Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Event Review: Further Confusion 2008 at the San Jose Doubletree Hotel

Note: I have been informed that the event did indeed have event insurance to cover the cost of the damaged laptop, I was given a different impression during event itself.

I hope it won’t hurt my street cred for you all to learn that I hang out with furries. Not all the time, mind you, and not exclusively, but I can definitely tell you the animal totem of about fifty percent of my friends and associates. This past weekend the boyfriend and I went to Further Confusion, a furry convention at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, to hang out with those friends in an environment where it was perfectly okay to don a tail, ears, and collar to proclaim your animal identity, but this time, my fourth visit to FurCon, I found myself thinking more about what’s wrong with this particular event than I did about the opportunities for self-expression it presents.

In some ways Further Confusion is a lot like Martin Luther Queen; gay boys, check (probably 80% of furry guys are gay, or at least can be convinced to engage in sexual activity with other male beasts); pre-occupation with sex and porn, check; heavy emphasis on costumes and dressing up, check; intoxicant-fueled debauchery, check; and, finally, everybody getting together with the pretty obvious intent of humping on Saturday night, check. What was different about Further Confusion was how amateurish all that was, and how heavily the scent of desperation hung over everything.

Three of the four years I’ve gone to FC I’ve been involved with DJing and doing a party. In the first year it was a room party with several folks I knew, and it was a blast. The next year, we got upstaged by kids down the hall playing dubstep and psytrance (for some reason furry DJs are all about hardcore and drum and bass, which should tell you a lot about them right there); the third year I decided I wanted nothing to do with FC, but was coaxed into going down to see some folks I know; and then this year, I had a Saturday night slot in a side room from the main dance. But, because the night before some whacked out kid had busted up another DJ’s laptop when the DJ refused to play a request, the powers that be, who hadn’t had the foresight to get event insurance to cover things like broken gear, decided that only people who were going to DJ on equipment owned by the event could perform. Since I play records and brought my own turntables, this meant I was out.

In my opinion, this was an amateurish and ill-considered response to something that no one could have planned for, but the act that brought it on was emblematic of the general state of amateurish-ness that prevailed over everything. I saw way too many kids (and here I am referring to their maturity levels, not their actual ages, as most were well into their 20s) who couldn’t handle their intoxicants, mostly booze, getting way fucked up as a means of dealing with their own social awkwardness. On Saturday night, everything from the music to the drinking to the sexual behavior all seemed driven by a pent-up adolescent energy that was desperate to find its expression in the hours between midnight and 3AM (wandering the hotel at 6.30 I was shocked at how much of a ghost town it had become, save for the lone guy playing his PSP in the lobby). When I first wrote about FurCon in my journal back in 2004, I was into the fun of it, the cuteness of the costumes (and the occasional alternaboy), and the light-hearted nature of it all. What I saw this time was that everything that makes FurCon cute and playful is also what makes it desperate and a little icky; both are aspects of a child that loves cartoon characters and anthropomorphized animals, but also finds it difficult to express itself (sexually, socially, artistically) in any but the most childish way. I felt like I was watching a constant stream of temper tantrums being thrown by children who were desperate for attention.

This might all sound a bit harsh coming from someone who goes by DJ Pup, and there’s probably just a tad bit of sour grapes involved since I got knocked out of my DJ slot AND I didn’t even get any tail at any of the room parties (but by Saturday night every guy I found slightly attractive seemed to have so much baggage attached to him that, without hours of Internet communication and porn trading, I don’t know how I would have been able to make even a sexual connection). But I was known as Pup well before I even knew there were furries, and Pup has never been all that I am, just an aspect of myself. When I think about my friends who are part of the furry world, this is where I see the difference between them and the kids I encountered over the weekend; for my friends, identification with an animal is a vehicle for expression, a totem to meditate upon, a way to bring parts of their personality to light. For many of the kids at FurCon, their animal self is an almost psychotic fantasy, a means of escaping who they are in reality (all the evidence of this you need can be found in the images of their characters on their con badges compared to their actual physical being), a constant performance intended to cover over the things that they find undesirable about themselves, from their physical attributes to their sexuality. I'm not Pup all the time, nor do I want to be; but for these kids, the entire world, their social life, their friends, revolves around being a furry.

I don’t know if I’ll go back to FC next year; there are friend who go that I enjoy hanging out with, and some of the costumes and playfulness I truly do enjoy, but if I do go, I will certainly not stay for the Saturday night amateur hours. It's just a little too depressing.


"Tom Howling" (tgeller on LJ) said...

Hey, Pup -- I'm glad you took the time to write down your thoughts about the con. I can't speak about Saturday night, since I spent all of it hosting a private room party and didn't even step outside the room until well after midnight.

Bummer about your set! That sucks, no matter how you slice it.

When you say that FC is "amateurish", keep in mind that it's run by... amateurs. *Volunteer* amateurs, dozens of them. Some are great, but some bear out the saying about volunteer labor: "You get what you pay for".
As for the crowd generally, I'm reminded of an experience when I drove across the country in 1995. I stayed one night at a youth hostel in the basement of a church in Salt Lake City. (Bet you can guess the denomination.... :) ) There was a large group of LDS youth there, and the guy at the bed next to me clearly had some serious social problems. But he was included in everything, and was ultimately a contributing member of the group, if really annoying.

Christian groups in America have many faults, but one thing they're generally very good at is taking in "difficult" people and giving them skills and a place in the world. Secular leftists... not so much.

But then there's furries. We have more than our share of "damaged" people -- but we've also created a structure that lets them contribute and improve. That's no small feat!And to do so without the unifying force of religion is really quite impressive.

I also see the community as a whole maturing. For one thing, there are more and more people who have been in it for ten years or more. (I'm coming up on my tenth year, myself.) Social standards are becoming stronger and stronger, for better and worse. There's less freedom, but also less idiocy. Just like gay movements of the 60s-80s, no?

BTW, I put a link to your posting on the furrymedia LiveJournal, at http://community.livejournal.com/furrymedia/99679.html . Here come the flames! :)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, you managed to write an article and say absolutely nothing new. Everyone knows that most furs are socially maladjusted adults. Are you sure the reason you didn't get laid is because everyone else had too much baggage, or because you were projecting that baggage on to them?

yiff in hell, furfag.

acton said...

Thank a lot,
You need to get out of the gay or better yet the sex laden cesspool. There is more to the fandom than sex and getting tail. Perhaps you get back to the playfulness if you hang around the con at 1:00PM than 1:00AM.

CS said...

"...identification with an animal is a vehicle for expression, a totem to meditate upon, a way to bring parts of their personality to light."

I must say, I couldn't agree with you more on this point! For many of those involved in the fandom, it is a fun way to express ourselves, a way to let people know what our "inner spirit" is like before they actually get to know us.... but not our whole life.

*Any* furry convention will have people who are immersed so deeply in the fandom that they can't tell reality from fantasy, and for that weekend, they're *living* their fantasy. Unfortunately, these are the "squeakiest wheels," so to speak, and so they get all the grease that comes in the form of attention -- exactly what they're wanting.

There are many of us who feel as you do, that a furry alter-ego is fun, something to do in our spare time, and a way to revisit fond childhood memories; sadly, most of us are not easily found within the main areas of convention space because of the negativity associated with those who can't contain themselves. We're all hiding, so to speak; plenty of people will retreat to their own rooms for art jams, for chat time, for room parties, or go out for dinner... whatever. It's hard to find these groups of people but when you do, they truly are great friends, and the reason I personally keep going to fur cons: I get to see people who live farther away than I would normally travel, all coming together for the same reason, to see friends. We do our best to ignore the "kids" and just enjoy ourselves.

Thank you for your insight into your trip to FC, and sorry you didn't have the time of your life. But I thank you for putting things into perspective; some people need to realize just how childish they seem to some people.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

their animal self is an almost psychotic fantasy, a means of escaping who they are in reality (all the evidence of this you need can be found in the images of their characters on their con badges compared to their actual physical being)

This is nothing new. Many-many years ago, there was this small-press comic called "Gamers" that said the same thing about D&Ders. Called it "The Law of Proportion", i.e. the more Perfect in Every Way the character is, the bigger a loser the player is.

As someone who has been along the edges of Furry since Mustelid Mark was straight, I figure Furry made the jump from Fandom to Religion somewhere in the Nineties, and acquired a lot of Fundamentalist Furries in the process.

The biggest problem with Furry is NOT the sexual kinks; that's a secondary symptom. The core of the problem is Fanboy Tunnel Vision or "EVERYTHING'S GOTTA BE FURRY! IF IT ISN'T FURRY, IT DOESN'T EXIST! EVERYTHING'S GOTTA BE FURRY! FURRY! FURRRRREEEEEEE!!!!!" Which eliminates any chance of a reality check.

At FC, one of the side effects is the solid ring of droolers you get around any fursuiter, constantly clicking pictures as fast as their cameras can cycle and throwing hissy-fits if anyone should dare approach the fursuit and get in their field of image.

And as a straight (who was definitely NOT welcome at a couple furry cons because of it), I suspect a lot of the "80% Gay" you see are "Jailhouse Gays", i.e. such creepy losers no woman would have them and they don't care as long as they GET LAAAAAAID! (Same reason 2/3 of the camels in Saudi have human-strain syphilis.)

Tom Howling: Notice that the first comment after you "put a link in" was the flip side of the whole Furry-Uber-Alles trip: an Anonymous pathological furry-hater.

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

Ah yes, the flames have arrived! And some good comments as well. I would say that my biggest issue with FC is not that it's done by "amateurs," since pretty much every event I'm involved with would be considered "amateur" from a certain perspective, but rather the way in which the event itself encourages certain sorts of behavior. I made the comparison with Martin Luther Queen from last weekend because structurally the events were very similar, though at MLQ there were even fewer structural constraints. The difference, as I saw it, was that the MLQ event was very, very focused on bringing people together in a community, and requiring them to act like they were members of a community. FC, on the other hand, didn't seem to have this kind of focus, and in the end what happens is that it becomes a platform for individuals to try and distinguish themselves within a community, often as compensation for the lack of significance they experience in their mundane lives. This, in my opinion, is what leads to a lot of the "acting out" behavior that I have seen at this con and others, what I described as the "temper tantrums" in my post. The problem is that these acting out behaviors succeed for the individuals in a perverse way; it confers celebrity status upon them, and whether that celebrity status is from positive or negative behavior doesn't really seem to matter. This is what I meant by "amateurish" behavior; people trying so hard to stand out that they wreck any attempt at becoming a community that works and plays together. I have left other parties and events feeling much closer to people because I felt that they were really interested in connecting with me on a personal level; I left FC feeling much more alienated from furries because the emphasis didn't seem to be on connection as much as it was upon standing out from the crowd as an individual. I think that many of the folks I encountered were actually afraid of connection on a personal, individual level unless it was mediated through a technological device, a character, or a costume, which is where I saw the "baggage" that had to be worked through before I could get to know someone. It's interesting that many people come to FC and meet for the first time after having these extensive mediated relationships, only to discover when they arrive that they don't know how to deal with the person in RL.

For me, the way FC would be a less "amateurish" event would be if the organizers really thought about how to use it to bring together a group of diverse individuals and make them act as members of a community, to get them beyond their attention-seeking behavior put them into a less narcissistic relation to others. That's a tall order, but, now that FC has grown to some 3K participants, I think the organizers do need to think more about what they're trying to accomplish with this event, and how they can structure the event itself to bring that about.

RailFoxen said...

Thank you so much. You put into words a number of feelings I'd had over the weekend and explained why the event was just indescribably lame for so many of us. I wrote the bulk of my response elsewhere, but want to say that next year doesn't have to be so unfortunate. Hopefully the feeling spreads and you'll be back next year.

NeonBunny said...

Ya know, complaining about a Fan Based Convention being Amaturish... Well, not to be offensive, but it kinda makes you sound stupid.

It's like telling Burning Man that they need to get their shit together and hire a professional production crew to come in and throw a concert with acts like the Who... It's not at all what it's about.

It was my call to cancel the Saturday night event. Partly, it had to do with the incident on Friday. I was told that if anyone else was to use their own gear, I could easily have them sign a waiver. You see, the event does have event insurance. But between realizing that there was some animosity against those playing music in the main space, and having the person who was supposed to assist me in throwing the dances turning into a complete flake and offering absolutely no help with the dances, I decided it wasn't worth the effort.

In reality, a fan based event, or any event that relies on participation of it's attendies to produce it, is only as good as those who participate. If everyone shows up and expects someone else to do everything, or makes promises and that turn out to be just all talk and no action, then yes, it will fail.

But fortunately, this Furry Convention does have many awesome individuals who work their ass off, for no pay, to produce a huge, one of a kind event unlike anything else. And I am quite proud that I was able to be a part of it, as a participant, and not as a spectator.

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

I actually thought the main dances and events were well-produced - in fact, as I said that the time, the sound in the main room was the best I've heard it, and I know you went to great lengths to pull together something better than what had been done in past years. But, if you read what I said in the rest of the comments, you'll see that when I clarified what I meant about "amateurish," I was talking largely about the attitudes of many of the people at the event itself, with the Friday night incident being the best example of that. Of course I was upset that I didn't get to DJ because of someone else's acting out, and I didn't feel that the "solution" that was arrived at was a very good one (and I would add that nobody told me anything about signing a waiver until after the fact). In fact, I think the fact that there was "animosity" toward the people who were DJing, which expressed itself in the Friday night incident, is a great illustration of what I meant by "amateur" behavior. And when I was walking around on Saturday night, I saw a lot of things going on that bothered me - just as I can see a lot of things on Saturday night at Burning Man that bother me, too, and I regard those behaviors as "amateurish" as well. Perhaps that was not the best choice of words, but it's one I've heard people (I believe including you) use to talk about certain kinds of behaviors that those of us who have been in the party production game for a long time have gotten over. As I said in my other comment response, almost everything I'm involved with is an "amateur" production, but I think there's a big difference in the way people involved with those events deal with things that happen, the way they comport themselves, and what they aim to accomplish. I would be happier with FC if I felt that there was a better sense of what that event is trying to accomplish, a better way of dealing with issues that come up, and a better way of getting people to act together as members of a community. My reaction to the Friday night incident was that it essentially rewarded acting out behavior - it was reactive in a way that said if you act like this, we will change what we're doing because of it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about your sour grapes. I think taking out the frustrations you have with poorly-behaved individuals on the rest of the fandom weakens your points, though.

The same can be said for the strawman argument---I've seen this one come up a lot lately---that it's always everyone _else_ at these things who is "into it too much" or "can't tell fantasy from reality", while you of course are the _only_ multi-faceted and balanced individual there... the one voice of reason in a sea of "desperate" fanboys.

Or perhaps you just traded your former enthusiasm for that dreary flavor of hipsterism where the only pleasure you can derive anymore is by disliking things. What a way to live.

Thank Goddess I'm not jaded.

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

Okay, le'ts finish this up, shall we? In the course of four days I've been called everything from "stupid" to "vapid," and many seem to assume that my whole problem with FC was that I didn't get laid and didn't get to DJ. That first part isn't entirely true, actually, as the bf and I did have some fun on Saturday night to ourselves, but that's something else. I'm afraid that, in trying make it clear that some of what I had to say was certainly influenced by my own experiences, many people have assumed that my experiences were, in fact, what the entirety of my critique was based upon. But, as I pointed out, I've been going to FC for four years, and what I wrote was based on those four years worth of experience as well as my experience in being involved with other sorts of events. This year I felt that I saw a lot of things going on that really disturbed me, and which, frankly, have me inclined to not go again. I perhaps did not express myself very well in my initial post, but, in my world in SF, where I'm very involved with many people who put on events at all scales of the spectrum, mostly in underground venues, "amateur" is a commonly used term to describe people who don't have the ability to handle themselves well in situations where societal constraints are relaxed. This is something that really bothered me at FC, because I saw a lot of amateur behavior; not just in terms of people drinking too much, but, in general, an almost explosive release of energy, mainly on Saturday night, that seemed driven both by sexual desperation and the sense that people were now in an environment where they could do anything they wanted. It reminded me of Saturday night at Burning Man, when I usually go back and hide in my tent to get away from the frightening energy that comes up after the burning of the Man.

My main point in the second post is to say that, in my experience, alternative communities have ways of creating themselves as communities, and Burning Man is an example of that. They have a set of values and infrastructure practices that are designed to get people to behave in certain ways, and to come together as a community. I use this only as an example that most people can easily reference - every community has its own set of regulatory mechanisms, because every community is ultimately a system that regulates itself. In my opinion, if we're going to talk about furries as a community, and as FC as a gathering of that community, then FC is an opportunity to get everyone together, and to guide their interactions with each other, in a postive way for three days. I have been involved with furries for long enough to have seen that the main mechanism for social regulation is the internet and boards like this, which leads to real difficulties, in my opinion, in the way people interact with one another in face-to-face situations. I am aware that there are many people in the fandom who have real social issues, and I frankly think that's a problem; in fact, rather than helping these people with their issues, I think the current furry social system only exacerbates those problems, and, in some ways, rewards them. People say things on internet boards, for example, that they would never say to a person's face, and then are rewarded with societal standing for saying those things. At the con I saw two guys wearing the same t-shirt; it was black with white printing, and had a cartoon wolf in front of a monitor saying "On Noez, Drama!" For me that summed up the furry social system, and that's exactly what I saw in action at FC and am now being drawn into as a result of my post; the furry social system is founded on drama, which is about creating divisions and animosities between people. I also saw this going on with the planning of FC, as I am friends with the people who were involved in organizing the social track. Drama is the result of what I would call an amateurish mind-set; it's about building things up to a point of frenzy, with a lot of shouting and posturing, and leads to situations in which the loudest, most aggressive person ultimately wins - it all becomes about dominance and submission, which, if you think about it, does make a kind of perverse sense when your social system is made up of people who are into animal role-playing.

Drama, in whatever way it is expressed - drinking too much at Con, getting into difficult sexual situations, playing the most aggressive music you can, being provocative on the Net - might make a kind of community, but it's going to be a dysfunctional community, because of the way rewards and demerits are handed out as a result. The kid smashing the laptop on Friday night was about creating drama, and my issue with the way that was handled was that, ultimately, that kid won - he created drama that then went on to affect people like me; I didn't get to do something I had been looking forward to because he created drama, and the Con organizers rewarded that by making his drama have real effect. I compared this to Paul Addis burning the Man early at Burning Man because that was an attempt to create drama that failed, because everyone just went on afterwards and did what they were going to do anyway. He was, in my opinion (which you can read more about on my blog), a narcissistic asshole who wanted the event to revolve around him, and in the end he was insignificant. That is an example of a community responding to dysfunctional behavior in a way that nullifies it, rather than rewarding it.

My whole point is that FC is now in a place where it could begin to affect people in the furry community in a real way, simply by saying that, during these three days, we are going to try and think of ourselves as a community, and we are going to try and give people who might otherwise resort to drama as their mode of social interaction a new set of actionable values that they can try to use in their social interactions. For example, I like the principle of gifting at Burning Man because I used to be a big candy raver, and I thought it was really neat how giving somebody a cheap plastic beaded bracelet could be used as the means for forming a relationship with that person, and how everybody, no matter who they are or what they look like, is worthy of being given a gift. I like the principle of "leave no trace" because it means taking responsibility for the environment you're in and not just trashing everything.

It may be, as some have said, that I'm asking FC to be something it's not, and never intended to be. But my main thought throughout the con this year was "I'm getting too old for this;" I thought that not just because of my chronological age, but because I'm no longer interested in dealing with the drama that seems to be at the center of most furry social scenes. At one point when the boyfriend was expressing some frustration with his own dealings I said "Forget it Jake, it's just FurCon." That's how I feel about the whole scene at this point; I just need to shrug it off and move on. I would like to be able to go to FC, meet some interesting people, relax, and have a good time, but I have gradually become very aware, over the course of four years, of what is moving under the surface of what I thought was so cute and fun my first time there. And if I've reached the point of saying "no more," then I'm sure others have as well. If furries want to be taken seriously as a community, then they need to become more conscious of themselves as one, and FC provides an opportunity to put mechanisms in place that can help with that.

Anonymous said...

You can always go be gay and DJ at clubs out in the normal mainstream gay world, where the guys are much more attractive, and there's never any drama, substance abuse or desperation. Have fun!

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

Um, would anyone actually like to comment on the points I've raised? Or do you all just want to feel clever because you found some way to bash on me without addressing issues? That's called an "ad hominem" attack, btw, for those of you who didn't do debating in high school. If you don't think there are any issues with what goes on at FC, or you don't think I've proposed good ways to deal with those issues, or you don't even think it's up to the FC organization to address those issues, then fine, say that, but it's only proving my points further to have people make snide comments about me, who I am, and what I do.

DramaBomba said...

So.. Your reasoning seems to be 'They didn't let me perform so they're amateurs'. Thats the complaint of an amateur or a prima dona. Hating on the people who were attending the convention who had nothing to do with your ego getting bruised is also pretty small. Oh no. There are some dorky guys there. Big freakin' deal. So they're not A-list. Reality check: You aren't either, are you? Funny how you had an opening in your schedule on a Saturday night for an 'amateur' event.

Turbine Divinity said...

I've been going to FC for many years, and furry cons for ten. I had a great time. I don't dance to the stuff they play at con dances, so I'm probably not your target audience. If you think we all reek of desperation, well, my apologies, but I'm a furry, I'm married, and I enjoyed myself immensely. The fandom is not really for the cool kids, though, so don't expect it to be something it isn't. I'm a geek and I'd rather hang out with other geeks in costume, and at FC I get to do that.

And whoever that guy is who's claimed he's not welcome at furry cons because he's straight? Maybe HE'S not welcome, because he's a dick. I know dozens of straight furries and they have a fabulous time at cons, they're as welcome as anyone.

Smash said...

"if we're going to talk about furries as a community, and as FC as a gathering of that community, then FC is an opportunity to get everyone together, and to guide their interactions with each other, in a postive way for three days. "

The problem with this is that FC DOES organize events inthe programming designed to do just this. However, the average "ghost" or night-life party crasher has no interest in the convention itself, and won;t go to any envets or panels. All that sexual energy, and other "amateur behavior" you talk about cannot ba handled by the convention simply because the convention is a "family oriented, family friendly" event, and offering programming centered around dealing with the adult aspects of furry fandom is largely not done simply because it goes against the core charter of the convention, and it's parent organization. Until FC makes a decision to actively recognize the adult segment of attendees,and support programming to constructively channel the sexual and abberant behaviors, you won't see much change here.

Midwest FurFest took a HUGE step this year by putting a "safer sex" panel on their programming, EARLY in the weekend. Discussions with a panel of doctors, and clinic workers were had, lots of free condoms were handed out, and MFF made the acknowledgment that adult behaviors and activities were going on a their event. IMO, it was a HUGE step in the right direction.