on September 5, 2013 by Claude in Letters, Comments (5)

Opinion: Why Furry Fiction Is (Still) in a Ghetto

You know, I’ve been in the furry fandom for three years and a half and I’m finally beginning to understand why most people refuse to even look at artistic creations labeled as “furry.”

In case you don’t realize why that’s a problem, I tried recommending Digger to a friend and he refused to read it on principle. And that’s the same Digger that won a Hugo Award last year. Seriously?

Yes, seriously. And that’s a tragedy.

What’s worse, it is a totally unnecessary tragedy. I wrote several furry short stories last year, and none of my non-furry readers batted an eyelid. When I pointed out the furry-ness, they just said, “oh, well.” Of course, by that time they had already read the stories and liked them. Would they have done that if they had been pre-warned?

See above for the likely answer.

More recently, I’ve been playing a talking cat in a non-furry online community, and again people have been merely amused, taking it for a harmless joke or quirk. I’m yet to meet a single one of them who even realized I was a furry, let alone was disturbed by it. Might have something to do with the fact that I don’t exactly play it up?

You can probably guess what I think by now.

There’s nothing inherently special about furries. As Uncle Kage famously put it, we’re just people who like… funny animals (insert goofy face here). And pretty much everybody in the developed world grew up on funny-animal cartoons, not to mention an age-old tradition of fables and fairy tales.

Then why do people have a problem with us?

I’ve spent a good part of this summer reading through the FreeRIDErs series, at a friend’s recommendation. It’s some of the best sci-fi I’ve read in years — a handful of large, unpolished diamonds. But all too often the stories devolve into self-indulgent wish-fulfillment fantasy that’s bound to put off any reader who isn’t into the same stuff as we are. Just look at the one illustration on that page. I know a hardcore furry who was instantly put off by it. No, REALLY.

And it doesn’t have to be that way. All that fetish stuff — let’s be honest and call it out — could be downplayed a little and given a purpose beyond turning on the author and whoever else happens to share his taste. Not that I mind being turned on by what I read! Or do you think I don’t have fantasies? Ooh-la-la. And FreeRIDErs features one of them front and center. (No, not the transformation stuff, that has the opposite effect on me.) But if it only had that and nothing else, I’d never have read far enough to find it.

Look at it this way: we all know what Little Red Riding Hood is actually about. Yet if you make me look at a picture of the wolf getting it on with the eponymous young lady, that’s just bad taste.

See, I think art should first and foremost make a honest attempt at being enjoyable as art. If in the process certain parts of your work manage to strike a chord with particular segments of the audience, great! But don’t try to force the issue, or you’ll be lucky to get something only as bad as the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Do quality work first and niche pandering second, and maybe one day furry fiction will break free of the ghetto, like science fiction did all those decades ago.

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5 Comments

  1. Sally

    Sally

    September 6, 2013 @ 8:48 am

    What audience is being aimed at, though? I have a strong impression that the majority of furry art is intended to be seen and enjoyed within the fandom, without any attempt to reach a wider audience. One of the blessings of our modern age is that the cost of publishing something on the internet is so close to zero as to make no difference. There are an uncountable number of niche markets out there now for any type of art or story that you can imagine. You can make an argument, tautological, but pretty much unassailable for all that, that if someone is sifting the web and collecting art of a certain type, then that type of art is enjoyable to him, whatever its appeal (or lack of) to the mass market.

    A better question, I think, is whether furry art *should* be enjoyable by the mass market. I don’t think it makes a difference. SF in its early days had to sell enough copies to make the publishing of it worthwhile. That necessarily drove it to accomodate popular tastes, else it had would have gone extinct. Those market pressures are no longer present.

    -Sally

  2. Claude

    Claude

    September 9, 2013 @ 2:03 am

    Yeah, Sally, I’ve heard another similar argument, and I get what you’re saying. But we want to be treated like normal people as opposed to freaks, right? Then we’d damn better be able to prove that we can create — and appreciate — more than porn. We don’t even have to compromise on anything. Are Bambi or The Jungle Books any less furry just because they are works of art that anyone can appreciate?

  3. GreenKai

    September 13, 2013 @ 6:14 am

    If art had to be capable of being appreciated by everyone (and not offend anyone), I think it would be far less than it is – and honestly, I don’t care all that much what people think as long as I get what I want. That’s part of the appeal of genre fiction. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Now, can we encourage excellence, no matter what the type of content? Sure! Things like the Furry Writers’ Guild’s Cรณyotl Awards even support separate categories for mature and general-audience work, recognizing that they have differing goals and popularity.

    Furries *are* different and sometimes people just want a group of different people to poiint to and say “they’re not us”.

    Commercial art will figure out what sells and what does not, and that will be its metric of success. As for FreeRIDErs, maybe they just need better art. The best artists have moved on a bit since the ’80s with their representation of digitigrade species . . .

  4. Claude

    Claude

    September 13, 2013 @ 6:39 am

    I’m not sure we disagree, GreenKai. Of course not every piece of art will be appreciated by anyone. And of course there’s a place for works catering to a narrow audience. But to me, hearing these arguments again and again just sounds like a litany of excuses. In any other kind of genre fiction, bad works are panned no matter how well they cater to their particular niche. (Twilight, anyone?) Furries, however, are expected to put up with crap in the name of radical inclusiveness. And I mean the kind of crap that makes people reject anything furry on the spot, with visceral disgust, even when the work in question is perfectly tame. They won’t even bother to check, or, for that matter, trust an old acquaintance (me) that he wouldn’t recommend something inappropriate.

    That’s that kind of attitude we’re facing, and if we don’t learn to be critical of ourselves it will never improve.

  5. GreenKai

    September 27, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

    Another thought: If furry works (and hence furry creators) *are* ghettoized, is this a bad thing for the fandom? After all, if skilled creators start being recognized by a larger community, they may start creating works for it, reducing the pool of skilled creators dedicated to furry work. We all know about the artists who “graduated” from the fandom. Perhaps this was their dream! But is having them achieve their dream beneficial to furries?

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