Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Few Fur(ther) Thoughts on Further Confusion 2008

Jesus Christ people, I've written meaner things about big-name drag queens and had fewer flames aimed in my direction, so let me clarify a couple things that are getting buried in my responses to comments.

Further Confusion is a huge event, with some 3000 people attending this year. By the measure of scale alone it's a big deal to pull off, and you have to give people serious credit for that. Many people, including my friend Neonbunny, worked very hard over several months to make this thing happen, and I can definitely say that he in particular did as professional a job as you can given the circumstances - the sound in the main room, for example, was the best it's ever been, and at least this year they didn't keep blowing the electrical circuits.

But when it comes down to the behavior of many individuals at that event, that's where the amateurish aspect of things come into play - or, to use a term I had avoided because it seems far more perjorative, the immaturity. For me, the prime example of this is the incident on Friday night when a kid smashed a DJ's laptop because the DJ wouldn't (or couldn't) play a request he made. I also saw a lot of this immaturity on display in the ways in which people were interacting with each other, and the way they were dealing with themselves. Finally, on Saturday night I saw a lot of kids doing stuff they just couldn't handle, and it bothered me to think about what the consequences of that might be.

I didn't like the way the organizers reacted to the Friday night incident because I thought it was rewarding bad behavior - it said if you act out, we'll substantially change what we're doing to accomodate the possibility of others acting out, which means the whole event becomes held hostage to its anti-social elements. I thought that the kid who perpertrated this act should have gotten tossed out in the rain, and let the show go on (for me the point of comparison is how the Burning Man organization reacted to the Paul Addis incident this year). Of course I also was upset that this meant my DJ slot got cancelled, and I was quite vocal about that at the time; a lot of what I was looking forward to in the event itself revolved around getting to play some music. But it also seemed to me that the FC organizers need to do a better job of figuring out how to deal with these sorts of problems, especially as the event grows - when you're bringing together a group of people where you know some of them have these tendencies you need to figure out how you're going to deal with it before it happens. As the event grows, in other words, it also needs to grow up and start thinking about itself more.

I think FC could be a great event if it had a stronger sense of what it was trying to accomplish, and if part of that was bringing people together as members of a community, and getting them to act like members of a community, rather than, as I see it right now, just being a vehicle for certain egos to put themselves on display, followed by a hedonistic throw-down; if it could find some way to bring these things about, then I think it could actually be a positive force in people's lives. I would like to go to FC and feel that I've had a chance to meet and interact with some interesting people, since I'm sure that describes many of the people there; at the moment, though, I feel like there is too much distraction, brought about by much of the behavior that I find problematic, that interferes with my ability to do that. This doesn't mean that I don't think that there shouldn't be dances, or room parties, or even hedonistic throw-downs; I do think, though, that a greater degree of consciousness needs to be brought to the event and its attendees.

And a final word; these are my opinions, and mine alone. My boyfriend is more involved with this world than I am, and has more friends in it than I do. Just because he's my boyfriend doesn't mean we have identical thoughts and ideas. If you have an issue with anything I've written here, take it up with me, not him.

Okay people, I know you're linking in to the previous article (in fact, I can see everyone who's linked to me through my referrals), but I'm hoping at least a few of you will read this and perpetuate it out into the furrysphere. I'm perfectly willing to talk about any of this stuff with anyone in a public forum, but I will not respond to anyone who thinks an adequate response involves an ad hominem attack (which I've seen plenty of so far, thank you). Let's have some reasoned discussions about the event, what's good about it and what's bad, what can be improved and what's okay, rather than judgements about me because I have an opinion that you disagree with.

Addendum: Five Things That Could Be Done to Make FC a Better Experience

1. Cap the Number of Participants
The bigger this thing gets, the more difficult it will be to try and control the way it goes down, as well as provide a positive experience for people. This year was, in my opinion, too big; figure out what the financial requirements of the event are and work from there. Keep it inexpensive enough that people won't be priced out of attending, but also keep in mind that the point is to provide an experience for people, not get bigger and more elaborate.

2. Come Up with and Publish a Set of Actionable Values
This is where FC could take a lesson from Burning Man and their 10 Principles; these help guide people in their interactions with each other, and make it clear what the event is about. They don't have to be the same as the 10 Principles (though I rather like decommodification and Gifting), but they should be something that helps people come together in a community.

3. Create More Social Events that Will Foster Interaction
The dances are great, because they give people an opportunity to interact with one another in a non-structured way; however, they are also a source of controversy, and, honestly, aren't everyone's cup of tea. My suggestion for one night would be a cocktail social (with non-alcoholic drinks too, of course), and another would be a banquet. Have hosts and hostesses at these events who are there to work the crowd and foster interaction among people.

4. Make Con Ops Less Con Cops and More Con Pops
Again, Burning Man provides a great example with the Black Rock Rangers; they aren't there to bust people or get them in trouble, but to serve the community, help out with problems, and deal with negative situations. Part of the problem I've seen at past FCs is that the Con Ops come through a room with their headsets and walk out as long as they don't see anything obviously heinous going on. This makes them seem aloof, and I think people are less likely to go to them when issues come up because there's a perception that it's narcing. Instead, Con Ops should be more like the public safety patrol, and if they see something like a kid getting really fucked up drunk, they should be able to intervene and take them some place to sober up for a while. People should feel that they can go to them for help, or to deal with a situation, without it being like going to the cops.

5. Have Everyone Who is Involved with Organization at the Lead Level Read Hakim Bey's "The Temporary Autonomous Zone"
Here, I'll even give you a link. This was a central text for the Cacaphony Society, who were part of the original Burning Man. I put this out there simply because it provides some philosophical basis for thinking about what an event like this could be; it's provided the basis for my own approach to doing events, and I think it could provide some further fodder for thinking about those values.


Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with your opinions as much as I disagree with the strawman arguments and hasty generalizations they are based on.

Anonymous said...

I think FC could be a great event if it had a stronger sense of what it was trying to accomplish, and if part of that was bringing people together as members of a community, and getting them to act like members of a community

This is very interesting, because what it really means is establishing a furry "religion". That's what's described by your quote above. No?

I don't mean to cast judgments on the idea. Religions outstandingly perform two functions: They provide group direction and confirmation of self. You propose a furry religion for the first function, while many furries themselves propose it for the second.

Well, I'll speak for myself. *I'm* attracted to the idea of a furry religion because I feel that we furries share something meaningful, much like two passing transsexuals who clock each other as they pass in the street. It visits me in my dreams and guides my daytime. Faint in volume, maybe, but strong in intensity.

Getting back to your proposal: It seems you're suggesting a formalization of rules. How could that be accomplished? A written record -- a "bible" -- of some kind? Voted on by whom? Enforced how?

Now I'm not personally proposing such a thing outright, and won't let myself be pulled into drama if anyone suggests I am. But I'd like to hear what others think.

(By the way, props to Pup for delving so deeply into this. He touched a nerve, then stayed engaged. Big ups.)

Anonymous said...

P.S. O.K., I finished the article and see that you do spell out what you propose. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Final P.S.

Interested parties may want to see the parallel discussions (1, 2) happening on the Furrymedia Livejournal.

Lhayn said...

Maybe I'm just slow (In fact, I probably am), but it seems like you've got this hard-on for turning FC (And I would imagine other large cons like MFF and AC) into a furry burning man. Honestly, I had a blast at FC. I'd personally like to hear more specific examples and incidents that made it an "immature" environment. One kid getting trashed and smashing a laptop, in my opinion, is pretty tame considering there were over 2500 people there.

"I also saw a lot of this immaturity on display in the ways in which people were interacting with each other, and the way they were dealing with themselves."

Can you give me/us that are either too oblivious or dumb to notice some specific examples of this? Everyone that I hung out with, besides one exception on Sunday morning involving a long-standing and burgeoning animosity between two friends, were all pretty chill and relaxed.

"I think FC could be a great event if it had a stronger sense of what it was trying to accomplish, and if part of that was bringing people together as members of a community..."

I'm also confused here. The mission of FC is to provide a space for furries to come and hang out and meet people with like interests, which I did. I made a boatload of new friends over the course of the weekend, and I really think that FC staff did a GREAT job of providing opportunities for me to come together with my friends.

"I would like to go to FC and feel that I've had a chance to meet and interact with some interesting people, since I'm sure that describes many of the people there..."

Why didn't you feel like you had that chance? With over 2500 people, there was ample opportunity throughout the weekend to meet folks. One of the greatest and most amazing things about the fandom (And I preach this a lot, as anyone that knows me can tell you) is the complete and total openness and receptiveness to new people. There was a handful of people that I met at MFF via a "Hey, my name's Lhayn, how's it going?" over a cigarette, whom I saw at FC and who remembered me. The fact that you weren't able to meet any interesting people, in my opinion, is a bigger reflection on you than it is the con or fandom.

Lord Kook said...

@ anonymous ::

Hasty? Empty? The OP has been going to con for four years, and has plenty of time to make an informed commentary on certain aspects of it. He may not know all the ins and outs of the fandom, but sometimes an outside perspective is exactly what a group of people need to grow.

As for "strawman arguments", I can assure you, as someone very close to the OP, he doesn't make empty remarks. He is methodical and logical to the point of frustration, actually. There may have been better ways to word the first FC post, but all in all the ideas are sound, have good intention behind them, and we're based on empirical data. He's not just shooting in the dark.

So if you don't disagree with the opinions (as much), why do you feel it necessary to make judgments on the method by which those opinions were created? That's getting into the realm of judgment of character, and on the Internet (*cough* anonymous *cough*), it's not really fair to make any assumption on the interior workings of anyone.

Come up with some constructive criticism, the kind the OP has kindly provided us with in his latest post, or don't come at all. This subject has dredged up far too much crap as it is.

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

OK, so let's 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.

GreenReaper said...

For what it's worth, attendance was 2,311 (which is still a respectable increase on 2,062 considering the constraints).

I am concerned at the idea that the convention should be considered a tool for social regulation. I don't think it's within a convention's remit to try and "fix" such "problems", except to the extent that they are problems with the operation of the the convention itself. It's not a Lapist church. It's a place where like-minded fans get together for a while and discuss their interests - and also try to have a good time partying. It isn't meant to teach (or preach) a message or ideals.

That said, AAE does have objectives. However, they don't really relate to the community, but to the arts. Their goals are not social except as they concern wildlife and the environment. If you think a different message has worth, I suggest forming your own organization dedicated to it - or, perhaps, running a panel on it.

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

Like it or not, FC already is involved in social regulation simply by bringing 2,300 people together in one space for a weekend. There are already rules to govern conduct at a prescriptive level to keep people from doing things you don't want, so why not also have some set of principles/values that are in place to guide people into doing things that might have a net positive effect? The stuff I proposed is not radical, nor do I necessarily think it would "fix" deep problems, but it could provide a platform for addressing some of the issues that I (and, from what I've seen on other boards, other people) have with the event.

My thing is that I always see events like this as utopian experiments - we might say it's "just a dance party," or "just a chance for fans to get together," but whenever you bring a group of people together in these kinds of spaces you have a chance to create your own little world for a while - this is something I've talked about extensively in my other posts, and I've even published academic papers on distributed communities and social systems. Honestly, if all FC "is" is a chance for a group of people to wear fursuits, check out art, and then hang out in room parties, that's not so interesting to me. But, on the other hand, if it's about bringing people together in a community, and making a little furry world for a weekend, and trying to work out what the community is about (which can easily encompass all the other activities going on), then that's a whole lot cooler. Of course, I don't really expect you to care about what I find interesting or not - in fact, it's kind of interesting that so many people have felt compelled to respond to and repost this everywhere, since I'm really nobody in this scene - but c'mon, be inspired, be visionary, dare to dream about where this could go beyond just a bunch of fans getting together.