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(Fandom) Goodbye, DNA

Fandom 150Over the weekend, the macrophile artist known around the internet as DNA closed up his FurAffinity page. This all but completes his steady withdrawal from the furry fandom, which was announced a few months ago. The announcement came suddenly, and ever since then I’ve been trying to sort through my feelings on that. Now that the last link he had to the fandom is effectively gone, I wanted to write a few words about what he meant to me and how I’ll honor my time with him moving forward.

I considered myself a fairly close friend to DNA, even though we didn’t talk often. He was the kind of companion you could pick up with after months of radio silence without skipping a beat. No matter how long it had been since we last spoke or what had happened during that time, he always made sure that he was glad to see you. He is one of the most generous, positive, hard-working people I know, and I will genuinely miss him. I know he’s not dead, but the grief I feel is somewhat similar; my relationship with him as I know it is dead and gone, and that’s why I’ve had to bury over these last few months.

I don’t know why he felt the need to bow out of the fandom this way, and I won’t submit to speculation here. Doing so wouldn’t honor my time with him. I do know that I wish I could have been able to say goodbye to him knowing that it would be the last time we spoke. I don’t remember the last conversation we had, to be honest; I had taken it for granted that I would be able to pick up with him again sometime later, just like always.

The thing I’ll remember most about DNA isn’t the art he gave to the fandom, though his comics are wonderful, silly, exuberant stories that I’ll cherish. The thing that I’ll take with me is his natural and immediate good nature. I don’t think I’ve ever known someone who was so effortlessly nice and considerate; he was free with his affection, and if you knew him you were sure that you were loved by him. It wasn’t the desperate casting about for connection that can often come with folks who make easy friends, and it wasn’t some weird spell that was cast on you where you felt close while you had his attention, but ignored when you didn’t. He is an incredibly loving person, and he didn’t expect to be loved in return. It was just who he was, and almost everything he did was an expression of that.

That comes through in so much of his work. One of my favorite things about his particular “brand” of macrophilia was that most of his characters weren’t malicious, even the power-mad ones. Growth, for him, was almost always this incredibly positive experience, and when it ran away from his characters it wasn’t necessarily a selfish thing — it was a feedback loop of positive energy, a virtuous cycle that exploded again and again into this other order of magnitude. Most of his protagonists were humble, gentle souls who loved doing the right thing; protecting, helping, connecting with others in a way that spread joy. Somehow DNA managed to combine the best things about macro — that overwhelming power fantasy, incredible size difference, runaway growth — without including some of the most tiresome aspects of it, like small and brittle egos, actual carelessness, or violence and death. It’s really hard to thread that needle, and he was one of the best at it. He made it look easy.

I know that he was incredibly loved in the fandom, and there were a lot of times that love was expressed as more a demand for his time, his talent, or his attention. As a community we have a tendency to make our artists feel more like a commodity than an actual person; we crave what someone can do for us so much that we see them only as a means to that end. A drawing or comic from DNA was a measure of social validation, a sign that our characters and the stories featuring them were interesting, a symbol of our status in the little community we share. Because he was so generous with his time but guarded about his personal life, it was easy to overlook pressures or responsibilities that he might not have talked about.

There’s no way of knowing if I contributed to the decision of his leaving the fandom. I really hope not. But for me, honoring him means making sure that I remember that artists are people first and foremost and to always treat them as such — no matter how star-struck I might be by them. Even the most popular folks who share our interest in giants have full lives; day jobs, relationships, hopes, fears, responsibilities, worries, personalities, pet peeves, a limited ability to manage everything on their plate. It’s so easy to take things personally when someone who is being hounded for attention doesn’t pay attention to me; it’s important to remember that it might not be personal but even if it is it’s their right as people to choose who they befriend.

I don’t have the naturally positive temperament that DNA did, but even still I want to be as positive influence on the community as he was during his time here. I want to put that positivity into the stories I write and share here, and I want to help provide a balance to the spectrum of macrophilia on the Internet. It doesn’t all have to be violent, humiliating, or crude (though hey, if that’s what you’re into there’s nothing wrong with that — you do you!). It can be joyous, silly, loving, and fun, too.

DNA unquestionably made my life better by being a part of it, and I appreciate the love he showed to me while he was. I’m really sorry that I never got a final chance to tell him what he meant to me, and I sincerely hope I’ll get to one of these days. For now, it’s enough to know how he’s made me a better person and to act on the lessons I learned through him.

I know that a lot of us are going through a sort of grieving process for him as well. I think it’s important to recognize and honor that. It’s OK to be sad that a friend (or favorite artist, or community fixture) is gone, and it’s OK to admit being bewildered or lost about the way they left. But please don’t let that feeling curdle into anger or a sense of entitlement; he doesn’t owe us anything, especially after he’s given us so much. Let’s appreciate what an awesome person he was, and hope that someday we’ll get to tell him so properly.

 
 

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(Fandom) 2 Words

 

Fandom 150Comedians who use shocking or transgressive humor are often no strangers to controversy and criticism. Even the best of them sometimes tip over into the gratuitous, but most don’t stay there very long. The transgressive nature of stand-up comedy is used by these artists as a tool, a scapel that scrapes away the flab of public discourse to reveal the wounds buried underneath. Then there’s 2 Gryphon. He’s the most recognizable furry stand-up comedian we’ve got and has made transgressive humor a centerpiece of his act for over a decade now. However, that humor isn’t in service of exposing and ultimately healing the sensitive topics he frequently covers; it encourages flippant dismissal of the people who disagree with his stances. The “jokes” and comments he makes online encourage his fans to dismiss concerns that he’s engaging in bigoted behavior, spread misinformation and act on it in ways that hurt furries who are most in need of our compassion. 2’s irresponsible and insensitive attitude towards public discourse helps him to shrug off criticism but hurts the fandom as a whole — and that’s something we can’t tolerate any more.

Last Wednesday, 2 Gryphon announced his performance at AnthroCon had been canceled by the board. He did this by responding to a tweet not obviously directed to him from a Twitter account that hasn’t posted in two years before then. In the absence of any official word from the convention staff, it was assumed by both his fans and critics that the decision was made due to a long history of offensive comments made from his personal blog and Twitter account. The way this news broke is important, because it shows us how 2 handles controversy when he has control of how to present it.

The exchange with his fan puts 2 in a sympathetic light right away. He gets an innocent show of support from a fan excited to see him; he then has to disappoint that fan with the news. This allows him to present his absence from AnthroCon as “the convention is denying you, the fans, something we all want and they didn’t tell me why.” This framing primes his fans towards a particular reaction. It shifts focus from him towards the convention and lays the foundation that the convention’s board is responsible for this situation.

But it’s suspicious that 2 responded to an account he doesn’t follow two minutes after it was posted, especially since there was no obvious way to know it was even directed at him. It’s also suspicious that an account that had been dormant since August 2015 just so happens to make a random tweet right around the time the decision came down. The facts of the tweet and his response to it should make us question if what we’re presented with — an exchange between a comedian and his fan — is really what’s happening. But if 2 (alone or with someone’s help) orchestrated this exchange as a way to break the news, why would he do such a thing?

It’s because 2 understands the importance of framing. Political commentator Jim A. Kuypers describes framing this way: “Framing is a process whereby communicators, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner. Frames operate in four key ways: they define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies. Frames are often found within a narrative account of an issue or event, and are generally the central organizing idea.” In argumentation, even the informal kind, how you sell your argument matters just as much as — if not more than — the content of your argument.

2 is a very smart guy who is great with sophistry — using clever but ultimately fallacious and/or deceptive arguments to win over an audience. He frequently targets and engages with the most extreme forms of criticism to dismiss any criticism outright. He mischaracterizes the content of those arguments to benefit his rebuttal against them and paint his opposition as foolish, ignorant, uninformed. He demands proof of what he’s being accused for, then dismisses, deflects or outright ignores it when it’s presented. He moves the goalposts constantly. He offers up token friends as proof against transphobic or racist remarks instead of addressing the remarks themselves. He uses a suite of different tactics to make sure criticism doesn’t stick, shifting the field of debate from his actions to general “SJW” fallacies that are functionally red meat to his fans.

The way he broke the news is consistent with his handling of criticism in the past. He knew that being disinvited from AC would create a controversy, and in the absence of definitive information or any official response from the convention itself he used the opportunity to set the frame of the debate and subsequent response. Tying the announcement directly to a fan exchange allows him to spin the narrative that the fans want this show and will be very disappointed if they don’t get it; that’s his basis for argument, and to be fair this would be true even without the work he put into framing the debate that way. However, opening with this also allowed 2 to provide a reason without any evidence, blame “the SJWs” for that reason, and encourage outraged fans to email Programming and demand an explanation — even though they’re less likely to trust anything besides the one they were given before. Instead of discussing the reasons that his critics have been giving for years about his comments and behavior, he picks a straw-man argument that we “have spread the lie that he’s a Nazi”, asserts that the Board has been duped by the lie and shouted down by the “silent majority” who just want to be entertained by his brand of comedy.

But I’m not a critic of 2 because I think he’s a Nazi. I haven’t seen any other critics of 2 say he’s a Nazi. His defense of Richard Spencer arguably makes him a Nazi sympathizer, but that’s a debate for another campfire. I’m a critic of 2 because he’s irresponsible with his language and insensitive to the social and racial issues that a large segment of the fandom have to face in their daily lives. In an environment where that kind of sophistry and insensitivity has given rise to the alt-right in our own fandom AND in the White House, we simply can’t tolerate that kind of behavior any more. It’s unacceptable to target the people with the least power to combat the narratives that are formed about them. It’s unacceptable to promote racist, misogynist, othering ideas under the guise of comedy. It’s unacceptable to take no responsibility for the environment you create and expect others to put up with speech and behavior that makes the fandom a less-welcoming, more-hostile space.

The fact that I disagree with 2 politically isn’t the reason I’m writing this, or advocating that he should lose his space at AC. He’s, of course, free to believe that this is a valid argument against Kaepernick’s peaceful protest on behalf of #BlackLivesMatter, even though he hasn’t done a single thing to be thanked for. He’s free to believe that this is a simple joke about Detroit with no reasonable link to racist undertones. He can say that this is just comedy and that anyone who takes offense should “just get over it and move on“.

I’m also free to call bullshit on all of that. 2 never defended anyone’s rights in any way that mattered; he uses free speech mainly as a smokescreen to avoid consequences for saying something shitty in the same way most Internet trolls do. Colin Kaepernick drew attention to a serious problem in a non-violent way as well as donating time and money to communities of color. Everyone knows that Detroit is a majority-Black city and there’s a long-standing history of racist comments comparing black people to apes. Comparing being transgender to claiming racial ancestry not your own is at best false equivalence, and moving from that to the absurdity of “burritokin” means that we can reasonably infer just how seriously he takes the whole idea. It doesn’t matter that he has black friends or transgender friends; he made comments that perpetuated tired yet persistent stereotypes that hurt disadvantaged populations. If he was truly a friend to these people, he would be sensitive to the social conditions they struggle with all the time and work to legitimize them as people with every right to self-determination that he has. But he doesn’t. Instead he mocks and diminishes their protests without ever touching the legitimate issues that cause the protests in the first place.

As a fandom, we’re better than that. If we hope to reverse the damage caused by people who feel entitled to say whatever hurtful thing they want, we have to start in our own backyard. That means calling out the people who promote bigoted and harmful ideas. That means pushing back against the people who insist on being as irresponsible as they can get away with using the platforms they’ve been given. That means demanding that those shouting “Free speech!” understand that there is a responsibility to accept the consequences of that speech.

2, by consistently attacking progressive activists and making jokes about marginalized groups, has proven what he thinks of us through his actions time and again. He doesn’t care who’s hurt by the things he says or does, or how his rhetoric makes the community a smaller place filled with narrow-minded ideas about what’s “valid”. And that’s his right. But it’s also my right to demand that the institutions of our fandom (including AnthroCon) refuse to legitimize that carelessness by denying him the platform he abuses, especially since he continues to deny and deflect criticism instead of actually trying to see the perspective of other people. It’s my right to say there’s no room in this fandom for a comedian who compares people like me to missing links, then tells me “Relax, it’s just a joke!”

It’s not a joke. It’s my life. And I won’t put up with someone who says — by word and deed — that my life matters less than his.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2017 in Furries, mental-health

 

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How Our Writing Gets Better

Writing 150There’s a bit of an ongoing kerfluffle in the furry writing community about critics of stories and the role they should play. From my admittedly limited experience with the subject, it seems like the argument has been broken down into two camps. Some folks feel that furry literature should be subjected to the same standards as any art form; critics should be able to call out bad writing wherever it might be found. Others feel that critics are useless; they’ll never be happy with the quality of writing found in our humble little corner of the SF/F fandom and are really in the game to make themselves look or feel better by putting others down. After seeing some of the more vitriolic and controversial reviews out there, I have to admit that I could see why someone would think that way. But that’s a problem with the critic, not criticism itself. It’s important to make that distinction. Good criticism is an essential element in the growth of any art form; we need to have a way to share our opinions about where our work is at any given point, and keen eyes to point out what preoccupies us as a community, what we talk and dream about, and how well we all communicate what we’re trying to say.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m for the critics. A good critic provides a valuable service to the artistic community he talks about. All art is essentially communication, and writers are trying to say something in a way that moves past language by using language extremely well. It’s a difficult thing to do, especially since the combination of words that might hit us where we live might just make someone else roll their eyes. In order to be successful as a writer, we need to know the effect our writing has on someone else. We may have picked up a few tricks that navigate past the defenses of our audience, but it’s by no means a sure thing. The more sophisticated our audience, the more important it becomes to use the right trick at the right time in conjunction with the right combination of other tricks. Critics can help us know whether or not our gambits have worked, and they can help us gain exposure to an audience dazzled by a multitude of choices. As writers, we want the time and attention of our readers, and critics can help us out by telling our potential readers which writers are worth paying for.

In order to do that, though, critics have to be honest, fair and respectful. Honest because any reader savvy enough to read a critique in the first place is very good at smelling bullshit in the first place; fair because it does no one any good to judge a book the same way as any other book — each work has to be judged by its own measure; and respectful because art communities are small and fragile things, and it’s far too easy to tear ourselves out of them. A good critic never tears into a work unless its creator can handle it, and the work is truly disrespectful to the time we’ve spent on it. I don’t think there are many furry works that qualify for that, but I’m admittedly a novice when it comes to reading our fiction.

And that brings me to the next point, one that a lot of anti-critic people like to point out. We’re a genre of hobbyists for the most part; we simply don’t have the resources to match the quality of output of professionals. That’s true. We’re all hobbyists with (hopefully) day jobs, and that means we can’t put the same time and effort into writing, editing and promoting furry fiction as we could if we were getting paid for it. Critics should be aware of this, and be fair about it. At the same time, it does the fiction itself a disservice if we’re not trying to make it the best we can. For writers, that means refining it until we’re happy with sending it out into the world. For editors and publishers, that means catching mistakes and issues that the writer may have missed, further refining the the story until it has the shine of professional work. For critics, that means telling the audience which works have been taken care of properly and which have been rushed out perhaps before they were ready. The audience gets to know what’s really worth their precious attention, and the writers and editors get to know what needs to be improved on their next project.

The strive to get better at what we do extends to critics as well. I’ve seen far too many critics of furry fiction try to make a name for themselves by tearing down the works of others. What’s worse is they do it without a sharp and critical eye. They don’t actually know the craft of the writer, though they might think they do, so they end up missing a trick deployed well and focus on a difference in style. They mistake this for poor writing, and put together a slickly-produced essay with all of their best put-downs and call it a day. This isn’t about the work; it’s about themselves. Critics should never attempt to establish a personality cult; their attention should be on the work, and they should help their audience to make informed choices about the work. Anything else is a waste of time.

I know that most of us are in our infancy with this sort of thing. Writers coming up are still learning the tools of the trade, and what it means to be professional. Editors and publishers are learning about the tremendous workload necessary for producing a good story, making it the best that it can be. And critics are still learning how to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way, directing audiences to the best that the fandom has to offer and telling writers and editors about gaps in their process wherever they may be found. But we’re all in this together, and we all want the same thing — for furry fiction to stand on its own as a worthy, accepted part of the greater SF/F umbrella. And we can’t do that if we’re trying to step on the faces of the people we should be helping to rise above the pack. A lot of critics have made this mistake, and it’s left a bad reputation on this entire part of the community.

However, saying that criticism is worthless because so much of it is bad is a mistake. It’s just like a reader saying that all furry fiction is worthless because they have yet to read a book that’s grabbed their attention. When a critic has missed the point of a certain story, or given it an unfair review, the writer, editor or publisher is well within their rights to have a respectful, personal debate about it. The critic needs a check and balance as well, after all. His audience won’t respect his opinion if it’s all flash and no knowledge. Worse yet, he’ll burn down the relationships with the rest of the community that he’ll need in order to do his job (or his hobby) effectively.

Everyone in this process should be striving to get better at what they do, whether they’re a hobbyist or have designs to make this a living. And every link of the chain should be trying to encourage every other link to strengthen themselves. I know that this hasn’t been the relationship that critics have had with their counterparts in the rest of the community, but I really hope that it can be established moving forward. It’ll be much harder to develop the quality of our work if we don’t.

 

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