improve the community and their gatherings instead of wasting time on relearning harsh lessons from the past. It would be the most obscene of tragedies if this didn’t get nominated for the Non-Fiction category for the Ursa Majors for 2020 because of the lack of interest in making nominations for the category as happened for the 2019 awards.
Nonfiction is important, even if the fandom has historically shown its indifference to it. I look forward to reviewing future documentaries as they continue to bring their unique perspectives and stories to the table.