Revisiting Rainfurrest: what can we learn about limits of a growing fandom?
by Patch O'Furr
Everything was happy and peaceful with the furries, until… Overflowing hot tubs damaged the Rainfurrest hotel. The con’s current status is still seeking a new venue. There’s been much public discussion about bad behavior leading to this.
Separate from that drama, there was an issue about organizing their dealer’s room in 2015. High demand vs. limited capacity made pressure to compete for tables. Rainfurrest decided to manage it with a new Jury Selection process that left many feeling shut out. The same issue has happened across many cons.
For dealers, the pool is feeling crowded. For everyone else, more crowds makes more strangers with weaker links to keep peace. It’s a village vs. city situation.
Yesterday, Fred Patten’s history post profiled Rainfurrest. It summed up both issues:
RainFurrest 2015: The Dealers’ Room was booked to capacity early. Instead of putting later applicants on a waiting list as usual, the committee held a juried judging of all applicants. This resulted in some long-time dealers being rejected and some first-time dealers being accepted, which resulted in some loud complaints. There were two 2015 charity anthologies; A Menagerie of Heroes for PG-13 stories, 322 pages/fourteen donated stories, and Naughty Sexy Furry Writing: Enter at Your Own Risk for NC-17 stories, 124 pages/six donated stories. Jan did both the conbook cover and the T-shirt.
There was much unfavorable publicity from the perception that the RF committee discriminated against veteran fans in favor of promoting a “youth” atmosphere. Whether true or not, there were multiple examples of flamboyant drunken and other inappropriate public behavior from new teenage attendees, including severe hotel vandalism; enough to result in the RainFurrest’s hotel since 2011 cancelling their contract and forcing RainFurrest to find a new venue for 2016.
Fred followed up about dealer selection:
Roz Gibson posted on her LiveJournal that since several furry conventions have switched to juried acceptances of dealer’s table or artist’s alley applications, she has been rejected by all of those conventions that she has applied to. She has named RainFurrest and Biggest Little Fur Con; I don’t know which other conventions this may apply to.
I remember Roz as having a table at every convention that I went to in the past. She has done the covers for two of my books that I’m very happy with. She is also well-known for her Jack Salem character in furry comic books, so I can’t imagine the quality of her art as being a reason for her rejections. Apparently none of the conventions with juried acceptances or rejections of applicants give a reason for their approval or rejection, so Roz is wondering in print whether all of the accepted applicants today are better than her, or whether she’s been secretly blacklisted by the juried conventions for some unknown reason, or if all of these conventions have decided that she is now “too old” and doesn’t fit a “young” fannish image they are promoting.
It does raise the question of whether any other “old fan” applicants are being rejected.
Instead of the usual first-come-first-served method, we got this instead: Dealers will be selected by a committee of several senior members of the RainFurrest staff, each with years of experience in Dealers Den operations, and will make every effort toward fair and unbiased decisions to provide the best possible experience for both dealers and attendees.
Which apparently means: Our friends get first dibs, and everyone else is SOL.
Later, she followed up:
Every convention I could afford to get to switched to a ‘juried’ system and I was denied a table. So I will be at no conventions for at least a year, maybe never again, since apparently the only way to get a table is to be friends with the people running the cons, and my ability to successfully brown-nose is nonexistent.
These complaints fit with a perception of Furry Fandom being invaded by an influx of younger, party-minded youth, superficially into costume and dance and forgetful of fan history. It’s crudely expressed as fursuiters vs. writers. With less conflict, it’s in Fred’s post – A complaint: Furry fan publishing is overlooked.
But is this fair criticism? Or should we leave the kids alone?
About dealer room organizing: Racing for first-come spots that instantly fill up a year ahead is awful. From what I’ve heard, this may have no “right” answer, apart from “spend more money and make room for everyone.” But there isn’t more money and room because it’s done at low costs by volunteers. So they have to filter applicants into limited space somehow. Someone will get upset or someone will get favored. But when volunteers do the job, I don’t sense a “consumer issue”. If it feels like some kind of club, it IS.
Picking for relative popularity is arguably serving fans over dealers. A random lottery could serve dealers over fans. It’s relative. On the dealer side – it may be a case of just playing that game to increase demand. On the organizer side, have integrity about selective choices. On the fan side – be aware and respectful of both the organizer’s work, and the legacy of older members.
About vandalism: I have heard many complaints of a “culture problem” with furries. I strongly favor the side that says bad behavior by a few individuals doesn’t represent the group. I would listen to reports of organizers covering it up, but haven’t heard of any such encouragement. Otherwise, it’s very easy for one person to do hit and run vandalism, without others knowing, while they unfairly take blame.
It should be clear that damage is a separate issue from rude displays of adult gear. Many selective reports conflate the two things. Rudeness exists, but it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the venue’s economic damage complaints.
According to gossip, the venue hunting hasn’t gone as hoped in Seattle, but there are options for a smaller con in Spokane. With a previously strong fan base, it leaves the option to put on a smaller but more focused con in Spokane. Success there for more than one year can revive a welcome in Seattle.
Basically, my conclusion is “things change”. Fandom grows up and has to deal with it, and that’s a good problem to have. I see plenty of good and hopeful changes too. What do you think?
UPDATE – To be accurate, there was no hot tub overflow, it was other plumbing damage. This wasn’t meant to be a “call out” or investigation focusing on any specific group. It’s just relaying passionate discussions that came in as tips. Nepotism/discrimination would be a big concern to con organizers, so please treat all comments as subjective opinion. There’s no data that correlates young age with misbehavior, and it’s better to avoid checking incident records out of respect for data privacy. Old guard/new guard discussion is as old as fandom. I’m happy to see that this one has gotten a lot of mature and positive feedback. – Patch