Community > Commodity, and the value of WTF. Part 3 about the FurAffinity sale to IMVU.
by Patch O'Furr
A series of three articles:
- About the FurAffinity sale, and the issue of trade-offs.
- IMVU does a Q&A with me.
- Community > Commodity, and the Value of WTF. Long live furries.
The conclusion brings it all back to commercialization. I’ve reported this for a while: Measuring the Furry Economy. – Mainstream advertising: “More and more, Furries are being hinted at in marketing media!” – And the recent $11,575 record fursuit sale and $17,500 top price. Also try: Furry, not an obscure little fandom any more. I often say that the thriving growth of this subculture is built on WTF weirdness that can’t be digested by the mainstream. Will that stay true?
3) Community > Commodity, and the value of WTF.
You could write a whole book about a subculture’s place in the larger culture. (There’s a “Furry coffee table book” waiting to be written.) Here’s a very loose topic about it, with a point:
Commercialization makes some furries fear losing what they love. But the normals-scaring, freedom-raising, limit-pushing, WTF part of it may save the rest. The more fringe it is – the more it holds Furry back from acceptance, but keeps it strongly independent. More notice could be a win-win.
A “hotbed” of subculture.
It’s no coincidence that the FurAffinity sale puts IMVU, Silicon Valley, and Furry together like toes on the same paw. A friendly journalist at The Bold Italic calls the San Francisco Bay Area a “hotbed” of Furry subculture. The Silicon Valley Business Journal sees the value of WTF in it:
Steve Jobs said his acid trips expanded his consciousness. Furcon does the same for Silicon Valley.
It calls Furries the “last, best hope at weird”. Why last? What’s the pressure? If you’re a very young Furry, or haven’t been hit by economic recession… SF Bay Area Furry is like the fuzzy underbelly of a hurricane. (Mangling metaphors is fun!)
Part 1) has a list of terms like Gentrification. Corporate power and rising prices drive out independent creative people. There’s talk about it everywhere, but the SF Bay is an example for the nation. Even for a tiny subculture, Furries can feel like part of the crowd. The Bold Italic noticed:
A question worthy of academic analysis: How has SF’s astronomical rents affected the furry community? I bet it’s not easy storing those suits in a studio apartment.
Jeremy, editor of the Bold Italic, wrote to me: “as I said, I’m genuinely curious what impact SF’s rising rents has had on communities like the furries…it can’t have been positive.” I told him:
I know most active members in SF. There’s more down the peninsula towards Silicon Valley, even furry houses (3-5 living together, hosting parties, sharing art jams etc.) It’s been hard to organize gatherings in the city because it really helps to have a common meet place, and some have had to move out. Many lurk and just do stuff online (forums, gaming etc) so active meets only cover some of what they do. The costuming is a special activity, while plain nerdy game and movie parties are just as popular. But there are plenty of high profile costuming meets, like street fairs and the Pride Parade. When costuming happens, it’s an all-out kind of deal. So safe changing space is really helpful. We’re currently in need of a place in walking distance to events… $500+ for a hotel room for Pride isn’t easy to afford!
Online activity is everywhere, but I call live meets and cons the “glue” that keeps Furry together. The higher profile they get in real life, the more we can talk about ownership and money.
It’s said that the science of public relations categorizes the world into 200 or so tribes, based on how people like to associate and consume. A friend tells me that in all his searches, nobody has a source for this conventional wisdom. Does a list exist? If it does, it must be carefully guarded by shadowy marketing powers. But Furries are getting to be a tribal category now.
With regard to Lenovo ad, furries are the new edgy-cool thing, so they gain street cred with ads including fursuiters @ZefiroPublic— Spottacus Cheetah (@Spottacus) March 20, 2015
Is this bad? Sometimes, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Originality can be cursed with elitism, and be less important than participation. People do call it FANdom. From my article, “Pseudo-furry” videos raise questions about pop culture and Furry fandom:
Popular culture and it’s gateways are an undeniably important influence. But identifying a trend for pop culture to re-absorb the Furry subculture that it helped spin off could make a good discussion about interplay. Is this happening because Furry is being accepted as a legitimate subculture, beyond a bastard child of the movies, shows, games and comics that furries enjoy?
Populism is an upside of commercialism. Everyone can enjoy what’s on display (like Andy Warhol’s pop art philosophy in the link.) Letting companies make gateways can be part of acceptance. Disney fans were never unwelcome. I think it’s a natural result of growth. It also brings:
(Don’t hate my made-up word!) Wiki’s exploitation film topic lists over 40 silly subgenres as silly as “Sharksploitation” and “gothsploitation”. Some of these movies are considered as important as they are trashy. They made up for low budgets with lurid sensation, and got street cred with outsider subjects that Hollywood wouldn’t touch.
There are actually a few furry-related movies now. (I think Finsterworld will get love in the future when people can see it). For “fursploitation”, you could start with Shawn Keller’s Horrifying Look at the Furries. 14 years ago, Shawn said:
What better person to do a satirical look at ourselves than one of our own who’s been a furry fan since most of today’s fans were in kindergarden (egad! I’m getting old!)
Some members say the notorious CSI furry episode was their gateway. That’s what I’m talking about. A great example bringing millions of views right now is Furry Force. (Give it a vote for an Ursa Major!)
Getting to be a bigger deal, and “Big Furry”.
Being noticed invites sharks. The community gets protective, and even has turf wars. But Furry is hard to own or define. I call it a “big umbrella from Disney to Dirty”. It makes two opposing camps.
Big Business gets power like the government. “Big Furry” just puts some faces on trends that have many independent members. But you could say – as these go, so goes the Furry nation:
Anthrocon is the “family friendly” side. It’s an institution with around $400k budget and $7 million in tourist spending. Some critics treat it’s policies like a micro-version of real world pandering. But it works. Look at Pittsburgh’s Anthrocon Day, and their best buds at the Anthropomorphic Research Project putting on science-sonas to make furries a field of study. Uncle Kage is like a default Furry spokesperson.
Bad Dragon is big in “the shadow market“. It grows fans across other sexual subcultures, and piles of cash bigger than an XL “Chance the Stallion.” There’s others of course, but is this Furry’s highest valued business?
Way back, these camps had drama with the Burned Furs. They’re a blip in history because the liberated side beat the puritanical fun-haters. But there’s still drama. Anthrocon excluding Bad Dragon was a tiny but notable clash. If you had to pick a side, would it be public image, or popular demand and free expression?
The FurAffinity sale seems like the next step. It lands somewhere paradoxically between both camps. With business backing, will it grow? Whatever the result, IMVU is only the first of many commercial overtures.
Authenticity and The value of WTF.
For a tiny subculture, pushing limits with adult content might be a micro-version of what it did in the 1950’s and 60’s. It helped usher in the sexual revolution and civil rights. The unashamed, nothing-to-lose fringes led riots for liberation. This is just a silly hobby, but it does involve free expression.
Weirdness that can’t be digested by the mainstream shows popular demand that’s suppressed. It’s self-evident because the internet is bursting with self-generated erotica. So it’s an interesting sign of the times when a company gets in bed with it.
The roots are authentic DIY stuff, and now it’s branching out. “Shadow economy” business from Bad Dragon is on Amazon now. Researchers are treating this as serious study. Members are throwing open events. Later this week I’ll post an announcement for Menagerie, a “gear themed” party inviting many interests like Rubber Pups from the “pet player” community. One recently told me about avoiding Anthrocon, because of a rumored elevator awkwardness incident with Uncle Kage. (Please, someone draw a cartoon of this sweaty happening!) What would Kage say about San Francisco’s open fetish scene? It could almost be a west coast/east coast divide.
“Family friendliness” isn’t just a personal issue any more. It’s adding a new ingredient of corporate public image. It’s very interesting that it applies to the side opposite from Anthrocon!
Many fan members are uncomfortable with being grouped inclusively with the liberated side. But they aren’t outsiders. They love sci-fi and art as much as anyone else. Furry is not fetish, but it can include it. It doesn’t define Furry, but I don’t think it would be the same (or maybe even exist like it does) without it. If you wish them gone, you might lose much more.
The Top Most WTF Artist Galleries Now Owned By IMVU. (Thanks to Happywulf):
I joked: “Happywulf, could you help build a blog post about the ‘Top Most WTF Artist Galleries Now Owned By IMVU?'” They’re so over-the-top, it’s just silly. (NSFW!)
- Mot. Cartoon animal amputee demon fuck-slaves. Sometimes they’re also balloons or full of pee or have penislimbs. 5,000+ watchers.
- Slug. Gore, torture, worms, balloons, demons, medical, fat, dongs, slime. 8,000+ watchers.
- Vincent. Fat gushing gasbags with monsterous genitals. “Just an artist with a unique set of interests.” 4,000+ watchers.
- Xids. People happily transform into chubby gay cartoon animals. Cocks galore. 4,000+ watchers.
- KritterFox. “I do love my mud, cement, tar and WAM stuff, as well as some bondage and mummification and latex!” Draws cute. 1300+ watchers.
- Fauxlacine. Gross, slimy horror gore. 2800+ watchers.
- “ThatGuyWhoHasTheButtOnFireFetish (Seriously, search for ‘Butt on Fire’ in the search page)”. I think this is a whole category. Yay furries?
Instant drama: stolen art and the FurAffinity Exodus Helper.
- FurAffinity addresses complaints.
- IMVU is responding positively to DMCA takedowns. Links to proof and how to send one in.
- Exodus helper – a tool to help fearful users pick alternative sites.
A wave of new fan activity? Long Live Furry.
Have you seen people “circling the wagons”? Bad Dragon announced a new art site right after the FurAffinity sale. It’s a very interesting move after calling them part of “Big Furry.” I’m told they bought and will improve two other places (E621 and F-List.)
If we took a time machine to a future where Bad Dragon’s new site is huge, and IMVU failed… it could prove the point here.
I expect the actual results will be much more moderate, and things will keep growing like they have. This interest may become more commercial and “respectable”, but with a “lite” version that leaves fan-run stuff independent. Disney isn’t going to set up a booth next to Bad Dragon. I just can’t see companies fully assimilating this, like they did to games, comics and other nerd culture. Then you get more more paths to discovery, while staying a subculture. In that case, thank the freaks. Be comfortable being yourselves.
I don’t know about you, but I get inspiration from John Waters:
To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about. If someone vomits while watching one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation. But one must remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste…. Good bad taste is celebrating something without thinking you’re better than it… Bad bad taste is condescending, making fun of others. (Source)
Imagine the WTF stuff being cleansed out of Furry. Here’s how it happens in the real world. Take the gritty old Times Square that used to be:
Mayor Giuliani is often credited with the “Disneyfication” of Times Square, particularly for his efforts to rid the area of crime and the toughening of enforcement of regulations and restrictions on x-rated theaters, stores and shows in the Times Square area.
- “You always hear about how New York’s Times Square was more fun way back when.”
- Photos: Revisit The Seedy Times Square Of The Late ’80s.
A thought-provoker: There are more museums in the U.S. than there are Starbucks and McDonalds – combined. I’ll bet you could get great perspective by comparing to Europe where they live in 1,000 year old houses and have living history. America is only a short few hundred years old and it’s always building and bulldozing things. Maybe it says something about cultural property and how it’s owned/displayed more than lived/experienced here.
It makes me enjoy “low culture” that’s participatory. Yay furries!