ArtWorkTee's T-Shirt Campaign and the Selling of Identity
ArtWorkTee has been quite busy this year when it comes to their charity drives and other Kickstarter campaigns. At this time they are working on their third KickStarter for the year. The first was a calendar drive where fursuiters were pictured for each month. These calendars were sold with proceeds going to a shelter for young horses called Last Chance Corral, which was covered by Flayrah. The second was not covered by Flayrah and was a for helping a feline shelter, Flatbush Cats.
Using charitibility is always a good way to achieve positive marketing and brand recognition, particularly in the furry fandom. In fact, it was a suggestion I had made in regards to the failed ‘designer fursuit’ experiment Zweitesich that if they made those custom designer fursuits a few thousand dollars more expensive and donated those thousands of dollars toward a charity it would have made the fursuit a badge of honor instead of one of purely being a gloating of wealth, which tends to be seen as reprehensible in the fandom.
Now that ArtWorkTee had done these charity kickstarts, the third appears to be using a month drive as an opportunity to introduce a new line of T-Shirts from them. This time it looks like there is no organization that is being supported. Instead, ArtWorkTee is using the same marketing strategy in order to introduce a line of pride shirts based on promotion of individual sexual and gender expression. It mixes a furry character brought to life by LuhBraz Art, mixing the characters with the particular representative flag's color schemes.
There are only a few days left to secure a t-shirt from this initial printing. But they will be available for sale after the campaign at their website and at Midwest Furfest's Dealer's den this year. So what is the incentive for doing this Kickstarter Campaign? It seems mostly to gauge interest, and they will expand their line based on this interest. That's what we will be going over in this article.
I was approached by ArtWorkTee to write an article about this, similar to how they had approached me for the calendar. With the calendar I was happy to do so as it was for a good cause, and the fact that a charity calendar had parallels with famous drives outside the fandom made it an interesting artifact to note. But here, at first, I could find no angle that I could take that wouldn’t seem like blatant advertisement.
Given this and some of the other promotional content that has started to find its way to us, we as the editors have been in discussion about how to handle such content. Should we ask those organizations that wish to promote their own items to sign up for their own accounts and then limit the amount of publications per year? Do we take a more laissez-faire approach and allow whoever to submit whatever and then choose who to promote and who not to?
Personally I have an issue with the latter approach, despite it being the easiest to implement. There is no transparency to it, so end users can then decide we’re conspiring to work with certain sellers and not others. If that is the case, if I were to promote this sale of T-Shirts, then what’s to stop other T-shirt sellers from flooding Flayrah? If we start chewing bubblegum what if there is not enough for everybody? I mean, have you seen a convention’s dealers den? There are a lot of people selling shirts. If I have to write an article for each of them, I’ll probably lose the shirt off my back to be able to actually talk about events and not just things for sale.
On the other hand even if we put it out for the individual entrepreneur to write for themselves, where does the line between a fan end and a business or organization begin? If we hand these accounts out, even if we limit the amount they could publish, how would we determine which are granted to have accounts and which are not? Furries don’t necessarily have a guild of convention organizations or businesses to refer to for lists of these. So once again, there is still a judgement call on our part on whose promotions go in and whose remain sidelined.
I guess, though, curating information is supposed to be part of the job. So trying to avoid that responsibility in the hopes of making a less bias system may just be me trying to avoid doing my work.
It was in thinking about these kinds of decisions on my own work that I stumbled into an angle for this T-shirt article. Like the above questions of curation on who gets in to start and who may not, that I started to see parallel issues with the shirt campaign. So I will share my thoughts about how I feel about the shirts themselves, and why I was conflicted in making an article in the first place.
The good side - Promotion of expression to prevent depression
While it may seem strange that the proceeds are not going to any particular organization such as the Trevor Project, the growth of this t-shirt line can take a more offensive role in trying to address society’s understanding of those with differing sexual preferences and identities. Sure donating to an organization that works to try and prevent young members in the LGBT community from committing suicide is a wonderful gesture, but it is very defensive. It’s helping the mentality of those who feel outcast only at their lowest moment, instead of doing what you can in order to improve morale and the environment itself before the emotions of the individual in question hits that critical point.
Having such an open expression of both furry and those who are treated marginally for who they are is an important aspect of helping self esteem for the community as a whole. While some who are more reserved may have trouble with wearing this on their sleeve, those that do will help inspire others to also come forward and be more true to themselves. In this vein it also shows that there is a market for these kind of apparel. With this campaign's success, more businesses may adopt more stylized offerings when it comes to expression merchandise.
Don't know if they'd get art this good though, because it's well designed.
This is why, despite this not being charity based, it is a helpful campaign. The characters and identities they represent can help those coming to terms with themselves in a world and wardrobe that conversely seems to wish to mold them into easier to understand compartments.
The Bad Side - Paying a Premium for the ‘Marginal’ Identities
One of the biggest critiques that Pride events have created recently from those within the community has been about corporate sponsorship and support. Those who are critical of this indicate that corporations cannot feel or support anything. Instead this so-called support is simply to try to market to their demographic in order to sell them things.
Now there can certainly be a difference when it is a company like Google advertising your identity back to you, but when it is someone who is a member of the community itself it can seem much more genuine. However, even if that is the case that the person selling the pins or the shirts have their hearts in the right place, through another lens, it can be seen as being just as exploitative as the larger corporations. In fact, since the person is within the group, the entrepreneur may be able to be much more effective at advertising than their mass-corporate siblings.
In that vein, there was something in this campaign that felt a bit off to me, and that is the unlockables it chose to use. There are additional t-shirt designs that will be unlocked as the funds raised by the Kickstarter becomes larger. These designs seem to already be in the planning stages, with characters chosen and a banner for the unlock amounts. The further down you go, the higher the dollar value goes, and the more obscure the identity being presented becomes.
At first glance I didn’t think too much of it, but after awhile it became quite a thorn I could sense that some may find objection with, though may not speak out about it. The primary reason that on social media you may see an asexual or a demisexual individual getting huffy about having to explain who they are and what they like is that they feel ignored by the mainstream. This is because outside of heterosexual and homosexual binary there really isn’t too much understanding about sexual identity by general society.
To be fair, at the time of publication, those that are still under the unlock are obscure enough where I haven’t heard of them myself. Asexual and demisexual are both already unlocked, with the former being a part of the standard lineup and the latter having had to pass a $4,000 stretch goal. However, the ones yet to unlock, though obscure, should not have to pray to the heavens that other people contribute tens of thousands of dollars to the campaign for a chance to get their identity’s shirt printed.
If you’re an androsexual, you’re in the toughest bind at a price tag of $28,000 to be contributed before your shirt is designed. Their opposite, the gynosexual only needs $26,000 to unlock. I guess that adds a whole new spin on “ladies first”.
At least the above was true when I wrote the rough draft of this article a few weeks ago. When writing the final on November 17th I found that this had changed. Both of these were shifted down, gynosexual now needing $32,000 and androsexual needing $34,000. Three identities were injected in front of them: biromantic(26k), homoromantic(28k), and panromantic(30k). I suspect this happened when they hit $20,000 in revenue raised which is when they made an update message on this site. But there was no mention of these injected rewards. Evidence can be seen for this as while the bottom two rewards have text descriptions, the three injected ones above do not have them.
This shocked me a bit, and I feel bad for the andro and gynosexuals who injected money into the campaign only to have themselves pushed $6,000 further from being able to obtain a shirt design. This change was made silently and I only caught it because I had made a rough draft from before this change was made. It only served to highlight the problem with this unlock idea.
I wonder if ArtWorkTee is regretting bringing this campaign to my attention yet.
A cautious growth in the LGBT self-made markets
Selling shirts to highlight one’s pride in their community and their identity is a positive for those outside of what is perceived as the general societal norms. It can help solidify the feelings of comradery through these commodities. It also creates an opportunity for fandom artists and business organizers to sustain themselves doing something they love, by promoting the love of oneself and others.
However, it is important that when creating these businesses, that one not forget to never let the money come before that purpose. If you are releasing a product line that has to do with people and how they identify, do not put the identity of some behind a paywall. If you want to make rarer shirts given out to backers, then items such as the Pastel Rainbow and the Unity Flag are fine, since they are mostly redesigns of the overall movement’s symbol. I mean, there is the Pride flag with the pink stripe as well that is not a tier, which was its original design before pink fabric was found to be too hard to find to print the flags in mass.
If a flag does deal with an individual’s identity, though, it becomes a bit less of a moral position to lock it behind a fund goal. We should not expect those individuals to pay a premium to have their own identity represented in the shirts they wear, no matter how marginal their identity may seem. My hope is that the campaign hits the $34,000 dollars and makes me eat my giant roo shoe, but with 3 days and $10,000 to go it seems the androsexuals are out of luck.
To be fair in all of this, it takes guts to start a business, and it takes even more guts for the foundation of the business to stick its neck out for those whose sexuality and gender identities are marginalized. The artist and the business are doing more good than harm with this campaign overall so don't berate them too hard for this oversight. In this critique, my hope is to assist those companies like ArtWorkTee in their endeavor of not leaving others behind. To highlight that while people should be able to proudly buy products based on their identity, their identity itself should never be for sale.
About the authorSonious (Tantroo McNally) — read stories — contact (login required)
a project coordinator and Kangaroo from CheektRoowaga, NY, interested in video games, current events, politics, writing and finance
There's a HUGE amount of context behind this.
1. Furries vs commercialism
3 names: FurAffinity/IMVU, Bad Dragon, Artworktee.
Those are the most glaring examples I could name of commercialism entering a fandom that consciously split apart as an alternative from mainstream culture -- a subculture, and even in some ways counterculture -- decades ago.
I have a huge email on file with a co-founder of organized furry fandom. He wanted the exact words to be kept private to avoid misquotes out of context etc. but I believe he's not against me summarizing the gist with my interpretation.
Early furry fandom, like at 1980's sci-fi cons, had two streams.
One was artists who orbited pros on the way up, hoping to trade off fandom ties to gain professional connections, bigger names and work. They had heirarchy and weren't open to everyone. Eventually in the 90's it became a source of conflict about perceived ruining of the fandom's image with sex -- really it was about their own professional aspirations, not about "the fandom". (Plus, it involved "gay panic" against people who were always there, but not always visible, while change in larger society eventually benefited the fandom and they became seen.)
Another stream was fans-for-fans-sake, "lifestylers", people who ran room parties open to all.
Guess who won that conflict -- and ever since, furries have been protective of what they built. Maybe it's unspoken, but it brings uncritical populism about furry content, tolerance about identity, and a sense of DIY-ness/volunteerism backing events and projects. So the fandom is sort of a collective project where people pitch in together, and capitalizing on it too much is kind of cheating.
This fandom is kind of an exception from other fandoms that organize around top-down commercial property. Like this is a real community, with more going on than merely sharing a same taste in consuming. It's about the fan-to-fan creating. That's how "alternative from mainstream culture" applies, based on my direct source.
More in my article series, How furries resist a commercialized fandom.
2. Capitalizing on fandom and "Traceponies"
With that independence in mind, FurAffinity/IMVU, Bad Dragon, and Artworktee have some special nature apart from most other "fandom brands". They kind of cross a capitalistic line with stuff that's more industrial than fan-to-fan/cottage industry seen in "pro-fan" business (like fursuit makers that have a few employees.)
FA is owned by a venture capital backed Silicon Valley company. In 2015 Dragoneer sold something that wasn't exactly his sole creation. You could see how it made a lot of people mad at the time (I interviewed 3 IMVU staff about it.) Personally I don't think it ended up being negative. Theory is that a highly placed fur at IMVU got them to acquire it as stable support for the site -- speculation, but supported by opinion of an actual furry silicon valley CEO.
Bad Dragon is kind of a can of worms. In short it's one of the few things that have risen out of fandom to make anyone rich as an organized enterprise with employees and a brand that they seem to have poised to sell to a bigger company. I'll move on because well, it's adult business and selling rubber horse dongs isn't something I'd expect to be the most ethical business.
I've watched and occasionally talked about and linked sources about where they came from and how they grow. It's not like other fandom projects, it's very aggressive. Reminds me of wholesale bootstrapping, growth-hacking, SEO targeting etc you'd expect from mainstream startups.
Before it was Artworktee, "Drawponies" was an art operation doing tons and tons of business at Brony conventions under one guy (named Neil), which led to a scandal covered by Horse News. There was high production because of tracing commercial pony art. Stealing. So it became known as "Traceponies" and... melted down(?)
Skip ahead several years and Artworktee has risen up by systematically targeting "popufurs" with high followings, and offering to handle merchandising for them -- their line of "fan club" shirts. Furries with personal brands like having in-fandom partners, so it was successful, until some mini-scandals came out. One was about the shirt artists being woefully underpaid (which they squashed with nimble PR and promises to pay better.) And, it was linked to Neil/"Traceponies" as a founder. Artworktee is the same guy.
A lot of this is in my article, ArtworkTee issues and the heart of the furry economy from Aug 2018.
I praised their PR responses to complaints and addressing Neil's improvement and their dissociation from Foxler. However they pulled a switcheroo about representing 2 Gryphon with claiming "we do not support him in any way" but continuing to profit from his merch, and removing the disclaimer after attention died down. This came in contrast to FurAffinity's unambiguous action tied to the same issue shortly before.
3. Artworktee practices, Furry Memes and Awoonews.
That's all the background up to about a year's worth of more current activity this article touches. It makes curiosity about if a series of controversies tied to aggressive profiteering might settle down once a brand is well established in fandom. Well...
Not that anyone has paid much attention, but no.
Artworktee had been tied to some "Furry Memes" Twitter accounts that were doing skeezy stuff. For example, strip-mining content from Reddit and porting it over to Twitter to artificially grow big followings. Like they targeted "popufurs" with big followings before, now they picked the "Furry_IRL" Reddit (that recently spiked in traffic because of meme posts), systematically downloaded the biggest posts, and tweeted them out (with bot action?) merely linking to sources instead of getting permission. That means stealing art. "Reposting"/linking source is kind of treated as a de-facto grey area (maybe not formally but in practice) -- when done for personal enjoyment or just for info -- Flayrah does it with images I think. But as a WHOLESALE tactic to farm followers? Heck no.
Why farm followers for a "furry memes" account? To drive traffic to Artworktee merch.
That's why in early 2019, one of these deceptively-inflated meme accounts rebranded as "Awoonews", a Furry News account, or so it said. Briefly it put out some pretty thin/basic blog content with volunteers and launched a Patreon that didn't get much action. I can say writing good stories is a hell of a lot of work that depends on passion, you're not going to get that on the regular from volunteers who are, we might say, an excuse to run a merchandizing front.
Looking into the Telegram channel that was made to boost Awoonews posts, its last "news" post was in August 2019 (about fursuiting at anime cons). Since then there are 150-200 ads for shirts. It's a spam channel now.
4. What's the big deal with making money?
Meanwhile Artworktee continued selling merch for regular clients (who by all appearances, are plenty pleased with the service... why not be content with doing that? Come on Neil!)
They launched campaigns mentioned above -- like the "Save the kitties" charity. I retweeted it for the same reason it got a Flayrah article more positive than this one. It looked straightforward and if they get marketing from doing charity, OK cool? That's nice? Cons do the same thing as an excuse for a big furry party.
And now, this. No charity, just rainbow capitalism. It could be a "sportsball team pride" or "eating pancakes pride" and have nothing to do with any social cause. Not that it HAS to, selling shirts is just business, but...
It's so So SO SO aggressively pushed and targeted and spammed, and furries don't know any different about it not being charity or social support. It just looks that way because it has rainbows and paws and "pride" and they eat that up.
Why's it matter? See Part (1) above. This fandom isn't just business.
This is that commercialism thing that rubs lots of furries the wrong way... remember how harsh they were about Converse sponsoring a Brazilian fur con? Only nobody's talking about this because it comes from within. But it's not "ours", not the same way a con run by volunteers is, or a furmeet in a park, or a house party, or art freely shared. This comes from a source with a history of aggressive profiteering and is more of the same.
Not saying people involved are haters or the money is going to something hostile like with Chick-Fil-A; but, what about hard work of small creators who don't use those methods? No business is in a vacuum, a market is being grabbed from a more shared fandom thing for private owners.
It seems, at the least, worth talking about fandom commmercialism, especially in that Pride shirt campaign.
Tweet thread about all this from March (around when Furrymemes rebranded to Awoonews.)
After writing I noticed there was an LGBT Furry Pride kickstarter from Fursona Pins that reached a quarter million dollars shortly before the shirt campaign. But that one specifically said "your identity is not a stretch goal". So here's another article about that.
A Tale of Two Kickstarter Campaigns, and the Selling of Identity by Artworktee
I wouldn't be surprised if furries on the inside helped FA get a more stable corporate foundation - after all, IMVU may have had a fur in the C-suite at the time (to which Watts Martin provided more context), although he left for Roblox two years ago. But it may only have been the foot in the door - a purchase wouldn't have been justifiable without the traffic. For a big company, it'd be relatively cheap to support, especially if they already have plenty of servers for their own purposes.
With respect to "a market is being grabbed": it doesn't have to be a limited market with winners and losers; they could well be expanding the pie by drumming up demand for purchases that didn't exist before. And even if we assume disposable income is inelastic, the portion spent on furry stuff probably isn't. Sure, it could take away from that commission; but it could also replace a movie ticket - or a different kind of T-shirt.
Having more options from competing providers also tends to be good for consumers (see: fursuits), so there's a natural tension there. And it's not like they're the first in the fandom to create products promoting a wide range of identities - several artists sell "I am an X" badges. I have one myself, for my red panda Wah. I guess the difference there is that I knew the proceeds were going directly to the artist, minus manufacturing and shipping costs. Plus, they'd already made it.
What it does mean is that the intersection of LGBTQ+ and furry is large enough to market to in a non-trivial way. And that we should be wary of letting ourselves get caught up in funding the creation of products to express ourselves, especially when the funding target can change halfway through.
Another thing about expanding the pie, is how much creators come to rely on a partner.
If selling prints at conventions is their mainstay, and they're tied to an Inkedfur, yikes. If one might rely on a vendor for t-shirts (I don't know anyone who relies on shirt sales that much), it can pay to know their practices early if they're aggressively positioning to be THE go-to place. Yes it can help to have more competing providers, but then see just 1 art site that supports commissions well -- despite the alternatives (Weasyl, Inkbunny, Furry Network etc).
Of course Artworktee seems to have lots of happy customers. The issue to me here is mostly the tactics used. "Ends justify the means" isn't a great thing for fandom or the smaller people in it IMO. But marketing is a tool, not always bad, so it's just a thing to keep watching.
I want to respond to some stuff in the first third of Patch's post; as a fandom historian I like there to be a certain amount of detail!
Patch mentions subcultures. Wikipedia describes fandom as "a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest". Subcultures, in turn, are groups that develop a different set of norms and values from mainstream culture - but selectively. They gladly keep some, but not others. Any fandom (or subculture), by definition, is a split-off group. Batman fandom, Lion King fandom, a group of friends all sharing cat memes with one another - all of those can qualify.
So, it's the 1980s. A group of early furry fans start networking with each other. Is it a case of "People think I'm weird for liking talking animal characters, but I like them, so I'm going to hang out with like-minded people", or is it "Mainstream society is stupid and narrow! I'm going to deliberately thwart its attempts to make me conform and be in a group to share and promote my ideology!"
The latter stance starts to swerve into counter-culture. Subcultures can become counter-cultures - the definition of when it happens isn't precise - but counter-cultures deliberately reject mainstream norms and values, and that's their base-line purpose, their primary reason for being; everything else is just style. Some interpretations of furry fandom are like that - that the animal imagery is just a vehicle for (insert your counter-cultural motivation here).
Patch's interpretation of furry fandom's history is "a fandom that consciously split apart as an alternative from mainstream culture", specifically as "an exception from other fandoms that organize around top-down commercial property. Like [furry] is a real community, with more going on than merely sharing a same taste in consuming. It's about the fan-to-fan creating."
This is a bit weird, as it interprets that any fandom that's organized around a commercial property is more mainstream than not, and isn't a real community. I agree that furry fandom doesn't have a top-down structure, or a single commercial property as its base, but I see fan-to-fan creating in all fandoms, and it's especially heavy if the commercial property has ended or has gone into hiatus.
Maker subculture is a strong community which isn't attached to a franchise. Not only is it about creating, but it's about creating the tools you can use to create whatever you like, and embracing that philosophy. Zombie fandom has multiple properties fans can latch onto, or they can just latch onto the concept and ignore the commercial aspect entirely. Some of its members love to get together, make themselves up, and go on group (shuffling) walks to celebrate their interest. These communities are real, and I don't think we have anything to gain by saying furry is more real.
I think, historically, it's more accurate to say that furry did, indeed, consciously split itself off. But not when it formed. The split happened later, around 1989. It wasn't meant as an alternative to mainstream culture, but as a split from science-fiction fandom. Not to get away from commercial properties, but because furry wanted to bring itself into focus and have more opportunities to grow.
That was how ConFurence started. It gave a feeling of unity for furry fans who had been gradually coalescing out of animation, anime, comics, fantasy, science-fiction and tabletop gaming fandoms. There'd been con room parties and get-togethers and BBS forums and zines, but when we tried to expand our presence in science-fiction fandom, we started experiencing push-back, so we split off.
Patch's next point - that in the 1990s, two streams in the fandom (similar to those in SF) rose into conflict... is vaguely accurate, but it's highly simplified. (Deep breath...)
Okay, let's start with SF fandom, which came up with FIAWOL vs. FIJAGH: "Fandom is a way of life", versus "Fandom is just a goddamn hobby". This is a false dichotomy to describe two extremes of how fans feel about their fandom. How much does fandom effect your life? How much does it mean to you? Is it something external or internal to you? To what extent is it about the shared interest, or is it about the people with whom you share that interest? There's no right or wrong answer here, but it's important to know that there's a whole spectrum of opinions, including people who embody many different attitudes at once.
First furry stream: "Artists who orbited pros on the way up, hoping to trade off fandom ties to gain professional connections, bigger names and work. They had heirarchy and weren't open to everyone." Granted, when I was getting into the fandom in southern Ontario, locally there weren't a lot of furry artists around. But I didn't see much social climbing in furry fandom. The fandom was tiny. If you had artistic talent, and could draw more than just animal characters, your job prospects were better outside the fandom. We had some talented artists, but few seemed to have professional connections that could be sponged from. Maybe the situation was different in California? I haven't gotten an elitest vibe from any of the greymuzzles I've spoken to... maybe there was jealousy over becoming a member of the Huzzah APA?
Hierarchy - In the early 1990s of the fandom I didn't see much hierarchy among artists, but there was a kind of informal hierarchy in the broader fandom. Artists were its lifeblood, and were on a kind of pedestal. At the bottom were fans who were just consumers who didn't create anything. The middle was a mish-mash of everyone else. Occasionally at a con I'd hear about a closed-room party for members of an APA, or a group of artists getting together to sketch with beers, a movie and their own company. It wasn't out of a sense of hierarchy. You hang with people you've got more in common with, and to minimize the number of people asking for art commissions. To this day in furry fandom, 30 years later, artists still tend to hang out with other artists. That's a natural social pattern.
The opposing stream: "Fans-for-fans-sake, 'lifestylers', people who ran room parties open to all" - This seems to be saying... that artists, in comparison, were closed-minded and not interested in the their fellow fans?... Ok, what this is really referring to is the Burned Fur vs. Furry lifestyler conflict. This was not two streams from back in the 1980s, these were both developments in the late 1990s. And they weren't the only two streams in the fandom, both were smaller sub-sets, plus both those group names were umbrella concepts, covering a whole range of interests and opinions.
Explaining it all would... take a while. Suffice it to say that the Burned furs were (at first) a small group of artists who were worried that sexual content in the fandom was creating a reputation problem, were concerned about behavior, and they didn't want their future employment prospects to be tarnished. So they went into full asshole mode, hoping to make people leave. But there were more furry artists who were open-minded, responsible, enjoyed the hobby, and didn't really give a fuck about the Burned Furs.
Furry lifestylers (at the time) were people whose philosophy of furry was that it could mean whatever it meant to you - personally, spiritually, sexually, artistically, etc. - with an emphasis on the internal manifestations. It was created in direct opposition to a message board that was focused on art, comics, animation - the external manifestations.
But a lot of people didn't really want to align themselves to either of these streams, because they either weren't part of them to begin with, or they were interested in aspects of both, so the distinctions didn't really apply. Plus the Burned Furs had kicked off a three-year flame war and people simply got tired of arguing about what furry meant.
Patch then says "Guess who won that conflict -- and ever since, furries have been protective of what they built." Also a simplication. Protecting our own wasn't a lesson we learned to fend off the Burned Furs, they were annoying, but not a threat. We learned it to fend off the trolls and the media, who kept trying to make us look bad, and attacked us for over a decade. This trend had started before the Burned Furs came along, and continued long after they had left. (Some blamed the BFs for the extra attention, but the BF conflict was rarely mentioned by outsiders.) After 2000, Furry fandom became very defensive and started to stand up for itself more. The media policies of several furry cons originate from this period. The fact that furry fans were more willing to stand up for their hobby, I think had more to do with the LGBT community within the fandom, who were feeling the momentum of the gay pride movement from the 1990s and keeping that positive feeling going.
Anyway, I found the rest of Patch's commercial discussions really interesting, I just wanted to put the historical stuff in more context. :-) (Also, disclosure, I bought two Artworktee shirts in 2018.)
OK, thanks and let me clarify, obviously there's no "one fandom" and it's messy with clashing streams. But certain strong tendencies stand out.
There's a difference in being (1) a top-down consumer group/target audience led by marketing, vs (2) a bottom-up grassroots/DIY uprising.
In music you can look at KISS fandom as a big thing which hasn't carried on much past its heyday (ICP fans seem like the closest thing today). I don't think it's any stretch to call that corporate-rock way different from the 1970's-on DIY punk scene, with its networks of indie distros and zines, squats and underground venues and infoshops and collectives that have carried through generations. That's a revolt.
It's part of how one of the only furry-themed feature films happened. Rukus would have never been made by a big studio... "ambitious, challenging filmmaking you’d hope to see from no-budget outsider artists passionate about their craft but locked outside official means of production." (BTW, film maker Brett was amused about Artworktee marketing identity "stretch goals".)
Bronies rose up seemingly overnight to be a bigger thing than furry, then get a slump when the show ends and has to deal with Hasbro legally squashing fan commerce. While furry stays on it's own independent steady rise.
BTW I like MLP:FIM and modest doses of KISS and don't feel it's bad to call those different from furry stuff I also like. :)
Those are good examples of what I was getting at. The Maker movement, or Ren Faires that have been going since the 1960's. DIY punk would be the strongest kind. That's more bottom-up than top-down marketed-at consumer groups.
I think we have a lot to gain by highlighting this independence.
It explains so many things, like why did fur fandom have a strong steady rise (look at con attendance) at the same time as a wave of bad PR and media mockery in the early 2000's? And why has there been a thawing for better mainstream media since the middle of this decade or so? The fandom pulled it out of them and made them catch up to us, by doing it's own thing apart from marketing trends.
When you see the mainstream media taking influence from fur fans for how to cover them, it can even be chicken>egg, and fandom is both indie and pop-culture-inspired. I don't think that's over-simplifying this history. :)
There's a lot of sources about all this in my article series, How furries resist a commercialized fandom.
2 words: underground comix. They DID want an alternative for mature content when the mainstream relegated funny animal art to kid stuff. Of course it wasn't like a conscious punk>new wave movement but it coincided with the 1970's zeitgeist. The early Vootie zines do say a few things about it consciously.
This is based on a long email with names and places, from someone who ran one of the two kinds of parties ;)
They arguably were 2 streams from the 1980's. There's a through line you can see in one guy behind: (1) "Skunkfuckers" posters at 1980's sci-fi cons that played off hostility involved in furries splitting off for their own first (LGBT-led) con -- (2) trolling that interfered with Confurence (the Burned Furs were not the first reactionaries) -- (3) the Burned Furs -- (4) a malicious myth that carried on after the end of ConFurence accusing it of "marketing to gays". That turned out to be a gay-panic-laden lie when the actual "ad" was unearthed. This myth carries on now on harassment/chan boards -- (5) the altfurries and that bogus nuisance lawsuit against FurAffinity on their behalf.
One malicious troll links all that 1989-2019, and there are others, but no need to feed the trolls.
That's exactly what I'm getting at!
Furry didn't entirely start as a *conscious* revolt against the corporate-mickey-mouse-club mainstream, and cishet-professional-aspirations fandom. But it's there with elements of counterculture. You could see it in Omaha the Cat Dancer making furry for adults. Or Robert Hill, the kinky queer DIY fursuiter who transitioned pro mascotting to personal "fursonas" at Confurence 0. It's in the queer furry kink art of Biohazard who astonishingly made it since the 1980's and got it featured on public TV.
There are labels for the force powering this stuff which won't come from safe corporate culture. I've clumsily called it "the power of WTF" and more recently heard it called Queerdness.
Queerdness isn't just one thing that some furries do. Obviously you don't *have* to do it but it's one of the core things they won't get from anywhere else making this "ours". That's what makes concerns about corporate profiteering of queer furry. With Artworktee it's interesting that it's from a source rejected by Bronies for aggressive exploiting.
Maybe this is California-centric but that IS where the first fur con started. I also went to Anthrocon 1999 and hung out in Toronto and met Silfur Bunny back then (legendary). This Sunday, I visited with Mark and Rod and Changa at the Skiltaire house and got a great dose of fandom... truly a unique place. Stick around for Tuesday, I have a story and a great photo gallery to share :)
If you're receiving too much promotion requests you can do like any other media content creator and take in products for review under your discretion. This is a win-win situation. The filter is simple, that which you're personally willing to work for. Ethical concerns are addressed by making statements such as 'free copy provided for review', 'paid for promotion', etc.
Also, LGBT+ is a consumer market. >90% businesses who make any particular amicable move towards self-identified LGBT+ members do it because it's profitable.
I'd gladly buy from artworktee if they didn't sell 2's likeness and they sold bigger sizes
I'm glad Sonious had the time to write this piece, as it touches on issues which are increasingly relevant as the fandom grows and becomes a more-appealing target.
While we may quibble over the details, I generally share the 'roo's sense of healthy cynicism with regards to such campaigns. Here's part of my input to the internal debate on requests for coverage that he mentioned:
To be clear, this was in the context of contrasting this drive with their prior campaigns, and part of a wider and longer discussion touching on non-profit status, supporting fandom vs. commerce, covering new events and businesses, and the pros and cons of previous newsletter-based convention coverage. Suffice it to say: while we have a long history of supporting such requests, one size does not fit all.
I was worried I might have been too harsh in the case of this campaign. But seeing the way they moved the goalposts... being charitable, I might assume they'd acted on feedback from early supporters - which is how the gynosexual and androsexual options came about.
Less charitably, it seems likely to boil down to "we thought the new options would be more popular/sell better, so we put them first". Which is fine - they're a business - except for the issue mentioned: some may already have supported the campaign in hope of getting them. I feel this violates the spirit of Kickstarter's guidance on stretch goals (seeing as each update effectively adds to the promises made initially, becoming a part of them in the context of future additions):
Incidentally, our syndication partner In-Fur-Nation posts - and, I'm guessing, seeks out - a lot of merchandising-related furry news, so no writer should feel bad if they're not inclined to cover a particular product or service here themselves - it's probably getting press elsewhere, and may even appear in a block on Flayrah's front page without us even trying.
A lot changed since the article, so some updated:
1) They finished their campaign at 35,000 so they did unlock all of the identities, which is good.
2) On the bad side, there appears to have been some misunderstanding from the influencers who got on board that this was not for charity. Some seemed to assume it was and was the reason they were on board. This has lead to ArtWorkTee stating they will be in fact making donations to the Trevor Project. However it has created bad blood with some to the point where a few are asking for the removal of their shirts from their site.
Post new comment